Noel Macdonald is no stranger to The Coast's annual New Music Issue. He played in Tomcat Combat (in the 2008 NMI), Long Weekends (2011) and Don Lovely (2015). None of the bands are active anymore. "Sometimes it's not because of challenges, sometimes that was the original intent," says Macdonald. "It's realistic and sensible to consider the band's shelf life right from the outset."
To get an idea of how long bands in Halifax stick together, I compiled a list of every band featured in the NMI from 2009 to 2015—a total of 132 acts. Sure, this list doesn't come close to including every band and musician that's popped up in the city in the past seven years, or reach all the way back in the 13-year history of the NMI, but it's a healthy sample.
For simplicity, an artist is considered active if it released new music or played a show in the past year. Artists who have announced break-ups or have disappeared from the internet are considered inactive. Of the 132 bands, 76 are still active and 63 of those still remain in Halifax. That means 56 bands have broken up or gone AWOL.
"Don Lovely didn't work out because schedules didn't align," says Macdonald of former band members Alex Mitchell and Dexter Outhit. "It doesn't hurt a friendship, it just is what it is."
With Long Weekends, the dynamic of the power-pop trio changed when Devin Peck moved to Montreal. Macdonald, Peck and Adam Hartling were a well-oiled machine, three friends making music. Taking out one part and replacing it with another member would change the dynamic. "Breaking up that band was the best way I could honour that band and honour what I loved about the band and the friendship between the three of us," says Macdonald.
Based on this sample, the artists that have remained active the longest tend to be solo. Ria Mae (2007), Willie Stratton (2010) and the Jess Lewis-fronted Cactus Flower (2011) have all been at it in Halifax for five or more years. Three other still-active solo-based artists—Kelly Sloan, Mark Grundy (Quaker Parents) and Tim Crabtree (Paper Beat Scissors)—have taken their craft to other Canadian cities for the time being. Three Sheet, Like a Motorcycle, Graboids, Bad Vibrations and Krasnogorsk and the Moscow Country Club are the only full bands that have stuck together in Halifax for five or more years.
The five-year mark appears to be the tipping point for artists. Of the 20 artists in the 2011 new music issue, half are still active. Up until that point, active bands outnumber defunct artists. Going back to 2010, only three of 16 bands are active.
Ultimately, it's easier to be a band when everything has the new car smell, when hype levels are sky high, while people still come out to shows. As Macdonald puts it, "anyone will tell you, the best point to play in a band is the honeymoon phase where you're a new band on the scene."