Saturday, July 13, 2024

Rockin’ the boat

Hard rock-lovin’ Pontiac locals marching to the beat of their own double-pedal drum

Connor Lalande
Pontiac August 18, 2023
The Pontiac has a deserved reputation for being a region of country music lovers. From Rapides des Joachims to Luskville, Otter Lake to Portage du Fort, the people of the Pontiac have always shared a deep-rooted affinity for the melodic, soulful harmonies of the country music genre. Speaking to the quaint complexities and subtle beauty of rural life, country music has inspired generations of Pontiac artists to take up the mantle as overseers of this rich cultural tradition.
And yet, even amidst this powerful country music-loving climate, there are those who break the mold. There are some thoroughbred Pontiacers who, while respectfully appreciating the cultural merits of the country music genre, prefer a different flavor to their music. Those who, perhaps, like their music a little on the heavier side.
Enter Erin Davis and Jeremy Williams. Two Pontiac locals – from Fort Coulonge and Charteris respectively – who, when rounded out by Doug Freake and Kyle Pallen, make up Beyond Driven, the Pontiac’s premier hard rock band. This Mötley Crüe (pardon the pun) of musicians is on a mission to redefine what Pontiac music can be, blasting ear drums and melting faces with high octane hard rock mastery.
“My grandfather had the one and only music store in the entire Pontiac,” said Davis, Beyond Driven’s vocalist of her childhood. “He was deaf but played every instrument, so it was always impressive to see him go.”
“As a kid, I always used to beg him to show me how to play guitar, but he would say, ‘if you were meant to play, you would figure it out on your own’,” Davis recalled with a laugh.
While it would be a few years before Davis took her grandfather’s guitar learning challenge to heart, she embraced singing as a form of expression at a young age. A regular within the local talent show circuit, much of Davis’s formative years were spent singing for people, honing a performance craft and gaining a comfort with the bright lights of a stage that would come in handy later in life.
“I enjoyed singing George Thorogood, Steve Miller, ZZ Top and old country classics from Conway Twitty,” said Davis, speaking about her musical tastes as a kid. “But when it came to my public performances, I learned that I needed to sing what was in ‘in’. I won my first talent show at school with Oops I did it Again and then my first public singing contest with Honey I am Home at the age of 10.”
A creative maverick, Davis’s taste in music would soon diverge from the norm.
“Obviously, the Pontiac is more of a country music region. It’s heavy into the country music genre, and so growing up I would cater to all that. But, as I got older, I realized that my heart was really into rock music,” said Davis of her personal musical odyssey.
Her love of singing and reverence for rock music would culminate in the formation of Beyond Driven in 2016. Having evolved and gone through multiple iterations since its inception, the band’s lineup now consists of Davis herself on vocals, Kyle Pallen on drums, Doug Freake on bass, and Davis’s fiancé and fellow Beyond Driven founding member Jeremy Williams on guitar.
As anyone who has heard the band knows, Williams plays a mean metal guitar.
A towering figure sporting a thick beard and a glorious mane of long, wavy hair, Williams has a Thor-like appearance. The aesthetic fits well and adds to his commanding stage presence. Shredding intricate riffs and nailing chugging power chords, Williams’ guitar mastery is on full display at every Beyond Driven performance.
When paired with Davis’s powerful voice, Pallen’s zealotic pounding of a drum kit and Freake’s uncompromisingly cadenced bass offerings, Beyond Driven has found a winning formula that continues to endear them to crowds.
Functioning primarily as a cover band since its inception – playing a solid mix of classic and hard rock staples with a heathy dose of offbeat, unexpected tracks mixed in – the group is dipping their collective toes into new creative waters. In September, Beyond Driven is slated to take to the studio with a collection of original songs, working with Dark Moon productions in Gatineau. Davis credits bandmate Doug Freake’s influence in bringing out the original creative material each member had hidden away on their computer drives and stored on sheet music in closets.
“Doug came from a band that only did originals,” said Davis. “Because of that, it kind of sparked an interest in us to do the same.”
The band has cultivated a name for themselves in the musical ecosystem of the Pontiac and Ottawa. Rockin’ venues as divergent as the Shawville Fair and Brass Monkey in Ottawa, their hard work has paid off. Opening for acts like Buckcherry and Bif Naked, recognition of their talents continues to grow outside of the National Capital Region.
This rush in exposure extends to Davis herself. In recognition of her authoritative, passionate singing voice and undeniable performance charisma, Davis was selected to be in the rotation of Ottawa Senators anthem singers, fulfilling a lifelong dream of hers.
“A lot of singers have dreams of going on a talent show and winning. My dream has always been to sing the national anthem at an NHL game,” said Davis. “For years and years, I’ve been saying I am going to do this one day, and it finally happened.”
In January of this year, in front of nearly 20,000 people, Davis took to the ice at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
“I think anyone who knew me as a child can contest to the fact that I’ve always been pretty outgoing. I’ve never been afraid of social situations and just winging it while being in front of a crowd. It’s kind of always been a natural thing for me,” Davis said.
Nevertheless, the Senators game was a different beast.
“The Senators game was really intimidating,” she admitted. “It was crazy in there and I kind of tripped on the carpet. Luckily, most people told me they didn’t notice but maybe they’re just being nice. They’re still bringing me back though, so it must have gone well.”
Having nailed her long-standing dream of singing the anthem at an NHL game, opportunities for similar experiences came knocking. She has now also graced fans of the Ottawa RedBlacks CFL team with her singing talents.
“At the end of the day, I’m not doing this because I want to be famous,” said Davis. “I’m doing this because I love it.”