The Canadian Folk Music Awards always bring excitement to folk and roots music fans, particularly when it comes to the New/Emerging Artist category. This year’s CFMAs were no different, with folk band RedFox taking home the coveted award.
Riding on the success of their debut album, Stranger Love, the Montreal-based group has been an exciting addition to the folk and roots scene over the past couple of years.
However, despite their fast-rising stardom, the latest honour was far from expected by the band itself, even after being selected as one of the top five finalists for it.
“It was crazy shocking,” said Tim Loten, banjo player and founding member of RedFox. “We just kind of committed to go [to the CFMAs] to meet people and network. We didn’t seriously consider that we were going to win.”
According to Tim, the award could have a major impact when applying for consideration into some of the country’s biggest festivals and awards shows.
A major reason for the band’s success is its unique sound, blending elements of traditional folk, bluegrass and rock music. RedFox’s songs consistently captivate audiences through immersive soundscapes and deeply reflective and introspective lyrics.
While the group incorporates traditional folk staples such as the banjo and violin, they also experiment with electric guitars and high-tempo drums to provide a fresh, modern sound to the folk community.
The band’s star has been on an upwards trajectory as of late, but that wasn’t always the case. After initially finding success with a pair of successful four-track EPs, the band’s quick upwards path was seemingly stalled by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas some group members, such as singer and violinist Daphnée Vandal, had hoped to quit their jobs to focus solely on music, the pandemic forced the band to take a step back and reflect. As Daphnée stated, the pandemic “helped us to focus on things that we were weaker at.”
Some of those things included their online presence, and the complete production of Stranger Love, which was released in October 2021.
While the band’s period of self-reflection and improvement seems to have paid off, the members of RedFox have not forgotten their humble beginnings. They have been able to parlay their success into large shows with thousands of fans, but they also continue to perform at the smaller club venues across Quebec and Ontario that were crucial to their early development.
Long before their appearance on major awards shows and long before they’d garnered a national fanbase, RedFox began as most bands do: a simple gathering of like-minded friends. While pursuing post-secondary education in the United States, Tim would frequently travel to Bishop’s University in Quebec. There, he would perform shows and meet up with high-school friend Jono Townsend.
After moving to Montreal, Jono connected with Daphnée and passed her work along to Tim. Before long, Tim was frequently travelling to the city to jam and hang out with the pair.
“I was basically living in Jono’s apartment for the first few months,” Tim said laughing. “We were hanging out and we were actually working on becoming sort of a bluegrass folk band.”
With Tim on banjo, Jono on guitar, and Daphnée on violin and vocals, the trio would form the basis of what would eventually become RedFox. Over time, the band was rounded out by Samuel Neumann on drums and Sam Robinson on bass.
With these additions, the group’s sound would transform from traditional bluegrass to what Tim describes as “electric indie crossed with roots background kind of sound.”
For Samuel, the chance to pursue a new avenue in music was an opportunity that was hard to pass up.
“As a drummer, I have the benefit of being able to play with as many different styles as I possibly can,” Samuel said. “I was pretty keen to jump onto a project or something I hadn’t really done before.”
Having played in university with Jono and Tim, the band’s uniqueness paired with the familiarity of the group’s members made Samuel’s decision to join the band “pretty easy.”
The Story of the Fox
Once the band was established, the next order of business was the choice of an effective name.
“Probably the most important thing about determining your image as a band is your name,” Daphnée said.
The band initially came up with more than a hundred options, with “Fox Tails” very nearly coming out on top. However, the name would ultimately be scrapped in favour of one that Jono felt was a little closer to home.
“Jono and Tim live sort of nearby Perth [Ontario], and there’s a RedFox restaurant there, so Jono was like ‘Hey that’s cool’,” Daphnée recounted. “Also, I have red hair.”
According to the band, the name was an unintentional, happy coincidence that has managed to stand the test of time.
Finding their sound
It wasn’t long before the band began to move past jam sessions in pursuit of commercial success.
“When we first got going, I’d say it was pretty quickly actually that we got off the ground,” Tim said. “We were playing smaller shows, but we got recording right away.”
In 2018, RedFox released its first project, a self-titled four-track EP. The group’s bluegrass and folk inspirations are evident in the first song, “Running.” Beginning with a banjo solo, the song rounds out with an intense violin progression and a thumping beat. The EP’s closing track, “Calling Out,” epitomizes the group’s visual storytelling, connecting the landscape of the mind to nature.
The following year, the band released their second four-track EP, Recovery.On this project, RedFox began to explore and experiment with new sounds, such as electric guitars and more dynamic drumming patterns.
By the time the band began writing Stranger Love, they were confident that they had found their unique sound. The global pandemic allowed the band to hunker down and focus their time and energy on writing and arranging the album. Given the project’s status as the group’s debut album, they had strong expectations and goals.
“Particularly what we wanted to do with the Stranger Lovething was to just create a higher artistic representation of our sound,” Daphnée said. “So like an elevated understanding of our music. So that also had to do not only with recording but the way we wrote stuff.”
Having a firm grasp on the group’s sound and storytelling style also helped in narrowing down which pieces to include in the project. “With Stranger Love, we were able to kind of cut some of the fat and really decide which songs we thought spoke to us.”
Whereas songs like “Shiver” possess hints of alt-rock themes with electric guitar progressions and fast, heavy drums, other songs such as “Circles” and “Try” allow the sounds of banjos and violins to flourish. With Daphnée’s soulful voice and the band’s dynamic instrumentation, Stranger Love looks ahead to a new generation of folk music while paying homage to the past.
Following the band’s recent success at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, RedFox embarked on the Canadian leg of their “Far and Away” tour. With the completion of this first leg, the band will embark on the British leg of the tour in June and July.
The band is currently in the writing process for their second album and hopes to release the project in late 2023.
While fans look forward to new music from the band, RedFox is optimistic that their recent New/Emerging Artist award is only the beginning of a bright and successful future.