Arts & Entertainment
3 min

The Habit brings spectacular harmonies to Ottawa stages

Local band is habit you won't want to kick

LATEST INCARNATION. Dan Valin and Darren Rogers made a splash with the studio sound of D*Rogers, but gay Ottawa's musical favourites are back with a refreshing live sound with The Habit.

The Habit has quickly become, well, a habit on the local gay scene, a band more or less adopted by Ottawa queers and seemingly omnipresent. After all, as their song “Give’r” announces, they are “up for the night and ready to go.”

In the past year they have performed on Parliament Hill for an Egale Canada fundraiser, done a show for the Bear 106.9 FM showcase at Zaphod Beeblebrox, and headlined last year’s Pride. The audience loved them at June’s Bankfest, they’re back on stage this coming Pride weekend and are fast becoming a staple at Centretown Pub. And they recently released a six-song EP called The June Sessions.

Band leaders Dan Valin and Darren Rogers have been friends for 16 years. And many readers may remember them from their last band, D*Rogers, also a local favourite.

Rogers and Valin are joined in their latest incarnation by vocalists Agatha Alstrom and Michael Stevenson, percussionist Roberto Caron, violinist Warren Kidd, saxophonist/clarinettist Garett Pratt and guitarist/bassist Dennis Stuebing.

The new band grew out of the transcontinental success of D*Rogers.

Valin and Rogers formed D*Rogers as an electronic duo, with the music based heavily on samples and loops. Shortly after the release of their CD, Halfcrazy, Rogers moved to Japan to be with his boyfriend. The timing of his departure was both a blessing and a curse to D*Rogers’ success. While the local scene began to take notice, Rogers was absent, missing many opportunities. But while in the land of the rising sun, Rogers was able to promote Halfcrazy, prompting Blue Magazine’s Tokyo correspondent to write that “D*Rogers (was) taking the Tokyo music scene by the balls.”

Rogers had an unorthodox approach to cross-cultural music promotion.

“One of the fantastic things about Japan is that many people are still terrified to speak English,” Rogers says. “And so I could go into big record companies and not be stopped because they didn’t want to speak English to me. Even though I spoke a little bit of Japanese, it was an awesome way to make contacts. I got a few shows that way. We’re hoping to get distribution in Japan when we record a full-length album. It was an awesome experience.”

While in Japan, Rogers also wrote English song lyrics for a Japanese salsa band, “one of the strangest and most lucrative things I’ve ever done.”

With Halfcrazy getting airplay on Canadian and Japanese radio, as well as having a track included on the Dig Your Own Roots compilation, Valin and Rogers were persuaded into performing live upon Rogers’ return.

But Rogers says that D*Rogers was a very studio-based band, and their brand of electronic music didn’t really translate well live.

“We did a couple of live shows that were very successful,” says Rogers. “Luckily, they were kind of radio broadcast shows, so there would be a live audience at the club but most people heard on the radio. We would do some pre-programmed stuff and some live instrumentation. But it still wasn’t that exciting to see on stage, it wasn’t the same dynamic as being onstage in a band.”

When D*Rogers was asked to perform on the NewRO in 2004, Valin and Rogers set into motion the machine that would become The Habit.

“We thought we’d try something different so we brought together a bunch of the musicians we’d worked with on the D*Rogers CD to perform on our TV performance,” Rogers said, “And that worked so well that we kept it going.”

The addition of singer Alstrom came about in a very “gay” way.

“She’s somebody that we knew from clubbing,” Rogers says of the lone female band member. “We had only ever heard her sing on the dance floor. We invited her over to jam one night and it was disgustingly good. The harmonies that Dan, Mike, Agatha and I come up with are beautiful. Her voice works very well.”

The harmonies performed on The June Sessions, recorded locally at Little Bullhorn studio, are indeed magnificent. Imagine the sound that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon would produce if they had grown up in the depression-era US south.

And Valin and Rogers are especially enjoying being in a full band, although they’re still the primary songwriters.

“Darren and I sit together and come up with the bare bones of the song, then we present it to the singers and they find their parts,” Valin explains. “Sometimes we have separate rehearsals with just the singers or just the violinist, or just the saxophone. Once in a while it is a democracy and we feel it out as a band.”

And despite all the local exposure, The Habit remains an independent band.

“We haven’t really caught up with the cost of the demo,” Valin said. “But after all is paid off we will split everything equally.”

Rogers is optimistic, hinting that they could start recording a follow-up to The June Sessions as early as this summer.

As for the change in sound from D*Rogers, Valin cites natural musical evolution.

“As a band our sound is continuing to develop. Some members have picked up a different instrument. We started out techno and now we will be moving in the pop-rock direction. It’s a work in progress.”