On an island sitting on Lake Ontario, musicians come together at an 1880 cedar shake cabin to create music.

Hugh Christopher “Chris” Brown, owner of the cabin and long-time musician, founded Wolfe Island Records in that location.

The building, a former post-office, had running water added a few years ago so music could be created year round. Brown creates his own music and produces material for other musicians in the studio.

Musicians part of Wolfe Island Records, like Stephen Stanley, enjoy working at the cabin. Unlike the 9-5 pace, the artists took their time to record their music on Wolfe Island, spending four to five days a month recording over the course of seven months.

There’s also a strong community feeling. Friendships were made, musicians attended dinner parties outside of the cabin after work, and people dropped in to knit or bring over cake.

Animals also enjoy the space, such as Brown’s eight cats, and visitors like skunks, a fox, and neighbourhood dogs.

“You put love into it,” Brown said. “You do work you care about and gradually, the building takes on that spirit.”

Brown, along with fellow musicians Suzanne Jarvie and Stanley, hope to emulate the strong spirit of love and music to the London Music Club for the Wolfe Island Records Artist Showcase.

Mentorship through music

Brown produced Jarvie and Stanley’s albums, along with other artists projects. Before Wolfe Island, he played with the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir in the 1980s and 1990s. After the band parted, he played in a duo with fellow Wolfe Island Records artist Kate Fenner, and has worked with artists such as the Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies, and Ani DiFranco.

Hugh Christopher "Chris" Brown of Wolfe Island Records performing.
Hugh Christopher “Chris” Brown produces plenty of music, including that from the Pros and Cons Music Program. Photo courtesy of Jody Stockfish and photographed by Kristin Ritchie.

Another project of Brown’s is the Pros and Cons Music program, where original songs are produced in prison to mentor and focus on restorative justice.

Two projects, Undisclosed Location, and Postcards From The Country, consisted of original music that inmates wrote and sung. The songs are available for free and the artists are anonymous. The institutions behind the projects encourage donations to charities such as Candace House, Joe’s M.I.L.L., and the Kingston Food Bank.

Brown said that watching the inmates realize they can make a positive impact on society from the program is inspiring.

“A lot of people’s stories,” he said. “That lead them to make terrible choices with their lives stem from a lack of example, love or mentorship in their lives.”

The Pros and Cons Music program works with three prisons in the Kingston, Ontario area, and is in its seventh year.

Healing through songwriting

Jarvie also knows all too well how music can shape your life.

The lawyer and mother of four released her first album, Spiral Road, after her son dealt with a traumatic brain injury from a near-fatal accident. During the recovery process, Jarvie wrote music for nearly a year until she eventually met Brown and created the record.

Suzanne Jarvie of the Wolfe Island Artist Collective.
Once Suzanne Jarvie began writing songs, her thought process began to change. Photo courtesy of Jody Stockfish

Her new album, In The Clear, continues to explore the themes from Spiral Road, including motherhood and the challenges faced by her son.

“When you have kids,” she said. “And you deal with something really traumatic, you just can’t help but reflect on motherhood a lot.”

She also said songwriting encouraged her to think outside of the box. Jarvie played music her whole life, but her experience after her son’s injury changed her life because she became a songwriter.

“Songs come in and they have their own life,” she said. “Like babies, almost.”

Those urges to write can arrive at any point in her life, whether she is at work or washing the dishes.

A change in direction

Before the Stephen Stanley Band, Stanley played with The Lowest of The Low for about 22 years. He enjoyed his experience with The Lowest of The Low, but is now in charge of the songwriting for his current band. As the lead vocalist, it’s a whole new responsibility.

Stephen Stanley and Chris Bennett of the Stephen Stanley Band from Wolfe Island Records.
Anything goes during an acoustic set with Stephen Stanley (left) and Chris Bennett. Photo courtesy of Jody Stockfish.

“If I’m not putting some energy into the singing,” he said. “It usually doesn’t go very well, so I like that. I like the extra pressure that comes along with it.”

Stanley will be playing acoustically at the showcase with guitarist Chris Bennett. Playing an acoustic show with one other bandmate is different from playing with the full band.

“When we play with the band, I work with setlists,” he said. “Because everybody needs to know what’s next. When we play the acoustic shows, I pull stuff out of the air and see where the energy is going.”

Returning to the roots

The Wolfe Island Records Artist Showcase will tour across Ontario. The London Music Club is the first stop, and the musicians are thrilled that their first show is in London.

Brown’s first time playing at renowned music bar Call The Office was the first show he played out of his hometown of Toronto. The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir also went around London, Windsor, and the Kitchener-Waterloo area when they weren’t playing shows.

“It feels like coming home,” he said.

Stanley, similarly, would often play at Call The Office and Western University pub The Spoke with The Lowest of The Low.

Jarvie, on the other hand, will be performing in London for the first time. The event happens to be occurring during JUNO Week, so she’s hoping there are lots of attendees there, including Londoners they know.

The showcase will be at the London Music Club on March 14. Doors open at 7 PM and the show starts at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 each.

Feature photo of the little (once) Post Office on Wolfe Island via Facebook / @wolfeislandrecords

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