Good for Grapes gets its fans' feet stomping

The Surrey-based folksters have come a long way since their early days of busking on the streets
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The question gets asked so many times that Daniel McBurnie doesn’t even want to answer it anymore. Instead, when the origin of his band’s name comes up, the Good for Grapes singer just hands the phone over to guitarist Graham Gomez.

It turns out that the name was an accident. But whatever the reason for it—and we’ll get to that in a bit—the fruity alliteration hasn’t hurt the group.

Barely two years old, with most of its members just out of high school (recently added drummer Blair Hansen, at 22, is the oldest), Good for Grapes is now well past its early days of busking for change on the streets of Victoria. The Surrey folksters have won top honours in two battle-of-the-bands-type competitions, have appeared on Canada’s Got Talent, and are in the midst of a month-long tour of western Canadian venues and music festivals.

The group even has devoted followers who, at shows, perform an enthusiastic, ritualistic foot-stomp in Good for Grapes’ honour.

“It began as a dance move,” says McBurnie, reached on tour in Red Deer, Alberta. “We started with a very loyal fan base, and they all caught on to this thing. We’d like to take credit for it, but it was the people at our concerts that just started doing this raging stomp move.”

With that kind of reaction, the band’s rose-coloured, strummy sound must be connecting with audiences. Musical references to au courant acts don’t hurt, either; Seattle’s Fleet Foxes are present in the recorded-in-an-empty-mansion vocals of “Skipping Stone”, and British act Mumford & Sons’ pubby folk runs through “Oh Dear”. (Both tracks can be heard on the band’s SoundCloud page.)

But though Good for Grapes falls into the same general Pacific Northwest folk-pop category as fellow locals Hey Ocean! and Said the Whale, the group was different enough to stand out at the Rogers Battle of the Bands, which it won in late 2010.

“We went in with absolutely zero expectations,” says McBurnie. “We didn’t think a lot of these kids would take to the folk sound. We just wanted to play a show. I remember there being a lot of rock bands. It was kind of a shock when we won.”

McBurnie says there was more diversity in Good for Grapes’ next triumph, in Supernova’s Band on the Run to the U.K. Though they came in first in that 2011 competition as well, the group chose a week of recording over the intended prize, a slot at a music festival in London.

Says McBurnie, “We were told, ‘Listen, you guys can do that if you want. Or, instead of spending one day and doing one show there, you can come to Toronto for five days and record and do a showcase for all these industry reps.’ ”

The group opted for the latter—“the better career move”, says McBurnie—and recorded some songs that were finished in Vancouver. (Earlier this year, Good for Grapes also appeared on a few episodes of Canada’s Got Talent, but withdrew before the semifinals. “I’m not sure how much I can really say about that,” says McBurnie. “We decided not to go on with it.” Magician Vladimir the Great replaced them.)

The next step, naturally, is a full-length, which McBurnie says the septet—which also includes Alexa Unwin (piano, vocals), Robert Hardie (bass, vocals), Sean MacKeigan (accordion), and Jesse Brook (trombone, trumpet, flute)—will record later this year. Good for Grapes hopes to release the album, a follow-up to its self-released 2011 EP, on an independent label.

“In our experience of self-promoting, there’s a lot to being in a band nowadays, with all the networking,” says McBurnie. “In theory, you can find money and fund your own album. A label, though, really takes on a lot of the load. They’ll get you on the radio, they’ll help you design artwork.”

And that pretty much sums up the Good for Grapes story so far—except, that is, for the name. Which, from what Gomez tells us, sounds like it came about simply enough.

Planning to busk in Victoria, the four pals who would form the core of the band—Unwin, Gomez, McBurnie, and Hardie—started practising on the ferry deck. A crowd gathered; instantly won over, people demanded a name. After some awkward glances, someone recalled what Gomez had said earlier on the boat when he’d declined Unwin’s offer of a snack: “No, thanks, I’m good for grapes.”

And that is how you name a folk-pop band.

For a complete list of who’s performing when and on what stage at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, please go to their website.

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