Bob D'Eith's hands-on knowledge of the music biz helps B.C. artists survive the pandemic

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      If you were into the Vancouver alt-rock scene in the early '90s, you no doubt heard about the local quintet called Rymes with Orange.

      You may even have seen the video for their indie single "Marvin", which starts off with black-and-white footage of some guy screaming/laughing maniacally while others spread yucky unknown substances all over his head.

      That would have been the band's 23-year-old keyboardist Bob D'Eith, who's currently holding down the position of B.C. parliamentary secretary for arts and film. In this role, he's responsible for helping the province's musicians and artists—as well as music venues and arts organizations—survive the pandemic that has been bleeding them dry for over a year.

      He's come a long way from playing a goo-ed-up weirdo in a Rymes with Orange video.

      D'Eith—who is also the NDP MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission—stopped being a touring member of RWO in 1994, instead focusing on his role of comanager along with Peter Karroll, who has also guided the career of Bif Naked. The politician and part-time entertainment lawyer, now 56, still has some awesome memories of his days on the road, though.

      "As you probably know, touring can be a real slog," says D'Eith—pronounced "deeth", not "death", fortunately—on the phone from his Maple Ridge home. "You might have this image of what touring is all about, but it's 90 percent drudgery; it's tough. So here we are, we're in Toronto for Edgefest, and the Barenaked Ladies were on Stage One and we were on Stage Two. They finished their set, and just when they finished we started, but there was nobody there—'cause they were all at the other stage.

      "And then [Barenaked Ladies frontman] Stephen [Page] said, 'Hey, go check out Rymes with Orange on the other stage!' and it was the best thing. I was sitting there on the keyboards and I could see these thousands of people coming over these grassy berms, and it was like something out of—I don't know—some Scottish war movie or something. Thousands of people coming towards us as we played our first song, and by the time we finished our set it was just packed. It kind of made all the touring worth it."

      Before stepping into politics, D'Eith spent 14 years as executive director of Music B.C., a nonprofit association advocating for the music industry. His time as a working musician, band manager, and entertainment lawyer had given him an unobstructed view of what the industry and its artists require.

      "The passion I had as an artist I was able to translate into the advocacy role," he says. "But dealing with the frustrations I felt as an advocate, both federally and provincially—trying to get funds for the industry, get support for the industry, even get recognition that it was an industry—was really difficult. So after hitting so many brick walls, I realized the best way to make change was to get on the other side of the glass.

      "So there were three motivators for me to get into politics," he points out. "One was cultural-industry support, another one was education—because I have five kids—and the other one was mental health, because I have a brother who suffers from significant mental-health issues. All those things sort of added up into, 'Look, I've got to get involved.' So that's when I started running [for office]."

      D'Eith threw his hat into the political ring in 2012, and five years later he became elected as the NDP MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission. Four years after that, COVID-19 hit and, in response, he was also named parliamentary secretary for arts and film.

      "When the pandemic first happened, what the premier [John Horgan] did was he looked at everyone's skill sets—and it didn't matter which party they were from, it was all hands on deck—and he saw me and my background in the creative industries and said, 'Look, Minister Beare [then-minister of tourism, arts, and culture Lisa Beare] is gonna need help.' The film industry was having to be shut down, the music industry was getting shut down, tourism was getting shut down. So last spring he asked me to come in and find out, 'What do you need? How can we help?' "

      With D'Eith's input the provincial government set about to pivot funding in response to the toll the pandemic-driven lockdown was taking on music venues, festivals, and arts organizations, with money coming from programs like Amplify B.C. and distributed through agencies like the B.C. Arts Council. D'Eith was thrilled when, last month, Amplify B.C. got renewed for three years at $22.5 million, which means three years of locked-in funding for the most necessary aid.

      "I'm in the middle of consultations, as parliamentary secretary right now, with the entire industry, with all parts of the sector, to find out what we need to get back. And then also there's $35 million in B.C. Arts Council recovery funding. So I think the government has done a remarkable job in terms of supporting arts and culture and the creative industries."

      When asked if there's any particular B.C. bands or artists he wants to give a personal shout-out to in these trying times, D'Eith doesn't hesitate before aiming the kudos at B.C. indie-rock outfit Mother Mother.

      "I'm a huge fan of Ryan [Guldemond] and the rest of the group," he notes. "I noticed that they're out in Chicago in September and have a huge tour planned. So shout-out to Mother Mother, because they're a group that I think deserves international success."

      In between trying to rescue the province's music and arts industries, D'Eith still finds time to get his own musical licks in. The other act he is noted for besides Rymes with Orange, the atmospheric, mostly instrumental duo Mythos—which has earned its own fair share of international success—recorded an album this year featuring five new tracks. And like gig-deprived musicians across the globe right now, he also yearns to get back on-stage—at least once in a while.

      "I'd love to play live more," he confides. "My buddy Marc LaFrance, who plays with Randy Bachman, has a group called Cease & Desist, and I sit in with him sometimes. And one of my sons is the drummer in a funky soul-rock band called Raincity, and they sometimes let me sit in too."

      D'Eith says that "the best thing ever" was when another of his sons, the 20-year-old indie-pop singer-songwriter who performs under the artist name Cam Blake, asked him to help write a tune for Father's Day.

      "I'm like, 'Hell yeah!'," D'Eith says, "because I have to create as part of the balance in my life. It's very difficult to find the time, given the job of being an MLA, but I do my best to find that time, because if you're a creator you need to create."

       

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