When Clayton Burrill (JD‘11) heard that he and his fellow Hillsburn bandmates had scored five 2022 East Coast Music Awards (ECMA) nominations, it was a wonderful but surreal moment. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down live performances, making life as working musician challenging.
“It’s difficult to keep sight of what you’re doing because you’re not doing what you would be normally,” he says. “We were lucky in that we were working in the studio when the pandemic started and didn’t have to cancel a slew of tour dates. But figuring out how to release the music we were making and promoting it in that context was a strange exercise.”
Returning to the road
Things are getting a bit easier for Clayton and his bandmates—Rosanna Burrill (BM‘14), who is also his sister, Jackson Fairfax-Perry (BM‘14) and Clare Macdonald (BSc‘11). Pandemic-related restrictions are relaxing, which has enabled them to get back on the road and perform songs from that album, the ECMA-nominated Slipping Away, including EMCA-nominated Get High. In some regards, they compare the return to live performances to riding a bicycle. But it has also been surreal in its own way, not to mention challenging.
“It’s like running a marathon after two years of being on the couch,” says Rosanna. “The adrenaline helps. Without that, we’d be lost.”
Even so, each performance is helping the indie-pop quartet prepare for what may be their biggest gig in quite a while. On May 27, Hillsburn will join artists such as the Keifer Sutherland Band and Polaris-prize winning performer and composer Jeremy Dutcher (BA’ 12) for Resounding: a celebration of the arts. Taking place during Dalhousie Alumni Days, the event will usher in a new era for the enhanced and expanded Dalhousie Arts Centre, which includes the new 300-seat Joseph Strug Concert Hall, as well as new and improved studio, performance, rehearsal and classroom spaces.
“We were excited when we were invited to be part of it,” says Clayton. “We were even more excited to discover that Jeremy was on the bill, too.”
A kind of homecoming
The event is a kind of homecoming for the band. All four members are Dalhousie alumni, and three of them — Rosanna, Clare, and Jackson — are graduates of the music program. “That is where I met most of the amazing musicians that I know,” Rosanna says. “It’s safe to say that the band would not have existed without that program. It is an important shared experience that binds us together in a really cool way.”
Clare agrees, adding, “I think the renovation project is really going to enhance the whole educational experience.”
Just as the Arts Centre has changed, so has Hillsburn. Formed in 2014, the band has released three albums of anthemic songs, each one reflecting a growing sophistication in their sound. The songs also reflect a wide array of influences, from singer songwriters to modern pop.
“We all have different music tastes and that is reflected in what each of us contributes to our songs,” Rosanna says. “I think every song we do is different and that is partly because we are kind of influenced by everything.”
Fans will be delighted to know that the band has recorded a new EP that will be released later this year. It will be the first release featuring Clayton as songwriter. “That has really been our main focus, along with playing a few shows, which has been nice,” Rosanna says. “We’re taking things one day at a time right now because you never know what is going to happen.”
Whatever may come, it is clear that the family, musical, and academic ties that brought the band together nearly a decade ago remain as strong as ever. As Clayton says, “We all enjoy spending time together. Our connections give us a good base to work from.”
Tickets for Resounding: a celebration of the arts can be purchased through the Dalhousie Arts Centre Box Office.
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