A fairly odd experience

CBC Searchlight winners Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk, of Brooks, Alta., make their way to Vernon Monday.

It all changed with a phone call.

On May 9, singer-songwriter-pianist Lauren Mann, her multi-instrumentalist husband Zoltan  Szoges, and their fellow band members were hanging around the couple’s Brooks, Alta. home listening to the radio.

On air was Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s Q, about to announce the winner of CBC Music’s national Searchlight contest, where bands apply and fans vote for Canada’s best new artist of 2014.

With Mann and her band, the Fairly Odd Folk, in the running as one of four finalists, the anticipation was thick in the air, when the phone suddenly rang.

Mann answered and that familiar deep voice coming out of the radio told her the news: Out of 4,000 acts that entered, spanning numerous genres and regions,  and with 1/50th of one per cent of a chance, they had won.

It all came down to fans clicking like on their song, and to the final judges who included Torquil Campbell of the band Stars, singer-songwriter Sarah Slean and hip hop artist Kardinal Offishall.

“It was pretty crazy,” said Mann. “We had a worry at the beginning that people would be tired of voting and tired of us nagging them to vote, so it was encouraging to see as the contest went on people were taking the reigns and telling their friends about it. They told us they really enjoyed voting. We had people from the U.S. and friends as far as South America and England voting for us.”

About to come to Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo as part of their current western tour, which started in Edmonton Wednesday, Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk are riding the wave of their win and continue to build on the momentum from their last album, Over Land and Sea.

It was the single off the album, I Lost Myself, with Mann singing sweetly along to her ukulele, and its foot-stompin’ build up, which the band entered into the Searchlight contest.

“A lot of people comment on the whistling in the song. It’s fun and we love playing it live too,” said Mann. “We wrote Over Land and Sea after travelling across Canada and after Zoltan and I got married. It inspired the songs, travelling, new adventures, meeting new people, and drawing inspiration from other people’s experiences.”

The band will have $20,000 in new music equipment from Yamaha Canada Music, one of the prizes from the Searchlight win,  when they enter the studio to record their next album early next spring.

“We hope to get our album out in 2015 and are really excited to get the ball rolling. We are already working on new songs, which we will perform on this tour. It will be nice to work them out,” said Mann.

Born in Langley, B.C. and raised in Calgary, Mann was always immersed in music, but it wasn’t until after she graduated university that she became serious about sitting down to a piano and writing songs.

“I had friends that promoted shows that helped me get my start, playing  at community centres and open mics around Calgary. There were friends that I would jam with, sort of part-time and unofficial. After I got married in 2012, I decided to pursue music full time, so we started on our own as an acoustic act. The goal was to have a full band, and a year and half ago the five of us started playing together.”

That connection with the Fairly Odd Folk, featuring fellow couple Jay and Jessica Christman on drums and bass respectively as well as guitarist Josh Akin, also instigated Mann and Szoges to move to Brooks, a small city about the third of the size of Vernon, located 180 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

“My husband and I had been travelling for a few years and we didn’t have a home base anywhere. We had some time off, so we decided to settle in Brooks (where the other band members are from.) Brooks itself doesn’t have too much to it, but we’ve really enjoyed making it our home,” said Mann, adding the band just played at the nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park over the Victoria Day long weekend.

Working with her husband has also been an inspiration that has given her insight into their relationship, said Mann.

“I’m quite an independent person and all of a sudden I find myself learning the dynamics of marriage with a working relationship… It’s been cool, though. And it’s great to dream together and to see those dreams go through. You see the strengths and weaknesses, not just on a personal side, but how they can be effective working as a team.”

After their visit to the B.C. Interior, Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk are about to reap another reward from winning the Searchlight contest when they play at the Festival with fellow Albertans Tegan and Sara, along with Spoon, Arkells, Hannah Georgas, Chad Van Gaalen and others at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park June 14.

“We’re looking forward to it. It’ll be the biggest show we’ve ever played,” said Mann, adding the band is just as happy visiting smaller communities such as Vernon. “We love playing everywhere. We have a lot of friends in smaller pockets of Canada and have more tours later this summer and in the fall.”

Mann and The Fairly Odd Folk stop by Gallery Vertigo, located at #1-3001 31st St. in downtown Vernon, this Monday. Opening is local artist Peter McKillop, Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.