The road from Grande Prairie to Nashville is long, with a few twists and turns here and there, but it has been well worth the drive for Brad Mates of Emerson Drive.
About to head north once again, Mates and his bandmates are embarking on their 33-city, cross-Canada Decade and Driving tour that starts in Victoria Tuesday, the same day the band’s new greatest hits package, Decade of Drive, is released.
The band arrives in Vernon Thursday.
Founding member and lead vocalist Mates is looking forward to the journey; the reverse of the same one the native of Alberta made more than a decade ago when he and his band decided to move to the Music City to find a record label. (They had already been together six years before then under the name 12 Gauge.)
The move paid off, and six albums later, Emerson Drive, named for the Emerson Trail that crosses western Alberta and joins the Alaskan Highway, has accumulated numerous hits and fans from both sides of the border.
“I think Shania (Twain), Carolyn Dawn (Johnson) and their impact in the U.S. helped us in a way. It also helped to have the right music,” said Mates, who when in Nashville, spends most of his time with family, including his nine-month-old son.
“We’ve been lucky to have a great fan base in Canada and the U.S. Nashville can be a make it or break it town, especially now. I’d be scared if I knew I was getting into it now. It’s harder than ever.”
Ten years, and a few record label changes later, and Mates along with his bandmates Danick Dupelle, David Pichette, Mike Melancon and Dale Wallace have no regrets.
With a number of top-five country and mainstream radio hits, including a #1 single in the U.S. (Moments), which was nominated for a Grammy, and at least 15 hits in Canada, it was understandably a tough call when it came to picking the songs for Decade of Drive, said Mates.
A deluxe version of the album is also in the works and will feature exclusive enhanced video content, previously unreleased acoustic songs, a specially recorded new song, and interview footage.
“A lot of thought goes into it. You’ll hear stuff you haven’t heard in a while. That’s what makes it interesting, when you can break the songs down in different kinds of ways,” said Mates. “That said, half the songs are what people know. These are songs we feel have made an impact on our careers and to our fan base.”
Decade of Drive’s first single is a previously unreleased track, When I See You Again, which for Mates, along with Dupelle, was the most cathartic to write.
The song is about losing their former bassist, Patrick Bourque, to suicide in 2007, a day before he was to turn 30.
“It took three years for us to write that song. If we’d written it right after losing him, I don’t think the message would have come out in the right way,” said Mates, recalling the band’s biggest hit that also talked about suicide.
“Moments was a big thing for us, and when we were making Decade, we sat around six years after it came out, and looked at it. Some at the time thought there was a negative message in the song, but we thought it was an important message to tell. I still get emails from people about it, and what it’s meant to them.”
Another important message for the band is staying connected to its roots.
Although Grande Prairie is not part of this month’s tour, Emerson Drive still makes its annual pilgrimage to the city to perform in benefits, and last year they went up to Edmonton to be part of the Canadian Country Music Awards.
While there, the band joined a group of Canadian country music stars in the live recording of Standing Strong and True (For Tomorrow) in support of Canada’s troops in Afghanistan, a project started by Vernon entrepreneur Barry Stecyk.
“That was an easy decision for us,” said Mates. “It’s a great cause, and being Canadian and involved with something that benefits the troops and their families, when the idea was proposed to us, it took us less than five minutes to answer yes.”
And as the band gets ready to head off on highways miles from their home, one thing is for sure: they plan to keep driving.
“Doing this with longevity is a huge goal,” said Mates. “I look back 16 years ago, we were just out of high school, I never thought we would be going as long as we have, but we plan to keep going as long as possible.”
Emerson Drive’s Decade and Driving tour stops at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Thursday, Feb. 10. Opening for the band is Canadian alt country artist Ridley Bent. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $42.50 at the Ticket Seller. Call 549-7469, or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.