By Kristy Koehler, May 13 2019—
It’s hard to pin down just what kind of music A New Ground plays. Billed as Celtic Folk, the Ontario-based duo — made up of Claryssa Webb and Ryan Dugal — is scheduled to play back-to-back shows in Calgary this summer.
Dugal says categorizing A New Ground is no easy task, and something the artistic side of him isn’t keen to do.
“I understand the importance of needing to categorize things,” he says. “But when you’re an artist it’s really hard because you don’t want to do that — at least I don’t. I don’t write from a stylistic standpoint. I don’t set out to write the perfect folk song or the perfect country song — it’s not like that. I just pick up a guitar and whatever styles comes out, that’s what comes out. I don’t try to contain it too much because I like so many different types of music.”
The Celtic categorization of the duo comes from Webb’s fiddle prowess. In fact, A New Ground got together when Dugal was running an open jam night at a venue in downtown Kitchener, Ontario with a band called The Short Films. Dugal and the band played backup for artists who showed up to jam and showcase their talents on stage.
“You get a lot of singer songwriters with acoustic guitars showing up,” says Dugal. “But then Claryssa showed up with her fiddle — she doesn’t need any backup and she’s got the whole room stomping on the floor with nothing but a fiddle. I was just blown away by how she could captivate an audience like that. We started jamming a little bit at the open jams because its fun and then it just kind of took off from there.”
Not only does she play the fiddle, Webb is an incredibly accomplished musician. She plays violin, cello, piano, drums and flute, among others.
“In reality, if I give Claryssa an instrument she’ll just start playing it,” says Dugal, who himself is also a musical powerhouse, capable of picking up just about any rhythm or percussion instrument. “Once you get one down, it starts a trend. Once you get two down, it’s exponential. When we come together to record we can construct an entire band — a huge band — between the two of us so thats really freeing.”
Now together for three years, A New Ground has more than 100 performances booked for this year alone. No two shows are alike, and the duo plays everything from large festivals to intimate spaces.
“We’re very versatile because it’s just the two of us,” says Dugal. “We have a bunch of different configurations. Sometimes we hire a backing band, sometimes we bring a small drum kit and just take turns on it throughout different songs. Sometimes we just bring an acoustic guitar and the fiddle — depends on the size of the room.
“We play a lot. We’re constantly driving all over the place. We just want to get our music in everybody’s ear. Because we play so many instruments, we cram as many of them into the car as we can and we just kind of like to weave in and out of instruments seamlessly. We try to make a show out of it.”
During some of that driving, Webb was hand-painting new copies of their sold out EP Forge the Sky on the dashboard. She painted every single cover by hand, making sure fans had a keepsake from the tour.
“People like leaving with a souvenir made by somebody — not something that was printed out of a factory,” says Dugal.
Will they be painting the covers of their new EP, due to be released prior to their summer tour? Dugal laughed and said he “didn’t want to commit Claryssa to anything” but that, even if the band got so popular it wasn’t feasible to hand-paint all of the wanted EPs, they would still probably do it for the die-hard fans.
Dugal and Webb have a deep appreciation for those fans and love the interaction with them that occurs at shows. Dugal says meeting people is one of the main reasons they go on tour.
“Why does anybody go on any adventure?” he says. “To meet people and gain stories. You don’t really get any new stories without meeting new people.”
A New Ground is playing at Koi on July 8 and at the Ironwood Stage & Grill on July 9. Dugal says fans can come to both shows and get a different experience both times.
“Our Koi show — we’ll probably bust out some fun covers,” he says. “It’ll be a smaller venue, more intimate. We’ll probably interact with the audience a bit more. When we play at Ironwood it will probably be a bit more of a performance.”
After listening to their catalog, it’s clear A New Ground isn’t just Celtic Folk. Sure, Celtic influences come through, but their sound is far more complex than one singular label allows for.
“We have that fiddle side of us,” says Dugal. “We draw also from pop and jazz so its hard to put a box around that. When you throw in folk music, acoustic music, a little bit of classical — and obviously the Celtic side — and then some pop and some jazz, what do you call that?”
Call it an excellent musical alternative to the traditional Stampede Week offerings! A New Ground’s music can be streamed online at anewground.bandcamp.com.