Oxford Blue (photo by Bill Pond)
by Eleni Armenakis
When I reach Pat Lefler, the man behind the now Toronto-based Oxford Blue, over the phone he’s in the middle of a kitchen jam. He and Dawn Redskye from the Blackwood Honeybees are still working out the remainder of the setlist from their upcoming Black & Blue Variety Show, which will be making the rounds of Ontario (and Montreal) at the beginning of September.
The tour sees Lefler reuniting with his former band—he was their second guitarist before moving from London to Toronto. While he’s been playing consistently throughout the city at venues like The Cameron House and Horseshoe Tavern since the move with a new band, going on a tour with the group was harder to coordinate. Instead, he turned to the Blackwood Honeybees to see if they’d be interested in coming along. To make it work Lefler is also trying out crowdfunding to raise money for the tour.
“There’s five of us going so it’s going to be fairly expensive to feed and water and accommodate us all as well as pay for gas,” he says, explaining the reasons behind the Indiegogo campaign. “I’m generally fairly wary about crowdfunding. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying crowdfunding is the new record label—I don’t think that’s fairly how I feel about that, but I think that it’s a good way to get the crowd involved—whether or not it’s a way they want to get involved, forking over money—but it’s a good way to keep people in the loop, so I figured we should take a stab at it and see how it goes for future endeavors.”
Like many Canadian musicians, Lefler has made the musical rounds, first with From Now Til Forever when he 15 and later with Neon Cowboy while at Fanshawe College studying music industry arts. “We were playing kind of, Westerny, very Sadies influenced songs,” he says about his decision to go solo. “And I didn’t really have an outlet for my acoustic stuff.” It was a combination of classes at Fanshawe and the push for another project that played a big role in the birth of Oxford Blue, from the name to its first song.
“We were trying to come up with names for individual artists,” Lefler explains. “I had to sit at the front of the class and people would yell out names. None of them were any good, so I got back to my seat and I just, right there, had an inspiration for a song. I wrote the song ‘Oxford Blue’ sitting in a lecture class and so that’s where I got the name.”
He adds: “I used to perform just under my name, Patrick Lefler but I like the idea of having a bit of a pseudonym to go under [...] I don’t like my name in the performance aspect. I think Oxford Blue is more characteristic and more accurately describes the way I sound.”
The way he sounds on (Introducing Oxford Blue) is a cross between country and surf—a balancing act that teeters between the two genres throughout the album’s seven songs, merging together for some of its strongest moments. In many ways, the tightly produced album is another by-product of his time at Fanshawe as it let him have more of a hand in the result as he directed a fellow classmate and then-girlfriend, Olly Pavlova, through the mixing. Still, it was chance that gave him the biggest opportunity when it came time to record.
“I met Aaron Goldstein at a show in London that I played with Dan Griffin from The Arkells,” he explains. “And then he asked me if I wanted to make a record with him and Dan Romano, and obviously I said yes. At first I was going to record it myself, but obviously when you’re approached by someone that you appreciate their work and you’d like to work with them, I just jumped at that opportunity.”
Lefler will be playing six songs from that album during the Black & Blue Variety Show, while the Blackwood Honeybees will be featuring two from their album and several new songs, bookending an acoustic set by Lefler and Redskye. But another part of the plan for the variety show is to cover a handful of traditional songs, bringing us back to that kitchen jam.
“We’re going to do the ‘In the Pines’ song that there’s a video for of us doing, and we’re doing ‘Carmelita’ by Warren Zevon and a Bob Dylan tune. We’re still working out a couple of other ones.”
But while it seems like Lefler should really have his hands full at this point, the near-inevitable discussions about recording at least some of the creations coming out of The Black & Blue Variety Show are already underway and he’s already talking about getting back into the studio in October for a release later this winter.
“I find it’s very random,” he says about writing for the upcoming EP. “This particular song, ‘Another Blue Morning,’ there was a series of pictures on Flickr and it was re-coloured images from the Great Depression. And there was just one photo with power lines and a bunch of old-looking houses and general overcast of the day. The picture looks very blue, it’s a very cold picture, and I don’t know. I took a look at it and I wrote that song right there, 10-15 minutes. I just get spurts of writing material. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re not so good—that’s how it works.”
Oxford Blue will also be playing the next Grayowl Point show in conjunction with Doc Pickles Presents in October.