Meet For Keeps, Toronto’s Next Indie Sweethearts

With the impending gloom of cooler months slowly drifting in, you should be soaking in all the sunshine you can get. But if you’re feeling a little vitamin D deficient, we recommend grabbing your favourite pair of headphones and getting your daily dose via the tender jangle of Toronto startups FOR KEEPS.

The Big Smoke outfit may be new to the indie scene but their take on whimsical dream pop is a far cry from amateur hour. The foursome’s debut Somedays is bursting at the seams with sharp Frankie Cosmos-esque quirks and “Archie, Marry Me” pep; a mix that will have your mind drifting to brighter dispositions. It may be short and sweet, but luckily the group are already working towards writing and recording another album on top of hectic schedules to zero in on the chemistry they have. “It’s hard to find time to get everyone together,” notes vocalist Julia Allen. “But we do our own things during the day and then at night we come alive; we come together and we make it work”.

With Somedays being out on shelves, we met with the group and toured around Ossington Avenue over cold fries and nervous laughter — chatting about word wizardry, work-band balance, and what it’s like for four close friends to turn smaller projects into big realities.

How did the four of you come together to form For Keeps?

Julia Allen: About a year ago, Bradley and I decided that we wanted to record. Just as a little project; a couple of songs I had written about two years prior. Bradley works as an audio engineer and he thought it would be a fun experiment, but halfway through the process we were like, “Damn, these are really fun. It would be kind of a shame if no one heard them”. So first off, Cam ended up recording the drums on our album, but that was definitely before we decided that we were going to form a band. Through that experience and process, it was definitely a lot of fun for me and after that, we started to take things more seriously. We asked around our friend group to see who would be interested in playing bass and put feelers out there.

Bradley McClure: Cam already played drums on the album so obviously he was the right option for that role. Then Jeff was an awesome bass player that Cam and I both knew from back home and we’re all already really good friends, so we decided this would be the best group of people to get together and make some music.

Julia: Bradley and Cam already have experience playing together as well. They were in a band in high school.

Cameron MacDonald: Jeff and I were in a band together in high school as well.

What was the band’s name?

Cameron: Ours was All These Lights and theirs was Anchors.

Jeff Hurst: It was more of a joke band to be honest, but nonetheless we’ve been friends for a long time and like the same music so everything came together pretty seamlessly.

How would you describe your Somedays to someone that’s never listened to your music before?

Bradley: It’s very jangly and whimsical and washy. You can’t really pick one thing out; the album is kind of all over top of itself.

Julia: I feel like Cam will answer this question very well.

Cameron: No, that was a pretty wonderful description. Putting out all the W’s: whimsical, washy, wishful.

Jeff: I think 1996 would have liked it (laughs).

Bradley: It’s definitely got some of the pop punk vibes in there too and then a little bit of new indie, surf-y style in there as well. It’s pretty cool.

Are there any influences that directed or inspired that sound?

Bradley: Definitely Alvvays.

Julia: Sure, but also Frankie Cosmos. She’s honestly a huge inspiration to me. I love her honest lyricism and how she has no shame, and sings openly about her dead dog. I was thinking if Greta Kline can write a song about her dead dog and have people feel it, then I can write a song about anything. She was definitely a huge lyrical inspiration.

Jeff: I started playing in more of a punk background, which I feel is very applicable to all styles of music as it’s very rudimentary. I try to bring some spontaneity and whimsical attitude to our music as well so I think it fits really well and is kind of playful. It’s a playful, curious kinda style.

Bradley: I really enjoy emo music and that’s what I kind of try to bring to the table.

Cameron: I’m definitely coming from a similar angle, but also mixing that very weirdly with ’70s dad rock and super wicked rhythmic sections. There’s a certain groove and rhythm to them. The drummers from that era are so tight and I don’t know… Jeff and I have a connection onstage and I think that comes right from the early ’70s.

Julia: Funny enough we like to cover two songs from the early ’70s in our set.

Which ones?

Julia: “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and “Heart Of Glass” by Blondie. Which I guess is more late ’70s?

Cameron: But either way, ’70s.

Considering how close the four of you are, what were the biggest obstacles you faced as a group while putting together your debut?

Jeff: Well first of all, we all have full-time jobs outside of music. I think in a way that’s a bit of a curse because it’s hard to find time to get everyone together and rehearse, but at the same time it puts us on the same page where we are doing our own things during the day and then at night we come alive. We come together and we make things work.

Julia: I would echo that. That’s a huge obstacle for sure, but we’re very communicative so I think full-time jobs on top of recording and rehearsing would be an issue that would prohibit others from getting together and doing things. But we practice pretty regularly for four different people who have completely different schedules. Like we’re not all 9-to-5 so it can be a bit backwards sometimes.

Jeff: Recording isn’t as much of an issue with us because we are blessed to have a sound engineer in the band who has his own studio.

Bradley: For the recordings, I sat there and did everything I could do without everyone being together. But one issue we had was that we could procrastinate everything else for a little bit because we could do it anytime we wanted and we would push it off a lot.

Julia: That’s the gift and the curse of having that person in your group because you’re always like, “We can do it whenever we want so let’s push it to tomorrow”.

On the other hand, what’s your writing process like? Is there a particular place or time in the city that helps with inspirations?

Julia: I think for this album specifically, I wrote a lot of these songs by myself in isolation. There are three songs on the album that I wrote way before this project even existed but then once we decided to move forward with the band, I realized I had to write or three or four more songs to make our EP legit. But since we’ve started practicing together as a band and everyone here is a songwriter, we’ve all kind of brought new and fun ideas forward. That’s been a fun experience for me. I’ve never written a song with other people before, so sometimes we’d practice and someone would be like, “I’ve got this sweet guitar lead; let’s jam on it for 20 minutes”.

Bradley: This album started out with Julia’s songs and then we put everything on top of them and worked them to where we thought they should be. We already have a lot of songs for the next album which is definitely a collaborative effort. We’re all throwing things out there to see what works.

Cameron: I feel like I get rhythmic ideas when I’m commuting or on transit and then they flesh out when I start hearing a guitar lead or a bass groove. It’s very inspired by the world outside of myself. The music is more like this multi-layered thing and then I get to throw my limbs around and make something happen.

Jeff: For me, it’s like if you’ve ever spent a long amount of time inside a windowless area and then you just step out into the world, and there’s this happy song playing in your head. If you know what I mean? That’s the peak moment of “creative juices flowing”, as you’d say.

What would you say sets the group apart from other Canadian indie bands in the community?

Julia: We played our first show in April and did two shows before the month was over, and we immediately started getting feedback about how happy we were on stage. Like “Your bassist had this shit-eating grin on his face the whole time, but it’s so authentic”. I guess people really like to watch us perform live and think we have some kind of authenticity that maybe they feel is lacking in other bands. I love watching bands have fun and I think that sometimes in the indie scene, there’s this pressure to love what you do but not so much that…

Jeff: That you don’t look cool.

Julia: Exactly.

Jeff: We’re not putting anything on. We’re just going up onstage and being us.

Julia: We’re playing music with our friends.

Jeff: Believe it or not, we are actually happy to be there (laughs). We’re having a good time and that’s what it’s about. I don’t know if that necessarily sets us apart but I think it’s something that people can enjoy and I’m happy people enjoy it as that’s what counts for us.

That is really valid. There’s definitely a pressure to be cool and sometimes people think that being stoic and cold onstage is something to put forward as “cool”.

Julia: Totally. Sometimes it can kind of feel inaccessible.

It’s good when there’s stage presence an audience can feed off of.

Julia: Exactly. Because it resonates, right? It’s like if you see someone being happy, you are going to be psyched.

With an EP release party in the books, what’s next for For Keeps?

Julia: We just applied for a grant, which is very exciting. Cam is like a word wizard and…

Cameron: Official title.

Julia: Yes, and he put together an awesome application for us. So we’re hoping to get that grant and if we do, the goal would be to produce a music video for either one of our singles or another song off the record that we’re releasing today. But then we’re going to record another album.

Bradley: I don’t know about touring because of everyone’s careers and such, but we will take a week to explore doing some shows in the future.

Jeff: Touring is on the horizon for sure.

Julia: There’s many things to come.

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