‘Ska-rockers’ return to Ottawa for album release show

University of Ottawa alumni band, The Cardboard Crowns, are returning to Ottawa on March 11 to release their third album Hold On at Mavericks.

Although the self-described “ska-rockers” have relocated to Toronto, three of the members are originally from Aylmer, Que. and consider Ottawa their hometown. The band has toured across Canada, but play primarily in eastern Ontario, and are thrilled to be returning to one of Ottawa’s most popular live music venues, as they have played the Ottawa scene extensively.

The group consists of four high school friends who pursued different routes in post-secondary, but continued to play together in bars and clubs in the Ottawa area in the summer before later getting serious about making it as The Cardboard Crowns.

The men bring not only their affection for ska and classic punk to their unique music, but also a deep love of community service and social justice, which has been ingrained in the band members since they were in high school. The Cardboard Crowns try to make a difference whenever they can, often playing free shows for charity events.  

“We kind of started realizing that an important part of community is community service—it’s giving back to the people around you, and even if you don’t really know them, you end up knowing them and becoming a part of their lives,” said Francois Cuningham, the band’s bassist and graduate of the U of O’s master’s program in economics.

The band have released two other albums prior to Hold On, both of which have heavy Sublime influences, and lyrically focus on the importance of being an active member in the community. Their new album focuses on similar themes, but isn’t quite as positive as their previous work.

“It’s a darker album. Hold On, the title kinda says it, is about hanging on through darker times. We still have some happy ska songs, well sometimes it sounds happy because it’s upbeat, but the lyrics are darker,” Cuningham explained. This darker touch stems from the relationships and connections that were broken when the band moved to Toronto.

“People will have to listen to it more than once to get to the lyrics and the meaning,” Cuningham said.

This album is also another milestone for the band, as it’s their first recorded in an actual studio rather than vocalist and guitarist Joel Keuhn’s basement studio, with much of the recording being done in London, Ont. at EMAC studios.

The band decided to hold a release party in Ottawa as it’s their hometown, but also because they view it as an essential city for Canada’s music scene.

“For us the music scene is a triangle in Canada. It’s all about Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal—that’s what we believe in,” said Cuningham. “You can hit Ottawa on the Friday and Montreal on the Saturday then come back home to Toronto the Sunday.”

“Ottawa is the best crowd,” Cuningham said, noting how the band members being bilingual help them fully connect with Ottawa concertgoers. He says he’s excited for the high level of audience participation, which includes attendees making their own cardboard crowns to wear, a tradition at their shows.

The Cardboard Crowns release show will be at Mavericks on March 11 at 9 p.m.. Tickets are available at Vertigo Records at 193 Rideau Street in advance for $10 or at the door for $15.