Interview and Photo by Jason Setnyk
Cornwall, Ontario – Eric Willison, a seasoned musician from the Seaway Valley, is commemorating a significant milestone in his music career this October, as it marks the 20th anniversary of his band, The Shiners. The journey began when Eric first discovered his love for music at the age of 10, and it has been a whirlwind of melodies, chords, and collaborations ever since.
At the age of 10, Eric’s passion for music was ignited by his grandmother, who introduced him to the enchanting world of Christmas songs, taught on an old Yamaha organ. With an insatiable thirst for learning, Eric quickly progressed, and by the age of 12, he received his first acoustic guitar. Throughout high school, he delved into the world of electric guitar. He started playing in local bands, allowing him to experience the vibrant Canadian music scenes of Montreal, London, and Ottawa.
In 2003, Eric returned to his roots in the Seaway Valley, a place that had nurtured his musical ambitions from the very beginning. Along the way, he explored various facets of the music industry, from performing live music solo or with bands to writing and recording original pieces. He also delved into artist management and band booking, gaining valuable insights into the business side of the music world.
Eric’s dedication to music and desire to hone his skills led him to Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, where he graduated as a Recording Engineer. Armed with technical knowledge and creative flair, he settled in Ottawa, where he managed a renowned recording studio, Distortion Studios. Additionally, he became a co-owner of EDT Media/Healey Music, a CD manufacturing company, further solidifying his presence in the Canadian music scene.
The culmination of Eric’s diverse experiences and musical journey manifested in the formation of The Shiners, a band he co-founded with Joel Labrosse and Jay Collis exactly two decades ago. Over the years, The Shiners have amassed a dedicated fanbase and have become an integral part of the local music landscape. Eric’s role as the lead singer and guitarist has been pivotal in shaping the band’s distinctive sound.
In the spirit of keeping the love for music alive, Eric’s passion extends to a heartwarming collaboration with his daughter, Grace Willison. Together, they frequently grace events and venues in the area, captivating audiences with their harmonies and skillful performances. Their repertoire is a delightful blend of cover songs and original compositions, showcasing the versatility and talent that runs in the Willison family.
Looking ahead, Eric Willison and The Shiners show no signs of slowing down. With their 20th-anniversary celebration just around the corner, fans eagerly await what promises to be an unforgettable musical extravaganza at the upcoming Cornwall Ribfest.
Five Questions with The Seeker
1 – What made you want to become a musician?
“My grandmother played the organ, and she taught me Silent Night. She showed me the sheet music, but it seemed easier to just figure out what notes were right or wrong. She told me I had an ear for music. I transitioned my ear for music to the guitar. My parents always had music playing in the house growing up. Lucky for me, it was stuff like the Stones, the Doors, Janis Joplin, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, CCR, etc. I remember listening to Born to Run with headphones on as a kid and being blown away by the stories, the emotion, and the instruments. But mostly just how it made me feel. So rockin’ out to other people’s music was one thing, but now that I could play guitar, I could rock out to music that I was actually playing! By the time I got to high school, I was very musically motivated and at one point just thought, “…what if I write my ideas down, make ’em rhyme, and play some chords over them,” and so it began.”
2 – What is it about music that makes you feel passionate?
“My passion for music has constantly evolved. It started with hearing music that made me feel good, sad, or want to jump around like a wild animal. And then there was the moment where I realized that I could play music too. As a young musician, being able to create something somewhat cohesively with other people playing other instruments was certainly a thrill. Then seeing people dancing when you played those songs with those instruments in front of your friends and family. And then, they clapped and whistled too!! What, wait, you can get paid money to do this? Wow! Writing lyrics, playing music to those lyrics, recording those songs, sharing them with others, playing them live, and then at a certain point, seeing people singing your words back at you from the audience – mind blown. Besides trying to write better songs, these days, I like exploring how other songwriters craft their songs, which is my passion for continuous learning in music. And if I’m not playing live music, we are going somewhere to see live music.”
3 – Describe your creative process when you write new music.
“Inspiration has its own schedule; you never know when it will tap you on the shoulder. I do my best to make notes on my phone or record a quick piece of audio to archive the idea. For me, a song usually starts with a singular idea or concept. If it has a timeline with a series of events and/or a storyline, a song like that can happen quickly. But many songs are pieces of ideas, puzzled together but with a vein of something that relates them. For me, the best evolution of a song takes place late at night or when I’m exhausted, and a bit of subconscious is present. Lyrics come first most of the time, inspiring the mood, feel, tempo, and approach to the music. I think songwriting is like daydreaming, like a movie in your head; the lyrics are the story/script, and the music is the soundtrack. I can get lost in those moments pretty easily. Once a song has a base musically and lyrically, and if it fits what we do as a band, then the band collectively works on it and shapes it from everybody’s perspective. We like to say that we ‘Shinerize’ songs, which is simply the filter of our styles, influences, and input on what we think is best for the song.”
4 – Are there any musicians who inspire you? What qualities do you admire about them?
“I love lots of music. I can listen to bands like Metallica or the Beastie Boys and really get into it but they don’t necessarily inspire me creatively. Most likely because I’m probably never going to write and create songs like they do. The singer-songwriters tend to pull me into the songs. I was listening to Jimmy Rankin the other day and thinking about how well he can tell stories. A Bob Dylan song will come on, and one line will make us wonder how he can say so much with so little. And just when you think Justin Rutledge plays quiet and laid back, he gets even more laid back. Stuff like that gets me thinking about songwriting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve cranked up Boston many a time, but it’s not sending me to my guitar to write anything like Piece of Mind or Foreplay/Long Time. So yeah, I think the singer-songwriters inspire me most to write songs.”
5 – Tell us about your bandmates and what it’s like working with them.
“I play guitar and sing in a band called The Shiners with Joel Labrosse on bass and Jason Collis on drums. We certainly have an appreciation for a lot of the same music, but as musicians, when we first started the band, we brought different approaches to the table. Joel and Jay played in a metal band called Ritual for many years. This certainly keeps the foundation for what we do very solid and powerful. Although I was raised on rock and roll, many bands I played in for years incorporated old country and Celtic into the sets. The result is a roots-rock sound. We joke that we are a country band in denial, but there is plenty of volume, grit, and screams that incorporate itself into our sound. Joel, Jay, and I work very well together. We don’t pull many punches and are honest with each other. There are no egos, and we respect each other. We are friends and brothers, and we are lucky for that. We played our first gig on October 31st, 2003 at the Glengarrian. We’ve recorded and released two full-length original projects and have been picking away at some new material recently.”
The Shiners will perform in Cornwall as part of the Ribfest lineup on Thursday, July 27th, at 7:30 PM. Also, they will play Arts in the Park on Thursday, August 17th, at 7:00 PM. Both shows are at the Bandshell in Cornwall’s Lamoureux Park. Follow The Shiners on Facebook their latest news.