Western tour derailed by COVID, alt-country duo Fresh Breath turns to virtual shows, e-sales

KINGSVILLE — To quote a line from one of their songs, Katie and Josh Pascoe were ready last June to “back up the Chevy’” and head west for a two-month, multi-province, western Canadian tour.

But sorting through the changing COVID-19 restrictions from province to province and the growing uncertainty whether the bars and clubs their band, Fresh Breath, was booked to play would even be open made it a risky bet.“We held on for as long as we could,” said Josh. “We kept touching base with all the different venues. Each province was handling it differently … there was just so much uncertainty.”

So, the Chevy van remained parked in the driveway and the Pascoes, both full-time musicians, were faced with the reality of how to earn a living at a time when no artist can perform in front of a live audience.

Out of necessity the couple learned to become more entrepreneurial in marketing and selling their music — and brand.

Their website, freshbreathband.com/merch, sells not only CDs and vinyl albums, but T-shirts, hoodies, rolling papers, beer koozies and original artwork done by Katie that is matched to lyrics of their songs.

“So, we’ve launched kind of an online store and we’ve been working really hard on that,” Katie said. “It’s been helpful to get some cash flow going.”

But musicians want to perform and the Pascoes have embraced virtual concerts which allow artists to play their music — and still receive an income.

“People are very generous with the virtual tip jar. They want to support live music right now. So, it’s been pretty helpful … but it’s definitely been hard to monetize things not being able to play,” Katie said.

The Pascoes are also looking at putting more of their alt-country music on Bandcamp, an internet music company which pays performers more for their songs than Spotify or iTunes. “Bandcamp gives (you) the option of buying a song for $1, just like you would for, say, Spotify or iTunes, but we get 96 cents of it,” Josh said.

The Cottam couple is still pressing ahead making new music. The self-described “not really Christmas people” have just released It’s Christmas Time Again, a humorous take on Yuletide traditions and the Canadian need to have plenty of beer in the fridge over the holidays.

We’ve had to get creative with other avenues to bring in a revenue stream so can we can stay afloat and continue doing this for a living.

Josh said the song can be viewed a few different ways — Santa needing a beer break during his Christmas flyby, a guy needing a beer to cope with a tiresome relative or just simply wanting a beer for no reason in particular.“Everybody is getting COVID shoved in their face. We just thought people need a break. We also wanted to do a song that is relevant year after year. We were joking there is not a 1918 Spanish Flu Christmas song out there.”

Katie added: “We wanted it to be fun so people could have a laugh, something a little bit more lighthearted.”

Fresh Breath is currently in the studio recording a six-song EP. DOMINIQUE NICKELS PHOTO/ DAYDREAM PHOTOGRAPHY.

It’s Christmas Time Again is not the only COVID-inspired song the couple has created. Tomorrow, Today, released earlier this year, is an homage to front-line health workers.

Josh, 37, and Katie, 35, both went to Essex District High School. They met through a mutual friend, who also played guitar.

“We just kept showing up at the same places, the same parties, with the guitars,” Josh said. ‘We were both still learning and we started writing music together even before we started dating. Katie has always had this amazing voice and I don’t know if I know still how to sing. I’ve been learning from her the whole time.”

Josh may minimize his singing talents, but he plays multiple instruments: guitar, bass, piano, harmonica, drums and ukulele.

The Pascoes live in one of two homes on Katie’s parents’ family farm near Albuna. Many of the music videos done by the couple would be familiar to Kingsville, Cottam and Essex residents. Many are shot at or near the farm.

In one video, Katie and Josh are walking along the 10th Concession, singing and playing their guitars. During the shoot, the couple and the film crew had to pause and move aside to let a farm vehicle pass.

“That’s our daily life. It’s usually a pretty quiet road but we did have to pull over for ‘Oh, car’ or ‘Oh, tractor,’” Katie said.

Fresh Breath is making use of a Factor Canada grant which helps cash-strapped artists looking to record. The band is currently working on a six-song EP with Brett Humber at Sound Foundry Studios in Kingsville. Humber co-wrote one of the songs.

“So, we’re excited to get into the studio; the songs are written, we’re ready to go … and see what works,” Josh said.

Katie said one of the few pluses to the pandemic is the wife-husband duo have become better businesspeople. “We’ve had to get creative with other avenues to bring in a revenue stream so can we can stay afloat and continue doing this for a living.”

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