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Tune into Zune

The Stills one of 45 acts in TWSSF’s musical lineup
Out on a Limb The Stills are among 45 musical acts set to take the stage during the 10 days and nights of Telus Fest.

It doesn't matter what part of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival (TWSSF) you look forward to, whether it's the Big Air, Superpipe, or Orage Masters, there's one common element - the music. Each event is set to a soundtrack of sorts, and without it, the annual 10-day festival simply wouldn't be the same.

Lisa Richardson is spokesperson for Watermark Communications, the group that organizes all aspects of the festival, including the music.

"Basically, the festival has three pillars - arts, music and sports. Without the music, it's quieter," she said with a laugh.

When planning this year's lineup, organizers sought out groups they believed would appeal to music lovers of all ages, which isn't always the easiest feat.

"The common element throughout all the festival is that great, outdoors, super-fun, super high energy, contemporary sound that's going to resonate with basically the people who are here," Richardson said.

"There are universal elements to great music and great rock," she added.

In total, there are 45 artists performing during this year's festival, which features two stages: the Pontiac Stage in Village Square, where emerging indie bands will play between noon and 6 p.m. each and every day of the festival, and the Main Stage in Skiers Plaza, where the Zune Concert Series will take place daily from 2:30 p.m, until 5:30 p.m.

With a lineup including big names the Arkells, 54.40, The Stills and Metric playing alongside the likes of Thornley, Red Eye Empire, Animal Nation, Team Canada DJs, Run GMC, Ozomatli, Mama's Cookin', Whole Lotta Led, USS, Ten Second Epic, Ghost Brothers, Bend Sinister, Ruffian Royale, Jon and Roy, Lotus, DJ Z-Trip, Mat the Alien, Vinyl Ritchie, and Jon H from Fort Knox Five, there really is something for everyone at this year's festival.

On top of the free daytime concert series, Watermark has also teamed up with a number of local venues to host the Kokanee Freeride Club Series, which brings big-name feature acts from the daytime Zune stage into more intimate settings for evening shows at no charge.

And replacing the traditional DJ Experience is a new event dubbed The End, which takes place on Saturday, April 25. Featuring music from DJ Z-Trip, Mat the Alien, Vinyl Ritchie and Jon H from Fort Knox Five starting at 10 p.m. and running until 4 a.m., this is sure to be a serious late night shaker for music lovers.

"If you want to party all night, you're not going to have any trouble at all," Richardson said.

Richardson pointed out that the musical team at Watermark has a pretty impressive record of landing acts right before they make it big - Black Eyed Peas, Metric and Nickelback are just a few of the performers who played TWSSF before hitting the big time. And this year is no exception, with Montreal rockers The Stills on the roster.

The five-piece band just returned home after two big wins at the 2009 Juno Awards, for Best New Group and Best Alternative Group.

The Stills feature Tim Fletcher and Dave Hamelin on vocals and guitar, Liam O'Neil on keyboards, percussion and background vocals, Oliver Crowe on bass and background vocals, and Julien Blais on drum.

"We were really happy that Sam Roberts won two Junos, as well, because we share a rehearsal space together and we were happy that our rehearsal space won four Junos," Hamelin said with a laugh.

At the Junos, the group suddenly found itself at the heart of the Canadian music scene, a place they'd never really been before.

"I think it took a long time for Canada to sort of accept us as their own," he said, pointing out that they aren't really a new band.

"If you've never been nominated for a Juno before, you could be up for New Band," he explained.

They've been together for years and actually have the distinction of being made up of a group of friends. The members have known one another for a long time, with Hamelin and Crowe going back almost 24 years to their hometown of Lachine, Quebec, where the group first met through friends of friends and musical connections throughout town. They got together in 1996 just to jam, playing their favourite Clash, Elvis Costello and Police hits.

"We were really into... the more instrumental style new wave," he recalled. "The bigger ones."

They took a break from the band to pursue their own musical endeavours, joining other groups like Priestess before eventually coming back together to start The Stills.

But even before their Junos - the first real symbol of recognition in their home country - The Stills had gotten a taste of the major American music industry, one that was a bit sour.

"When we started, there was some bidding war to sign us and we went out to a lot of major label dinners and everybody blew smoke up our ass, and it was exciting because we didn't expect that to happen," Hamelin said. "But it's all sort of meaningless in the end."

Now, they're signed to an established indie label and things have really taken off in Canada. They released their latest full-length album, Oceans Will Rise , last August, and have been spending a lot of time on the road, touring on the new material pretty extensively.

Alt. rock, indie, whatever you want to call them, it doesn't seem to matter. The group isn't preoccupied with finding an appropriate label to define their sound.

"I see ourselves as a band that's done sort of differentish type stuff on every record," Hamelin reflected. "So I don't really see us as pop rock or rock pop or hard rock with a '70s influence."

Rather, they simply try to approach each song with an open mind.

"The basis of a lot of our songs are just folk tunes and we just sort of arrange them within the context of our band, and that's just how they come out."

All labels aside, there's meaning behind their music.

According to the band's bio, Oceans Will Rise "considers the frailty of the human existence, our place in the larger schemes of the natural world, and the possibility, or lack thereof, for positive change."

But while their music is clearly filled with thought, there isn't an intentional message in their medium.

"I really never, ever, think about it that way," Hamelin said. "I don't think of it as an outlet. It isn't cathartic for me, it isn't like therapy, it's none of those things."

For Hamelin, the creative process can be far from pleasant, in fact.

"It's none of those things that everyone wants to make it, that you hear on TV: 'oh, it makes me feel better, I need it,' all this shit. No, it makes me feel worse and it sucks!"

Despite it all, Hamelin loves his career, just not the lifestyle and unnatural schedule that comes along with the job. In short, music is both a blessing and a curse.

"It can rule your life, and that's not always pleasant."

The group just returned from Australia and are preparing to head to China, but before that, they're returning to Whistler to play a gig on the Main Stage at the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival on Thursday, April 23, followed by another performance at Moe Joe's later that evening.

Plus, they're already hard at work on their next album, which they hope to release in February.