If you drive two hours west of Toronto, you'll find New Hamburg, Ont., a small town with a population of around 6,000 people and only one Tim Hortons to call its own. After 16 years in the music business, the husband-and-wife duo Wild Strawberries are content to call this quiet place home.
Ken Harrison and Roberta Carter Harrison moved here from Toronto last year to raise their two young daughters Georgia and Ruby. But now, they're busy driving back and forth into the big city, gearing up to release their seventh album, Deformative Years, which is their first new record in five years.
During that multi-year gap, the Strawberries have been keeping busy in Germany, creating music for trance-pop DJ ATB — Ken would write or co-write the songs and Roberta would provide vocals. It's been a successful collaboration and a number of their ATB tracks have become successful singles in the European market.
"Our first single with ATB sold more in one week than what we sold during our entire careers in Canada," says Ken. "It's just more lucrative in the European market, based on [population] scale."
Those hit ATB songs and their latest album were all recorded at the Wild Strawberries' home studios. Notably, they exited their last major label contract in 1999 and have been working as independents ever since.
"We're sort of over people telling us what to do," Roberta says of their label experiences. "Been there, done that."
Ironically, the economics of the Canadian music industry mean that artists who sell platinum records (sales over 100,000) can end up losing money, while artists who sell 5,000 independent records can earn a tidy profit. The Strawberries have experienced both sides of the equation. Their best selling record, 1995's Heroine, sold over 50,000 copies. Yet, even with those sales figures and a top 10 video on MuchMusic, they ended up $100,000 in the red thanks to production, promotion and label-related costs. And though their last album, 2000's Twist, sold only 6,000 copies, it was their first to make a profit.
However, the Strawberries admit that this time the new record may not be as profitable, but for different reasons.
"We've spent an insane amount of money on this record," Roberta says. "I really don't think we'll see a return on it."
Some of the extras the Strawberries poured into Years can be seen in the deluxe packaging and artwork and found, of course, in the music. The Strawberries worked over three years to create Years just for fans here in their home and native land.
"This record is for all those people who e-mailed us over the years, wondering if we were still alive," laughs Ken.
Let's just hope it doesn't take another five years for a follow-up.
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.