Curiosity Delivers.

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

The curious case of Busty and the Bass

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The searching notes of a saxophone float over the bar’s quiet murmur,  cutting across open bottles and muted conversations. A drum line slips between the notes, riding the low strums of the bass playing alongside it. Trumpets, trombone, guitar, and the sweet shiver of keys all gradually fold themselves into the music.

It’s the rare sort of mature and cohesive jazz that would be surprising to see out of a group of young musicians, yet here they are—nine young McGill students playing together with ease. U3 Nick Ferraro on alto saxophone; U2 Scott Bevins and U2 Mike McCann on trumpet; U2 Chris Vincent on trombone; U2 Evan Crofton on keys and vocals; U2 Eric Haynes on keyboard; U2 Louis Stein on electric guitar; U2 Milo Johnson on bass; and U2 Julian Trivers on drums.

However, the busy lineup actually reads as one name: Busty and the Bass.

Tonight, the band is at its best, grooving along with every note it plays. The song continues unabashed in its beauty, carving out dips and crescendos on the turn of a note. As it draws to a close, Ferraro gives one last bold, lurching cry on his saxophone. The ending is grandiose and gorgeous, leaving a courteous pause for the expected applause.

But aside from my cheers, the response is hollow—just a couple detached claps from the few patrons present. The band’s music is tailor-made for a live audience, meant to be absorbed by a moving crowd. The lack of response is uncomfortable, and the performance feels incomplete.

I am the only McGill student here, and I don’t understand why.


My first experience with Busty and the Bass was at McGill’s Open Air Pub (OAP). As with most OAP introductions, it was loud, happy, and took place over a couple beers. The group played its way through a number of songs, switching from jazz-pop tunes to more funk-inspired music, including a crowd-pleasing rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

Created two years ago under the tall ceilings of Solin Hall, the band affectionately known as ‘Busty’ began with a group of musicians who came together one evening during a house party.

“We had never met before and spontaneously started jamming,” said Haynes. “It was sweaty and messy, but somehow it just worked. While recovering the following morning, we realized we’d had too much fun to let it happen just once.”

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

Dancing with the crowd that day at OAP, it was hard to believe that I had never heard much about McGill music or its student bands. These musicians were miles away from the earnest high school bands I had naively equated them with.

In my time at McGill, I had not set foot inside the music building—primarily due to my science background and a lack of classes outside of my faculty. As a result, my evening at OAP had introduced me to a whole new side of McGill that I had never experienced. Judging by the reactions of those around me, it seemed like the other students were just as surprised to hear that the musicians on stage were McGill music students.


Founded in 1904, the McGill Schulich School of Music is housed in the Strathcona Music Building and  made up of over 850 students and 240 faculty members. Wide stone steps lead to a lobby of oil paintings; just down the hall is the New Music Building, a gleaming glass structure of world-class studios and audio research labs.

While technically part of the downtown McGill campus, the 10-metre span of University Street acts as a much larger barrier to the rest of campus.

“There’s Carrefour [Sherbrooke], there’s the music building right next to it, and then there’s campus,” said Vincent, the trombone player for Busty and the Bass. “So the music building’s completely off campus, and most of the students never even see [it]. And unfortunately, playing at Gert’s is probably the biggest nightmare of the music school because [Gert’s has] the worst sound system in the whole city. That would be the primary means of interacting with the general student body, and it’s just pathetic because it’s so hard to do.”

For those who aren’t studying music and don’t have any friends in the faculty, the Schulich School of Music can be one of the few unknown spots on campus despite its close proximity to McGill’s core. And for music students, the opposite holds true: it can be tough to break out of the music faculty.

“It’s really easy to get tied into this bubble because you have classes in the [music] building,” said Johnson, the bassist for Busty and the Bass. “When you don’t have classes, you’re practicing in a 10m x 10m white room and only see other people who are doing the same things you are. So it’s very easy to get tied up in that world where you’re either in class with people who are doing the same thing as you, or you’re practicing next to people who are doing the same things as you.”

The Schulich School of Music is internationally renowned for its programs and has notoriously tough entrance requirements. However, there is a lack of knowledge about the faculty on campus, despite the hundreds of concerts and events presented by the school every year.

The problem may be that when most students look for music in Montreal—a city known for its artistic temperaments—their first instinct is to look outside of McGill. Of the students I knew, most would keep an eye out for big-name artists playing at the Bell Centre, while others would look for smaller shows played by Montreal musicians in local bars.

“It hadn’t crossed my mind that there would be opportunities for [listening to] music in our own school,” said U2 Arts student Chris Burnett. “[I guess] most students just wouldn’t think to look so close to home for entertainment.”

Nearly everyone I knew had never seen nor heard McGill student music. I hadn’t either—at least not in the Faculty of Music—so I decided to go behind-the-scenes with Busty and the Bass to get a glimpse of their musical process.

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)


The walls of the room were nearly bare. Cables, stands, and headphones lay strewn around the room. There was one large audio mixer in the centre of the room flanked by a number of stereos. A monitor had been placed in front of the mixer, the screen showing a mosaic of audio tracks. In the far corner stood a small TV streaming a live feed of the musicians in the other room.

The band was at the Strathcona Music Building late on a Monday night to record two new tracks, “All Me” and “Light It Up.” I was told that the process would likely take the band into the early hours of the morning.

When I arrived, Haynes, Stein, and Crofton were busy setting up their instrument stations.

“This is the second out of three steps this evening,” explained Haynes. “Earlier, [Johnson] and [Trivers] came in and recorded the bed track—the bass and the drums. Right now, we’ve got the rest of the rhythm section—acoustic piano, synths and pads, and guitar—[and] we’re going to be recording on top of that.”

As the band started recording, I began to appreciate the hard work and dedication Busty and the Bass put into every note of music they produced. The band’s audio engineers, Gintas Norvila, Dave Ison, and Xavier Bourassa, gave the musicians constant feedback in the studio. The consistent repetition between takes pushed the session past the one hour mark; by the time the rhythm section had finished recording, it was obvious that everyone was exhausted. As Haynes, Stein, and Crofton packed up their instruments, I heard the sound of horns warming up—the brass section was about to start their portion of the track.

After the night’s studio session, Norvila, Ison, and Bourassa would spend a few weeks editing and mixing the recordings until they produced a satisfactory track. The band has so far released a six-track album of some of their most popular songs, with more on the way.

Live music has become increasingly more valuable for many as faceless songs have come to dominate the scene. That’s really what Busty and the Bass is all about—the show.

As the months passed from my first experience with Busty and the Bass, I watched as the band’s popularity grew. On Sept. 6, the day after their performance at OAP, the band had just over 400 ‘likes’ on Facebook. Today, Busty and the Bass has nearly 1,500—a number that continues to rise.

I followed the band as they played their way across Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, and back again, taking on smaller events of just a couple dozen fans, to packed venues of over 100 people. I started seeing friends and friends of friends at their shows—everyone I knew seemed to know Busty and the Bass. The band was making a name for itself across campus at a staggering rate.

Today, Busty and the Bass has an unparalleled fan base on campus. The band has grown exponentially since the beginning of the year, and will continue to push to expand their music and audience.

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

According to Stein, the band’s success has been due to their opportunistic approach.

“This year, we had the attitude of just playing for as many people as possible because not that many people know us,” he said. “So it’s been a combination of us just taking almost every gig offered and broadening our audience very fast.”

Natalie Yergatian, U0 Music, believes that the reason behind Busty and the Bass’s popularity is based off of the way in which they present themselves.

“I think Busty does a great job of marketing themselves,” she said. “They have a product that they’re selling, and people like it.”

On February 22, 2014, Busty and the Bass announced that they were doing an East Coast tour over reading week. The tour would take them through Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, D.C., and New York.

“Our stance with Busty and the Bass is to reach out to other people on campus,” Haynes said. “[We will always be] loyal to our student groups—that will always be our target audience. But it’s good to be accessible to as many other people as we can and as many different age groups as well [….] We’re hopefully going to do as much as we can over the summer and pick up where we left off next year.”

However, Busty has not been the only McGill music group to have risen in prominence this year. Other bands such as VLVBVMV have increased their presence on campus and in the wider Montreal community. Independent musicians out of McGill have also started to draw attention among students. Jordan Benjamin, who goes by the stage name Benj., is a rapper and singer who has garnered a large following among students.

This growth may be indicative of the wider McGill student body’s increased appreciation for McGill music. Numerous student groups and clubs on campus have featured Busty and the Bass this year. For the musicians trying to make a name for themselves, students in the Faculty of Music have also started to recognize the benefits for increased exposure to the general student body.

“I definitely think the music school is starting to realize that you need an audience, and that most of the audience is people who are not in music,” said Stein.

“There are musicians here [who] I believe have something to say, and deserve to be heard,” Yergatian said. “If I had to say something to the rest of the McGill student body, it would be: Make an effort to check out shows, because there are amazing musicians at McGill.”


A short while ago, I went to see Busty and the Bass again. They were playing at La Sala Rosa this time—a joint bar and music venue. It was comforting to hear the band’s familiar sound—the meringues of saxophone, the deep shrug of bass, the light dance of keys, the swing of guitar, the feathery brush of drums, and the rich bellows of brass.

The performance reminded me of that moment months ago, watching Busty and the Bass alone at a local bar. Except this time, there was one noticeable, key difference. Echoing around the room was the sound of dozens of people laughing and dancing to the music—the way Busty and the Bass was meant to be enjoyed.

For far too long, McGill music has wanted an audience. Students are finally listening.

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