Colton O'Reilly had many musical experiences growing up, ultimately leading to him form the band I Am The Mountain. The band’s new album We’re Here For Each Other focuses on a new style of jazz music that deviates from their older albums that centred around campfire soul. However, his real dream is to perform in front of a smaller audience, when he becomes an elementary school music teacher.
Growing up, O’Reilly began to express his love for music as a teenager. After receiving his first bass guitar at 14, his passion for music really began to develop.
This passion drove him to join his high school band in Grade 9 in order to play the saxophone, which he carried on with throughout university, receiving a music minor in saxophone performance while he was completing his bachelor's degree in education.
Though the saxophone is the instrument he has a degree in playing, O’Reilly has experience using several other instruments.
“I guess everyone in our band is like a multi-instrumentalist,” says O’Reilly. “We could like all essentially switch around, but for me, personally ... my main instrument is sax.”
Playing music in high school and university was the driving force that caused O’Reilly to meet other band members and create the first iteration of I Am The Mountain.
O’Reilly and the other band members participated in several talent shows throughout high school, where the band really got to flex their chops.
“We came in second place the first year [performing] 'Are You Going to be My Girl’ by Jet,” says O’Reilly. “Then the next year we tied for third so we never won anything, but it was just fun performing.”
Slowly, this first iteration of the band gained new members and transitioned into the early days of I Am The Mountain.
O’Reilly met Keith Mueller (trumpet) while participating in his university’s band. Then, Robin Cillo (drums) was introduced through Mueller as they were in another band together at the time. Finally, Jesse Shire (bass guitar) was someone they had met at the Nuit Blanche festival and found interesting.
The name I Am The Mountain was created for the drive between Alberta and British Columbia that O’Reilly frequently travelled.
“It’s like I am the mountain, I am in the mountains, I’ve been through them, it just means like keep a stable life [...] and it’s like just kind of a thing,” says O’Reilly.
The early style of I Am The Mountain was heavily influenced from O’Reilly’s past experiences:
“I have like the church music inside me. I sang in the church so a lot of my first songs I ever wrote were these nice church ballads.”
Other influences of the early style of I Am The Mountain include O’Reilly’s personal taste in music, including Dallas Green of City & Colour and Jack Johnson.
During the early days of I Am The Mountain, O’Reilly focused on songwriting and performing at open mic nights.
“House Coffee Sanctuary and Cafe Koi was a huge great starting place for any local musician,” says O’Reilly.
O’Reilly explains that there are two main ways he writes a song, though he says it’s different every time.
“Sometimes I'll either find like a nice riff, or a nice chord progression and like mumble a melody out to it, or I'll be driving and be like ‘oh, that's a lyric,’ write it down and then try and build off that.”
O’Reilly explains that you usually write one good song for every 20 or 30 bad ones. The first “good one” he wrote was "Diamonds to Coal" off the original EP, While Off Adventuring.
The "good" songs are heavily based off of personal stories and experiences, according to O’Reilly. He says he doesn’t mind dance music, and sometimes wants to just write songs people dance to. However, it all has personal meaning that is tied to his life or someone close to him.
Emotional and nostalgic bonds are significant to the band. O’Reilly hopes that listeners can feel these bonds in their own unique ways.
“It's like the feeling of when you see a cat, just like popped out of nowhere — that exact feeling,” says O’Reilly. “It's just like the feeling of like sitting down and drinking an old-fashioned nice whiskey drink, or like the feeling of playing video games with your friends ‘til like five in the morning where you're just like ‘yeah, I'm exhausted but I just want to stay up.’”
I Am The Mountain has just released a new album on February 16, 2018 entitled, We Are Here For Each Other, which O’Reilly says is heavily influenced by his music tastes from university until now.
Most notably, the album Each Other by Aidan Knight significantly impacted I Am The Mountain’s new record, which was taken into consideration when naming it. Other influencers of the new album include Drake, Bon Iver and Toronto jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD.
The new release is a full-length EP with six songs, and O’Reilly says a large amount of time and effort went into creating this album to be perfect.
“Once this is out, this is like permanent. Like, this is going to be the album that first defines our band,” says O’Reilly. “Like, the previous record is like, ‘Oh, that's their like first attempt at music.’
“This is like the first album, so I put a lot of weight and pressure on myself to like make it perfect, essentially.”
Their first EP, While Off Adventuring, O’Reilly describes as campfire-folk, while the new one he describes as campfire-soul. He says it still has folk lyrics, though it is more soulful with elements of R&B and jazz.
Though the band is a significant and important step in O’Reilly’s life, he says that being an elementary school music teacher is his actual life goal. He wants to teach for the rest of his life.
“I think I Am The Mountain the name and whatever iteration of the band is there will just keep existing and keep growing,” says O’Reilly.
He continues to speak highly of the free-rein he feels the band has over the project because nobody is waiting around for it since it is not on a set timeline. Everyone can focus on their own interests, and even if nothing takes off, they have enjoyed being part of it.
O’Reilly’s unique perspective on music education fueled his desire to teach music to elementary school children in a new way.
There are many different types of music and sound effects that O’Reilly would like to open up to the world of elementary students. He feels that insufficient teaching can lead to students not feeling the love of music, and that he can really instill that love with his teaching techniques.
Fellow band member, Keith Mueller, is currently exploring the future of hopefully teaching at an elementary school. This opens up the possibility of following their dream of O’Reilly teaching children basic music theory and love, while Mueller will teach them advanced music in the form of reading sheet music and playing instruments.
“We can just set them up for like loving music and loving band and stuff through like high school and then hopefully for university too. […] It's a small impact but we think it's a cool thing that could really work out.”
- By Marin Peake-MacAlister