In March 2020, something very odd happened at TD Place.
At the time when COVID put everything on pause, 12 people in masks one by one entered the lobby of the empty arena with some weirdly shaped black cases.
They stood 15 feet apart from each other, put on headphones, took out their instruments and…made some music.
Those were the 12 members of The Commotions, an Ottawa-based soul-funk band working on their Volume III album that would come out on Oct. 20, 2023.
“It was tough,” said the band’s drummer, Jeff Asselin, remembering those days. “Music is such a collaborative effort, right? And you feed off the energy of each other, so being separated doesn’t help.”
If you look up “commotion” in an Oxford dictionary, it means “loud and confusing noise.”
It was the band’s guitarist, David Guy, who came up with the name.
“It’s such a cool word,” said Jeff’s twin brother, Brian Asselin. He is the musical director of the band and the music industry arts program co-ordinator at Algonquin College. “We are causing a stir, creating a lot of noise.”
The “noise” is loud but very familiar. It’s the noise of Motown from the times when Ray Charles was asking the poor Jack to “hit the road.”
“I’m inspired by that era,” Brian said. “We’re trying to take that inspiration and make music of our own.”
This is not the kind of music that would instantly become an international hit today. Some might call it outdated. But this is the music The Commotions love.
However, Brian did achieve international success at one point.
Thirteen years ago, still a student at the University of Ottawa getting his bachelor of education, he had to do an assignment answering a question, “What does education mean to you?”
He decided to write a song — for the first time in his life.
He wrote a teacher appreciation song called You Have Made a Difference.
The song has almost 5 million views on YouTube and there are dozens of different versions sung by students to those “who inspire them today.”
“Googling it and hearing choirs singing all over the world, I get a huge kick out of it,” Brian said.
After that, he decided to create a band.
A band that would give him those “kicks” all the time.
A band that is now celebrating its 10th anniversary of expanding on the music of the past.
This year they even made this “new past” tangible in the form of their first vinyl record.
“It was kind of surreal,” Brian said, remembering the day he first got to hold that record. “It’s been coming for so long. I don’t think I’ve ever had a record that I’m more proud of.”
It’s the kind of music he and Jeff listened to growing up.
“It’s a privilege to play it again and keep it relevant to a younger generation,” Jeff said. “Otherwise, it just gets lost.”
The Commotions are having an album release party on Jan. 20 at the Bronson Centre. Tickets are available on their website.