The Hillbirds won the local time slot to play Barrie’s Downtown Countdown on New Year’s Eve. The four-piece alternative pop rock band edged out more than 30 other groups for the time slot which see them taking the stage in-between the children’s act Splash ‘n Boots and headliner, The Trews.
On their way to making their first album, the Hillbirds dropped their first single Peace of Mind earlier this month. Written by lead singer Nicole Duquette and David Rakusin, the band’s bass player, the song explores the feelings and emotions experienced after breaking up with an ex-lover.
The Hillbirds started out as a husband and wife musical duo, Nicole and Nick Duquette, who mixed the single, and they have since expanded to a four-piece with the addition of Tanner Greatrix on drums.
“We realized we wanted to do music while living in France,” said Nicole, who landed a job as an au pair (nanny) and Nick went to work teaching music to kids. “We played lots of music in little wine bars and small restaurants and realized it was a huge passion. We really enjoyed it.”
The couple met at North Bay’s Canadore College where she was studying early childhood education and he was in avionics. After college, they moved Brantford for work and bought their first house. But she had always wanted to go to France and when the opportunity came up to work there, they sold their belonging, rented out their home and left the country.
“Everyone thought we were crazy,” she recalled.
They returned to Canada in July 2018 and settled in Barrie, the half-way point between his family in Chatham and hers in Huntsville. Both were hoping to build the band here. They found Rakusin last August on Kijiji and Greatrix earlier this year after Nicole met his parents while doing live music classes at Modo Yoga.
Nicole’s interest in music began at the age of four or five. Her uncle, who played acoustic guitar, showed her a few notes and taught her to play her first song, Smoke on the Water. She fell in love with the instrument and started teaching herself how to play it. She also took all the music programs she could in school from vocals to jazz and played the alto sax and clarinet in an instrumental band.
By age 13 she purchased her first guitar, a second hand one, from money raised bussing tables at a restaurant where she also marked her first performance at a Christmas party. Her first public performance was in front of hundreds of people during a Midnight Madness event in Huntsville.
The Hillbirds take the stage in downtown Barrie Dec. 31 at 8:15 p.m. On Jan. 14, they are slated to play The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.