Kay Oh Chay – One of a handful of S’Aints making a difference this Christmas

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Kay Oh Chay of the S'AintsSouthwestern Ontario superband The S’Aints are returning for their 10th year of fundraising despite an upcoming show that will be filmed without the usual sold-out Caesars Windsor crowd.

Local musicians Jody Raffoul, Jeff Burrows, Wes Buckley, David Cyrenne, Kelly Hoppe, Kelly Authier (Kay Oh Chay), Marty Bak, Liz Robinson, and Stephanie Baker will present their popular annual Christmas-themed extravaganza on a live stream premiering on Dec. 18 at 7 pm. Proceeds from the concert will go toward regional food bank programs at the Unemployed Help Centre in Windsor and Outreach For Hunger in Chatham.

To date, The S’Aints have raised more than $270,000 for food banks across the region through concert proceeds and Christmas album sales. Their latest album Nothing But Christmas is available for sale online and can also be found in a 10 CD complete collection boxed set.

We spoke with Kay Oh Chay about the show and The S’Aints.

The pandemic has affected The S’Aints show. How are you guys handling that?
We had some really huge things in store this year because of our ten-year anniversary. So, it really is a bummer that it’s not coming together the way we wanted. However, and this is in my professional life because it’s not just this band. I’ve got a couple other bands and a solo project. And my entire life is music. 2020 for me at least has just been about pivoting a little bit. And I’m still doing music, but you kind of do it in different avenues. You do a lot more at home studio work. A lot of studios will send me something, I record stuff at home and send it back to them. So, it’s shifting.

And so, we knew we wanted to do something like that with the Saint show. But we knew we weren’t going to be able to get 6,000 people all together in an auditorium. So we decided to go online and we thought about kind of shopping it out to a few different stations and channels and things. Then we got in touch with the Session Group, which is through the Feldman Group. I think Burrows and The Tea Party might have a connection there. So, we’re going through them and it’s a really cool concept. You just buy tickets online and then we’ll have a concert, to present to you December 18th.

Where are you recording it?
We’re doing all the recording at the St. Clair Center for the Arts. They’ve been a huge sponsor, a huge support since day one. And so, they have offered us their space at the St. Clair Center for the Arts for all of our rehearsals and recording and everything. So, we’re lucky.

Recording the new S’Aints album was probably not much different than normal even though you were in a pandemic because you guys were never really unified as a band when you got into doing it.

I’ve been in bands where you all go to the studio together and you write a song so you do parts or you collaborate. It’s not that we’re not collaborating, but a few of us are full-time musicians and the ones who aren’t full-time musicians are busy recreational musicians who have full-time jobs. So, it’s a huge project. Some of these tracks have just 60 and 70 tracks as part of a one song. So, it’s a huge undertaking. And I don’t think it would have been cost-effective or efficient for all of us to just go to the studio for a week and jam stuff out. That’s not usually our style. Now, when we rehearse, that’s when we really come together, solidify and jam and gel before the show.

But recording is usually Jody and I both going in and laying down what we call scratch vocals. So, you’re just laying down the vocals, but you’re going to go in and do them again at the end. And then basically just the structure and then Burrows comes in and lays down all the drum stuff. Then it’s just whoever is available from there. I come in and do the keys. I usually lay down all of the background vocals. The Twisted Sisters come in and then they layer on a bunch of the background vocals so that we’ve got instead of just three of us, now it sounds like nine or 12 or 15 of us, depending on how many times we sing these parts.

Honestly, sometimes I don’t see any of them until the media press release. We usually do that either a month or so before the concert. It’s always a little bit strange, just only seeing Marty Burrows trying to pop in to see everybody, but we’re all busy. And I want to say I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I like that the people that I play with are just as busy doing their musical stuff as I am.

Were rehearsals tough or have you got into rehearsals yet?
One of the things that’s different this year that hasn’t happened before, we’re sticking with public domain songs. It’s one thing to get the royalties to put out an album, but it’s another thing when you have to start streaming or if we were going to shop it out to someone. We didn’t know how we were going to go. So, sticking with public domain Christmas songs, meaning Christmas songs that were written by the person whose songs had been dead for 50 years. There’s a weird rule like that. So, they’re all traditional Christmas songs. We aren’t playing them like a church choir. We’ve rocked them up a bit. But they’re some of the ones we’ve done throughout the years. And then there’s a few new, old Christmas songs as well.

The new album is pretty much full of a lot of those kinds of songs.
Well, it’s the same thing, yeah. It’s all public domain this year. That wasn’t the original plan. We had, again, some huge plans for our ten year, but that will just mean that the 11 year next year will be even bigger.

Did you have any input in the song choice yourself?
We usually get together with the whole band. It’s always super fun and in January or February, we get together and have a meal, have some drinks, and discuss. Everybody brings their 5 or 10 songs that they want to do. And then we all politely fight over which ones get on the album. We always have 20 and then inevitably we have to cut it down. Jody and Jeff were the ones who started this thing, so I feel like they might have final say, but it’s definitely a collective for sure. And if it doesn’t make that year, then you hang on to the ones you really want to sell the next year. So that’s typically how it works. They usually let me decide what I’m going to sing or at least the keys and the structure and production.

Is there a song specifically that you really wanted that you have on this album?
There’s a song that I really want to do that we can’t do this year because we couldn’t buy the rights for it. So, we’ll be doing it next year. I’m going to fight for it at that meeting.

The S'AintsIs the show going to be as big? It’s not going to be as fabulous energy-wise because there’s no audience, but you can still have visual effects and all that.
Yeah, absolutely. If you’ve seen the show before at the Colosseum, you’re basically going to be getting that. It’s a similar show, a similar stage, similar lighting, and similar everything. But instead of either having to watch it and squint or looking at the big screens on either side, the cameras will be right up on the stage with us. So it’s probably the best seat in the house.

The S’Aints project has been known as an incredible fundraiser every year. It definitely hurts this year because ticket sales of course are going to be very different.
Yes. It’s going to be different for sure. The thing is, we can’t sell this out. They won’t put a cap on it. The more tickets we can sell, the more people that can watch it. You don’t even have to go to the show this year. I’m trying to be positive, even though I’m typically a pretty cynical person. But it’s just different this year. It’s not going to be like the go out in the freezing cold and wait for the valet and the casino’s always crazy busy. And that’s all fun, but it’s also an ordeal. All of it’s an ordeal, especially around the holidays.

So, you can change up how you’re going to see the S’Aints this year and it doesn’t have to be that kind of party. It can be your closest friends and family, not too many, I don’t know what the rules are or what they will be then, but not too many. And you can have your own drinks and your own hors d’oeuvres and it’s just going to be different. And so, I do hope that through the internet and word of mouth and we’ve got an Instagram account you can definitely still support. And I think it could very likely look, with respect to ticket sales, the way it has in previous years. I mean, there’s over 200,000 people in just Windsor, right? And that casino holds 6,000 people. So, there are ways that we could still raise a lot of money for charity. And it’s not just Windsor now. It’s not people that have to drive to Caesar’s. We can really open this nationally, internationally.

And I do think that going forward, this will be it. Next year, we’ll be at Caesar’s, but I think it would be crazy for us to not do a live stream of the show. Obviously not charge what you’re going to charge for the tickets, but why not? Not everyone can be there. And so, this year we’re all just pivoting and adapting. And I hope that we kind of all come out of it in a better place.

With the 10th anniversary, you have a really neat collection of all 10 albums for only 40 bucks.
Exactly. And this year’s album as well, we took some public domain hits from previous albums, but then we laid a few new ones as well. So yeah, it’s all really great music. I’m trying to think of all of the years that we’ve done this. There’s not a year where I was like, “Oh, it’s not a great one.” I’m really happy with how all of them have turned out. And I mean, we’re still here 10 years later. So, I think other people are too. And we just want to keep doing what we’re doing.

Did you think it would last 10 years?
Oh no. I had no idea. I figured it was all sex, drugs and rock and roll. I hoped 10 years ago that it would. 10 years ago, I was teaching in a music store and this Jody Raffoul guy came in and I’d been a full-time musician. I didn’t know him. I knew who he was by name, but I never saw him play because I had my own gigs. And he came in and was like, “You play you keys and you sing and I got this band.” And I don’t know … a woman in the music industry. Many, many men have come in before and been, “Oh, hey, I’ve got this band and blah, blah, blah.” And I’m thinking, “Okay. Who is this guy?” And then he’s like, “You know my drummer’s Jeff Burrows.” And I was just a little bit too young. I wasn’t a huge Tea Party fan. My older brother liked them. So, I remember telling him, “Yeah, the drummer is like Burrows.” And he said “Oh no, this is like a real bad. You should do this one.” So, I’m so glad I did.

We added the Twisted Sisters a couple of years later and Marty to the stage just because there’s so much percussion going on. And he’s doing some rhythm guitar. One of the unfortunate parts about this year is Wes couldn’t really be a part of it because he’s American and he’s not considered an essential worker, so he can’t come over. So, we’re trying to potentially get him in a video feed for some stuff. It’s amazing. Technology is really saving us.

Everything about the S’Aints is Christmas themed. So, what does Christmas mean to you?
What does Christmas mean to me? Wow. I can’t believe I’m stuck on this one. I don’t have kids. And I mean, when you’re a kid, Christmas means break, and presents, and all the things that kids like for Christmas. But I think the older you get, I don’t have all the people in my life that I used to have. And so, I think it’s just about spending the time with the people that you actually want to. I feel like people go home to family and there’s always these jokes out everybody’s drinking or everybody’s whatever because no one can handle their family. But I don’t know. It’s my Christmas too. Christmas for me because I’m always touring or playing, well, pre-COVID anyway, Christmas is being home and unplugging and plugging into the present moment.

And jamming with your friends for one night.

Photo: Dan Boshart
Photo: Dan Boshart
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