Consisting of theatre performers Armand Antony & Nicole McCafferty, emerging pop-country duo Broadtree are no strangers to the musical stage. In early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were faced with new safety and lockdown restrictions that prevented them from performing. Making the best of their new circumstances, Armand & Nicole turned to a new creative avenue: Country music. After spending countless hours crafting, raw and honest songs inspired by their own lives they released their debut single, “Red”. Over the course of the past year and a half, they have released 4 EPs, including their latest album, “Feeling Bad. Feeling Better.” and their single, “Be as (Proud Version)” in celebration of Pride Month 2021.
Recently I spoke with Broadtree about their path to pursuing country music, their latest album, spreading awareness on social issues through their music & their goals for this year.
Kyla Pearson: For those who are unfamiliar with your music, can you tell us a bit about your paths to pursuing country music? What made you both want to pursue careers as artists? How did Broadtree come to be?
Armand Antony: I’ve always been a performer, from when I got my first guitar, to starting a high school punk band, to touring with my solo material. Music has always been a part of who I am, in addition to performance as a stage actor. I never, ever thought I’d consider myself to be a country artist. I always admired some of the great vocalists, guitarists, and songwriters, but also knew that most country songwriters sourced out their best songs to a lot of the rock and pop artists I preferred to listen to. As we started to write our songs and create demos for them, the sound just naturally happened. I think I remember distinctly saying to Nicole “so I guess I’m a country musician now?”. It was a funny moment, but in hindsight it made sense. I knew that performing was my life and always would be. Broadtree just happened to be the perfect thing to come in at the perfect time.
Nicole McCafferty: I’ve loved music, performing and singing ever since I was little. Though I never had any formal training, I used to come home from school and ‘practice’ my singing, even though I was very academic at the time and never thought of performing as a ‘real job’. I fell in love with musical theatre in high school, and when it came time to graduate, I was so devastated at the thought of never performing again that I switched gears completely and decided to pursue it. I enrolled in a Musical Theatre Conservatory, and that was the first training I’d ever had. By the time the ‘plague’ hit, I had my dream job, touring across Canada and living off performing alone. After COVID struck, I went almost a year with nothing at all, until one day Armand, who was planning a solo album at the time, contacted me about recording a duet together. And that one duet grew into so much more. We loved it so much, we shot a music video. We decided they deserved a proper launch, so we threw together some covers and did a virtual concert. People loved it so much that we recorded those covers and released them as an EP, and before that EP was even finished, we were talking about writing our own songs together. And as far as country, that’s what I grew up with, and by far my favourite genre, next to Broadway. So although we never set out to write with any particular genre in mind, it makes sense that elements of those would naturally make their way into our music.
Kyla Pearson: You both grew up in two very different atmospheres with varying music cultures– Toronto and Cape Breton. How would you say your separate experiences/roots have impacted your musical sound and the stories you share with your music?
Nicole McCafferty: I grew up in a rural area, heavy into country music. Our two local radio stations were Top 40 and Country (guess which I preferred?). I’ve always really connected to the values and story-telling in country music; so I’d say that anything I’ve ever written follows a similar storytelling framework, both because that’s what I know and because I find it very effective in telling vivid, beautiful and meaningful stories. Even though we’re both living in the city now, I think a lot of our songs tend to have a small-town vibe. And of course, being from Cape Breton and of Irish descent, there’s a bit of a Celtic influence that finds its way into the music once in a while, in songs like ‘Love You Like’ and ‘Running Shoes’. I always joke to Armand that we need to shoot the music video for ‘Love You Like’ on a boat, hair blowing in the wind, sea spray flying up into our faces.
Armand Antony: I think growing up in Toronto, there is SO much music to be exposed to that country was never something that crossed my mind. I can probably count on one hand how many country shows I’ve been to. Growing up there was a lot of rock, punk, pop-punk, and metal (in my youth). That said, I think a lot of the influences like alternative rock and pop-punk, which we’re both big fans of, made their way into some of these songs. You won’t hear blaring electric guitars with towering vocals, but some of the things that make up those genres are definitely there. And having that wide variety, for both Nicole and myself, is what allowed us to create this wide range of songs and sounds that somehow still managed to create this cohesive story in the end.
Kyla Pearson: In April of this year you released your album, “Feeling Bad. Feeling Better.” which features a collection of 11 songs, which urge fans to remain hopeful even in the most difficult of times. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind each song?
Armand Antony: We somehow managed to weave this cohesive theme throughout the album, which almost happened by accident. We didn’t set out with a mission or goal of what we wanted the album to sound like, it just naturally came to be – which is one of the magical things about working together.
Nicole McCafferty: Given everything that was happening at that time, we were both writing from a place of loss, so these songs had the potential to be very depressing – and most of them started out that way! But together, we manage to keep each other from getting too dark, and the songs often end up going in a very different direction than we expect them to, which is really quite cool. We always try to find the spark of hope in every story.
About the songs:
Nicole McCafferty: Running Shoes is about losing someone who was a huge part of your life, seeing reminders of them everywhere, and trying to wrap your head around that and find meaning in it, knowing nothing will ever quite fill that void. But the seed of hope is that sense that maybe the reason these things are still here is an indication that what is gone may return in some capacity.
Remember The Time
Nicole McCafferty: Armand wanted to write a song about two friends who have to say goodbye; who’ve been close their whole lives, and now they don’t know when or if they’ll see one another again. I’ve actually lived through something like that; I remember sitting my best friend down for milkshakes at McDonald’s, breaking the news to her that I was leaving our hometown and wouldn’t be back. So we decided to take that moment, that last drink or meal or meet-up, and expand on what that feeling is. We often talk about a song really taking shape once we find it’s ‘core’. And the core of this song is ‘I won’t see you tomorrow’. They’re used to seeing each other every day, and suddenly, that’s gone. So they reminisce over their memories, everything they’ve been through, how much they mean to one another – and reassure one another that although the future is unknown, this isn’t the end.
Home Is Where The Heart Aches
Armand Antony: I like to think about this song as a big “what if?” As we get older and settle down in life – partners, kids, jobs – we find something that makes us happy and make it our daily life. But every now and then something steps in that challenges that notion. You may not believe in soulmates, but one day someone makes you believe that that idea is possible. You may be in the best career position for years, but suddenly something sparks an interest somewhere else. It’s a permanent “what if?” because it’s something you know you can’t have. You’ve established a life, you’ve established a home, you’ve made your commitments and there’s nothing to say you’re unhappy, but the idea of something else remains just that. And there’s joy and heartache that goes with that. There’s a core line in that song: “when you find forever too late” – there’s honesty and sincerity, good and bad in that. We don’t see this as looking for something or someone else, but through some twist of fate, that “in another life” scenario presents itself and living with that knowledge is something that can be very hard to shake.
Armand Antony: We both live with mental illness – Nicole is bipolar and I live with borderline personality disorder. This song was written from the perspective of someone who continuously loses and sabotages their relationships, not intentionally, but as a symptom of their illness. Finding a stable partner can be challenging with these conditions. We also find that conversations about mental health are challenging for the average person to have. Putting those emotions and thoughts into a song has helped spark some conversations about what we go through.
Nicole McCafferty: In the aftermath of COVID, given how far we had personally fallen from living our best lives, and the experiences of so many of our friends (especially performers, since our world was the first to go and will be the last to return), we wanted to write a song about the experience of having and losing everything you ever wanted. Armand reached out to a friend of his who had just gotten her big break days before the pandemic hit, and we had a Zoom chat with her and took notes about her experience. That idea of something so wonderful it seems too good to be true – and then it disappears in the blink of an eye, almost to prove you right. And somewhere along the way, the song transformed into a fable of sorts, almost a cautionary tale, about a skeptical little girl who gets everything she ever dreamed of, Wendy in Neverland, only to have to leave, and know she can never go back. And then toward the end, the song shifts, and you realize it was never about a little girl at all, but a very real, grown woman and the devastation she is facing. That shift still gives me chills. It has become my favourite song on the album. I remember, after everything in life fell apart, the only thing unchanged was nature. So in the end, we find hope by bringing it back to the stars.
Armand Antony: The first half, or side A of the album, was a pretty strong and intense one, without much of a break. We wanted to have something calm and a break from the intensity of the first half with a very simple acoustic song. Even Now proved to be exactly what we needed in that moment. We don’t have many romantic songs or tracks about relationships on this album – this is one of the rare ones.
Armand Antony: As we mentioned before and talk about a lot, breaking the stigma of mental illness is something we’re passionate about. Many times, that stigma comes with a big lack of understanding of what someone goes through. Oftentimes when you associate mental illness and a hospital, people bring up images they see on TV and film. Terms like asylum, insane, crazy, and other harmful descriptors come to mind. We wanted to write from an “insider’s perspective” to show more of the emotional rollercoaster and not necessarily the treatment. What happens? What do you feel when going through that experience? Who do you listen to? Who do you trust? Our goal is to help others learn and understand that it’s not as scary as everyone makes it out to be – but those conversations need to start, and if they start from a song, then we’re doing something right.
The Other Side
Nicole McCafferty: The Other Side came from a loved one who was dealing with depression; trying to find the words to bring them support and hope, to provide any kind of comfort. It’s kind of funny; we never planned it, but ‘This Side’ and ‘The Other Side’ have always unintentionally complimented each other. That week Armand and I had each been working on a song, but there was just something missing, so we decided to trade and see what we could make of the other person’s lines. And once each song was born, we realized that in a way, they make up the two sides of the same situation. The words in ‘The Other Side’ are exactly what the character who is suffering and trying to hold on to their relationship amidst the self-sabotaging due to their mental illness wants and needs to hear.
Bad For Each Other
Nicole McCafferty: This song is about the pure joy that comes from loving someone with wild abandon, no matter what anyone says or even what you may know yourself. There’s a big musical theatre influence in this one – our two characters live in a very small town, where everyone and their dog has an opinion about your relationship. That judgement has kept them apart before, and now they’ve decided they won’t let it anymore. It feels right to them, and that’s all that matters. It’s sweet, quirky and silly – and we also had fun throwing in some names of people we know.
Armand Antony: Ah Taylor Swift. The album was bound to have a cover or two on it. When I first heard this song and played it for Nicole, we knew there was something both magical and heartbreaking about it. Taylor has this way of painting an entire picture and story with a single line and this song was a perfect example of it. We find covers so interesting as a duo and love turning a song from one perspective into a full story from two sides. We treat it the same way as we do our songs – we break down characters, settings, stories, backgrounds – and in a way, the song feels like our own once it’s finally tracked.
Armand Antony: This was the perfect summary of the album and it became the first single we released. We won’t get into the original story behind it because we’ve heard so many different interpretations about what this song has meant to people: a new job, a first date, losing someone they loved – there’s something magical about hearing so many interpretations to a song we wrote about our experience as actors. Regardless of your experience, we’ve all felt the joy of something new, we’ve all felt the loss of something we love, and we know what recovery from that can look like. This song is about exactly that – losing something that you treasure and finding a way to get back up and start anew.
Kyla Pearson: The album was also penned during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about the songwriting and recording process? How has working on the album helped you both cope with the new circumstances the pandemic presented?
Armand Antony: While COVID was something that brought us together, we honestly can’t say that it had any influence on what we wrote, except for perhaps one song. With so many artists creating music about COVID or plays about COVID, or books about COVID, we didn’t want this album to have a timestamp that was impacted by the plague (as we like to call it). Our songwriting is unique in the sense that we hardly ever start with music, we start with creating a concept and story, building out our characters and voices within a song, and eventually finding melodies that work. We bring our experience into a song and it definitely influences what our characters experience in each track, but we like removing ourselves as much as possible to make storytelling as open and as far-reaching as it can be.
Nicole McCafferty: In terms of coping, I’d say it has made all the difference in the world for us. I am so grateful to have had Broadtree – for a very long time, it was the only good thing in my life. And it’s therapeutic because we begin writing from our own experience, but then create the characters in the songs, and give our pain over to them. After the events of the past year and a half, both in the world and in my personal life, I was barely able to sing or even listen to music without breaking down. But when you’re telling someone else’s story, somehow it allows you to step back from that pain and face it in a way that isn’t too much to bear. It has definitely fostered healing, brought music back into my life, and helped me remember who I am. We’re so lucky to live in a time when the technology to self-produce is available, so we weren’t held back by having to wait for a studio or get together with other musicians. Every sound you hear on the album, every instrument, was composed, engineered and mixed ourselves. Also, the pandemic created a unique experience for recording – we actually left the city and holed up in a cottage up north, and devoted a whole week to nothing but recording, which was not only a very welcome relief and unique experience, but no doubt also influenced the final sound of the album and helped create that cohesive feel.
Kyla Pearson: Your music often touches upon difficult subjects in the attempt to make your listeners know they aren’t alone in their struggles. As is the case with “The Other Side” off your recent album, which aims to spread awareness about mental health. Can you tell us a bit about the impact the song has had so far & the live performance you’ve recorded?
Nicole McCafferty: In all of our music, and everything we do, we always have the mindset of “If we help even one person, it’s all worth it.” And ‘The Other Side’, I am happy to say, is one of the songs that seems to have accomplished that. We’ve had people reach out to us and say “Thank you. I really needed this right now”. And that means the world to us. Because mental health in particular is a big focus for Armand and myself as artists and as humans, any chance we get to promote understanding and support, we will take it. Though we are just starting out and our following is only beginning to grow, we still have a platform, and if we can use that to help reduce stigma, support people in need and promote understanding, then that’s something we will always choose to do. It’s very important to us to practice what we preach, so any chance we get, we offer people the opportunity to reach out to us for help. We know that not everyone has someone they can go to or talk to about these issues, and we never want someone to face this alone when they don’t have to. Shoot us a message and we WILL respond. When we recorded the live version for Mental Health Awareness month, we made sure to hit that point home.
Armand Antony: As Nicole said, awareness and shining a light on issues music usually shies away from is something we’re both very passionate about. I know fellow artists will often talk about what they’re feeling, or what a “dark place” may feel like, but it’s rare for songs to directly talk about the illness itself. Nicole is bipolar, I’m borderline – those are titles we don’t hide behind as they make up a part of who we are. In fact, we embrace the fact that they make us more creative. The stigma is the immediate thought and reaction when people hear those terms, and it’s even scarier if you’re someone who has been diagnosed with any sort of mental illness and have no one around to talk to or help you understand. For us, it’s important to make sure people know they’re not alone. A song like The Other Side is us speaking directly to someone suffering, someone struggling, someone who may feel lost. We want people to know we’re here, we get it, and we want to help however you feel you need it.
Kyla Pearson: With live music starting to be a reality once again as lockdown restrictions begin to lift, what is one venue or show you’re looking to perform at? What live shows do you have coming up that fans can catch?
Nicole McCafferty: We were really hoping to do the Markham Village Music Festival, but it ended up being virtual. We were also planning on doing a summer tour of Eastern Canada before the borders within Canada shut down. But we’ve got a few pubs considering having us play their patios once such things are allowed. Hilariously (and perhaps fittingly), we’re now in talks with city-run vaccine pop-up clinics to perform there. So our first live gig could very well be playing for people waiting in line for vaccines! In the meantime, we host a series of virtual concerts broadcast over our YouTube channel called the ‘Musical Postcards World Tour’, where we feature songwriters from all around the world. And we are very active on Instagram and Facebook, so you can also follow us @broadtreemusic to keep up with any concert news – believe us that we’ll be shouting from the rooftops when our first gig is booked after all of this.
Armand Antony: We’re counting down the mysterious calendar days till we get to be on stage again. It’s been 16 months since either of us was performing for people so we’re itching. At this point, if it’s playing for the bartender in a 1-star dive bar, I think we’ll take it. Live music in Toronto has been completely on hold and decimated, which is almost unfair for a music city. Some classic venues have shut down as a result, but some new ones are opening in the aftermath of this plague. We’ll still be performing virtually, and I imagine that’s something that will carry on even after things lift. This pandemic has certainly changed how people access live music, so we need to adjust to those changes. Toronto has some of the most historic venues in North America, so being able to play a spot like El Mocambo or the Horseshoe Tavern is in our sights in the long run. We’re still a very young band, but we’re hoping the momentum we have going right now will lead to some exciting bookings.
Kyla Pearson: What is one goal you hope to achieve with your music this year? Do you plan on releasing new music?
Nicole McCafferty: We want to give ‘Feeling Bad. Feeling Better.’ some time to breathe before we launch into releasing too much. We work very, very fast together, and if we weren’t trying to pace ourselves a bit, we’d be releasing an album before the first album was out for a month! But rest assured, there will be another album, likely before next year. We’ve already written some new songs! Meanwhile, I’m sure there will be more releases. We just released a new single, ‘Be As’, two weeks ago in honour of Pride month. It’s a very special one, so we hope you’ll take a listen. In terms of goals, our greatest goal at the moment is just to have the chance to perform live!
Armand Antony: I honestly feel we’ve achieved more than we ever set out to with our debut. I don’t think we would’ve believed you if you had told us this is where things would be 8 months after we first got together, or even 6 months after writing our first song. That said, we can’t wait to keep going. Whether it’s a new album on the horizon now that we’ve established who we are and what we want to do and continuing to make an impact on others, whether it’s one or one hundred, we hope to continue making art that matters.
Kyla Pearson: Lastly, what is one thing your fans may not know about you?
Armand Antony: If anyone didn’t pick up on it from the album, we are massive musical theatre buffs.
Nicole McCafferty: And Harry Potter!
Armand Antony: We’re both actors – it’s how we met, but musical theatre and our love of the wizarding world brought us together.
Nicole McCafferty: So if you ever want to talk about musicals, DM us!
Listen to Broadtree’s “Feeling Bad. Feeling Better.” EP now:
Get your official Broadtree merch HERE.
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Broadtree. Interview. Conducted by Kyla Pearson, Jun 25 2021.
Unknown. “Featured: Pop-country duo Broadtree.”. Photo courtesy of Broadtree. Accessed Jun. 25 2021.
Unknown. “Featured: Pop-country duo Broadtree.”. Photo courtesy of Broadtree. Accessed Jun. 25 2021.
Unknown. “Official cover art for Broadtree’s album, ‘Feeling Good. Feeling Better.”. Photo courtesy of Broadtree. Accessed Jun. 25 2021.