They may not be old enough to get a driver’s license, but when Ezra Beaton and James Vickers played at the Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival last week, they rocked out to a crowd large enough to make musicians much older than them think twice.
But if they were nervous, you’d never know it from their high-voltage performance, which you can get a taste of below. And when they were done, they left people wanting more.
The West Coast Now caught up with Ezra (14) and James (12), cousins who are both Tsimshian and Haida, to learn how they deal with nerves on stage, where they find the courage to ignore the doubters, and how they were able to become such accomplished musicians.
Here’s what two of B.C.’s youngest Indigenous rockers had to say.
On their musical influences
James: For me, Stevie Ray Vaughan is a big one. Angus Young of AC/DC, Buddy Guy. B.B. King and Thomas Morris. He’s a local musician here. He’s kind of like my mentor.
Ezra: I sort of grew up in music. We went to a lot of music festivals. So a lot of my influences were actually locals. I had a very supportive friend and mentor growing up, Elijah Quinn. He’s a musician. He was part of a band called The Racket. Just musicians I’ve met along the way, really. They’ve inspired me.
On how long they have been playing for
Ezra: I’m 14 years old. I’m from the village of Kitwanga, BC. I’ve been playing bass for only a few months now. This was my first big performance playing bass. But I’ve been playing music for seven years. I started off on the ukulele. Then I moved on to guitar, which I picked up last year. Then this spring I started playing bass.
James: I am 12 years old, turning 13 soon. I was born here in Nanaimo and have lived here since. I’ve been playing guitar for two years now.
On what it’s like performing on stage
James: It can be stressful at times, but overall, it’s really fun just to connect with other people through a common interest in music.
Ezra: It’s quite freeing. I struggle with a lot of social anxiety, and so I don’t know what to do a lot of the time in regular situations. But I get up there and it’s quite empowering because I know what I’m going to do and I’m in my element. I really love it.
On dealing with nerves before the show
James: I usually just take a deep breath. I know it’s kind of lame. But thankfully, I haven’t really felt that stressed before a performance yet, but I’m sure I will someday.
Ezra: Instead of thinking of what can go wrong, I just think of what should go right, what I want to happen, what I want to do, and it really helps.
On what they plan to do when they get older
James: Pursuing an actual career like a lawyer or a doctor, that’s never really appealed to me. I’ve always just tried to not really think about the future, just try and focus on where I am here today. But yeah, I’m sometimes thinking about what am I going to do. How am I going to do this, how am I going to make money? That can be stressful, but I’m still a child. I’ve still got a few years ahead of me.
Ezra: My big question I’ve been posing to myself is ‘where am I going to go?’ Because I live in a small town, there’s not a lot of opportunity. But I really love my hometown. I have family there, we have a business and lots of friends and I really love the environment there. I’ll probably travel for a little while, but my hometown will always be my home base.
On their advice for people even younger than them
James: Surround yourself with creative, positive people. People who inspire you. People who lift you up. That’s really important.
Ezra: I would say if you have a dream, take advantage of that, try it out. Because I’ve seen a lot of kids going to school and they just get told what not to do and what they can’t do. And maybe there’ll be a kid who wants to be a painter. or a singer. And then they grow up in a small town or they’re part of a minority and they just get told. No. You can’t do that. But the truth is you can do that and I want to see you try. Because that’s what I did.
On the process of writing music
Ezra: I live on a fairly large property up on a hill and there’s a viewpoint on my property where I can just look down at the valley. And James and I, we actually went up there during the spring and wrote a fairly nice song while we were there.
James: We kind of wrote it out in poem form.
Ezra: We just let the words come to us. It was windy, cloudy day and early in the morning. The leaves hadn’t come onto the trees yet. There was still the glimmer of ice coming off the river. ‘There’s a place you can go to set your soul free where everything stands still but the water and the trees.’ James says those words to me, and I was like, ‘wow’. And that was the first line because there was nothing living in sight. The funny thing is we were literally just sitting on a rock eating a bag of ketchup chips.
James: Yeah. A family-sized bag of ketchup chips.
On using their music to help strengthen Indigenous culture
Ezra: Growing up, any major event I went to in my town would open with traditional dancing or singing. And it was a highlight of my childhood. I really value that and I’d hate to ever see it diminish. But I have faith that it’s getting stronger and I’d really like to help with that.
James: I agree with what Ezra said. To see the culture coming back, I’d really like to help with that somehow. I’m Tsimshian First Nations and I’ve always been proud of my heritage.
(If you want to hear more of James in person, feel free to head down to the Queens in Nanaimo. If you’re lucky, and you go on a Sunday night, you might see him rock the stage.)