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Hab at Heart - Jonas

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

One of the most popular rock artists of his generation, Jonas Tomalty took the music industry by storm with the same energy he brings night after night since the start of his career. In addition to being the frontman of a group that has shared the stage with many legendary acts, he’s also actively involved in the restaurant industry as a co-owner of Rosewood in Old Montreal. But, like every true Montrealer, the lead singer of Jonas and The Massive Attraction always pays close attention to the CH no matter where he is in the world. We recently met up with the 36-year-old musician to learn more about his love for the Canadiens.

How long have you been a Habs fan?

JONAS: I was born into a Montreal Canadiens family. The first time I went to the Forum wasn’t for a rock and roll show, but for a Habs game. I was probably seven or eight years old, and I went with my dad and my uncle. There’s that lasting impression of the smell of the ice, the smell of the rubber and, the smell of popcorn from the stands. It was such a visceral experience being there for the first time. It’s still one of my favorite things to do, going to a game here in Montreal.

Even though you’re in and out of town throughout the year, do you still have time to swing by the Bell Centre occasionally for a game?

J: Coming home off the road, when I get a chance to hang out with my boys, with my brother, that connection that I have with the city, very often starts with a Bell Centre experience – either for a game or a show. I try to go to at least three or four games a year. For me, the Bell Centre really represents Montreal.

Who was your favorite player growing up?

J: J: What’s funny is my grandfather played for the Lachine Old Timers and they often faced old NHL legends and Rocket Richard played for them at the time. That’s why we got a few Rocket Richard jerseys from those days handed down to us. We still have this old black and white photo at home of the Rocket deking out my grandfather on the ice. As you could imagine, the allure and the legend of the Rocket was always present in our family. Even though he was retired when I was growing up, he was always a legend to us.

(© Pat Beaudry)

Did you play hockey as a kid?

J: My brother was the hockey player, but we were complete sports fanatics. We played every sport, everything from softball to swimming to basketball to hockey. I was more into taekwondo, though. I probably would have gone into MMA if my music career didn’t get a jumpstart. I loved going to my brother’s games. He was a monster on the ice.

We all saw that video where you were dressed as a goalie and you couldn’t stop David Desharnais. How much did you appreciate that experience?

J: To be honest, I’m not a great skater, but I can do better than what you saw in the video. (laughs) The whole concept was that we had to go outside of the box. The whole point was for me to look like I was failing. I had to make it worse. But, have you ever tried skating in goalie pads? It’s ridiculous. Even if your skating ability is decent, you have no clearance and you’re skating like a triangle. That being said, when I was being scored on by Davey, I wasn’t trying to be bad. I was just clearly bad. (laughs)

Would you have preferred if cameras weren’t on site?

J: It would have been nice. (laughs)

When you’re on the road, do you find time before/after shows to catch a Habs game on TV or at least check the score?

J: My brother is my link to the team when I’m on the road. He gives me my updates every few days when I’m away. I try to Skype with him and his two babies. I’m a proud uncle and godfather, so just before they go to bed, I talk to them a little bit. When they go to bed, I get serious with my brother and we start talking about the team. I asked him when Carey was going to get back so many times this past year. (laughs)

Jonas heard many legendary tales of Maurice Richard growing up, including stories of his own grandfather, Donald “Don” Tomalty (right) squaring off against the Rocket in exhibition games.

A few years ago, you went on stage at the Bell Centre and taped what became a very successful DVD, Jonas Live at the Bell Centre. How much did you enjoy performing there, the site of so many great shows and memorable hockey games over the years?

J: It certainly was a highlight of my career. Playing the Bell Centre for the first time in 2006 was a pinnacle. It’s one thing to play in your hometown, but it’s another thing to play THE stadium in your hometown. That’s a major moment of your life, when you come up on that stage and there are 9,000 people there to watch your show in a place where you’ve seen all these bands that you have so much respect for. It’s the same place where you saw your team hit the ice and receive so much love. You really feel like you’re a part of it. You go there and you’re given a jersey with your name on the back. I don’t wear it at the Bell Centre, but I wear it at my place when I watch a game. If anything, I like to go under the radar occasionally. (laughs)

A lot of people envy the rock star lifestyle, but if we gave you the chance to trade it for the one Habs players enjoy, would you do it?

J: In the most respectful way possible, I really appreciate people in sports doing their thing. I appreciate watching it. I get emotional watching it. I really enjoy watching people exceeding what they’re good at. For me to give up the life I’m living right now, though, I don’t think I would do it. I know I wouldn’t do it. If you think that music is about hits and misses and takes a toll on your life, try being an NHL player. They move you around from city to city, everybody is on your back all the time about your performances, plus you have your personal life to deal with at the same time. I can have a bad album, but I can come back and make a better one to make up for it. It won’t be the end of the world. It would have been a waste of time and money and some fans would be disappointed. At the end of the day, I’ll still have a career. That being said, if a player has a bad season in the NHL, he’s toast. You can’t be benched for an entire season and expect to produce the following year. If I think that my job has big pressure, I just reflect and think about what those guys are living.

A few months ago, you took part in an event for the Evenko Foundation with Carey Price where you surprised kids in Kahnawake with a donation of musical instruments. How important was it for you to be there?

J: When Anne-Marie Withenshaw approached me about doing this event in Kahnawake, that place has been a part of my life for 19 years. My guitarist, Corey, is Native American. To have all those ties with the community, it was so cool to give back. For us to be the messengers was just amazing, and the fact that Carey Price was a last-minute addition to the event made it that much cooler.

Carey Price and Jonas (© Fondation evenko - Lucas Rupnik)

Was it your first time meeting Carey? Did you feel like the rest of the kids when you were around him?

J: Talk about your ultimate leader. It’s more of a respect thing. I had met him a few times before and he’s such a sweet guy. The fact that he was there that day shows what kind of guy he really is. I got to see a side of him that I’ve never seen before. The speech that he gave to the kids that day came straight from the heart. He’s all soul. I’ve been brought up in blues. It’s not about how intricate you play, but how deep you play. Carey Price has got the soul of an old Louisiana Delta bluesman. You can also see it when he plays. He keeps it simple, keeps it down, and he knows what to do to execute. I just hadn’t seen it in a social context before. You could see it on those kids’ faces that day. He really touched them.

Did you and Corey try teaching him a few tricks with a guitar?

J: Unfortunately, no. (laughs)

Which player do you think would make the best band mate and blend in with Jonas and The Massive Attraction?

J: Davey can join my band any day. (laughs) He’s a rock star. He reminds me of a couple of band members I’ve had along the way. I’m sure we would have fun on the road together.

Which player would make the best roadie?

J: Can I say a former player? I would love to have Knuckles [Chris Nilan] as a roadie. (laughs). I had the amazing opportunity to go to Afghanistan with a few NHL alumni in 2008. I heard some amazing stories from him and other guys like Bob Probert and Mike Gartner on our way there.

(© Susan Moss)

Have some of the Habs tried your restaurant – Rosewood – since it first opened a few years ago?

J: Brandon Prust came by a few times when he played here. He was my kind of tie-in to this player’s generation. He was a good buddy of mine. He introduced me to some of the others guys like Dale Weise, who might be one of the nicest guys on the planet. He’s a gentleman and a music fan. First time we met, we talked briefly about music. We exchanged numbers. The next day, he YouTubed all of my stuff and told me what he liked. It was a nice gesture.

Let’s say some of the guys walked in after a big win. What would you recommend they eat?

J: They would need some protein. I would feed them all with a nice bavette, some lamb chops, maybe a few classic burgers. When the boys come in after a win like that, you’re not going to give them a salad, especially not a Boston salad. (laughs)

Interview conducted by Hugo Fontaine.

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