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Jamming with Smith and the Vinyl Trees

by Miranda Baker / Calgary Flames

Some little boys dream of being doctors and lawyers and astronauts when they grow up. Others dream of being musicians or playing hockey in the NHL, but not many get to live out two dreams and be successful at them both.

Calgary Flames' forward Mark Smith is one of the few. His resume includes playing hockey for the San Jose Sharks and more recently the Calgary Flames. But the 30-year-old native of Edmonton, Alberta also has something unique to offer -- he's the lead singer in his own folk rock band, the Vinyl Trees.

Now that's an accomplishment in itself. His passion for music stems all the way back to childhood where he spent his days, jamming on his guitar, playing piano and singing in church. At the age of two, Smith's family moved from Edmonton to the small farming town of Eyebrow, Saskatchewan.

"Ever since I can remember that was my big dream to play in the NHL; music, on the other hand, has been a passion of mine for a long time," says Smith.

"I think music offers me a lot more to myself, then just going out there and wanting to be a rock star. I play music because I love to play music and I love how it makes me feel."

During his days in the Western Hockey League with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Smith along with older brother Derek, childhood friend Ryan Gallagher and Brant Hubic formed the band, The Epic Latitudes. The group put on shows across Saskatchewan and ran a Western Canada tour before splitting years later.

And although Smith continued to have a passion for music and for producing music, it wasn't until the NHL lockout that his focus shifted from hockey to performing again. With all the time in the world on his hands, the Flames' forward created his own record label, Lunar Records, hoping to capture the local music scene by getting unknown bands well needed recognition.

But once the NHL put their differences aside and the season was back on track, Smith went back to the ice to play for the Sharks. It wasn't until the summer of 2006 when Smith and drummer Larry Brooks finally found the final piece of the puzzle -- bass guitarist Alek Dorian. It was set, the three of them had instant chemistry and began practicing and collaborating music day in and day out.

"It took a couple years to really gel with someone and with the chemistry and connection we all had, we just started writing songs and performing," commented Smith.

Originally titled 'The Talking Trees', the group started performing mainly in the local Bay area of California, where Mark was stationed with the Sharks. The name had to go because a band in the UK had already claimed it, so Vinyl Trees it was.

"Vinyl is always something I grew up with, listening to vinyl records," added Smith.

Smith and The Vinyl Trees have also had a chance to play on the same bill as the Tragically Hip at the Fillmore in San Francisco this past March, which if you ask Smith, was one of the greatest thrills of his life.

"That was a big thing; we got to hang out with the band, get to know them and they're really down to earth guys," said Smith.

But now that he's in Calgary, Smith has to decide what direction the bands going to take.

"I've done a lot of solo shows on my own as well," adds Smith. "I've been talking to the boys about coming up here and doing a show, but probably later on in the season when I really get settled."

That's not to say, Smith is going to stop producing music and jamming on his guitar in the meantime. In fact, Smith says music is a huge stress reliever and helps gets ones mind off the focus of the game at hand -- hockey.

"You can't sit around thinking hockey 24 hours a day; I mean, it's your occupation and if you do that your going to burn yourself out and lose all the fun in coming to the rink," comments Smith, who plays the Australian didgeridoo.

"I go home and sit and play my guitar and not have to think about hockey or the mistakes you made on the ice last game; you need to vent sometimes and I use music to take my mind off of it."

The Vinyl Trees, who produce music using acoustic, guitar and earthy beats to create a soothing yet catchy tone, are more of a mainstream band with a unique flavour. The group uses a variety of colourful instruments in their music including the Xylophone, the Donkey Jaw and Didgeridoo, which is a wind instrument that is made from a tree that is hollowed out by termites.

"The key is learning how to breath to keep the constant flow of air going to make the drone sound," explains Smith. "It's really an unbelievable sound, and it blew me away the first time I heard it."

Fans of Vinyl Trees can purchase their album online at iTunes and Megatunes on Calgary’s trendy 17th avenue is also carrying the bands’ first album.

“When I sit down and write a song, I want to feel like I'm uplifted, and I think that is kind of the basis of our entire concept of the Vinyl Trees," says Smith. "To make people feel good, be entertained and have fun."

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