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Searchlight alumni: where are they now?

By
Grant Lawrence

Published

January 31, 2018

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Entering Searchlight can be daunting: there are so many bands, and just one grand prize.

The thing to remember is that, beyond that No. 1 spot, there is always the potential for plenty of exposure on CBC along the way. A team of CBC producers is listening to every single song, with the hopes of discovering great Canadian artists to showcase.

While we of course shine the brightest lights on our Searchlight winners — the Long War in 2017; Desiree Dawson in 2016; Orange O’Clock in 2015; Lauren Mann in 2014; Sherman Downey in 2013 — each year there are many great artists who still impressed us. Whether they won their region, made it into the national top 10 or maybe didn’t even make it past the first round, for us, those Searchlight discoveries are important.

As we move into a new year of Searchlight, we wanted to look at a few artists from years past who didn’t win the biggest prize, but who are doing amazing things with their music. Below, an update on five standout alumni bands.

Caveboy

In 2014, a new-wave pop band from Montreal called Diamond Bones made it all the way to the Searchlight national top 10. We've been playing this band ever since on Radio One, 3 and CBC Music, including when Diamond Bones evolved into its new moniker of Caveboy and took another run at Searchlight in 2015.

Now Caveboy is arguably one of the most buzzed-about bands in the country, having just won a prestigious placement in the Allan Slaight Juno Master Class for 2018 (which ever band wins Searchlight 2018 will join Caveboy in that class). The band's recent single, "New Touch," spent most of January charting on the Radio 2 Top 20.

IsKwé

This critically acclaimed, politically minded trip-hop/soul artist has had a few long runs in Searchlight. In 2014, IsKwé was crowned regional champion for Manitoba and went on to the national round. Since then, she has relocated to Hamilton, continuing to mine her Cree, Dene and Irish roots for inspiration in her modern sound. IsKwé was recently a judge for our Canadian Music Class Challenge, and performed at a Canadian embassy party for the 2018 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Hillsburn

Celebrated Halifax indie folk-rock band Hillsburn was the Searchlight regional champ for Nova Scotia in 2015. Since then, the band has won a Canadian Folk Music Award for new artist of the year (2015), an East Coast Music Award for fan choice video of the year (2017), and has been nominated for several others, including seven Nova Scotia Music Awards. The band has continued to blow us away with its smart and sprawling music. We're currently featuring the First Play of Hillburn's wonderful new album,The Wilder Beyond, which you can listen to in full until Friday, Feb. 2.

Tomato Tomato

Tomato Tomato is the husband-and-wife bluegrass folk duo of John and Lisa McLaggan. Ever since the two artists became the Searchlight regional champs for their native New Brunswick in 2014, they've played to sold-out theatres in their home province and broken into the national folk festival circuit across Canada.

"Searchlight gave us a chance to be heard outside of Saint John," John told CBC New Brunswick. Tomato Tomato is currently recording its new album in Nashville with a group of Grammy-winning session players, and the album will be mastered by John Baldwin, who's worked on projects with Neil Young, the Rolling Stones and the White Stripes.

Skye Wallace

Having called Toronto and Vancouver home with family in Newfoundland, this gritty pan-Canadian artist surged through the rounds of Searchlight in 2016, gaining a lot of new fans — including within the CBC. Skye Wallace's lyrics often tell us stories of Canadian history, draped in gutsy, melodic rock 'n' roll. Since Searchlight, Wallace has toured relentlessly, made a critically acclaimed album with producer Jim Bryson and just wrapped up an artist residency in Dawson City, Yukon.

More to explore:

Searchlight: enter now

Searchlight: key dates

Searchlight: rules and regulations

Searchlight: the prizes

Searchlight: FAQs