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'This is the new bar for us': the Long War wins Searchlight 2017

Kerry Martin

From 1,200 Canadian music acts across the country, we finally have our winner of Searchlight 2017: Vancouver's the Long War and its catchy folk-rock song "Breathe In Breathe Out."

The Long War is made up of Jarrett Lee, Chad Gilmour, Neil Williamson and Carson Webber. Together, the bandmates will be busy over the next year, travelling to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for an artist residency, writing a song for Canada 150, performing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Canada Day weekend and so much more.

We sat down with the band members shortly after their win to talk about what was going through their minds, and what's next. Read the conversation below, and check out their winning performance of "Breathe in Breathe Out."

What was going through your mind when you realized you won?

Lee: When people say, "You can literally feel your heart beating through your chest," that's actually a true statement, I think. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and I'm pretty healthy. It felt just surreal, standing there, and it was so, so tense and overwhelming to hear the Long War get called out.

Each of you have been playing in bands for a long time. What does it mean when an opportunity like this comes around, and you find yourself on top?

Gilmour: I think the first thing that comes to mind is the word "validating." It's hard to find ways to get constructive criticism or some feedback from other people in the music industry. When you get these opportunities, even just to be here in the top four was a validating experience, and then once you have that you kind of redefine your identity as a musician. You're like, "Maybe I can do this, maybe it is something I'm doing well." I think for me, that's one of the biggest things.

It's been a couple of hours now since you guys found out you won. Have you had any conversation about how the gears just shifted for the Long War?

Webber: We were actually talking about it, and saying that this is the new bar for us. We've gone this far, and now where do we go from here? We take everything we have done up to this point, and everything that we've got to push us even further. This is such a great launchpad.

You just won a ton of great prizes, but one of them strikes closer to home for you considering two of you [Lee and Gilmour] lived in Ottawa for some time before moving to Vancouver. What does it mean to you that you will get to play at the National Arts Centre on Canada Day weekend?

Lee: I mean, I am absolutely over the moon. It's wild. It is something you fantasize about, and it's something you dream of. Going back to Ottawa like that is just crazy. I saw Wilco play at the NAC, I've been there multiple times. I was actually thinking, "Man, I've been in Vancouver for a long time now, I want to go back to Ottawa with a band, I want to go back and play, I want to see my friends and play for those people and that city." And now, I never expected to be playing in this context, and have that show be at the NAC.

Gilmour: The NAC is one of the most prestigious places an artist can get to play in this country. The fact that we get to do that is beyond my expectations of what I thought we would get from Searchlight.

At any level, artists strive for a chance to get some time at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. As musicians, how do you feel about getting this chance to go?

Williamson: I think we're ready. We are four songwriters in this band, and the calibre of songs Jarrett brings to the table are a great starting point. We are up to the challenge, and it will be a very nice, beautiful, serene place to work out the song and see where it goes.

You will be writing a song for and/or about Canada. What does writing a song for Canada mean to you, and what do you think needs to be said about this country?

Gilmour: Not to get too political, but I think that we have gone through a change, a bit of a shift in mentality in the past couple of years. The way that I have perceived that is a return to something that we may have gotten away from as Canadians. Just speaking for myself, as I find often as Canadians, we find our identity in maybe stuff when we're not comparing ourselves to our neighbours to the south. Finding our identity in what we are is very important, and there's a lot of diversity, and many different things make up a great country. That's something we will have to try and communicate. I can't believe we're writing a song for Canada, the magnitude of all this is just overwhelming.

Williamson: We'll also have to start finding words that rhyme with 150, that'll be tough.

What are the next steps for the Long War?

Lee: I'm looking forward to putting music in the front seat, I'm looking forward to writing and to going through the motions and being buried in music. It's time to start surging forward and working on this while honing our skills and getting tighter. The opportunities are crazy, and this is a very special moment for us. We are absolutely stoked right now, as they say.