Lamont Hiebert, the lead singer and songwriter of Ten Shekel Shirt, describes himself as an artist and an abolitionist. As an artist, he's a gifted singer, songwriter and bandleader who evokes comparisons from Snow Patrol to Coldplay to Peter Gabriel for his richly textured music, emotive singing and thoughtful lyrics and who's already sold 150,000 copies of his first two albums. As an abolitionist, he's a committed crusader who interrupted a successful musical career to co-found Love146, a non-profit organization dedicated to help end child slavery and exploitation. Not content to simply write songs about the issue or put on benefit concerts, he created a way to make an actual impact. Love146 quickly gained recognition for its work, earning the MySpace Impact Award for Social Justice, and being named an "Agent of Change" by GQ magazine. Lamont's experiences as a modern day abolitionist are at the heart of many the songs on Ten Shekel Shirt's new album Jubilee, easily the strongest album in the band's career. Though the album's songs deal with weighty subject matter, Ten Shekel Shirt brings a strong message of hope throughout.
Born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, Hiebert moved to the US and eventually settled in New Haven, CT where he founded Ten Shekel Shirt along with original band members Austin Morrison and Tommy Lee. Together they released two acclaimed CDs, Much (which spawned the singles "Ocean" and "Meet With Me") and Risk, which turned out to be just that.
During the making of Risk, Lamont made his life-changing trip to Southeast Asia. He went along with undercover investigators into brothels where children as young as nine years old were enslaved and exploited. Soon after returning, he and a small group of friends founded Love146 (formerly Justice for Children International). As he explains, "Rescue agencies informed us that more child slaves could be rescued if there were more aftercare services. Thankfully, we have been able to make room for many more of these precious children by expanding the number of safe-homes and trauma counsellors. Love146 also funds effective prevention efforts in Southeast Asia making it harder for human traffickers to abduct children."
After successfully getting Love146 up and running, Lamont again felt compelled to make music and began writing and recording the songs that comprise Jubilee. "For me, rock, faith and justice are all meant to go together. I had to make this record. The thoughts and emotions I've encountered over the past few years had to come out." While re-forming Ten Shekel Shirt, Lamont enlisted one the most talented players on the New Haven music scene, lead guitarist Jonny Rodgers who also co-wrote five of the tracks on Jubilee. Jonny's melodic movements range from semi-clean and simple to quirky and intricate propelling the music forward with creativity. Hiebert says, "The great thing about Jonny Rodgers is that all the locals in New Haven talk about his unique style. The word on the street here is that he plays like... Jonny Rodgers." While Lamont continues to tap into his local community of musicians for live shows, the album features rock-solid bassist Brent Milligan, keyboardist Ben Shive, and drummers Christian Elliott and Jeremy Lutito. Jubilee was recorded in both Nashville and New Haven, and was produced by Brent Milligan and Lamont Hiebert.
Jubilee presents a rich pallet of musical colours, with many songs transforming within themselves from moments of hushed intimacy to explosions of joyous (or angry) sound, like the wall of guitars that lift the chorus of "Higher Ground". They take their cue from Lamont's unique, expressive voice, which glides from low reassuring tones to feather-light falsetto. While many of Jubilee's songs deal with issues of pain and suffering, Hiebert offers comfort, forgiveness and hope ("It's not your fault" he sings to victims of abuse in "Fragile"). He saves his anger for the perpetrators of exploitation, and the enablers who stand by and allow it to happen ("It's slavery in the 21st century/Are you a part of the cure or the disease?" he sings in the album's powerful closing song "It's Slavery" over low driving guitars). Jubilee highlights how Hiebert's songwriting has grown both lyrically and musically, with its potent imagery ("Young mothers find some seeds to plant/Springtime it will come, flowers bloom for you at last" from "Wartime Lullaby") and richly melodic arrangements (such as the title tune's development from the hymn-like simplicity of the verses to the fully harmonized chorus). His special talent for capturing the "here and now" moment has never been stronger.
From the buoyant rock'n'roll of "Spark" to the delicate chamber folk of "Fragile," the romantic awe of "En Garde" to the metallic buzz of "It's Slavery," Jubilee encompasses the full range of Ten Shekel Shirt's heartfelt inspiration and musical artistry. And Jubilee is just the first step in Ten Shekel Shirt's renaissance. As Hiebert says, "I enjoy the writing and recording process a lot but connecting with fans and creating an unforgettable atmosphere with them is where it's at."