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The Gospel of Boy Golden and the Church of Better Daze

Liam Duncan finds his way with an easy, breezy, warm, and gritty disposition. 

by Brad Simm

Photos by Adam Kelly

His mother’s maiden name is Golden, and he’s her son. That’s how the stage moniker for Liam Duncan, the Winnipeg-based country-tinged singer-songwriter, simply came to be. The evolution of Boy Golden the artist, however, is far more involved.

Like so many musical outpourings, Boy Golden began to take shape during the pandemic when isolation and introspection pushed open creative doors. Duncan started playing in bands at 17, toured his tail off, became a studio musician, began engineering records, and made the trek to Toronto to be in the professional fold of the business. But when the dark days of COVID-19 came crashing down and the gleam of the CN tower seemed less radiant, Duncan relocated back to Winnipeg. There the pressure and constant grind to make ends meet as a musician lifted; he had the freedom to write different songs along with making the whole new character of Boy Golden.   

“You have to try harder,” says Duncan of his experience in Toronto. “And that’s not a good look for your artistic practice. You have to hustle to make your rent, where the reality of places like Edmonton and Winnipeg is that it’s just cheaper to live. I pay $950 a month for a house that I split with one other musician and we have a studio in the backyard, another studio in the basement. I was paying more than that in Toronto for a room in a house where I had my studio in my bedroom and I slept on a futon.” 

The appeal to Winnipeg is not just cheap rent though. Duncan is quick to praise the city’s rich talent pool as an inspirational prime mover. “This is a place where people can make a living playing music. You have people to look up to in your musical community that you aspire to be like. I was playing as a side musician in Toronto, and I can just tell you honestly, that the calibre is different in Winnipeg. It’s higher. No one’s on [music] charts here. You learn the songs, and show up with them memorized. That was the expectation I grew up with. When I got a gig, it doesn’t matter if there’s 40 songs, you can have your rough charts, but you’re not up there reading them.”

Originally from Brandon, Duncan’s return to Manitoba revealed a newfound discovery of the people, the landscape and even admits having a fearless love for those 40 below winters. It’s an awakening he’s challenged through the Church of Better Daze, a serious state of mind that honours the act and pursuit of creating. While he chuckles that running a ministry is a “little bit tongue-in-cheek,” Duncan is entirely committed to espousing the view that making art is an enlightened pathway. 

“I don’t actually hold frequent sermons or anything, but this does come from an honest place of finding a home for my spiritual life through art. I’ve always been kind of a searcher that way. I’ve participated in Zen schools and have been meditating for years. And on all of our mental health journeys and whatnot, I think what is often left out is, ‘Do you have time to be creative?’” says Duncan matter-of-factly. 

“I’m a big philosophy nerd, I love that stuff. But we’ve had a philosophical train of thought in Western society for 4000 years, and no one’s figured it out. The truth is, if you’re not moving towards creating, playing and that sort of thing, then something’s missing, because doing that is also what the human drive is about. So I found that. And I’m gonna go and make whatever I want, three days a week, even more sometimes. Nothing has made me feel more connected to myself than that in my life. And that’s where all this comes from.” 

Church of Better Daze is also the name of his debut album, the band that backs him up, and Boy Golden’s website, whose mid-90s rudimentary, rainbow coloured design is a DIY delight that he’s extremely proud of. Under the section heading, Inspirations, he lists “my friends, the prairie landscape, skateboarding, cannabis and late nights.”  As for his interests in music; JJ Cale, MF DOOM, Gillian Welch, Townes Van Zandt, Ry Cooder, Kurt Vile, Willie Nelson, Talking Heads and Dwight Yoakam are just some of names mentioned. Boy Golden goes on to describe his own style as “easy, breezy, warm and gritty.”

With a new EP on Six Shooter Records out now, the songs roam from gentle strumming and a melodic swagger to raging, heavy twang and psych-rock soundwaves to flat-out three-chord rock and roll twisters. 

Although Duncan’s storylines also veer off in different directions, his personalities, whether he’s referring to himself or someone else, fall into ground zero, centre-of-gravity reflections of real life. The track “Hard Headed” is littered throughout with critical observations that point and wag fingers at a cast of difficult characters before Duncan turns the hurled accusations on himself admitting he too is just as gritty.

“I’m a very stubborn human being, to my chagrin. I like to think I’m easy breezy. But once I get something in my head, I’m a one-track mind one-trick pony.”

– Liam Duncan (Boy Golden)

“Whatever Got Lost” moves into an empathetic lane where Duncan reaches out to troubled souls hoping they can ride out the storm and regain their pride, purpose, and happiness once again. “That came at a time where I had a really close friend who was really struggling. Sometimes you see people go through these tough phases that I’ve been through myself — where you just lose something about yourself, about your kind of way that you move through the world. Especially if you’ve known someone for a long time, and it’s like, ‘Damn, I hope you find it again.’”

The testament of Boy Golden welcomes you to the Church of Better Daze.