Capturing souls for a living

As we grow older, no matter where we travel or what we do, nothing will ever be as telling of the people we are as the roots that connect us to the places we first started out.
The same can be said in the music industry. As musicians and bands develop and experiment, change becomes inevitable; but every so often we are able to see glimpses of them in their most raw form, performing as original as they were when they first began making noise.
Mitchell Fillion, videographer, audio engineer and Web site operator, is the guy behind the name Southern Souls, a Toronto-based production company that captures prolific and unique underground artists doing what they do best in settings most fitting and familiar to them.
Back in 2009 when Southern Souls first began, Fillion honed in on musicians and bands that called Southern Ontario home, which is where the company name stems from. He was intrigued by the idea of filming these artists in the places that they lived and breathed–places most characteristic of them.
“Sometimes we would shoot a set out in the street, in a store, a kitchen or bedroom, places that the artists themselves chose,” said Fillion. “It’s almost a homecoming for the music itself, returning it to the places in which it started.”
For one of it’s most recent projects, Southern Souls teamed up with Dundas-based band The Dirty Nil and Fenwick’s own Northern Primitive for what can best be described as one of the coldest shoots Fillion has ever lived through.
In celebration of the 7′ split that The Dirty Nil and Northern Primitive released on January 8th, Southern Souls shot both bands in one afternoon in an old barn located in Fonthill, ON.
“My toes and fingers have never been that cold in my entire life, but once the boys started playing I forgot all about the chill,” said Fillion.
For Matt Sajn, lead singer of Northern Primitive, this was not his first time working with Fillion. In fact, when that experience occurred in 2009, Sajn recalls walking through a “junkyard/ abused animal sanctuary” off Southworth Street in Welland, ON.
“There ended up being goats and pigs living in old milk trucks, and the craziest selection of junked cars in Welland. On a side note, I can’t believe that place exists… But that’s where we ended up shooting a video for the song, ‘Soul Machines’ and ‘When the Lifeboat Turns to Kindling’.”
The day at the barn, both bands were extremely impressed with Fillion’s ability to be present and in charge without seeming as though he was there at all. This, of course,
“He doesn’t really impose himself in any way. He let’s things happen as they naturally would and in doing so he catches actual moments rather than premeditated garbage,” said Sajn. “He is incredibly professional and has an eye for catching things in their most aesthetically pleasing state. His understanding of how film and music work together is raw and way beyond any others doing similar things.”
Though location and vibe change with each and every musician or band shot, Southern Souls has a particular and consistent style that has almost become identifiable as a trademark in a sense. Every Southern Souls video is done with a handheld camera, all natural lighting and is shot in a documentary style.
When you watch a Southern Souls video, you won’t see a poised artist or band waiting for their cue to begin a set that will be flawless; the result of something shot over and over again until perfected. Instead, you will be looking through a realistic lens, which doesn’t neglect the imperfections, but uses them to showcase talent in it’s most unrefined state. In the end, what you have every single time is that artist or band as themselves and that is what gives Southern Souls it’s edge.
“The goal with every video is to tell a unique story about that unique artist. No two are ever the same,” said Fillion.
Given the fact that Southern Souls is now a name recognized by Exclaim!, National Post and CBC Radio 3, there are numerous artists looking to work with Fillion, some of whom extend beyond Southern Ontario.
“I’m lucky to have enough artists contacting me daily that I can sift through and find the ones that I want to work with. I’m a fan of a lot of styles of music, I just try to find those artists that are doing something a bit more interesting than the rest,” said Fillion. “And lyrics are always a big thing for me. I need to believe in their sadness.”
To date, Southern Souls has worked with well over 300 artists and bands, including, Al Tuck, Bedouin Soundclash, Bry Webb, Chad VanGaalen, Dan Mangan, Diamond Rings, Great Bloomers, Hollerado, Land of Talk, Mother Mother, One Hundred Dollars, Paper Lions, Peter Elkas, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Shotgun Jimmie, The Sheepdogs, Sunparlour Players, Tokyo Police Club, The Wooden Sky, Yukon Blonde and The Zolas.
“I think the most challenging sessions I’ve done have been with the artists I grew up listening to, like David Bazan, Joan of Arc and Limblifter, to name a few. It’s pretty nerve racking and hard to breathe properly until those ones are over,” said Fillion.
In terms of future projects, Fillion hopes that The New Pornographers (Vancouver), Hayden (Thornhill, ON) and Nap Eyes (Halifax) will join the Southern Souls family one day.
In the meantime, however, Fillion is loving every minute of what he has made into a living. When contacting Fillion for this article, he was sitting at a shoot with Doug Paisley and Garth Hudson (The Band) in Ottawa, about to record a session on Glenn Gould’s most famous piano. He described the moment as “dreamy”.
“I still don’t believe I am able to do this for a living. I feel so lucky and never imagined it like this,” said Fillion.
The name Southern Souls is pretty significant when you stop to think about it. Sure, it does a fine job of representing the majority of musicians and bands that Fillion works with geographically, but over and above everything else, it’s the ‘Souls’ part that registers as most noteworthy.
Anyone can hold a camera and capture the outward appearance of something, but the soul exists deeper than what others see on the outside. The soul is where one’s true identity lies and is all too often hidden away beneath layers and layers of distractions and facades. Fillion captures souls; he excels at digging beneath the surface and pulling out what is real-no fronts, no acts, no bullshit, just music, best played in it’s roots.
Check out the many videos catalogued and constantly updated on the Southern Souls Web site at southernsouls.ca. Also, be sure to visit the Southern Souls Facebook page at facebook.com/southernsouls. 

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