Brock Boonstra Hungers for Community Both Onstage and in the Home Kitchen

Brock Boonstra Hungers for Community Both Onstage and in the Home Kitchen

By: Karen K. Tran | Photos by: Karen K. Tran; Art by: Michael Rancic

“I know it’s kind of audacious that I, as a white guy from Guelph, have chosen to make a curry today,” Brock Boonstra says. He minces cloves of garlic as we chat in his Guelph apartment kitchen about our shared interests in cooking and what we love about the local arts scene. 

Boonstra is the frontman of Habit, a punk band formed in 2018. As the ringleader of the group, he plays guitar and sings, along with doing most of the band management.

We meet on a Friday for lunch to talk about what we love about cooking and why we enjoy taking time to prepare extravagant meals to share with the people we love. Being able to work from home gave me a lot more freedom to cook for myself and others, instead of rushing to pack a quick lunch and run out the door. I wondered, how do some people think of food as only sustenance, and how do others get nourishment not only from eating but also from the act of cooking? And how do we as musicians and listeners find nourishment by sharing music?

He explains that the reason he chose to make curry for today’s meal is because it was one of his first introductions to international cuisine. Growing up poor in Owen Sound meant that he spent most of his childhood eating chicken nuggets and Kraft Dinner. It wasn’t until he was about 14 that an Indian restaurant opened its doors in the city and gave him an opportunity to try something new. 

By now, his go-to curry recipe is tried and true—he doesn’t need to check a recipe to measure ingredients or remember which spices he needs to pull from his kitchen shelf. It features tomatoes, cream, garlic, cilantro, and other spices. Halfway through cooking, he divides the curry into two halves: chicken curry for him and a thoughtful cauliflower and chickpea curry vegetarian portion for me. He serves the curry over a bed of white rice with garlic naan and cucumber raita on the side. 

Two dishes of curry over a bed of white rice with garlic naan and cucumber raita on the side

For Boonstra, cooking is often a meditative experience that allows him to unwind from his day job and musician life, and a way to interact with other cultures. It’s also a skill that is not only necessary to live on a budget but also a great way for him to share an experience with friends and loved ones.

“I think food and music are the two most universal things in the entire world—everyone’s into food and music to some extent,” says Boonstra. “Being able to invite people over and say, ‘Hey, this is something that’s really interesting to me’ is just a good way to communicate with each other. Especially with music—there’s a joy in being able to show somebody something that they haven’t heard before.”

Boonstra and his girlfriend have also discovered the joys of cooking and sharing meals with friends and loved ones. Over the pandemic, the couple took to hosting themed dinner nights. As a group, they would select a country and one of its styles of cuisine, and make a meal based on it, with someone in the group each being assigned the duty of creating the entrée, dessert, or alcoholic drinks. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and repeat recipes as a home cook, but these dinner nights became motivation for him and his partner to discover new culinary creations.

Habit’s approach to their live show is particularly thoughtful for a still-developing act. No one would fault them for simply showing up and playing their songs, but still they are always asking themselves what more they can do to take their show to the next level. For example, the band fills the gaps with audio clips of ambient sounds—organ drones and amp feedback recorded at Boonstra’s home—strewn with readings from poems and bits of dialogue from old movies or random YouTube videos.

“We know we’re only playing to like 25 people on a Thursday night at Jimmy Jazz, but we try to treat every show like it’s a big deal,” Boonstra says. 

Due to COVID lockdown, Habit’s 2020 EP, The Last Testament, didn’t really get the release party that it deserved. Without being able to put on a traditional release show, the band decided to hold a special recorded performance. Boonstra envisioned the venue as something grander than a rehearsal space or bar stage, since there wasn’t going to be an audience anyway. He reached out to every church in the city to see if they could perform in their space, and received more interest than expected. 

Luckily, Habit managed to convince the council of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church that the band’s music wasn’t too explicit or sacrilegious to be performed at a place of worship. To try to emulate the feeling of going to a show in person, the band made the livestream available for viewing at only two specific times.

Brock kneels beside an open oven to check on his garlic naan

Our conversation moves back and forth from music and food quickly. During our chat, we compare picky eaters to music snobs. Often, they’re both groups of people who don’t give chances to anything that is outside of their comfort level. We’ve all heard someone say “I don’t like country music” as a blanket statement or know someone who only ever orders the same dish at a restaurant. 

Just like there are picky eaters who are hesitant to try new dishes, there are music listeners who refuse to branch out and try listening to new genres. Boonstra mentions that a lot of people are reluctant to attend a Habit show based on the band’s self-described punk genre. There have been people who have disagreed with the punk label or have tried to attach other genres to the band’s sound, such as alt-rock or college rock, because Habit’s music doesn’t align with other people’s idea of what punk music sounds like. The verdict is that some people waste too much time thinking of new types of genres instead of just enjoying the music. 

“I think any chef or musician worth their salt should be fundamentally curious and be willing to expose themselves to new things,” Boonstra says. “I see a lot of people who are music listeners or makers who limit themselves to one genre and never want to hear anything outside of that box… I think it’s a really enriching experience to find new music—there’s a whole world out there, as there is with food, too.”

Yes in My Backyard: Guelph


By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Laura Stanley (Clockwise from top left: Luyos MC by Hong Lam, Vertical Squirrel, Nicolette & the Nobodies by Devic Fotos, Lisa Conway by Arden Wray, M. Mucci, Brad de Roo, Hymns57, Exi, Elaquent by Ryan Antooa, Cots by JG + SHI)

How do you keep a scene alive when the city loses nearly a fifth of its population in its warmest months when students head home from university? In Guelph, Ont., several factors help, including a healthy festival ecosystem (Hillside, Guelph Jazz Fest, Kazoo! Fest), a concentrated downtown, small venues that incubate new projects and welcome experimentation, a supportive media landscape (campus community radio, alternative newspapers), access to other major hubs (Toronto is 100 km away, Hamilton and Kitchener are closer), and good will from local businesses. But perhaps its most generative element is a lax attitude toward musical inbreeding—the degrees separating one act from the next are typically minimal, family trees tangled like spaghetti.


Steph Yates spent years exploring scrappier energy in Guelph’s noisier spaces. Cupcake Ductape, her delightfully bratty punk duo with Alanna Gurr, stemmed from breaks Scott Haynes took when the pair were providing Shopkeeper’s rhythm section, while Esther Grey’s tiptoed garage pop regularly accommodated guests and textural impulses. Now straddling Guelph and Montreal, Yates steps out for her solo debut as Cots, enlisting a murderers’ row of session musicians (Blake Howard, Josh Cole, Karen Ng, Ryan Brouwer, Sandro Perri, Thomas Hammerton) to turn wide-eyed wonder about travelling through the universe and the gentle, awesome balance of celestial mechanics into bossa nova-infused folk jazz.


Whether soliciting patient, downcast melodies from his weathered guitar or droning alongside Guelph’s resident hurdy-gurdy man Ben Grossman in Snake Church, M. Mucci proves himself a rare torchbearer, finding hope in bleak and barren landscapes. On an April 2021 split with Jon Collin, Mucci offered up eight tracks of sparse but affirming guitar music, notes shivering, then shimmering, pushing forward against the march of time. You could cry.


Nicolette Hoang picked her deferential band of Guelph locals (Ian Bain, Nicole Gulewitsch, Emma Howarth-Withers, Daniel Paillé) from pop, punk, and surf acts, but the outlaw-inflected country western that poured out tipped a 10-gallon hat to Dolly, Loretta, and Tammy, boots firmly rooted in the present. On 2019’s Devil’s Run, Hoang finds a place for herself in a town that’s not big enough for another university degree, and now that the band’s double vaxxed, they’re back in the studio, banging out new ones for a road that’s never been dustier.


Weaving psychic impulses into radical collective blasts at the intersection of free jazz, post-rock, minimalism, raga psychedelia, and kosmiche musik, Vertical Squirrels originally formed in 2008 as an experiment in group-improvisation. In recent years, the core of Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, Lewis Melville, and Ted Warren took on a residency at grassroots experimental venue Silence, recontextualizing the project as a living improvised community expression with an open-door guest policy. A sample of those experiments lives on new offering Le gouffre / The Chasm, documenting the events of October 23, 2019, when the group invited Dong-Won Kim and Gary Diggins into the fold.


Save for private parties and hushed events in secret locations, Guelph was admittedly lacking in the techno department even approaching the pandemic, but with just a single, scant-on-details EP uploaded to Bandcamp, mysterious producer Exi fills the vacancy, summoning throbbing kicks and stuttering, bone rattle snares that penetrate lonely atmospheres like a ghost of the city’s ’90s rave scene trying to manifest a haunted chill out room.


A prolific producer and beatmaker, Sona “Elaquent” Elango has cultivated a devout international following but remains relatively unknown locally. Across handfuls of records spanning instrumental hip hop and chilled out jazz and neo-soul, J Dilla is a returning point of reference (to be sure, this past February, Elaquent paired up with Austin’s BoomBaptist and Denton’s Juicy the Emissary on a tribute to the late producer called Komfort Food), but Elango’s refreshingly in the moment. Never idle, quarantine has found the producer two EPs deep in a Bedtime Stories series, Elango’s emotive dreamtime beatscapes locked in and loose like watercolour paintings, swiftly and serenely expressionistic.


Having studied under kulintang master Danongan Kalanduyan in San Francisco, the music MaryCarl Guiao makes as Luyos MC engages with the Filipinx gong tradition from a decolonial consciousness raising standpoint. A typical performance opens with traditional kulintang compositions, then branches into more modern and experimental touches like spoken word and live electronic sound manipulations. Increasingly welcoming collaborators into her practice, Guiao has also turned her attention to her contemporaries, “Lake Agco Droplets” draping a vertically-hung web of gongs over respectfulchild’s “drops” and its hypnotic violins.


Smeared with the dust of so many tape loops, the tracks Steven de Taeye makes under the Hymns57 moniker have an immediate sepia quality to them. Taeye coasts through endless varieties of glistering, glassy landscapes with guitars, synths, field recordings, and found sounds fed through any number of effects; the project lends itself to a unique versatility, all the more captivating with the brevity Taeye typically favours over drone’s endless drifts. There’s an economy to Taeye’s work that allows him to address seemingly endless impressions, each track functioning like an emotional polaroid.


Best known for her solo project L Con, Lisa Conway has leaned into commissioned work throughout the pandemic, contributing full scores for film and theatre, as well as an experimental sound piece for MaerzMusik’s 27-hour livestreamed speaking clock. Harbinger, a contemporary dance work featuring Conway’s sound design and live mixing in collaboration with Victoria Cheong (New Chance), is set to premiere in Paris, and 2021’s Guelph Jazz Festival will feature a sound and light installation of Conway’s in the Goldie Mill Ruins. Sound installations have previously corresponded with Conway’s songwriting practice (2015’s Moon Phone was created in dialogue with L Con’s Moon Milk), so perhaps hints of work to come.


Brad de Roo scratches an obscure region of dopamine receptors. Joined by Marmalade Duplex bandmate Tyson Brinacombe, each successive outburst expresses an urge that might have occurred to many but few have had the impulse to appease, let alone document; dig through the discography and you’ll find everything from Eno-centric comedy roasts to party albums for no one. On most recent offering No Wave Exotica, de Roo channels the stripped down aesthetic violence of New York no wave through a bass VI while Brinacombe seizes the guitar pedals and uses them like an instrument, naked expression turned warped wonderland.