Making waves: Trio of HMCS Halifax sailors write music and perform together

From left to right: S1 Francis van der Kamp, S3 John Stymiest and MS Colin Puff won the HMCS Halifax Eurovision 2021 talent show on board ship in Stockholm, Sweden

Making waves: Trio of HMCS Halifax sailors write music and perform together

By Joanie Veitch,
Trident Staff

When Sailor Third Class John Stymiest left on a six-month deployment with HMCS Halifax on January 1st, he brought his acoustic guitar, figuring it would help pass the time on his first deployment. He had no idea that in just a few weeks he would not only find two other sailors to jam with, the trio would create original music and play at an event in front of the entire ship’s company — including Halifax’s Commanding Officer, Cdr Chris Rochon, and Cmdre Bradley Peats, the current Commander of Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1).

Held onboard ship while they were docked in Stockholm in April, the talent show — dubbed “HMCS Halifax Eurovision 2021” — was a smashing success.

“It was something special to play our music and see the smiles and joy from the crew during a deployment where the normality of exploring different countries during port visits no longer existed,” said S3 Stymiest. “We knew the ship’s company would be surprised, as they had never seen us play music together before. We mostly wrote in private so that we could give a little shock value.”

They won the talent show, of course.

S3 Stymiest, who grew up in Bathurst, NB and began playing music at age 12, works as a Sonar Operator on board HMCS Halifax. He first met S1 Francis van der Kamp, a Weapons Engineering Technician from Kingston, Ont. — also on his first deployment — while playing guitar in the Junior Ranks mess.

S3 Stymiest’s rap and hip-hop style blends with S1 van der Kamp’s singer-songwriter background to come up with something they describe as “folk rap” — “think Dallas Green meets Classified meets Linkin Park,” said S3 Stymiest, who goes by the stage name Johnny GASH, in a nod to his navy life (a term used to describe ‘garbage aboard ship’).

“At first it was just something fun we would do on our off time, but soon we realized we had tremendous chemistry… and decided we would start writing original music together,” said S3 Stymiest.

A System Manager/Shipborne Air Controller on his third deployment, Master Sailor Colin Puff heard about their unique musical style and brought his guitar along to one of their jam sessions. MS Puff loved the blend of music the two came up with and, having studied music production at Algonquin College in Ottawa, he offered to help out with production and sound.

“He started playing with us…and integrated perfectly. As he is more of a producer he gave us advice on that side which is incredibly appreciated as sometimes that’s what you need to not get too carried away,” said S1 van der Kamp, who plays under the moniker VDK.

The combination of musical styles worked immediately, with MS Puff and S1 van der Kamp playing guitar and S3 Stymiest on main vocals. “Johnny would just start freestyling over whatever we played and then VDK would sing a random hook. The music comes so easy with these guys.”

Music offers each of the sailors a great stress release while on board ship and the different music influence has added a whole new dimension. “It has forced us to play different styles, so honestly it has just expanded our musical libraries,” said S1 van der Kamp. “Playing music brings me back home and is a release from the ship life, which honestly is really nice to have.”

With future plans to record an EP to release on Spotify, the three musicians are looking forward to bringing their music to the local music scene once they’re back from deployment, once the COVID restrictions come down and they can perform at live shows.

For S3 Stymiest, that homecoming can’t happen soon enough.

“Two weeks into the deployment I found out my partner was pregnant which significantly increased the pressures of being away from home,” he said. “Music has helped me deal with the emotions of being away from my loved ones…it has helped out my morale tremendously.”