Singer/songwriter Mike Bern’s single, “Shrine of Shirl”, is a beautiful dedication to his uncle Shannon Saulis.
Saulis passed away three years ago from cancer, but his memory lives on each and every day within Bern’s heart.
“I see you in the trees, buzzing with the bees, listening to your favorite song on the radio,” is part of a lyric in the newly released song.
Bern said the song illustrates moments the two shared driving around and listening to music.
“He liked going for a ride. He didn’t have a license or nothing, or a vehicle. So, he liked going for rides,” Bern explained.
“We’d get in the truck and, every time, he would go to the radio and start singing away to one of his favorite songs.”
Often, they would head to town and pick up food and just enjoy each other’s company.
“It was a moment that was happy and carefree,” said Bern.
To this day the singer/songwriter said he has a small container of ashes that hang from his vehicles rear view mirror to honour his uncle and to remember all the good times they shared going for drives.
“It’s just showing him how much I miss him and love him. How much I honour him in everything he showed me. I appreciate all that he did for me.”
Holly Rossi, Bern’s wife, describes the relationship between the two as special on so many levels. Bern respected his uncle just like an older brother.
“The bond that they had I can’t even describe it really. The closeness that they had was way out of this way. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rossi.
“His uncle Shannon was like a big brother to him and he always looked up to him. The bond they had was something really special.”
Family is the most important thing to Bern, explained Rossi. The couple is currently raising their two-year-old great niece whose mother had passed away.
“He’s very family orientated. He would do anything for family. Family comes first.”
The name Shrine of Shirl originates from Bern’s mother. She has a shrine set up in her home honouring Saulis. There are photos of him, his ashes and even his favorite chocolate bars.
“My mom always comes up with these names and stuff and we call it the ‘shrine of shirl’,” Bern joked, explaining that Shirl was his uncle’s nickname.
“I needed to write a song about it because it’s so perfect for the situation and honouring him because he’s the one who got me into music. He’s the one who introduced me to a lot of bands and inspired me, gave me the appreciation of music at a young age.”
Bern, 45, said as early as four years old he can remember his parents, aunts and uncles sitting around playing games and listening to musical icons Johnny Cash, Elton John and Waylon Jennings.
Bern classifies his own music as Indigenous folk rock.
“My music is a little bit of everything—folksy, rock and roll—and I try to incorporate our Native language into it sometimes too.”
He said it is important for him to include his heritage into his music as it played such a large part in his upbringing.
During his teenage years Bern joined a drum group in his home Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. The community is also home to many well-known artists, including the band City Natives and Jeremy Dutcher.
Bern still lives in the community and hopes to one day open a business related to the music industry to help other artists break into the industry.
Rossi said Bern currently records all of his music in his home.
“He doesn’t have a studio. He records everything in his living room, and edits it too,” she said.
Early in his career, Bern sang in award-winning bands Kickin Krotch and District Avenue but in 2018 decided to pursue a solo career.
He was also showcased at the 2018 Olympic Games and has accumulated multiple Native American Music Awards nominations.
During his career he opened for bands Seaway, The Trews, One Bad Son, and The Motorleague.
“Our music was played on a lot of Indigenous radio stations,” Bern said about his time in the various bands, adding his solo single, “First Mother”, was released in 2018 from the album Waponahkew and hit the number one spot on the Indigenous radio countdown list.
Over the past four years he said focusing on his solo career has given him the opportunity to write songs such as “Shrine of Shirl”; songs that honour who Bern is as a person and the people who helped shape him throughout his life.
Bern is hoping to release a full album with all original tracks in the spring of 2023.
By Crystal St.Pierre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com