A bad concert can be enjoyable. Like with a cheesy B-movie, there is pleasure to be found in watching a band bomb hard, as depressing as that is. In these scenarios, the audience might watch, entranced, as the band fumbles through their Kafkaesque set, seemingly unaware of the nature of the attention they are receiving.
But Islands last Tuesday at Ritual was not a bad show. Not by any means. Instead, it was a boring show, which is far, far worse for everyone involved. There is no fun to be had watching a band plod through a carefully thought out sequence of chords and rhythms, singing melodies and harmonies that they have rehearsed over and over and over. I’d take a truly terrible show over a boring one any day.
It would be one thing if this unusual for Islands, but I can tell you from experience that they have always been like this. The first time I saw them, nearly 10 years ago at Babylon, they were upstaged completely by a young Gregory Pepper, then a member of the Montreal band The Dymaxions. After a rock-god-inspired set from Pepper, Islands took the stage to play their brand of boredom-pop and put everyone to sleep.
And let me be clear: I like Islands. My history with the band, aside from live performances, is very positive. Return to the Sea is one of my all time favourite albums. I’ve been with them since The Unicorns, and the fact that they play uninspired shows affects my love of their work only slightly. But it also makes me really hesitant to recommend that anyone see their shows, because based on shows like this they are nothing at all to write home about.
It’s a shame because they are clearly talented and creative artists. Why they fail to inspire anything but the faintest of toe-tap, even in completely appropriate venues like Ritual, will never cease to befuddle me, and likely many of their fans.
What’s more is that Ritual’s show began with an energized and dynamic set from Lushlife, whose recent album is nothing short of brilliant. Watching Lushlife made me want to buy his merch. Watching Islands made me wonder why I was watching Islands, which is too bad. I want to like them live, I really do. They just don’t give me much of a reason to.
Perhaps part of the problem was that, on a Tuesday night in downtown Ottawa, it’s much easier to sell chicken wings and Keith’s than live music. The venue was only about a third of its capacity, and much emptier for Lushlife, the opener.
Whatever the reason, I think we can all safely say that Islands will never be known for their live performances. However, if you’re interested in seeing some very excellent musicians play largely flawlessly, if dispassionately, they aren’t a bad time. It depends on what you’re looking for, in the end.
In May of 2015, Eric and I had a crazy idea. We joked about going to Pouzza Fest – a Gainesville, Florida, The Fest-style music festival – and film all the Ottawa bands. We even went so far as to joke about making an actual documentary. We are by no means documentarians or filmmakers, but we do tell stories on this website, and that is something we are pretty passionate about. In that respect, we declared ourselves pseudo-raconteurs of the people and music in Ottawa, and that it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to actually make this thing happen. Well, folks – we did it.
After 4 days of filming and keeping on pace with the loud and late nights, we caught all the Ottawa acts slated to play Pouzza (except Crusades, who had to pull out for personal reasons). Those bands were Dead Weights, Jon Creeden & The Flying Hellfish, Fresh Hell, Jonathan Becker & The North Fields, Rich Chris, Sidelines, The Tenenbaums, and The Valveenus. We had more than our fair share of fun, and it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. Plus – it’s Montreal. There’s something about the city that makes everyone who visits fall in love with it.
This documentary is by no means a masterpiece. In fact, technically it is a piece of shit. We recorded almost everything with our phones and learned video editing on the fly. After all, it’s a punk rock festival named after poutine on pizza, so I don’t think we’re competing for an Oscar anytime soon. Even though some of the video is a bit shaky and there is audio that you can’t hear at points, it was filmed and edited with care. After spending a lot of hours cutting and splicing the footage, we ended up with this product.
We want to give a huge thank you to the bands for being involved, and all the folks who helped make this project possible! It was like exploring uncharted waters for us, and all the friends who helped us learn new programs and teach us some tricks of the trade – we salute you.
This weekend I took at trip to Montreal to continue a mother-daughter concert tradition, and this beautiful city sure knows how to party. A year after their latest album release, Death Cab for Cutie co-headlined with Metric on the Lights on the Horizon tour, forming one of my ultimate dream teams.
The Centre Bell was not as packed as I thought it would be, but the crowd made up for any lost volume and after a full day of walking the city, I welcomed the chance to sit down on the beer-soaked stadium floor. Death Cab kicked off their set with “The New Year,” a track off their 2003 Transatlanticism LP, which in the four times I’ve seen them play, I’ve never heard them open with. Older DCFC fans were stoked to be able to sing along to “Crooked Teeth,” “Title and Registration,” and even “President of What?” off their 1998 debut album Something About Airplanes. About halfway through the set, frontman Ben Gibbard got choked up as he explained that Death Cab’s earliest friends and influences Harvey Danger had lost their bassist to a long-term illness this month. He went on to explain that for every stop on this tour, they would play one of Harvey Danger’s songs, and dedicated “Why I’m Lonely” to the late Aaron Huffman. If you love Ben’s melancholic vocals and appreciate a sick bass line, check out this Harvey Danger tune:
Metric has always been one for showmanship, a talent they flashed with pride as they lowered two large lighting pieces, using the negative space to depict the letter M. To the crowd’s delight, singer Emily Haines danced out on stage leading “IOU,” an old hit from their 2004 album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? The set continued to incorporate an awesome balance of old and new crowd favourites, as well as a handful of songs off Metric’s most recent album Pagans in Vegas. Haines made use of an impressive collection of capes, beginning with a tasseled leather poncho during “Too Bad, So Sad,” a lime green chiffon number during “Artificial Nocturne,” and a bedazzled black cloak during “Black Sheep.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as Haines invited the Montreal Choir up on stage to join the band in singing “Dreams So Real,” which she prefaced as an ode to this crazy, messed up world we’re living in. The magnificent light show went dark, as the stage was lit with two spotlights and a couple glowing trees as Metric, the Montreal Choir, and the audience joined together in song and smartphone flashlights for a serene 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Haines also let guitarist James Shaw take the lead in performing “Other Side,” off Pagans in Vegas, for which the crowd swooned – what a perfect combination of leather jacket, cowboy hat and dreamy vocals.
La pièce de résistance was the disco ball decent into a veil of red smoky light as the band played “Celebrate” leading into an acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy,” for which the only source of light was the sea of cellphone lights across the stadium walls and floor. The finale continued to build in volume and energy until confetti spontaneously exploded from the ceiling, coating the roaring crowd in a blanket of paper and sparkles.
If you haven’t already caught this power duo on their 10-city Canadian tour, you have 8 dates left as of Tuesday, March 22nd and if you have to travel, it’s definitely worth the gas.
On Thursday, February 18th, an eager Ottawa audience ventured to Happy Goat Coffee Co. to witness a thrilling pop-grunge quadruple-header, arranged and executed by Debaser. The first artists to take the stage were the one and only Baberaham Lincoln. Their music was thick and satisfyingly sludgy like a dense, scalding ladle of tin-can stew.
These hometown heroes scraped the evening open with a determined demeanour – throughout the performance, prevailing pop vocals swirled over driving distortion, while drum rhythms meandered cyclically through the grungy sonic wonderland. Reverberating microphones and buzzing guitar cabinets plowed perfect plots for gardens of crooked roses and disjointed audience-movements. Indeed, this was a set for the head-bobbers, and from my vantage point near the back of the venue I watched the crowd move altogether, so accurately out-of-unison.
Baberaham Lincoln at Happy Goat Coffee (Photo by Ming Wu/Photogmusic)
Shortly after the conclusion of Baberaham’s set, a band called Dories began to play. Truthfully, I merely assume that this band was called Dories because of the order of names on the bill, and the obvious correspondence to their bandcamp page. Still, I don’t recall this band ever formally introducing themselves, or saying much of anything at all. Instead, Dories became absorbed in their music – and they could not be blamed, as their brand of tightly-knit tunes soared through a vast landscape of song-structure and time-signatures.
This set was a fast-paced, post-punk minefield – reminiscent of fellow Montreal group Ought – featuring jangling electric guitar chords, which cleared the way for more jarring lead tones and dissonant bass motifs. During the set, Dories’ music would amble and carry; then suddenly halt, for a brief pause, before carrying on again. Continue, then cease. Start, then stop. Until finally, following an uncomforting combination of sounds, the band stopped permanently. This partially-pop set was new and refreshing, seizing the audience’s attention with a storm of whirling dissonance and a mosaic of musical meters.
Band number three, called Hand Cream – also from Montreal – kept the atmosphere alive during their spirited set. Like Dories before them, Hand Cream’s songs seemed meticulously structured, with compelling beginnings and uncluttered endings. Their repertoire was chalked full of pop-progressions and outgoing basslines, topped with airy vocals, and served on a plate of hesitant rhythms and busy drum fills.
Part-way through their set, their lead guitarist reached into an abyss, and drew forth perhaps the noisiest solo in my recent memory. Like a rocket, this solo blasted-off in a fiery-hot mess of smoke and flames. Only the most scientific of infernos will get Hand Cream to the moon. The audience, pleased by the tasteful cacophony created by the musicians, also appeared to reach a new level of excitement, dancing and hopping about, especially near the front of the crowd.
Hand Cream at Happy Goat Coffee (Photo by Ming Wu/Photogmusic)
Finally came Walrus, a band who had transported their neo-psychedelic vibes all the way from Halifax to play for the lively Happy Goat crowd. They performed a balance of fast and slow pieces, though all of their songs pulsated with the accuracy and reliability of a human heart.
The presence of delay effects was strong in the band’s instrumentation, as the vocalist’s plain voice echoed over daunting synth sounds; tripped over folksy guitar chords; and collapsed over skipping drum patterns. Evidently, Walrus was the headlining act that everybody had been waiting for, as they lead the audiences’ minds and bodies on an active, movement-oriented tour through a dance-y, psychedelic machine.
Half Moon Run is like a sexy Mumford and Sons who had a baby with Alt-J; it’s a religious experience and all you can say is ‘goddamn’.
– as described to me by friend, Kathryn Redwood over dinner prior to the Half Moon Run show this past weekend.
Crammed into Ritual’s tiny basement, I waited impatiently – cursing myself for not showing up as soon as the doors opened – listening to Folly and the Hunter start their set. Humming along to “Residents” as I stood in line to check my coat, I couldn’t believe how great Folly sounded through the concrete floor, especially as only a three-piece ensemble. Seriously, you should go see this band – even if you just stand outside the venue. That’s how good they are.
I was lucky enough to make it upstairs just in time to catch them close with “Awake,” the title track off of their new album (which is a great listen, in case you haven’t heard it yet). Although it seemed to be a Half Moon Run majority crowd, I think it’s safe to say Folly and the Hunter won many hearts in Ottawa that night, and as a long-time fan I was happy to hear some of the songs I first fell in love with upon the release of their 2012 debut album, Residents. These Montreal natives should definitely be on any concertgoer’s bucket list.
After the change over, Half Moon Run took the stage with “Turn Your Love” and the energy was immediately palpable and it got hot. I mean that very literally – Ritual was a sauna. As someone who is relatively new to the Half Moon Run bandwagon, I would agree that their live performance is definitely a religious experience. The lights were phenomenal and complimented the band’s driving beats and melodic ballads. I’ve also never seen long hair, black tank tops, and button-downs look so good.
Despite Ottawa bring known for its relatively conservative crowd vibe, people started singing and dancing as the band played many of the songs off of their 2011 debut album Dark Eyes. Their loyal fan base went wild. Vocalist Devon Portielje eventually ditched his guitar to better accommodate his dance moves during “Trust”, the last song off the band’s latest album, Sun Leads Me On. The band ended their set with their breakout single “Full Circle” off of Dark Eyes, which elicited a full-fledged sing-along and surprisingly on-beat audience clapping (it’s always a 50/50 gamble when gauging audience clapping capabilities). Portielje impressed us all with his ethereal vocals, percussion, guitar and keyboard playing, all of which were only slightly overshadowed by Conner Molander’s wicked harmonica solo during “Hands in the Garden”.
But wait – that’s not all! As the crowd clapped and desperately chanted “one more song!,” Folly and the Hunter joined Half Moon Run on stage to deliver the most heart-warming, soul-thumping rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall be Released” that I’ve ever heard.
It seems only fitting that these two Canadian bands, founded in the same city no less, should tour the country together. Unfortunately, Ottawa was their last stop, but I hope you were lucky enough to catch one of their shows. If you haven’t checked out either of these bands, grab a pair of headphones and get on that shit.
I listened to the entirety of Tölt, the long-awaited debut LP by Ottawa’s Flying Hórses, approximately six times before finally understanding that I would hear a different narrative on each pass. First I walked through Gormenghast, then through Cirith Ungol, but also through large meadows that could have been Hyrule. The music called “post-chamber” by two of the city’s most interesting musicians have created a bestiary of dark and beautiful creatures, deadset on being released August 15.
Cellist and composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne is part of several prolific bands that play a range of neo folk, classical and experimental chamber music. He said that Tölt would surprise most people who were familiar with Jáde Bergeron’s original compositions that she’s often played live over the past few years. I have to concede he wasn’t just hyping me up—this isn’t the same trip to the “Dollhouse” or ride around the “Carousel” that we’ve heard before.
And it’s not just the preeminent production by Birgir “Biggi” Jón Birgisson of the Icelandic Sundlaugin Studio that has brought on this change. The idea of the album still hinges a collage of childlike wonder that Bergeron has been exploring through music boxes and devotional bells, but it goes further now.
There are sonatas for cello accompanied by Bergeron’s piano, and what sound like piano/celesta duets. Sometimes the pairing of cello to piano is replaced with bells or chimes that Bergeron plays in what she credits as “sacred places” in Montreal and Reykjavík.
Flying Hórses release the debut LP Tölt on Aug. 15, 2015. Photo credit: J. Lorange
A song named “Spiladósir” begins much in the same way as some of the vignettes in this 14-track album but, unlike its shorter cousins, it fires off a dark and ambient rush of energy. It grabs you with a dissonance of music boxes, some even lending their mechanical crank to the metal storm.
On one listen, these shadowy songs reminded me of the score to 2014’s RPG Child of Light, composed by Béatrice Martin a.k.a. Coeur de Pirate. The orchestral arrangements by Gémeaux-nominated composer Anthony Rozankovic give the role-playing fairy tale story of that game a beautiful depth. However, listening to that music alone feels as though something is missing (a palette of pixels?) whereas an amble down Flying Hórses, with no supporting images or words, fills the listener with northern histories, nostalgia, and creatures far stranger and dazzling than pegasi.
The title track “Tölt” does not exactly trot, the most precise translation would be an ambling gait that is instinctive in Icelandic horses. It’s different than a gait though, and as a movement for horses it’s known to vary quite quickly.
I enjoy ambient background music as much as the next writer, but I’m also a sucker for liner notes and lyrics. Here, the song titles create a 14-word story that spans three languages: English, French & Icelandic. I’ll add a fourth, the German, since Tölt is a Bildungsroman—a coming-of-age story. It’s also a dream-like ride into dark places that are lit up by Bergeron’s vision of innocence and memory.
“Oubliette” is a dirge, maybe even a requiem. It’s the longest track of the 14 and does not conclude the album with a ribbon nicely tied at the end—it ends the album more than the final track “107” because it builds into an ellipsis, followed by a question mark that seems to say, “and the light shone so brightly that it blinded, covered everything, and suddenly there was—”
On June 9, a full-length album called The Vanity of Reason was released by Estan Beedell. Originally from Ottawa, he’s just moved back to the 613 from Montreal for an indefinite amount of time, see “for life.” Released simply under his first name, A Vanity of Reason is the symphonic exploration of his tastes in electro rock-pop complimented by a vibraphone, marimba, alto, tenor & baritone sax. As a consistent contributor to a variety of other bands, he seems to have had no trouble finding his own collaborators including Harley Alexander of Sheepman & Emperor Bulash, Chester Hansen of BADBADNOTGOOD, saxophone player Julian Selody, and drummer Luke Graves, among many others.
This is a concept album. The liner notes in the vinyl start with a quote by J. Castell Hopkins from his 1898 Life and Work of Mr. Gladstone that lists many human intellectuals controlling and domineering their fields or professions. Estan also manipulated the instrument that drew the cover art to his album, which depicts little people chipping away at the foundation of their civilization to build it higher and higher. The quote sums this and the concept of the LP with its climax: “…the whole human race seems to be moved by a supernatural impulse to assert its dominion over every force […] which might impede its progress.”
I’m feeling the influences of Manhattan Transfer, chamber music and barbershop harmonies here. The peppy tracks don’t last in their pop, they soon dip into contemplative and pleasant experimentation. The fact is Estan’s voice sounds like a kind of key-operated instrument on its own. There are traces of gospel mixed in with an overabundance of jazz. The whole album would be a wonder to see performed live, and there are potential July or August concerts to come. It remains, for now, a perfect background LP on the first few plays until you really hear “Common Sense Revolution“. Then you can’t really help but listen to it from start to finish. On top of being a masterful display of many instruments—of which Estan plays thirteen!—the subject matter and range of his vocals are very enjoyable. If the call-to-arms of the fourth track don’t grab you, then “House Torn Down” or “Lodyzhensky” might.
This one-man project will surely last longer than the time it took to put together. I don’t doubt it had a lengthy gestation period and my expectations for it will be surpassed. Cop a feel below:
The final day of OXW is always kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, there are usually some great bands scheduled to play in the afternoon and, in this case, it was a gorgeous day out with no clouds in the sky. On the other hand, a lot of us were pretty burnt out from all the drinking, excessive punk rock consumption, and sweltering heat that comes along with no clouds in the sky. But let’s be honest, those of us who remained were excited for what Sunday had in store, putting any complaints aside.
The day started off strangely. A few of us were hanging outside at the SAW courtyard when all of a sudden we heard a massive crashing sound. The sound of metal hitting metal at a considerable speed is unmistakable, and it sounded bad. We ran out to check what had happened, and as it turns out a brand new cherry red Ford Mustang had been sideswiped by an SUV. Everyone was OK, but we all felt bad for the Mustang’s driver as he had to wait hours before being towed (his wheel well was damaged and he couldn’t drive).
Things started a bit late since Chloroform canceled their OXW appearance, and Ottawa’s own Baberaham Lincoln kicked off the final day’s festivities. The cleverly-named three-piece group played some dissonant noise rock that threw me back a few decades. Armed with Jenna Spencer’s Fender Strat, Cory Lefebvre’s hollowbody, and Hillary Lawson’s drums, the band eased us into the day with atmospheric, over-driven songs that served as a welcome balance to the high number of punk bands we had all heard for the last four days. The tone on Cory’s guitar was hypnotic, and the simple layering of the band’s instrumentals drew the crowd in and put us all back into the zone. Jenna’s soft, and at times eerie vocals contrasted well with the fuzzy tones coming out of the PA. Baberaham Lincoln didn’t throw any curve balls at us, but their mesmerizing sound and powerful builds kept the crowd wrapped around their fingers throughout the set.
Baberaham Lincoln at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Next up was Gaycation, a band from Ottawa that I hadn’t seen yet but that I was really excited about. They just released a split demo tape with Weed Mom through Bruised Tongue a week or two ago which I highly recommend, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on that hardware right before they played. Gaycation is a queercore power-pop outfit, and all of us who witnessed their set got see how high energy this group really is. Faelan Sadboy took centre stage on vocals, looking more than comfortable on stage with a big smile on his face and producing powerful and emotive vocals. Above him also hung a Hello Kitty piñata, the destiny of which we could only guess was moments away. In the meantime the band played some fun tunes including “NBD” and “No Bros”, songs which correlated with the huge hand-made sign behind the drummer LP that said “KILL THE BRO IN YR HEAD” — a motto that many of us surely support. One of the band members thanked her mom for coming out to see the band play, after which Alanna jokingly proclaimed, “My mom didn’t come to see me play. She said that she’s already seen me before.” There were a few points throughout the set that Gaycation had some trouble keeping time with one another, and I’m sure with a little more practice they will make their live set really tight. The band closed their set with the fun, dancy song “Gaycation”, and yes, Faelan kicked the shit out of that piñata and candy rained down upon us.
Gaycation at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Blue Angel is a group that I always look forward to seeing live. This three-piece grungy noise rock band consists of Caylie of Boyhood on drums, Sam Pippa of Organ Eyes/Pipahauntas on bass, and Lidija Rositis of Bondar on guitar — and all of them sing. Their lyrics are intentionally repetitive yet poignant, as clearly demonstrated in songs like “You/Me”. The three of them normally wear outrageous outfits or masks, this time opting for a simple face mask due to the heat during the day. Their heavily distorted guitar and bass take me back to the days of Sonic Youth, music that isn’t meant to be consumed comfortably but meant to evoke raw emotion or visceral sentiments. After a few intense songs, drummer Caylie Runciman stopped and joked that she accidentally swallowed one of her long hairs during the last song. Blue Angel ended with the song “Sweaty Belly” that is featured on their three-track EP released in 2014, and made it a memorable one as usual.
In between sets was Drone Zone, a series including drone artists presented by Debaser. It was definitely an interesting addition to the festival, one that had not been included in previous years. Drone Zone was an informal extension of Weird Canada‘s National Drone Day, celebrating experimental, ambient, and drone music. I caught some of Everett’s set, a group that included Willow, Elsa, Tyrin (of Weed Mom) and Fraser. I had never experienced a drone set before, and I made sure to go in with an open mind ready for anything. What I really enjoy about many artists featured on Weird Canada, and in turn drone music, is the off-the-cuff experimentation that can lead to beautiful abstract pieces of music. I was very impressed with Everett as they played their first performance ever, a relatively quick 15-minute drone set that included ambient noise coming from countless knobs and buttons controlled by Fraser and Tyrin. Willow and Elsa stood closer to the audience, and although it was hard to discern their lyrics at times over the drone, their short performance was authoritative and resounding. I look forward to hearing more from Everett as they produce more pieces in the future.
Everett at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Bonnie Doon came on shortly after, having just come off an Eastern Canada tour a few weeks ago. A few fans were wearing the DIY tie dye band shirts they had made for the tour, while lead singer and co-bassist Lesley Demon wore a particularly ’80s looking business suit. Bonnie Doon dove into their wacky and wild set of noisy surf rock, enchanting us with two layered basses played by Lesley and Gina Vinelli, crunchy guitar parts by Madison Watson, and kept the beat going with Keltie Duncan on drums. Watching old people walk by and looking completely and utterly confused by what was happening was a highlight for me. At one point I heard two people walk to the front gate and ask what was going on in the courtyard. They asked, “Is this part of Fringe Festival? Because that’s where we’re headed.” To their content, Ottawa Explosion was not part of Fringe Festival around the corner, and the sense of relief was obvious. Bonnie Doon played some great songs such as “B Hole”, “Pizza Shark”, “Moon Tan”, and even treated us to a trip down memory lane by covering “Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America. I was secretly hoping they’d break out into Weird Al’s version of “Gump”, but that was just me.
Bonnie Doon at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
My final Explosion set of the festival was Montreal’s The Famines, only because I probably would have passed out by the time Catholic Girls came on stage. The two-piece garage punk band played an intense set, with singer/guitarist Raymond Biesinger playing heavy and distorted basslines, and Drew Demers on drums shredding on the kit even though he appeared to be on the brink of heat stroke. I’d seen them open up for Big Dick at their album release party back in February, and I really enjoy their aggressive and raw brand of garage rock. Several times Biesinger went out into the crowd and played right beside us, and at one point turned to Demers and asked, “How are you doing buddy?” Demers replied very frankly by saying, “I’m fucking dying.” Everyone laughed, but the band was clearly uncomfortably hot, particularly Demers on drums since he was playing so fast and intensely. He powered through most of the set with no issues that we could hear, and Famines kept the party going almost all the way until the end when they had to stop for their own personal well-being. It was at that point that I fantasized about jumping into a nice fresh pool and decided to call it a day. What a festival.
A huge thanks to Luke, Emmanuel, and all the helpers and volunteers for everything they do. Explosion is getting better every year and it’s always what we look forward to most. Until next year folks!
Expect boom-bap and a banger of a solstice this Sunday, the 21st of June. The longest day of the year is a time for celebration, a peak of sorts, and this Weekend Roundup will recommend a few ways to properly overload all concert-goers with no less than four festivals & dozens of shows in Ottawa this weekend.
I know what I’ll be doing on June 21st. I’ll wake up at Eric Scharf’s and we’ll compare notes from my Jazz Fest & his Ottawa Explosion Saturday. My lady & I will walk our dog to Bridgehead. I’ll have a Labatt 50 and miss my dad who loved the stuff. I’ll call my grandfather to wish him a happy Father’s Day. And then my friends & I will spend the day around Confederation Park and the Canal, listening to music and watching the nation’s capital enjoy the sun. We’ll just bide our time until the sun finally sets and our most anticipated event begins…
I’m calling it right now—no pressure Mr. Kirk—that Timber Timbre‘s 10:30 p.m. show, part of the After Dark Series of Jazz Fest, will be the show of 2015. We’ve been listening to the self-titled, Hot Dreams, Cedar Shakes, Medicinals & Creep On Creepin’ Onnon-stop in our household. To be able to chat with frontman Taylor Kirk about his bluesy dirges and old-time folk music last week was a treat, but when see him perform live with his band will be a true blessing.
Please tell me about your summer tour.
Summer represents a winding down off a tour cycle for Hot Dreams, which came in April last year. This definitely feels a bit like a last hurrah. We’ll be mostly in Europe, with a few festivals in Canada. We’ll go to Europe twice actually, from late June to July, then Wayhome, and back again to Europe for three days in August.
Are you looking forward to playing Ottawa Jazz Fest? It’s both Father’s Day and the summer solstice. Which one of those dates has the most significance to you?
I’m looking forward to it very much! We’ve played Bluesfest & Folk Fest before but not the Jazz Fest.
Off the top of my head, the answer would be the solstice. It’s a much more symbolic and charged date. But it’s funny because we’ve had a bunch of different shifts in personnel lately, and a lot has had to do with fatherhood.
What did you do before Timber Timbre?
I don’t know… I was playing in a couple of friends’ bands. I went to art school. I used to make films. I got into making music for films. I played drums for other people. Timber Timbre was a solo project before I shared it with anybody. At that time, the last job I had was as a closed captioner for film and television. It’s a very weird job, very odd, but it allowed me a lot of freedom to do tours in southern Ontario, Buffalo, and Quebec.
How long did it take for music to become sustainable living for you?
I quit that job in 2009 and had an opportunity to go to Japan to do a couple of shows. And then I came home and kind of hooked up with Arts & Crafts. Since then they’ve kept me on a certain momentum.
What is the key component of that momentum?
I wish I could say it’s inspiration or something, but actually I think the notion of making music and making it a sustainable endeavour is touring. That’s really it. It’s everyone’s bread and butter.
I read that you used to have trouble picturing yourself with a band. Now, do you have trouble picturing yourself without one?
Yeah! Very much so. I guess initially I was such a quiet singer and I couldn’t figure out how to work the songs for a group. After being a solo act it became a weird trio. By weird I mean it was unconventional. I was playing drums with my feet, there was Mika Posen on violin and Simon Trottier on the lap steel. I still couldn’t get my voice to sing as loud as I wanted it to and I still didn’t feel like I knew how to arrange my songs for a group.
Going back to solo… I can’t really imagine it. I think mainly because the music I’ve become interested in performing is rock n roll.
How did you meet Mika Posen & Simon Trottier?
Simon & I met on MySpace actually. That really dates us. He had a group called White Noise Ensemble in Montreal and they contacted me. They invited me to come and open for them at Casa Del Popolo. I met Mika Posen playing in other Toronto groups.
Olivier Fairfield, Taylor Kirk, Mathieu Charbonneau & Simon Trottier = Timber Timbre. Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Toussaint
Nowadays Simon is still your bandmate, along with Mathieu Charbonneau & Olivier Fairfield. Can you talk about Simon & Olivier’s Last Ex project, which is based off an abandoned ambient soundtrack Timber Timbre began and never finished?
Yes, we had been commissioned to score this horror film directed by a Canadian filmmaker. We got to a certain stage with it but what we were making the director thought was “too cool.” He said, “This is great but it’s just kinda… cool music.” He didn’t feel it served film. I think he wanted something more traditional, a bit more genre…
I think the film bottomed up and the producers went back and had to restart. We were severed from the project. Olivier & Simon took the recordings and reworked them into something vey different which became Last Ex—experimental instrumental rock music. It’s very sci-fi.
What was it like to work with someone as explorative and driven as Simone Schmidt, who helped you write a couple songs on Hot Dreams?
She helped me with “Curtains?!” & “Bring Me Simple Men”. She’s done lots of artwork for me as well. She has a really refined aesthetic, as a writer and a visual artist. She was just very, very generous. It almost seemed effortless for her to finish these songs. I felt that she did them for me, they were really tailored to my voice. I’ve never ever done that before.
I’ve done a song with Leslie Feist before, but it wasn’t collaborative the same way. “Homage” came out on a compilation album called Arts & Crafts X.
I know you really enjoy playing with this group, but who are some of your other favourite musicians besides your bandmates?
That’s a tough one. There are lots of things that come to mind… I just bought a bunch of records of a group called Broadcast. They’re a British group and their recordings were just repressed by Warp Records on vinyl. Trish Keenan passed away when she was very young. This is a group that I really, really admire. I’ve immersed myself in that.
I once became obsessed with Lee Hazelwood, his recordings, and how they were made. I wanted to make my voice sound like that even though I don’t have it at all. Lou Reed is one of my favourites. Nina Simone is one of the most important. And not just for singing but also song-writing, production, and instrumentation. Kind of all of it.
Did your parents help you develop your taste in music?
Yeah, my parents had a pretty great record collection and when I was young I found Led Zeppelin & Pink Floyd in there. I can’t really get away from Pink Floyd. I mean I don’t sit around listening to Pink Floyd but every now and then I listen and realized just how I’ve ripped them off!
I was really into Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hendrix but for some reason I knew that Pink Floyd was different. It’s subtle. More nuanced.
How did the video for “Beat the Drum Slowly” come to be? Were you a fan of Chad VanGaalen’s music or art before, or did he contact you?
I’ve been a real fan of Chad’s music for a long time. I don’t know when I discovered his videos but he started making his own animations for his music. We just reached out and he was super friendly. I guess we had played a couple shows with him over the years. Very nice man. It’s such a labour intensive thing as well. Everything’s hand-drawn.
I would have him do every single video.
What did you think when you first saw that video?
I was totally astonished. I thought it was extraordinary. I didn’t tell him what the song was about—I just said what I was thinking in a very vague way. I think it was all kind of crystallized in that video.
And so are you working on a new album?
Songs have been sort of starting to come together only just now. Really it’s in the fall that I’ll sort things out. I find it very difficult to be creative that way while touring. It’s a very polarizing thing: you do one or the other. I know a lot of people who aren’t limited by touring and can just write all the time. I really don’t have that.
Will the next album be similar to Hot Dreams’s geographical reflection on parts of California?
It could be, yeah. That was such a potent thing. I don’t think any of the other records really have that specific relationship to the environment in which they were written.
If I went to Iceland or something, to another severe landscape I think it would be likely.
I strongly suggest you go to Iceland, then. But perhaps your recording name is another title that has that kind of relationship to a place. Timber Timbre comes from a cabin in Bobcaygeon, correct?
It’s true. It seemed an apt title for a bunch of songs written in the woods. I was banging on the wood floor and banging on the walls. I didn’t really have any instruments.
Have you been back there?
I haven’t. It belonged to friends of the family but I think they sold it… I’d be very curious to go have a look…
Hey. Guess what? We’re making a friggin MOVIE! Yeah that’s right. We don’t just write about music, we can film stuff too. It may not be up to Steven Spielberg’s standards, but we had a blast filming footage for the documentary during Pouzza Fest 2015 in Montreal last month.
The concept is very simple – we followed around 8 Ottawa bands playing the festival and filmed live performances, interviews, and general hangouts while there. Pouzza Fest is a special kind of festival, where general disregard for one’s health and wellbeing is commonplace and accepted as normal. It is also named after the soon-to-be famous cuisine “pouzza,” which is when one shovels poutine on a pizza and then eats it. So without further ado, please enjoy the trailer we made for it! Expect to see the full documentary later this month, as we’ll be having a screening somewhere around town and post it online as well.