In the year since their latest album Goodnight Mara was released, Ottawa’s High Waters have enjoyed the success that a well-oiled independent band in Canada should – charting well nationally, hitting the road and growing their fan base outside the local market, becoming a marquee name for their label So Sorry Records. Ultimately, they’ve made a name for themselves as a group that writes emotionally-charged music and connects with audiences and listeners on a deeper level than most.
I got to chat with High Waters’ lead vocalist and principal songwriter Derek Connely about the last few years, and what might be up ahead on the horizon for the band. Read the interview below, and be sure to check them out live as they play Mavericks on November 4th with Trees, Listen Up Kid, and Mark Fossen.
OSBX: Now that Goodnight Mara has been out for over a year, can you talk a bit about its reception and how things have changed for the band since its release?
Derek: Upon release, Goodnight Mara was very well received. Our album got a handful of positive reviews and quickly reached new audiences from coast to coast. It was strangely uplifting to watch it attain some sort of measurable success as it hit several local Top 30 charts at community and campus radio stations across the country. The record continued to do well at those stations until it eventually hit a couple national Top 50 charts. But at the end of the day, stats are just stats. The biggest reward is positive reinforcement at our shows. Hearing and seeing people’s reactions is what we live for, that moment of connection. I, for one, don’t like drawing too much attention, but when it comes to music we try to reach people far and wide. Prior to the release we were in full creative mode, and because we’re entirely self-managed it’s been a lot of admin work since the release. We’re itching to hit the road again this month for a series of shows in Quebec and Ontario.
OSBX: The band is on Ottawa-based label So Sorry Records. Why is being part of that family important to you?
Derek: Teaming with So Sorry Records for the release of Goodnight Mara made sense to us. We’ve known the guys running the label for about a decade now and established a strong mutual trust over the years. They’re inspiring individuals with a highly creative and innovative approach to business. Albeit a small boutique label, So Sorry boasts a roster of like-minded emerging artists that think large and continuously share resources with one another. It really is a family that we’re a part of, and we’re happy to watch it grow.
OSBX: 2009 is when High Waters formed, and that kind of feels like an eternity now. In what ways have you grown as artists since then? Is the creative approach to music the same?
Derek: It definitely feels like ages ago. Actually, I’ve known some of my bandmates for a third of my life now. We have a rich history and hope to continue working together well into the future. Having lived under the same roof for several years in the past, we were forced to wear multiple hats, learning to respect each others’ boundaries and needs. Each member thrives in his own way, and we’ve all come to understand that. The creative approach to music is never the same for us. It really is a case-by-case scenario. Sometimes the song dictates the method, and sometimes it’s the other way around.
OSBX: High Waters is about to embark on a 2016 tour. Do you have any stories or memories about the road?
Derek: In 2013 we toured The Maritimes. My family has a cottage in New-Brunswick where we set up our gear for a few days and made music. Although playing in different cities to new crowds is always a huge rush, I think my favourite part was laying low at the cottage with the band and a few friends. For my bandmates, it was refreshing to let loose and be creative in an unfamiliar space, whereas it allowed me to creatively tap into the intimacy of a place I consider my home. Along the way, the four of us were guests in other people’s homes where we strengthened relationships and shared in the beauty of making new ones. On our upcoming tour, we anticipate reconnecting with friends that we met during our previous time on the road and look forward to making new allies.
OSBX: Your music has been described as cinematic, emotional, and dark yet beautiful. At its core, what are you trying to get at in your music?
Derek: Everybody has a skeleton in their closet. Some of us stashed it there ourselves, and others merely found it there. Each one has a story worth telling. Often for me, the most difficult things to express are more easily articulated through a marriage of words and music. In conversation, I tend to over-explain an idea or feeling that I’m passionate about. While examining a topic from multiple viewpoints can reveal a deeper meaning, it can also contaminate what is otherwise pure. I think that’s just it—get close but not too close. Observe the beast but don’t domesticate it. Music allows me to do that, like manipulating a subject from behind a glass. I like to leave room to fill the blanks and as a band, we create the musical context.
OSBX: How did the Indica Records video/session come about? (See video below)
Derek: We had plans to shoot live performance videos in a studio for some time, but the timing was never right. Sometime in late spring, our friend Pat Steele who currently works as an engineer at Indica Records (he also runs his own distribution company called Chit-Chat Distro) offered to free up the studio for us. I took that as an opportunity to finally carry out our video plans. Our session at Indica Records in April with Pat and Jesse Daniel Smith (our videographer) went incredibly well so we booked a second session in July. We plan to release a video from our second session very soon.
OSBX: What’s next on the docket for High Waters in 2017?
Derek: There’s been talk about some interesting projects, and we’re currently weighing the feasibility of the ones that attract us the most. We also have an archive of unfinished material from which some pieces are beginning to take shape. I can’t yet predict the outcome, but I feel good about the direction so far. For the time being, our primary focus is performing and planning our 2017 touring schedule.