Kuato taps into the East Coast's dark history with 'The Great Upheaval'

When Halifax doomey post rock five-piece Kuato were looking for inspiration for their debut LP, it only made sense to draw from their surroundings.

“We’re a dark band, and this is super dark history, it’s something that’s around us all the time. It’s in the soil, it’s in the air, it’s just part of the energy [here],” says drummer Josh Pothier, who grew up going to Acadian schools in Nova Scotia.

The band’s first LP The Great Upheaval revolves around the history of Acadia, a former French colony that would eventually become Canada’s East Coast and parts of Quebec.

The record gets its name from the expulsion of Acadians from the region, ordered by the British in the middle of the 18th century.

“There are tons of weird, creepy, dark stories that I grew up with [...] we might as well draw from the darkest thing to ever happen in this region,” says Josh. “A lot of art dealing with this does it in a very folkloric manner, which is fine, [but] we saw an opportunity to do our own thing."

The Great Upheaval is the band’s first physical release outside of short runs of CDs sold at local shows in the Maritimes. They started writing back in 2011, but lineup changes delayed the material that would eventually make it on the LP.

Josh and guitarist Adam Toth have been playing together since 2009, with guitarists and bassists joining for months at a time in different iterations of Kuato.

“I like to think we’re sort of a cautious band. The first thing we did was write a 30-minute song, and I think we played it at a show or two, then scrapped it and wrote all-new material,” says Josh. “That’s sort of the motif of the band: go out and do some stuff, and then go back into hiding and emerge with something else.”

The only song on The Great Upheaval with lineage before the current roster is “Black Horizon,” the band opting to write new material instead of teaching old songs to the new guys. Josh’s playing drives things forward, often at a deliberate, swampy pace, but it’s the three guitars that fill in all the colour, their six-string fingerprints defining the moody post rock.

Being able to work with different players, even for a few months, helped shape what Kuato is – a band that relies heavily on listening to the live moment to determine what comes next. Now the lineup is filled out with guitarists Mike D’Eon and Darryl Smith and bassist Stephen MacDonald, with the writing now more collaborative than ever.

For five days they lived at the studio/venue Confidence Lodge in Riverport, Nova Scotia tracking the record live off the floor. Making a full-length record in five days might sound rushed, but it was a luxury for a band more used to banging out EPs in a matter of hours in Halifax’s Echo Chamber studio.

The sense of urgency, to get to the heavy stuff right away, has been replaced by a little more patience.

“When it came to the writing, we got a lot more interested in the space between the songs,” Josh says. “When we first started the band we were so excited playing together we were always getting to the heavy stuff as fast as we could.”

Not quite a concept record about the Acadian history, The Great Upheaval is more a product of its environment, inviting listeners to revel in its intertwining guitar work and doomey pace, to seek out the stories of a displaced people only if they want to.

“We didn’t want it to be forced, and we didn’t want to alienate anybody,” says Josh, adding that at first the band was thinking of adding voiceovers and traditional arrangements to represent the Acadian oral history.

“We wanted to make something you can learn about if you choose to go deeper but you didn’t need to know about to enjoy. I feel it’s a pretty fine line […] we wanted people to be able to draw their own conclusions from the art.”

Kuato plays Drones Club Saturday, August 9 with Zaum, The Great Sabatini and Special Noise.

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