Bruce Peninsula were riding high on the success of their Polaris-nominated debut LP, but the Toronto-based band’s recording of their sophomore record ended on a darker note.
Their gospel-infused indie sound was something fresh, and the country was taking notice. And as winter was settling onto their hometown, Open Flames was ready for pressing. But everything came to a halt the morning after celebrating its completion when lead singer and guitarist Neil Haverty was diagnosed with leukemia.
After chemotherapy and the support of friends, family and fans, Haverty has made a full recovery. The record will finally be shared, over a year after being finished, now that the band can once again focus on the music.
“It’s a relief and a little surreal, insofar as it’s been done for a really long time,” said guitarist Matt Cully. “As a listener of the album, we almost get that itch to start writing and to start discovering a whole new set of songs. It’s strange because the public hasn’t even heard this one.”
With Haverty back, the band is hard at work, already pulling together ideas for the next record. Each release sees a tightening of their hybrid sound, combining an orthodox indie lineup with an all-female choir.
“I think that there’s always opposing forces at work in the kind of music we write,” said Cully. “On the one hand, we’re dealing with a more traditional style of songwriting, a people’s music that focuses on stories and melody. In terms of the arrangements, we try to challenge ourselves to tell a story musically as well.”
Since their first recording in 2008, the band has been experimenting with these two elements, and with each effort they intertwine all the more tightly, forming a huge, entrancing sound.
“I definitely think we tightened up the loose ends a little bit, and put them into a four-minute little package, instead of having passages that dwell in one [sound] or the other,” he said.
For their fall tour supporting Open Flames (which happens to begin in Montreal), the band is trying out more than new material. They’ll be playing a different kind of unplugged show in some of the cities they visit, as they will on Thursday at Phonopolis.
“The Phonopolis show is an example of something we’re trying to do more of, which is sort of a review style show, where we have each member lead a song, and is collaborating or being backed up by other members,” said Cully.
Such versatility attests to the talent in this group, something evident in the band’s whole approach to their multi-faceted sound. They don’t genre-hop, instead creating their own place musically. It’s folk, but it’s heavy.
Haverty’s voice leads the choir through their complex arrangements in perfect harmony, an element that will be all the more in the spotlight at their acoustic show. It’s another way the band is forging a connection with the audience deeper than the average song.
“Getting past the wall of the cynical listener, the one who’s ‘heard it all before,’ which is kind of commonplace, trying to break that down, to give them something authentic is probably our main goal, and something we try to do with each show.”