The new video from Andrew Jackson Jihad is a cosmic green-screen trip at a funeral-march pace. "Coffin Dance" is off the band's latest Christmas Island, an LP packed with a little silliness and a lot of gore. The whole record is some of the best folk punk that you'll come across. Stream Christmas Island in its entirety on Side One Dummy's YouTube channel.
The opening chords of "Oak Tree" have been strummed countless times before, but Mirel Wagner's dark acoustic stories are carried by her emotion, not innovation. It's a reminder of how much can be done with one acoustic guitar and one voice.
The Ethiopian-born Finnish singer wanders the forest in the video for the opening track of her sophomore record, When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day. It's coming out in August on Sub Pop, who she signed with after releasing her self-titled record in 2011, a bare-bones folk recording of soft fingerpicking and a distant, piercing voice.
Production on "Oak Tree" is far less raw than on Mirel Wagner, with little embellishments as she sings "I dream, I dream sweet dreams" signalling this is indeed a studio record. But the bareness of her songwriting remains, the record apparently written in a log cabin near Helsinki. "Oak Tree" is a decent start.
Stream When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day on Bandcamp.
The trees outside Mile End’s Salon Sweet William shuddered in a frigid wind, but inside Maerin Hunting warmed the room with an intimate performance of “I’ll Tell Ya,” a song telling a story from the perspective of a former crush, detailing her anticipation before anything happened.
“I wrote this song after we finally started dating, and this was my way of explaining my angst, waiting for him to tell me that he liked me,” said Maerin.
Maerin grew up in Montreal, the daughter of a dancer and art history major who met in Concordia’s Drawing 101. Now in the final stretch of her undergrad in jazz voice, it was her great-aunt that first inspired Maerin to study music—giving a piano to her family home.
“I remember playing all kinds of old jazz standards with her around Christmas,” Maerin said. “When I was at Vanier [College] I started studying pop voice, but I quickly switched into jazz voice, not knowing [these were] songs I had been singing with my grandparents. I knew a whole repertoire already.”
She now does most of her songwriting on guitar, something she credits to hearing the likes of pop songwriters John Mayer and Jack Johnson as a kid. The heartthrob factor didn’t hurt, either.
“The same reason boys start to play guitar, to get girls,” jokes bassist Patrick Latreille about Maerin’s choice of instrument.
She’s been playing her original material live now for over a year, an experience of baring personal experience textured by a full band moving softly around her. It’s a feeling she’s becoming more comfortable with as time goes on.
“You can be onstage and let people know things about you that you wouldn’t necessarily tell them in conversation,” said Maerin. “It’s a very personal and vulnerable space.”
The band, under the name Maerin, is in pre-production for their debut full-length record, and are hoping to be playing festivals come summer time.
“My favourite after-show comment was this one individual who said, ‘Maerin, it felt like you held my hand through issues I’ve yet to go through,’” she said.
“I think that’s a pretty good example of what I strive to do.”
Originally published by The Link Newspaper.
Before hitting the stage at Divan Orange during their last Canadian tour, Victoria’s Current Swell played a little acoustic set at Café Santropol .
They played a stripped-down version of “I Wanna Bird,” their soulful tune inspired by Taj Mahal’s “Corrina” filled with rich four-part vocal harmonies—a testament to the group’s chemistry.
“There’s nothing like singing with other people you feel connected to, it’s a really gelling thing,” said lead singer Scott Stanton.
“Some of it is technical, you know, what notes can we do together, and the rest is just putting your soul into it, and for us it’s so fun.”
The depth of their coastal country sound gives away the years the band has spent together honing their craft. The current lineup has been playing together for four years, but Stanton and guitarist Dave Lang have been writing together for seven.
Things started as they often do, a casual project for a simple shared love of playing.
“We didn’t know anything about being a band, we were just having fun writing songs together and it all just sort of happened, so that’s probably what the whole humble, seven-year start equates to,” said Lang.
They had been touring on and off since the addition of drummer Chris Peterson and bassist Ghosty, but after getting signed to Nettwerk Records, the pace has picked up this past year.
Now backed by a label, they’re looking to release their latest LP, Long Time Ago, wherever they can, starting with an Australian release, accompanied with some festival dates.
“The talk in the background, what might happen, is really exciting. We don’t get too worked up until it’s booked, but it’s fixin’ to be a big year,” said Lang.
“We’ve had two weekends off this summer, it’s funny to see what you work yourself into if you try really hard,” said Stanton.
Originally published by The Link Newspaper.
Though he’s been in the Canadian music scene since the late ‘80s, this week marks a first for John K. Samson: it’s the first time The Weakerthans frontman will tour with his name on the marquee. He’s crossing the continent in support of his new solo LP Provincial, a record that started out as a series of seven-inch demos about stretches of road in Manitoba. The demos soon took on a life of their own, tied together by the strange self-published history of a forgotten sanatorium in Ninette, MB.
Samson uncovered the stories at the library in his home town of Winnipeg, where he’d been writing more and more as his years with The Weakerthans went on.
“For the last Weakerthans record, I spent a lot of time writing at the library just because I found I couldn’t focus at home with the Internet there,” he said. “I think this was just a natural extension of that. I started reading about the things I was writing about, doing research in that way.”
On Provincial, Samson takes this research-heavy writing even further, travelling to small towns in the province to hear the stories of the people who live there, transcribing memories and weaving them into folk-rock frames with the care and intimacy he’s become known for.
He reaches in by telling histories, lifting important places from our past; he appeals to nostalgia, adventure and solace throughout the record.
But while this may sound just like the formula for a great Weakerthans record, his fellow members are nowhere to be heard on this LP.
“To be fair to the other Weakerthans, I would have had to bring them in at an earlier date for their full input to be heard on the songs,” said Samson. “I don’t think it was terribly conscious, it’s just kind of the way it happened. I feel like the project dictated the way it should be handled.”
Samson pieced together demos from the last two years and re-recorded them for Provincial last April, arranged with the help of producer Paul Aucoin. The resulting work finds slow, strings-and-piano-backed songs alongside the up-tempo rockers and acoustic ballads. There’s nothing radically new, but there’s growth here—and it is definitely his most pensive record to date.
“I took a different approach for each location musically. […] The varying instrumentation and arrangements give a sense of travelling to the record,” said Samson. “I feel I’ve stretched myself on this record. Some people won’t feel that at all, but I can only judge myself against myself as a musician.”
For those itching for a new Weakerthans record,Provincial isn’t that far off. But fans shouldn’t fear—once this tour wraps up he’ll be back with the band, where he still finds great comfort and inspiration.
“There’s some kind of strange math going on,” he laughs, in reference to the increasing number of years between Weakerthans records. “I don’t think that’s going to change, it might get even slower as we get older and all have different interests in different things in our lives.
“It’s family in a way—you don’t always want to go to Thanksgiving dinner, but there are great and rare things about it, that you can only get with the accumulation of time and experience with other people.”
Samson’s words have always been at the heart of his music and that’s no different on the album, whether it’s in the form of a petition to induct his hockey hero Reggie Leach into the Hall of Fame or in a matured reprise to his infamous anti-Winnipeg anthem, “One Great City!”
“Often the music acts as a hook to hang the words on and I’ve always been grateful for that as a writer,” said Samson. “I think I’ve always been a thwarted short story and poetry writer; both of those things seem forebodingly difficult to me because that structure isn’t there.
“You can invent structures, but it’s not like a song, where you have a frame laid out and you stretch things across it. I think that’s one of the great traditions of folk music, which I guess is the tradition that I come from. Folk music that kind of turned into punk rock is where I learned to appreciate performance and communication through the arts.”
Samson played bass in Manitoban political punk band Propagandhi in the early ‘90s before leaving to pursue work in publishing, and soon after combined his love of music and poetry with The Weakerthans. While it’s been more than two decades since his anarcho-vegan days on the four-string—and while the bpm is markedly lower now—he still has a lot to say.
“[With Provincial] I’d like people to recognize themselves and the place that they’re from. It’s the thing that we all have in common, that we’re all from somewhere. Those places are all both universal and unique, and those unique things about a place are really important; I think they allow us to relate to other places,” said Samson.
“I hope the record makes people think about their own house, their own city, their own town in a way that they hadn’t considered before.”
Originally published by The Link Newspaper.
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.”
It's pretty common that bands known for technical ability will push the limits of their playing with each new release, but Chicago's Maps & Atlases latest work strives to flex both creative muscles and the ones in their fingers.
“I don't think we were ever heavy in any way,” said lead singer, guitarist and most bearded member Dave Davison when talking about how the band used to share the stage with the post-hardcore group Russian Circles. The band's early work bared the signs of math rock, but now Maps & Atlases more closely resemble a folk band.
Perch Patchwork came out last summer and was the band's first full-length offering, filled with rich, subtle instrumentation and an increased focus on Davison's voice. Being their debut LP, Maps & Atlases spent the time to make a cohesive piece of work that shows growth to a technically proficient musical palette.
“It was a really fun and productive way to allow the songs to take shape,” said Davison about the more experimental process to songwriting the band took with this record.
“On previous work with Maps & Atlases we would spend a long time getting ideas together to play live, and then the recording process became mostly a way of documenting that live experience,” he said.
“It was the prospect of recording and letting whatever happened happen, like if something started seeming a certain way or going in a different direction, to just allow it to go that way was only possible through this type of recording. It was really exciting for everybody in the band. Jason made everyone excited to explore more.”
Jason Cupp produced Perch Patchwork, and a warm, complex sound was formed – one which draws influence from as many directions as genres in their hometown music scene. Cupp worked with Davison in 2009 for his solo work under the name Cast Spells, and after exploring these new approaches to writing brought the artfully arranged sound to a full band context. The result builds off the Cast Spells EP, with engaging, unorthodox percussion and melodic form catchy enough for a pop song.
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“It was really fun, it was something that wouldn't have been possible before this time,” said Davison. “Making an album with as many intricacies as this one has would have cost a fortune. It would have had to be a totally different production 10 or 15 years ago, but we were able to do it in our practice space and in my parents' house, getting friends to help out with it.”
Horns and strings take up room formerly dominated by two-hand guitar tapping, but while they may have moved out from under the math rock label there has been no dumbing down of their sound. If anything, the complexities are now just more subtle, wound into the fabric of the song with great care.
“We had some idea prior going into it where strings and horns and whatnot would go, but it was my first time seriously working with instruments that I couldn't mess around with on my own,” said Davison. “It was definitely a trial and error process with that, there are so many interesting things that can be done with other instruments that you can't think of when you're thinking with a guitar.”
“I think we've just gotten better at layering things and playing together more tightly where it doesn't seem crazy and random. Still, I think the most technical guitar parts live definitely are some of the newer songs,” he said. "Layering lots of different instruments hopefully allows someone to get more lost in the overall song rather than focusing specifically on what a guitar is doing.”
The band wants to avoid the feeling of isolated tracks playing together, instead arranging the record's many layers as complimentary elements.
“My most enjoyable musical experiences right now come from when I'm not necessarily identifying with the musicianship, but more with the music,” said Davison.
“Sometimes it can be difficult for me when I'm listening to somebody play the guitar really well, I'll switch into thinking about it in a more logical way rather than allowing myself to get lost in it, like [I do] with electronic or classical music.”
The band strives to serve the song, wherever it takes them. With their new composition style it could go anywhere, but it's too early to tell what the end result will be for any upcoming material.
“I have been continuously writing and recording stuff without necessarily trying to think about it in the context of what it's going to be,” said Davison. “There definitely is new material, but I'm not exactly sure in what way it's going to come out. I think we're at a weird place where it's hard to talk about what's going to happen next just because you don't want to necessarily think about it too much as far as the end result right now, more focus is on the process, the creative side of it.
“We don't have a specific political agenda or message, when you're writing from your experience you definitely feel excited when people can connect their experience to that, to have a positive association with the music,” he said. “I feel weird about overly contextualizing our music, telling people how to think about something. My strongest associations with music that means a lot to me I'm sure is 100% off from what the artist originally intended, and that doesn't really matter to me, on either side of it.”
Sometimes wishful thinking can lead to great things. Portland-based musician Henry Jamison is the voice of The Milkman’s Union, his solo moniker that now has expanded to a full band.
“In high school I started The Milkman’s Union, and it was basically me wishing I was in a band without having people to play with,” said the indie pop-turned-folk artist. “I had an 8-track recorder and I was my own band.”
Now Jamison has people to play with, but the group’s latest offering is a solo acoustic performance. The band’s latest release holds its beauty in simplicity, with Jamison using what was readily available for the digital-only Telos EP, tracking bare acoustic songs at home.
“We needed to record something, and putting out an actual studio recording right now is a little daunting and time consuming,” said Jamison. “Basically I took what I do on a nightly basis and my drummer recorded it.
“It’s the songs in their barest form.”
The songs are fleshed out with a full band setup live, giving an electric take on the folk-inspired music. Jamison isn’t one for solo acoustic gigs, always instead opting for the energy of backing musicians.
“I don’t want to be in the spotlight the way that playing solo requires. I want to have the energy there, the force that the band brings,” said Jamison. “The Milkman’s Union as a project is a band. It’s not about me, really.”
But this time around Jamison is very much in the spotlight. In a context where guitar lines drive rhythm and harmony, his lyrics become much more of a focal point on Telos.
“On the last album I felt that I was taking a back seat with my singing,” said Jamison. “It was sort of a sonic creation of different musical atmospheres, and I think that since our lead guitarist left I think the vocals have become a much more central piece.
“There are songs of death, struggle and eternity, so I try not to slap any kind of label on it as if I’m subscribing towards this or that doctrine,” he said.
As for where the indie-country sounds of The Milkman’s Union will go next, Jamison has no intent of resting on one genre or arrangement.
“We’re going to start and balance the two impulses. We have the folky thing and we have the stadium pop sound, but I think with our next release it will be a balance of the two, at least that’s the hope,” said Jamison.
“The folk songs will be arranged but not in a super indie rock way, I’m thinking a string quartet.”
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It seems that young Brooklyn-based folk singer Sharon Van Etten’s sound gets bigger with each album.
2009’s Because I Was In Love was a record of intimate acoustic numbers supported only by Van Etten’s voice and guitar, and last year’s epic filled out the music with a full band setup.
Working on her next record around a tightly-packed touring schedule finds Van Etten’s Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-Cranberries sound expanding again, with help from The National’s Aaron Dessner.
The two have been writing and recording since September, before taking a break in February for a European tour with their respective bands. Following the stint in Europe, Van Etten stopped in Austin for an intense few days of South by Southwest.
“It was a little insane, because we did seven shows in four days and I lost my voice by the last day,” said Van Etten. “But it was a lot of fun, I got to see a lot of friends and a lot of awesome bands, too.”
Working with Dessner in The National’s studio allowed Van Etten the space to experiment, with guidance from the experienced indie rocker.
“He kind of pushed me out of my comfort zone because he likes to have noise, and he likes to add horns and strings which is very new to me,” said Van Etten. “He imagines every song as having its own world, so it’s fun to bounce ideas off each other.”
This meant putting down the guitar for some songs, though it’s an instrument that’s been a defining aspect of the singer’s young career.
“There are songs where I don’t play guitar at all, and one where I only play one chord,” said Van Etten. “It switches it up, it shows that my songs aren’t dependent on a guitar.”
“We’re going to have more drone, creating a whole sonic wave,” she continued. “Right now there’s so many genres of songs [from the sessions with Aaron], I’m not sure what it’s going to turn into.”
With Van Etten and Dessner laying the groundwork for these currently half-finished songs, guest musicians drop by to add what they hear fit. It’s collaboration deeper than anything Van Etten has done before, with her past two records being written completely by her.
“I’m learning a lot about writing and about being sensitive to other parts, and I’ve realized that having more doesn’t always make it better,” said Van Etten.
“It’s much more fun and liberating and cathartic to have a band to rock out with.”
The transition from solo artist to collaborator has been a gradual process, with Van Etten’s strong, honest voice always transmitting the most intimate feelings. Now she has the world listening, and her intimate expressions of pain and joy seem to carry universal sentiment.
“I write from a very autobiographical, confessional place, so whenever I play I’m looking back on my life and what I was going through at the time,” said Van Etten. “I try to write in a way that’s general enough not to alienate people.”
“It’s a meditative state of going back to that place in order to perform the song proper,” said Van Etten about recreating her music live. “It definitely helps me get through it again.”
The New Jersey native’s music will always come from emotional experience, regardless of its evolving instrumentation. The negative feelings are just as important as the good, and moments of despair and weakness are felt in her songs.
“I feel like people close themselves up when they feel something negative or are treated badly, as if it’s wrong to feel something,” said Van Etten. “There are a lot of songs out there that kind of glaze over a lot of serious emotions, making it seem that it’s a selfish thing to talk about how you feel.”
Being honest with yourself and accepting blame are essential elements to Van Etten’s acoustic catharsis. She’s more than the cliché girl with an acoustic guitar, proven with songs that balance power and delicacy in ways that hush the crowd.
“It’s such an easy corner to be pushed into,” said Van Etten about the bland categorization of female singer/songwriters. “Maybe that pushed me into playing more electric guitar, but [my audience] learned that I can rock out, and that I can do more than write pretty songs.”
“I work really hard on my songs and my melodies. I try to keep my lyrics simple so the melodies themselves evoke an emotion,” she continued. “You can’t control who likes your music, but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Things are going well for Van Etten, and there’s no sign of her slowing down. Her third full-length record may surface by the end of this year, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if it shuts down skeptics yet again.
Recording will resume later this month after wrapping up her first headlining tour, an experience that Van Etten is evidently grateful for.
“Every time there’s a show that people come to and know who I am it blows my mind,” said Van Etten. “Every day, it’s pretty weird.”
Originally published by The Link Newspaper.