By Rachel Narvey
Often, the act of listening to music is like trying on a costume. We all have songs that help us to transform, whether that means bolstering our confidence or softening the stress of a long day. Rarely does music get under our skin and shake us up a bit, or force us to turn inward and confront ourselves. Enter Winnipeg experimental band, Civvie. Together, the three-piece creates tracks that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck in a way that you didn’t know you wanted. “People have described it as cinematic in some ways, and listening to it, it’s very atmospheric,” says bassoonist Alex Eastley. “It lets people create their own visuals to accompany what’s happening.”
“It’s dark but hopeful at the same time,” adds cellist Natanielle Felicitas. “We move from delicate sounds to a noise that’s gritty and aggressive.”
While Felicitas and Eastley play classical instruments, the third Civvie member, Kelly Ruth, brings an unconventional element to the band’s instrumentation.
“I’m a visual artist,” Ruth says, “but I also have a musical background, I play trumpet, sing, and write electronic music. I’m a weaver, and I started to notice that process sounded like electronic music. I thought ‘I want to write electronic music with the loom!’”
Her instrument, constructed from a loom, contact microphones, and loop pedals, creates sounds comparable to machinery, to breath, to horses’ hooves against the earth. If this sounds outrageously cool, you’re not alone in thinking so. All three musicians expressed their admiration for each other before they began working together.
“We ended up doing just the loom and cello for a little bit, and then I met Alex around town,” Ruth says. “I happened to meet her on a day where I was really excited about what I was doing, and when I told her about it she said ‘Oh! I would really like to jam with you!’ But because she played in the symphony I was too intimidated.”
“Yeah!” Eastley adds. “I kept suggesting that we play together.”
“Yes!” Kelly laughs. “She was courting me for a year.”
Not only are the band members excited to work together on this project, they’re also excited to do it in a city they love.
“I have a big crush on Winnipeg,” Felicitas says. “There’s just this genuine interest in collaborating without a lot of pretension. It’s not that people want to know your credentials, it’s like ‘Oh, you play?’”
“It’s also different than a bigger city like Toronto, where there’s a greater opportunity to make money,” Ruth says. “I think the economy here facilitates creation for creation’s sake… you can be creative without as much pressure to be commercial.”
That kind of creative freedom is important to the members of Civvie. Although each are versed in multiple genres, they’re all especially passionate when it comes to making experimental music.
“Since I play in the symphony this is something completely outside of my job,” Eastley says. “I find it liberating. It’s another way of making music, it’s a new scene and a different way of thinking.”
“I guess similarly, I play a classical instrument,” Felicitas adds. “So the expectation when people see it is that i’m gonna play something classical. Most of my work has been in pop, rock, and folk, so i’m often accompanying a singer/songwriter, or a band, or playing a wedding or something like that. As Alex said it’s just so liberating to not have to worry about what’s written on the page or what someone wants you to do. It’s more conversational. You can stretch the limits of what’s expected of your instrument.”
Civvie plans to release their first album, Inheritance, this coming year. The images that will appear on the album are from a recent trip of Ruth’s to Chernobyl. There, she visited the exclusion zone where the power plant had exploded and was able to see the state of the land three decades after the devastation.
“I think there’s a lot of philosophy and ideology behind what we’re doing,” she says. “We might not all be having the exact same philosophy in there, but [for this album] we were talking a lot about the destruction of the earth, what’s left over for the next generation. It’s this tension of the land taking back what the people took from it.”