It’s a near perfect August evening – hot without being sweltering, vanilla ice cream in a cup and conversation about music, travel and inspiration with one of the city’s newest and arguably most talented groups, Bog River.
“In the ninth grade, I had a really awesome band teacher who just made me want to go to band camp every year. He just made me love music,” Ben Hadaller of the local folk trio tells me as the four of us sit around a picnic table at Sub Zero Ice Cream. Carly Dow, lead vocalist of the group, jokes that the extent of her family’s influence in her musicality came from the occasional inebriated family member banging on a piano at parties. On her left, Dave Barchyn, former associate at a music store, explains that, “If you work at a music store long enough, you end up owning a music store.”
While Carly, Ben and Dave may have found their own paths to musicianship independently, as Bog River these three young musicians have created a sound that seems to flow amongst them effortlessly, one that is unique while retaining a traditional folksy quality.
“Less musicians means more practice,” Dave says.
“No matter what, it’ll still come out as a ‘Bog River’ sound and style,” Ben explains, “since it’s only the three of us.”
Similar to their backwoods sound, the band’s name came from a river near the cabin where they choose to do the majority of their recording. “I just drove by that sign so many times and always wanted to call a band Bog River, regardless of the genre. Now we have this muddy folk trio,” Ben recalls. Their debut EP, Lost in the Woods, was recorded in a single day and can be described by the group as a “bare bones approach to recording.”
“I specifically remember having a set of headphones on and bangin’ on a cabinet to try and get a drum track down,” Ben laughs.
“We opted to record at the cabin because, (a) we couldn’t afford studio time and (b) it’s just such a nice environment to be in,” Dave explains. “You’re not worried about spending too much time on a certain track. If you feel like taking a break, take a break. Make dinner, or if you feel really brave, you can go cut a hole though the ice and jump into the lake!”
“It’s perfect for what we’re doing. It’s just relaxed,” Carly later adds.
She reflects on their upcoming first full-length release, Hands in the Ground; “This one was a couple weekends over a couple months, and it’s a lot more polished than our first.”
“From the beginning to the end of the album, you definitely do feel that happier side go to that darker side. The bog and the mud,” Ben comments. Looking at the inner slide of the new album, the instrument list includes banjo, upright bass, mandolin, kazoo and “wood yard percussion.”
“On ‘Mountains for Sale,’ Ben wanted a more percussive sound . . . We daisy-chained a bunch of mics and Ben went and chopped some wood, and started banging on rocks,” Dave recalls as Carly and Ben laugh.
Jokes aside, the band is motivated. “We have little goals that we set for ourselves. We’d really love to play the Winnipeg Folk Fest someday, that’s a big one for us. That’s a stepping stone that we’d really like to reach, and someday soon,” Carly asserts. Another such goal is their then-upcoming tour. The band left in late August and was on the road for three weeks, kicking off in Clear Lake. Afterwards, they headed west to Regina and Maple Creek in Saskatchewan, then Calgary, Kamloops and the BC islands.
“This tour itself is one of those next steps that we’ve been working really hard to get to, so we’ll see how it goes. We’re really excited about it,” Carly tells me. “We won’t know a lot of people in most of these towns, so it will be a really good experiment to see how people like our stuff.” I’m waiting to hear some wildly long to-do list from one of the members, but I’m assured that everything is in place for the tour. “It has to be,” she replies simply.
“As a tourist, I want to see some giant trees on the Islands,” Ben claims, only half jokingly. As a band, Carly notes that they’re most looking foreword to a gig at iconic folk venue, the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Calgary. When asked who’ll have the biggest suitcase, the questions is barely out of my mouth before both Ben and Carly affirm that it’ll be Carly. “She’ll have more dresses than we do instruments” Ben jokes.
“I have to perform in nice dresses. That’s my excuse for buying new ones all the time,” she reasons.
“I think of us [referring to himself and Ben] as the table cloth and napkins and Carly as the centerpiece,” Dave kindly offers.
The West End Cultural Center will be the site of the big release on October 13, where they’ll be performing with locals Red Moon Road and Dan Frechette. The band explains to me that ultimately, this album should give the sound and feeling as their live show. Ben adds, “We want people to hear the smiles on our faces when we’re playing. It’s fun. It’s really, really fun.”