“My songs are sad to the point where we joke about it all the time,” Amelia Curran says only half in jest. At the Winnipeg Folk Festival, where this interview happened, the Newfoundland native and Halifax-based singer-songwriter performed in a workshop called “Woe is Me” with some kindred musicians strumming tunes about heartbreak and hard luck. Whether she’s playing alone or with a five-piece band, Curran’s songs compellingly mix a comfy guitar with her seasoned and deliberate voice. A talented and practised creative writer, she released her first album, Barricade, in 2000 and her most recent, War Brides, received wide critical acclaim. Now Hunter Hunter, her second album with Six Shooter Records, is ready for release this September. Continue reading “Amelia Curran”
“I’ve always thought of Winnipeg as a place that has distinct boundaries, like you get with the Perimeter Highway,” Del Barber says, sipping a drink at popular Wolseley watering hole Cousin’s. Last May, Barber sold out his album release party for his debut, Where the City Ends, at the Park Theatre. Since its release, Barber and his backing band have been playing local gigs and, most recently, Barber set out on his own for his first tour north of the border. Continue reading “Del Barber”
Released this spring, Points of View is a collaboration between Winnipeg singer-songwriters Chris Neufeld and Donovan Giesbrecht, who together are the Other Brothers. It’s a subtle, gorgeous collection of folk tunes in the vein of Simon & Garfunkel. Unlike that famous duo, however, Neufeld and Giesbrecht are happy to talk to each other. But to really capture their points of view, Stylus asked each musician the exact same questions, separately, and the results, while not quite Rashomonesque, reveal some key differences between them, including the fact that one brother is a little more verbose than the other. Continue reading “The Other Brothers”
Ingrid Gatin’s got a piano, an accordion, and a tear-jerkingly beautiful voice. All of these things are perfectly suited to the average living room recital or concert at the café down the street. But something in Ingrid Gatin keeps pulling her out of her comfy Wolseley environs. To a cabin in the Saskatchewan woods; to a train crossing the lonely stretches of Northern Ontario; to a transformed gallery space in the Exchange.
Gatin’s first migration took place when her family moved from small-town Saskatchewan to Brandon, where started up in the musical way early. She’s studied piano since age four, and says she’s always benefited from a “hugely musical” family. “There’s always singing and music playing going on on both sides of my family,” she says. “I was always involved with choirs. A good, wholesome music upbringing.”
With that groundwork laid, Gatin was soon sucked into the music scene in Winnipeg when she moved here after high school two and a half years ago. Her friend Ida Sawabe played stand-up bass in a bluegrass band, and soon dragged Gatin along to practice. “They gave me a mandolin and they said, ‘Here’s how you play C and G and D. There, you know every bluegrass song!’ Ting, ting, ting! And then I was in a bluegrass band, the Magnificent Sevens.” Continue reading “Ingrid Gatin”
crys cole wants you to listen. Carefully.
She’s the artistic director for Winnipeg’s annual sound art festival, send + receive, but she also has her own art practise and has been sculpting sounds and challenging eardrums for ten years. In June, cole embarked on a two-week European tour, playing in biggest scenes in experimental music—Paris, Brussels and Berlin. She said the response to her work was overwhelmingly positive, offering her the opportunity to perform and network with the massive experimental music communities in Europe.
Canada’s most underrated overweight entertainer, B.A. Johnston, performs songs about B-movies, pirates and Nintendo on a rickety old guitar and Casio keyboard. Although the live-antics legend has released multiple albums, shared the stage with many top performers including the Rheostatics, the Constantines, Cuff the Duke and the Silver Hearts, Hamilton’s favorite son has yet to reach his ultimate goal of moving out of his mother’s basement. Following a hilarious recent set in Winnipeg, Johnston shot the snot with Stylus. Continue reading “B.A. Johnston”
“In general, we’re all just feeling a bit more brighter,” says Christopher Bear, drummer and vocalist for Grizzly Bear, describing reasons for the sound of Veckatimest, the band’s latest release. It’s a record that sees the Brooklyn-based folk rockers take their melancholic, quasi-traditional Americana style and brighten it up. And why not feel brighter? In 2006 the group released Yellow House, their second full-length and first as a four-piece, to critical acclaim. This set off a whirlwind of unanticipated events: tours with the likes of TV on the Radio, Feist and, more recently, Radiohead as well as the release of another solid disc, the Friend EP, for which the band reworked a number of its older songs with grander instrumentation and production. Things are most certainly coming together for the band, and with Veckatimest it’s clear that the band’s enthusiasm and excitement is making for some blissful pop music.
Veckatimest features sonic textures and lyrical themes the band has yet to fully explore, but it doesn’t sound out of place among the band’s previous works. Grizzly Bear began as a solo project of guitarist/vocalist Edward Droste, who put together a moody and heartbreaking song cycle in 2004’s Horn of Plenty. It was a record that, backed for the most part by guitar and the occasional splash of drums and keyboards, portrayed the hidden beauty of broken and despondent relationships. Soon after its release he added Christopher Bear, multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor and guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rossen to the mix, paving the way for the sounds found on Yellow House and the Friend EP, sounds which were much larger and more polished.
With these additions, the band faced new challenges and possibilities in regards to songwriting. “Starting Yellow House, a lot of the songs were fully written before we recorded,” Bear explains. “It was less focused on how we write together and more focused on how we record and arrange songs together. Friend came about because we were touring for a long time, and there were things we started to do live that were different than on the record and we wanted to capture that, just because after playing so many shows the band was really starting to change.” The band was in transition, shifting from its original DIY, bedroom-recording aesthetic to a fuller and more complex sound.
With Veckatimest this transition appears to be reaching its fullest potential yet. “I think we are more familiar with how we play live,” says Bear. “A lot of this stuff came about in a live setting. Songwriting wise, the songs were in everybody’s hands at a much earlier stage.” The band members were collaborating in new ways. “There really are a lot of different permutations of people writing on different songs, which gives Veckatimest sort of a different story. It certainly feels much more organic, a sort of growing together.”
This new approach to songwriting—giving each band member more say in the whole process—has resulted in a sound more stripped down than Yellow House’s yet still very complex. Whereas previously the band would add layer upon layer of instrumentation and vocals onto their tracks, the songs on the new record are sparser, allowing more space for the band’s primary instruments—guitar, piano, drums and voice—to work with. “With Yellow House, we continued to stack more onto each song. At times it felt like we were throwing the kitchen sink onto every song, which was really exciting for us at the time,” Bear recalls. “We were figuring out how we work together and what certain textures we were fit to explore. I think with Veckatimest we were using a lot of the same things we learned, but focusing it more, not afraid to do a song with just piano and voice, or just a single vocal track.”
For example, “Fine For Now” features instrumentation that is much simpler than what we have grown to expect from Grizzly Bear. It consists of nothing more than drums, guitar and vocals with some occasional splashes of keyboards. However, the way the band works together, playing on each other’s strengths, the song remains equally, if not more intense than much of the band’s previous material. Grizzly Bear has made good writing music that sounds simpler than it actually is, freeing the music from clutter.
This more open sound is evident in the record’s poppy moments, such as Rossen’s song “While You Wait for the Others,” the bouncy “Cheerleader” and the album’s centerpiece, “Two Weeks,” a stunning track that features Droste at his best, backed by captivating “whoa-oh-oh” harmonies. And it’s these pop hits that will first draw you in.
But it’s the album’s darker moments that really exhibit how creative the band is. On first listen you might say Veckatimest reveals the band becoming less melancholic. “There are some brighter tones to the record; there still is also some more moody material that feels more spacious,” says Bear. Songs such as the lead-off track, “Southern Point,” and “All We Ask”, both which feature string arrangements by Nico Muhly, hold the record together, demonstrating command of lyrical themes and sonic textures.
Perhaps it’s growing together as a band that’s informed much of the record’s lyrical content, as the songs, for the most part, deal with the struggles and joys inherent in the developing of relationships. On “All We Ask” the band chants, “I can’t get out of what I’m into with you.” On “Ready, Able” Ed Droste repeats, “Before we go, I want you to know, what I did.” Relationships are instrumentally or lyrically at the fore.
Veckatimest has been one of the most talked about and hyped-up records of the year and it’s well-deserved. Rarely does an album display a band collaborating so effectively—taking on specific themes and ideas without being afraid to leave things ambiguous in the end. It’s a fascinating listen.
Elliott Walsh has carried a notebook every day since 2004, but today he isn’t. The Winnipeg wordsmith’s new album as Nestor Wynrush, Trinnipeg !78, is done, released and so he’s taking a break from saving notes for lyrics. “The writing feels agonizing,” Walsh says. “What feels agonizing is getting out that feeling exactly. It’s not just in your brain. It’s weighing on your heart.” Continue reading “Nestor Wynrush”
Unless you’re living under floorboards or have your privacy setting ramped up on Facebook so you’re not bombarded with event invites, you probably know about Haunter. And if you don’t you should. I think they’re the best band in Winnipeg since Duotang, so let me tell you!
Haunter is Matt Williams and Jory Hasselmann on guitars, Marie-France Hollier on bass and Ryan Coates on drums. They play with the sound and fury of those old (and I use the term loosely) bands like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth: mulchy, naive experimentation comes together with a hooky pop sense to make something refreshing and highly addictive. Taking these risks has its rewards. The band is packing venues around Winnipeg, has played alongside Women, Land of Talk and Handsome Furs and has a new, fast-selling 7” out and a Western-Canadian tour with Mount Royal that’ll end with a showcase at NXNE.
Haunter blessed me with a meeting over beer and tequila at Carlos & Murphy’s just days before Hasselmann’s Italian sabbatical. Continue reading “Haunter”
On the strength of their self-titled debut EP, Winnipeg roots quartet Oh My Darling are going places, fast. So fast that I couldn’t nail them down in person and had to conduct our interview on Facebook while the band was touring western Canada. Fiddle player Rosalyn Dennett—who is joined in the band by Allison de Groot on claw-hammer banjo, Marie-Josée Dandeneau on upright and electric bass and Vanessa Kuzina on vocals, guitar and mandolin—filled me in on the past, present and future of the group. Continue reading “Oh My Darling”