Joshua Van Tassel turns to chaos for inspiration

When Joshua Van Tassel steps into the studio  (which, he can now proudly say, is no longer based within his home) for a day’s work, he checks all connection to the outside world at the door.

“I don’t have any internet in the studio and I turn my phone off the second I walk in,” said the Canadian multi-instrumentalist.

Joshua Van Tassel plays Casa del Popolo on Wednesday, Apr. 3 at 8:30 p.m. Photo by Valerie Gore

Following suit, anyone else in attendance leaves their cell phone in a neat pile on a shelf near the door so that nobody is tempted to break the golden rule.

“I want to be there, I don’t want to be connected at all,” said Van Tassel. “I want to be present and give 100 per cent of my attention, and I want that from everybody else — if you’re here and you want to do this, let’s do it for real.”

Much like his organic, bare-bones approach to creating art, the content of Van Tassel’s product is heavily influenced by Maritime sonic tradition. Born and raised in rural Nova Scotia, the inclusion of predominantly acoustic instrumentation has always been the law of the land.

“The maritimes have a really strong songwriter tradition and a really strong folk tradition in general, and a lot of really good acoustic guitar players,” he said.

In a triumphant effort to create a marriage between old-world and new-world vibes, Van Tassel takes care to nurture and perfect that balance. “I’m interested in bridging the gap between really pretty, traditional-sounding, earthy folk songs and a more modern recording technique.”

Armed with the acoustic guitar as his auditory weapon and “portable writing tool,” Van Tassel not only composes each of his albums, but produces, engineers and mixes them to boot. Being at the helm of his own projects has allowed the musician to develop and acquaint himself with his medium.

“It’s a way to try out lots of things in a no-pressure situation,” he said. “If I make mistakes, it only affects me.”

True to its name, the content of his latest album, Dream Date, is heavily based in the disjointed nature of dreams. “When I set out to make this album, I tried to picture a really specific scene in my mind, like I’m scoring a movie,” he said. “Let’s say you’re dreaming. Sometimes, it’s almost like there’s no connectivity — you’re in one scene, then you’re in another, and your brain doesn’t really notice. It doesn’t make you go, ‘Okay, why am I now in this spaceship? I was just in a desert.’”

Following this blueprint, Van Tassel constructed the record as if each scene in the album was part of a string of organized chaos, “[blending] it in a way sonically that has that effect — now, [you’re] somewhere else, but it doesn’t feel foreign or strange. You’re being lead.”

“The Warmest Heart,” one of the album’s most acclaimed numbers, was built with a very specific scene in mind: a father and daughter stand on a sunny, picturesque beach, surrounded by water infested with mechanical fish.

Though they’re on a day trip together, she is ignored by her father while he works on his phone. She finds companionship in a mechanical skeleton, which she is intent on showing her father, but he refuses to pay her any mind. Soon, the skeleton begins coming to life, along with the robotic fish, and she becomes master of her imaginary mechanical domain.

Paired with resonating vocals and rolling soundscape of sinister bells and lightly twinkling background details, “The Warmest Heart” is one of many tracks that embodies all that Van Tassel has aimed for.

“I’m trying to make music that is completely respectful of an acoustic tradition, but at the same time recognizing that there are so many tools available to us with technology,” he said. “We can make sounds that we couldn’t really make before.”


Joshua Van Tassel plays Casa del Popolo on Wednesday, Apr. 3 at 8:30 p.m. 


Local Natives appreciate both work and play

Photo by Bryan Sheffield

What started out as a snapshot of the members of Local Natives climbing onto the roof of their practice space turned into the band’s cover art for their latest album Hummingbird.

“It almost happened accidentally,” said Ryan Hahn, the band’s guitarist and keyboardist. “We were just climbing on the roof of the rehearsal space and someone took a picture.”

The band mixed the photograph with the desktop background on one of their computers and haphazardly concocted the album cover for Hummingbird. “We just thought it was a really striking image,” said Hahn. “Matt [Frazier] and I do most of the graphic design and the rest of the band just kind of argue about it until they’re happy with it. It’s a healthy dysfunction.”

The band formed in 2005 in Orange County, Calif., their hometown. “We’ve always been obsessed with music from an early age,” said Hahn. “There was a healthy music scene growing up in California and we were into mostly punk stuff; loud, aggressive, fast music.”

Regardless of their earlier musical influences, Local Natives’ sound is not something that is easily classifiable under one specific genre and Hummingbird proves just that.

Although their debut album Gorilla Manor was praised for its youthful energetic sound, Local Natives have ventured off into new creative territory: the album has been reviewed as being much darker than their first. “The album goes deeper beneath the surface; in a lot of ways it’s more honest, more direct,” said Hahn.

“The image of a hummingbird kind of encapsulates the whole album,” he said. “It’s a little frail creature with hollow bones that also beats its wings a million times a second and is always on the move. We agreed that it really fit the rest of the album.”

The title of the album comes from a lyric in “Colombia”, arguably the most emotionally-charged track on the record, where vocalist and guitarist Kelcey Ayer pays tribute to his late mother.

“There’s a very personal meaning in it,” said Hahn. “It’s a really important emotional song for us, especially for Kelcey. The album is a lot more expanded, with more intimate moments.”

But despite the general tone on the album, the guys from Local Natives are anything but dark and serious. On the rare occasions where the band gets time off from rehearsing or touring, they jump on the opportunity to unwind.

“Whenever I can, I like to go to the beach and surf and hang out with friends,” said Hahn, adding that it was really important to them to stay active. They have also recently discovered the joys of ping pong.

“We’re actually trying to get a league going with other bands, since a lot of bands on tour actually already have ping pong,” laughed Hahn. “We toured with Arcade Fire and they have a team and they’re really really really good!”

Since the tour, Local Natives have been receiving the acknowledgment that the California band so rightly deserves. “We played the Latitude Festival in 2009 and it was our first festival, the first time we ever played in the UK and the first time we played overseas at all,” said Hahn. “We didn’t really expect anyone to be there for us, but we showed up and the tent was just full to the brim and people were just singing along. It was just one of those memorable moments that I think we’ll never really forget.”

This summer, Local Natives will play the Latitude Festival once again along with the Coachella Festival in California, the Governor’s Ball in New York and Bonnaroo in Tennessee; some of the most internationally renowned festivals.

Having recorded part of Hummingbird in Montreal, the guys are eager to play next here next week. “We had an amazing time and it was surprisingly not unbearably cold,” joked Hahn. “We just had so much fun.”


Local Natives play Le National with Superhumanoids on Friday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. The show is sold out.




Nightlands uses midnight musings as musical fuel

Nightlands (Photo Catharine Maloney)

Every night for two years, Dave Hartley, who plays music as Nightlands, would periodically rise from his slumber and sing, muse, or hum into a tape recorder. Suffering from “crippling writer’s block,” it was the only way that the musician was able to properly articulate any ideas that he considered valuable. The only issue was that these strokes of genius almost always made appearances in the dead of night.

“I would often hear songs while I was falling asleep or in the middle of the night when I was dreaming,” said Hartley. Unsatisfied with the material he was producing in his waking hours, he turned to unconventional measures.

“It took a lot of practice and was hard to do, but I started waking myself up and singing into a tape recorder,” he said. “A lot of it is just hilarious gibberish, real tongue-twisters and weird stuff that doesn’t make any sense. But occasionally, there are these little melodies and lyrical stuff.”

While Hartley currently has everything under control, from his sleep patterns to his musical career, it was not always the case: the Nightlands project owes its existence to a job layoff. “There was a three-year period where I was basically unemployed, and recording with [my other band] The War on Drugs,” he said. “I had a lot of time to be creative and experiment a bit, which is a luxury that not many people have, so I was lucky. The project was born out of that.”

As someone whose musical beginnings are rooted in playing the trumpet in elementary school, the bass guitar in high school and as a member of multiple bands over the years, it comes as no surprise that Hartley evolved into a multi-instrumentalist.

“By virtue of being musical and being around it, you pick things up.” His true musical awakening, however, happened in sunny Philadelphia.

“I feel like I came of age in Philly,” he said. “When you’re living in the suburbs and at college, you think you know what it’s like to be musical, but really, you’re just trying to get laid by playing music onstage. Then you meet people who are really doing something profound and it crushes what you thought you knew. I met a ton of really creative people who were dedicated to trying to do something that was pure.”

Since then, Nightlands has taken off, producing Forget the Mantra, his debut record, and Oak Island, which was released in late January. For those curious about the contents of the dream tapes, some of the tracks on the first record have samples lifted straight from them: “Fly, Neanderthal” starts off with a direct pull from one of the twilight recordings.

Oak Island sees less of such transposition, as Hartley shifted his attention towards other details.

“It was more about the recording process and writing songs in a more conventional way,” he said. “Not super conventional – I don’t sit down and write them on a guitar or anything, I just record and build these sound structures. I didn’t use any of the dream stuff, although I think the music is dreamy in its own way.”

Indeed, the sound that Nightlands possesses dances a line of haunting and comforting, undeniably dream-like and celestial. To Hartley, however, this does not dictate the omission of elements of weight and groundedness.

“I use a lot of major seventh chords,” he said. “You can describe those chords as being comforting, but not completely comforting – it’s kind of twisted. I tend to gravitate towards those sounds, and I don’t exactly know how to get them, but I’ll just mess around until I do.”

Similar concepts can be found on some of Hartley’s favourite albums, such as The Beach Boys’ Friends.

“The kind of music I like is the kind of music that rewards extended attention,” he said. “I know that if I overdub less vocals and mixed a single vocal much more forward, [my music] would be easier to listen to, and you could listen to it without having to lean in as much.”

But that’s not the Nightlands way. “Maybe someday, I’ll want to make a record that smacks [listeners] right in the face, but for now I’m more interested in the geeks and the nerds like me.”


Nightlands plays Il Motore with Efterklang on Friday, Mar. 22 at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $15.






Birds of a feather flock together with Thus:Owls

Thus:Owls plays the Phi Center for Montréal en Lumière on Friday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. (Photo Tim Georgeson)

Thus:Owls is romance and passion, from its humble sonic roots in the sublime west coast of Sweden to the love story that started it all.

“When we first met, it was because of music,” said musician Simon Angell, referring to his wife and bandmate Erika Angell. “We were touring together. My first instinct was that I wanted to play music with this person. The first time I saw her open her mouth, she was singing.”

After swapping iPods and discovering that their musical interests overlapped and coincided in many ways, the realization that the two “had the same idea of how [they] want to hear music and play it as well,” Simon made his way into the band.

Before the days of his involvement, Thus:Owls was an unnamed jam collective comprised of four Swedish friends, including Erika, that played low-key gigs around Stockholm. Approximately one year ago, the four swedes and Simon, who lived with them in Europe for a number of years, relocated to Montreal.

“It makes it tough especially as a new, upcoming band – we don’t have the funds to fly back and forth over the Atlantic all the time,” said Simon. “We put a collective of musicians together here, so we have a few guys from [Montreal] and a few people from Stockholm. It’s kind of a mixed bag.”

With such active blending of Canadian and Swedish culture, Thus:Owls is able to achieve a deeply ethereal and full-bodied sound that is characteristic of the Swedish way.

“That’s kind of the fun part,” said Simon. “You get to learn […] and get inspired by something you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. In Sweden, they take their time, there’s lots of space in their music – a lot more than we have here.” The Western half of the equation contributes a chaotic edge.

Aside from bands that they admire, a major factor that shapes Thus:Owls’ sound is Erika’s home turf, that being the Swedish west coast. A scape riddled with jagged rocks and raw, organic scenery, it is “beautiful and rough,” according to Simon. “The combination of the beauty and the harshness of it comes out a lot in what we do.”

As if the the band’s nordic birthplace wasn’t grandiose enough, their most recent album, Harbours, was recorded in a secluded Parisian manor-turned-studio.

“It feels very castle-y. It’s this old house, hundreds of years old,” said Simon. “It’s not set up like a slick, clean studio: there are patches in all the rooms. You can set up in the bathroom, in the living room – It’s like recording at home, with these giant high ceilings.”

Inevitably, the venue shaped the sound of the record in a major way. Instead of playing the same guitar on each track, Simon made use of the wide range of equipment provided by the studio, swapping out instruments as he went along. “The vibe of the place, along with the gear you have, along with the people you’re with, will help sculpt the sound of the record and what you’re doing,” he said.

Listeners can expect to hear some improv on the new record, ringing true to the musicians’ backgrounds, in their effort to take their sound further into “freer form music.” Now that Thus:Owls have released two records, they are very aware of what they want to produce. “Our last record was nine tunes that were more on their own,” said Simon. “We’re trying to think a little more homogeneously.”

As for the quirky band name: “There’s something about the mystique of an owl itself,” he said. “I think it reflects well on the music. The music we make is not sunny beach-time kind of music. It’s got a darkness to it, without being overly heavy. I find the owl reflects that mood – and there’s nothing boring than another ‘the’ band!”

Thus:Owls plays the Phi Center for Montréal en Lumière on Friday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.


Montreal-bred Gulfer sheds light on math rock

The tags on Gulfer’s Bandcamp page go like this: punk emo math math emo math pop math rock Montréal.

David Mitchell, Vincent Ford, and Simon Maillé formed the band back in 2011. “We all come from a love for math rock,” explained bass player Mitchell. Math rock is a style of music that features odd time signatures and irregular stopping and starting throughout a song.

Gulfer will be launching their album on Friday, Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. at Casa del Popolo. Tickets are $8. (Photo from Facebook)

Ford, who is the lead singer and guitar player, uses the tapping method of playing guitar, where he ‘taps’ the fret board with his fingers instead of using a pick. The result is a cool staccato sound that you can hear in their new song “Ten Souls”, which sounds like a bunch of wild bubbles jumping around in a mosh-pit.

“We all listened to the same kind of music that not many people care about here in Montreal,” said Mitchell, referring to some of the major influences on Gulfer’s sound. These are bands like Maps & Atlases, Pennines, and Football Etc.

The band also describes themselves as following the ‘emo’ style of music: “Not like […] 13-year-old girl bands,” Mitchell clarified. Emo bands from the ‘90s, like American Football, are some of Gulfer’s other influences.

The band’s rituals before a performance include warming up, and “trying to get [Ford] to not use-up all our drink tickets,” Mitchell said.

For Gulfer, finding a band name was frustrating. “One night, we were a month away from playing our first show […] and saying the stupidest band names we could come up with,” said Mitchell. He suggested “Golfer,” and, evidently, this turned into Gulfer with a simple change of a letter. Mitchell explained that the name is really working for them, significantly because it’s a Google-friendly name where you won’t get 20 pages of non-band related search results. As an added bonus, the word Gulfer is also a popular girl’s name in Turkey.
When it comes to Mitchell’s definition of success, he mentions the upcoming tour during which they’ll be hitting a lot of the U.S. Midwest in July and August. “As long as we come home alive, and not completely broke, that would be a success.” Mitchell’s hopes for the band’s future include “having as many people possible listen to us, and playing as many places that we can.”

The musician was drawn to the bass because he believes it’s easier to play than the guitar. He “[doesn’t] have the finger dexterity […] for smaller strings and faster playing” that guitar requires. He highlights how he “hates simple music” and jams on his American-made Fender Precision bass to time signatures other than 4/4 that you can hear on their new album.

Transcendals is to be released on Feb. 23. They recorded the album “with someone who’s worked with actual bands,” unlike their first 2012 album Split with Fago.Sepia, which was recorded with “[their] friend who had never really recorded before.” The band is ready to get their new stuff out there and “show the world.”
They will be sending some copies of their album to Japan. The bass player explains how Japan has “a culture that’s still interested in purchasing music.” There aren’t very many smaller bands passing through the area, like in North America, so people take advantage of new music that is introduced.

Replacing the “o” with a “u” was a good move for Gulfer, and they’re going to continue spreading their math/emo sound to ears all around North America (and possibly Japan in the future).

Gulfer will be launching their album on Friday, Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. at Casa del Popolo. Tickets are $8.


Chillwave maven Toro Y Moi is one to roll with the punches

For Chaz Bundick, known by his stage name Toro Y Moi, “being creative is the best solution for an unfulfilled life.”

Like most musicians nowadays, Bundick had an early start on the music scene; he began playing piano at the tender age of eight and composing his own music when he was 15. Bundwick also played in an indie rock band in his high school years.

“I was writing stuff that sounded like Weezer and the Pixies,” said Bundick.

Toro Y Moi – Anything in Return. Toro Y Moi plays Club Soda Saturday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. with Dog Bite and Wild Belle.

Obviously, his older material is a sound that differs very largely from the chillwave movement that Toro Y Moi is now associated with.

Chillwave, which is a musical genre characterized by an ambient, electro-pop and post-punk-revival feel, has been gaining much appeal and attention lately with acts like Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian firing up music blogs. However, Bundick refuses to confine his music to one specific label.

“I don’t like defining my sound,” he said, “but the easiest way to characterize my music is pop.”

Bundick’s debut album Causers of This, released in 2010 on Carpark Records, received overall positive and promising feedback from major music reviewers. It was described by NME as “a woozy kaleidoscopic voyage, sending you in and out of consciousness with each splendidly shoddy lo-fi recording.”

His sophomore album, Underneath the Pine, which was released in 2011, saw similar praise. According to Pitchfork, the album “[imbues] pastoral, acoustic plucks and synth drones with rhythmic purpose, and making retro chic somehow still sound futuristic.”

Currently on tour in Europe, Bundick’s third and latest album, Anything in Return, was released in January. Bundick admits there isn’t much difference between his latest record and his two others, except for the fact that Anything in Return was the first album to be recorded in a studio.

Though his songs are original and fairly intricate, Bundick says he doesn’t have a set writing process.

“My writing process is completely random,” he explained. “I like working from home the most. The easiest and best thing to write about is your life at that very moment.”

When asked what the fan reaction has been on tour so far, Bundick was hesitant to find the right words.

“Playing new stuff live is bittersweet,” he said. “It’s nice to play something new on stage but then again it’s stuff people don’t know and they aren’t familiar with […] so that can end in several ways.”

Despite his success in the musical world, Bundick said that his music career “just happened,” as if out of thin air. Bundick graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, but fell into music.

“This is a dream job,” he said. “I was aware that this path may very well not happen.” But, thankfully, it did.

Trial Track: “So Many Details”


Toro Y Moi plays Club Soda Saturday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. with Dog Bite and Wild Belle.


New Music Canada: Aidan Knight

Aidan Knight plays Le Petit Campus on Feb. 8 (Press)

The Youtube trailer for Aidan Knight’s Small Reveal previews the album in a way far superior to sound alone.

Meet Thea.

A beekeeper by passion and waitress by practicality, Thea spends most of her time hustling tables downtown in support of a social life and the bees she keeps and farms for honey. At the end of the day she is faced with disappointment; one of her bees has died.

Is it all really worth it? How could she hurt what she loved most?

“When you are working on yourself … something has to suffer,” explained Knight, revealing that, as a touring musician, he deeply regrets the time it takes from family just as Thea laments time away from her bees. “There’s a certain sense of selfishness in making music … it pushes away healthy relationships.”

This feeling is one of many that Knight and his band of Friendly Friends try to communicate in Small Reveal. It is the confessional of the musician on the road, not just Knight specifically.

“Sometimes I’ll stop writing a line if I see that I’ve written the word ‘I’. I feel selfish being a songwriter,” said Knight. “Maybe that’s what this album is about.”

But you don’t need to have a musician-sized ego to relate. In “A Mirror,” the album’s first single and track that comes closest to indie pop, Knight’s everyman lyrics reach out to anyone with a crush. “The effortless cool way/You carry your bags/I am stocking the shelves/Hoping you’ll see me in the back.”

Though it spools out like one cohesive thought, this is not a solo record.

Small Reveal is the product of five talented artists; Knight’s soft, folky tenor and acoustics weave through back up vocals, harpsichord, piano, flute, cello, drums, horns and electric guitar compliments of multi-instrumentalists Colin Nealis, David Barry, Olivier Clements and Julia Wackal — Knight’s girlfriend.

Each track is a piece of art, and the effort to evoke human emotion through orchestral composition and movement is clear.

The quintet has played together since Knight’s 2009 studio debut, Versicolor.

“We spent about a year recording it on and off over several sessions, in several spaces, different studios and made it hard on ourselves and hauled a bunch of mobile recording gear into weird spaces,” said Knight. “There is no way this album could have been made in any other way, with any other people.”

Aptly titled, Small Reveal’s opening track is “Dream Team.”

Love for community, friends and family lie at the root of all that Knight does professionally, which is why his distraction from them is what he feels the most guilty about. He was born in a “nest” of acceptance; his family encouraged him to do whatever he dreamed and may even be his inspiration. Knight’s mother was a touring musician and hosted jam sessions on their driveway every summer; 26 years later and he’s still hanging around the corner.

“I really feel strongly that being influenced by, or having art and creativity in your life makes a confusing journey seem worth it,” said Knight.

For Knight music may, at times, lead him astray from what matters most, but it’s what brings him home in the end.

Trial track: “A Mirror”

Aidan Knight plays Le Petit Campus on Feb. 8


Yellowcard gets reacquainted with planes, trains, and automobiles

After seeing how Montrealers welcomed the Florida-native band at the Vans Warped Tour this summer, the announcement of Yellowcard’s show at the Metropolis on Jan. 16 is sure to please local fans.

Yellowcard plays Metropolis with All Time Low on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $31.70. Press photo

After a few years without touring on Canadian ground, the pop-punk band is beginning 2013 with a full Canadian tour, stopping by Montreal first.

The group of high school friends that is now Yellowcard met some 13 years ago while attending arts school. After giving collective songwriting and music-making a shot, they had no idea that they would one day make a living out of it. They released a few EPs here and there, but when they released their first major record, Ocean Avenue, in 2003, they were finally propelled into the spotlight.

“It’s a dream come true to be a musician and get to travel the world and hang out with people, listeners and bands that enjoy what we have created,” said Sean Mackin, the band’s violinist and backup vocalist.

Known for their unique sound characterized by the incorporation of the violin into their rock songs, mixed with lyrics that reach out to a very wide audience, Yellowcard has accumulated loyal fans since day one. With five studio albums released since 2003 — Ocean Avenue, Lights and Sounds, Paper Walls, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes and their latest, Southern Air, which came out last August — the band has a lot to be proud of.

“Whether it’s Ocean Avenue or Southern Air, we have a very positive charge in our music, we’re very hopeful, we’re all pretty motivated people and Ryan [Key] does a great job at sharing that in our music,” explained Mackin. “That’s very important for us. There’s a lot of challenge in everyone’s life, whether it be illness or just everyday things. Music to us is a celebration, and we hope that it’s a positive experience for people to listen to Yellowcard songs.”

Even after all these years, Mackin, lead vocalist and guitarist Key, drummer Longineu Parsons III, bassist Josh Portman and guitarist Ryan Mendez still love touring as much as they used to. But in between the releases of Paper Walls and When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, the band decided to step back for a while after being on tour non-stop for about eight years. They took a two-year break from touring and recording to re-evaluate their lives and spend time with family and friends.

But they soon got back on the train, aware that they were doing what they loved and had been missing it more than they would have thought. Ready to live the dream some more, they signed with a new label, Hopeless Records, and put out When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes in 2011, followed by a tour that brought them to more than 30 countries around the world. The fan response to this album was widely positive, and fueled the energy that the guys put into their current release, Southern Air.

Yellowcard has a lot going on for 2013, with their North American tour just beginning, followed by a European tour that will bring them to countries they have never visited before. With two albums released in only two years, the band will focus on touring and is not planning on recording; but worry not, they never stop writing new material.

After having been on tour together for what seems like forever, Yellowcard has yet to disappoint fans with each new release, and the band is still going strong.

“The great thing about Yellowcard is that our music and what we create together means more and is bigger than any of us individually,” said Mackin. “We understand the kind of presence that our songs have, and it’s hard to imagine having a greater opportunity than playing with Yellowcard.”


Yellowcard plays Metropolis with All Time Low on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $31.70.

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