Winnipeg indie rockers Royal Canoe steer into new terrain on their latest album Waver, out January 25 on Paper Bag Records. According to the band’s frontman Matt Peters, the goal was to create leaner arrangements and clearer melodies aimed at making a more direct connection to the listener. The overall result is the sun-flared Polaroid life of previous albums being exchanged for a more ominous landscape within songs that play with the absurdity of modern life.
Constant reinvention has been the driving force behind Royal Canoe since it formed in 2010 out of the remnants of several other Winnipeg bands, including The Waking Eyes. Since then, Royal Canoe has toured the world with Alt-J and Bombay Bicycle Club and played major festivals such as Bonnaroo, Iceland Airwaves, and Osheaga.
Also, the group has received a Juno nomination for Alternative Album of the Year and many other accolades, while undertaking unique one-off projects with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and helping to create a musical version of Shakespeare’s Richard II.
Matt Peters took some time to talk about the new album as the band gears up for a North American tour in support of Waver starting March 3. For more info go to royalcanoe.com.
What makes Waver different from your past work?
We were much less precious and careful when we made this album. The most important part was not giving ourselves infinite time to tinker. In the past we would fret over the tiniest details—and, who am I kidding, we still do—and sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. But on Waver, we intentionally left more space for the songs to breathe. Also, we tried to record as much of it live off the floor as possible. This hopefully gives the songs more of a natural feel.
What song on the record are you most proud of and why?
Probably “Ashes, Ashes.” It has an odd time signature in the verse and then it flips to 4/4 in the chorus. Figuring out how to make that transition relatively seamless took some time and trial and error. There’s no a playbook or model for those sorts of decisions. We were definitely in some uncharted territory—at least for us—with that one. Also, the super talented Nnamdi Ogbonnaya laid down a verse on it. He somehow managed to distill the essence of the song into this insane multi-tracked vocal extravaganza that took the song into places I would never have imagined. We were pretty honoured that he put so much into it.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
Way back in the day I was playing with my first serious band and we were gearing up for our album release show, which was also our very first show. We had spent the previous year working on our album, and we hadn’t given a lot of thought to how we would pull it off live. The songs didn’t really lend themselves to live performance and we were still super green. We didn’t practice nearly enough because I think we thought we were better than we were. Anyway, we totally bombed the show. I remember our label guy who was there described it as a “loveable train wreck.” So at least we were endearing, I guess?
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
As I was growing up I never really saw myself as a performer, but over the last 10 years people seem as excited about our live show as they do our albums. That has really allowed me to embrace the more improvisational and live performance-based side of how I want to present myself as an artist. When I was younger, I thought I would record all day and night and only play shows when I absolutely needed to. Now, getting in front of an audience is as important to me as recording and writing, and I never want to take it for granted.
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
A lot of artists find themselves working on their music and the release plan in stages. Sometimes it’s because of money and other times it’s just the “way that it’s done.” First, you write and demo; then you wait a few months and record, then there’s a break before mixing and mastering, then six months to a year—or sometimes more—to actually release the music.
I would love to get back to the ‘60s model where music is written, produced and released all with a super quick turnaround. In the world of hip-hop there seem to be fewer delays between the creation and release. I hope this spreads through the whole industry. We have some plans for the coming year that will take that idea to the extreme.