10 Questions with…Royal Canoe
To help celebrate Royal Canoe‘s new record Today We’re Believers, out September 3rd on Roll Call Records and Nevado Records, lead singer Matt Peters stopped by A.T.W.N. to answer a few questions on writing, Winnipeg, inspiration, and Beck.
We’ve read so much about how the extreme weather of Winnipeg has influenced the band. Are there lyrics you feel best describes this, or is it just a general feeling throughout your music?
It is a fairly constant theme that is present throughout the record, but the first song, Today We’re Believers, is specifically about the drastic jump from winter into spring/summer in Winnipeg. By the beginning of March you can barely remember what grass looks like, or why anyone bothered to invent the t-shirt, but then April and May come along and everything is suddenly blooming and bursting with life and people get pretty excited and anxious. It’s hard not to get caught up in it. There’s a part of me that is jealous of those who live in a moderate climate, but I wonder if there’s something to be said for flux and variance. It keeps things interesting and allows you to distinguish the passing of time… Or at least justify your misery?
With what appears to be, such a large range of musical influences, which band/artist has had the biggest effect on your songwriting?
That’s a tough question to answer… if I had to name one band over my entire songwriting life it would be hard for me not to list The Beatles. Learning how to play every one of their songs was such an enormous influence on my understanding of the craft of songwriting. If I had to name one influence specifically for this record and for Royal Canoe then maybe Outkast. We take a number of cues from their book of tricks: Stacked octave vocals in the chorus’, big heavy grooves that aren’t afraid to be obtuse, vocal effects. The Beatles are obviously quite different from Outkast, but stylistically maybe we exist somewhere in between..
What are some of the lyrical influences that show up throughout Today We’re Believers?
A lot of our lyric writing is driven by conversation, so I guess in a way we inspire each other. Awwwww…. But really the whole process, even the writing of the words is quite communal. It’s usually Matt and myself, sometimes with Bucky or one of the other guys, sorting through a shared experience – almost like a group therapy session. That’s not to say there aren’t big chunks of individual writing on the record, but even then things often get hashed out and massaged in small groups.
With a large range of styles beautifully woven within your debut album, what role did the lyrics take in piecing it all together?
We spend as much or more time writing the words as we do any other aspect of our songwriting. We often start with a melody first and then allow the vowel sounds that are created in that process to inform the lyric writing. Then new words and stanzas and verses are spawned from those initial ideas and we’ll need to write melodies and rhythms around those parts. It’s kind of a ping-pong match between melody and words. And this is often quite early in the whole process of the songwriting, where there might be very little harmonic context, which we’ll then add or alter in response to the vocal part. And all of this is only made possible because we do most of our writing on the computer: Looping sections, creating layers, chopping up samples, muting parts, reversing sections, deleting horrible ideas.. It can be quite time-intensive and is far removed from the whole “here are some chords and some words, let’s jam” approach to arrangement and songwriting, but what emerges in the end is still a song with some chords and some words, it’s just a different way of getting there that allows us to explore options we wouldn’t be aware of with the more traditional approach.
Once we figured out how we were going to approach our interpretations of the songs things went pretty smoothly. We tried our best to infuse as much of our aesthetic into the arrangements as we could even if it meant tweaking a bridge, changing some chords or cutting a section. This all seemed to be in the spirit of Beck’s intention. Also, we tried not to listened to the other versions people were uploading. At first we were hoping to tackle the whole collection of songs (there were 20 written), but it became apparent that we didn’t have nearly enough time so we stuck with our 9 favorite songs. We later performed them all as part of a concert.. Here’s a link where you can watch some live videos from the concert and hear a few recordings that we did in our practice space.
Does what you read have an impact on your songwriting?
It certainly can. Last year I read through Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself from Wind in the Willows with a very good friend of mine. There’s this joyous spirit and lust for existence that was so infectious to me while we read it.. I hope it worked it’s way into some of our songs.
Watch the movie first, or read the book first?
Book mostly.. Although if it’s a story you’re really not that interested in, watching the movie allows you to get it over with more quickly.
Cassette or CD?
CD, but only because I dont have a cassette player at the moment. I wish I still had a cassette player. That was the only way my friends and I would listen to music back in the day. We’d let the car idle down these ruler-straight gravel roads where I grew up for hours and hours and sing ourselves hoarse. But now that everything has gone digital, it seems people mostly listen to vinyl (superior to both tape and cd) or digital.. Kinda strange how these things come and go over the years. I hope the CD dies soon. It’s a horrible medium. I’m already bemoaning the impending nostalgic boom for CDs in 20 years.
What are the reading habits for the band like on the road?
I’ve always found that It’s pretty tough to find time to read on the road. There are 7 of us (including our sound engineer) in our van so there’s always a lot of conversation or music playing, which are equally distracting while we’re driving. Then we get to the venue and we’re often in pretty tight quarters until the end of the night. It’s something I’m quite conscious of and really want to make an effort to improve.
Is there an author/musician you would love to have on tour with you?
We always thought it would be hilarious/incredible if somehow we could have Bill Murray tending a bar on stage during our show – serving us drinks, bantering to the crowd, upstaging us constantly. I guess he’s
more of an actor than author, but he’a certainly an artist.
How does the band choose the music that is played before you hit the stage?
We don’t often listen to music before we hit the stage.. Not because we don’t want to, but because there’s rarely a good opportunity. The few times we have, I remember the Pink Floyd song Dogs coming up on multiple occasions.
I’m currently reading Michael Ondaatje’s, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. It’s a beautiful yet violent book of poems – quite stunning actually. I’ve been recommended Ondaatje books many times in the past, but I’ve never actually got around to reading any of them until now. I’m quickly becoming aware of what all of the fuss is about.. So here I am paying it forward.
Royal Canoe’s fantastic new record Today We’re Believers, is out September 3rd on Roll Call Records and Nevado Records, and can be pre-ordered at their official store here, or on iTunes. If you want to get in touch with the band, you can follow them on Twitter, or Facebook. If you can’t wait until September 3rd, Exclaim.CA has an exclusive stream of the album up on their website and you can listen to it here.