By Willow Grier
CALGARY — Sled Island has a penchant for bringing low-key legends to a small but noteworthy festival. Mogwai, Earthless, and last year’s guest curators Godspeed You! Black Emperor blew the roofs off venues with beautifully woven, instrument-rich works of art. This year, one of the top instrumental acts is Chicago five-piece, Tortoise. With a career spanning longer than many attendees have been alive, they will surely have a few tricks hidden up their shell.
Tortoise began in the early ’90s with a unique style of dynamically layered textures and sonic ideas and infusing these with dub, funk, and jazz.
One of the secrets to the band’s success is the fact that all members are multi-instrumentalists. Founding member Doug McCombs says, “With so many songwriters there is always a different angle and voice driving the project forward. It could develop much further than with just one of us writing everything.”
While never stale, McCombs mentions that many of their best ideas are those slow to develop, and long to linger. “When I write songs I don’t do a lot of home recording. If I have an idea, I will keep it around for a long time. If I still remember it some time later, then usually that means it’s a good idea.” He then adds (not wholly un-ironically, given the band’s namesake), “Our process is generally quite slow. We often work on ideas for years before we end up using them in an album setting.”
Tortoise’s new album The Catastrophist (their first in seven years), expands upon concepts they created for the City of Chicago, as a celebration of their diverse music scene.
The band created “skeletal pieces” that could be fleshed out by large groups and soloists. McCombs elaborates that about half of the music on the album comes from this energy-rich experience, and the rest was them “figuring out how [they] could expand it in a very ‘Tortoise’ way.”
McCombs speaks of his excitement attending a smaller, more intimate festival, and also of sharing new material.
“A few years back, everyone in the front row was middle-aged guys, and since then, things have changed. Now the crowds are younger, there’s fresh interest again, which is really neat.” Since Tortoise is playing one of Sled Island’s largest all-ages shows, it will be great to see a full circle of appreciation.
Tortoise performs at Central United Church on June 24th as part of Sled Island Music and Arts Festival.AB, Alberta, Central United Church, Sled Island 2016, Tortoise