By Julijana Capone
WINNIPEG — Culling from layers of soulful R&B grooves, rhythmic alt-pop, hip hop, and leftfield indie-rock wonkiness, oddball Winnipeg six-piece Royal Canoe are a band that doesn’t take a wrong turn without knowing how to get out of it.
“I’d say our music is just a giant list of what not to do,” says member Matt Schellenberg, joking about their intricate sound.
“On these last two records we’ve been working hard to try to take something that is innately strange and uncomfortable, but make it catchy,” says lead vocalist Matt Peters.
When I speak with Schellenberg and Peters in late August at a pizza joint below their practice space, they’re planning to leave the following day for a few music festivals in B.C, and readying for a lengthy tour of North America in support of their highly anticipated second full-length, Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit, which is set for release on September 16th via Nevado Music.
“Second records often suck,” says Schellenberg, with a laugh. “A second record is telling the world whether you’re gonna be like a Radiohead or a Weezer.”
“It’s not pressure so much as we had internal expectations for this record to take the next step and try to refine the sound a bit,” Peters explains.
And so they enlisted Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, Deerhunter) for co-production and mixing to augment their alternate universe. “He was really great for making sure that we were aware of the big picture, and tapping us on the shoulder, figuratively, every once in a while and saying, ‘Listen guys, what story are you telling?’” says Peters. “He really challenged us to try to make better decisions in that regard.”
With the experimentation refined, the magic of Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit lies in the band’s ability to make infectious tunes without compromising their desire to boldly tinker (hear: tripped-out soul jam “Living A Lie,” creative mind-bender “I Am Collapsing So Slowly” and the chattering funk of “Summersault”). Odd time signatures layered upon DIY samples, Royal Canoe concoct songs that can be adventurous, sonically complex and still make your heart swoon and your feet move in the end.
“That’s kind of been our M.O.,” says Peters. “Just to find the metaphoric harmonics that exist in music, and out of that there’s something new that maybe you had no idea would even be there.”
Manitoba sound artist Andy Rudolph also worked with the band to manipulate a synthesizer to incorporate beluga whale sounds—featured prominently on the track “BB Gun”—and convert outdoor lights from an Earls restaurant into a giant sampler for their live shows.
“It’s like a little brain is inside these lights,” says Peters. “When you hit it, it triggers a sound but also a light that flashes… It’s really exciting that we can push [our live show] to the next level, push it visually.”
Aside from the experimental leaps made by the band, the crux of the album—and the inspiration behind the record’s title—is drawn from the constant state of flux that comes with tour life and the challenge to maintain relationships.
Performing over 200 shows in the years following the release of their brilliant 2013 debut, Today We’re Believers, the band has since gallivanted around the globe with stints at mega-festivals, from Osheaga to Bonnaroo, and tours with Bombay Bicycle Club and Alt-J. Along with its rewards, that perpetual cycle of leaving and returning has come with personal costs.
“This is the theme of the whole record lyrically,” says Peters. “When you’re living in limbo or a transient life, which is just a necessary aspect of being in a touring band, you can really try and keep ahold of everyone with your phone, but it’s so difficult…Year after year you start to see those relationships and friendships decline… Then you get back and try and to get it going again, and then you’re leaving tomorrow suddenly.”
“With the technology that we’re afforded now, you get this hazy television signal, which is too good to stop watching, but not good enough to see anything,” says Schellenberg. “That’s my metaphor for text messaging and Skype when you’re trying to share experiences with people… It’s just this hazy television signal—you weren’t there, you don’t know the nuance of what happened.”
As the interview comes to an end, Peters looks down at his T-shirt and says, “I mean, I’m wearing a shirt that says ‘Vodka’ on it. I have to do laundry. We leave tomorrow.”
“We leave tomorrow?” Schellenberg asks, sounding surprised.
And so goes the rotation.
Royal Canoe perform at the Burton Cummings Theatre on September 15 (Winnipeg), Love & Records Festival on September 17 (Lethbridge), the Imperial on September 30 (Vancouver), Lucky Bar on October 1 (Victoria), Marquee Beer Market on October 5 (Calgary), Bo’s Bar & Grill on October 6 (Red Deer), UP+DT Festival on October 7 (Edmonton), and Capitol Music Club on October 8 (Saskatoon). To purchase the new record, head to royalcanoe.com.AB, Alberta, BC, Bo's Bar, British Columbia, Burton Cummings Theatre, Capitol Music Club, Imperial, Love & Records Festival, Lucky Bar, Manitoba, Marquee Beer Market & Stage, MB, Royal Canoe, Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit, Up+Downtown Festival