By Sarah Bauer
In the icy depths of a windblown Halifax winter, Mauno vocalist/guitarist Nick Everett wrote a song called “Summertime.” It’s a pop track with gentle boy-girl harmonies, strumming guitar and the lulling rhythm of an afternoon on the beach.
That Everett penned the wavy tune off-season is “sort of a little inside joke,” says bassist, keys and vocalist Eliza Niemi, who caught up with BeatRoute as they begin their summer tour supporting Really Well, the third full-length output in four years for the Nova Scotian quartet.
For Mauno, it’s never just a pop song about the beach. Inside jokes abound, from their playful and complex re-workings of the typical indie-pop structure, to the very name of the band. Mauno (pronounced mao-no), refers to Niemi’s grandfather, a markedly non-musical man.
Unlike Grandpa, Niemi and her bandmates Everett, drummer Adam White and guitarist Scott Boudreau have instrumental vigour in spades. Their compositions are keenly observed, yet somehow shrugged off as improvisational. Repetitions and teensy variations in lyrics under chord progressions (or vice versa) at once coddle and confound, where the meaning evolves and diverts with every play of the tune. Mauno makes hand-clapping and shouted, expletive-filled refrains sound well-positioned, not contrived. Baroque in the vein of Julia Holter or Department of Eagles, Mauno is for the reader, the musician, the engineer, the chef – for anybody held captive by the finer details.
Hidden meanings by way of ambitious orchestration is inherent to the collective ‘weirdo’ descriptor often assigned to Mauno. It’s a label which Niemi is happy to embrace, citing a shared, loopy sense of humour amongst her bandmates and an attraction to the obscure.
“I don’t know if this is strange but I’m a little bit flattered. It’s nice to be perceived as left of centre or not doing things completely standard,” she says.
“I think there’s something about Halifax that relates to a sense of dark comedy or that weirdo quality,” says Niemi. “It’s so isolated, and a lot of the creative stuff going on brews in a way that seems unique”.
Niemi and Everett (both brought up on the music scene in Halifax), trade off on vocals for Mauno, although they are equally magnetic on their own as when harmonizing. Niemi’s speaking voice is like that of her singing, velvety and relaxed as she recounts forgetting to bring her bass on tour, “which is truly amazing,” she says, wry and delightful, taking in the absurdity of her story. Niemi is two thirds Judee Sill, one third Marie Antoinette.
Everett sings about thinking he “fucked up a solo,” with the tonal purr an early-aughts indie rock darling, flexible and alert. He sets the tone throughout Really Well, going all-in Beach Boys for “Pouring Up” and settling back to let the celebratory, too-short guitar interlude on “Half It” take up all the helium in the balloon.
Was it calculation or kismet that brought these two together to form one of Canada’s most compelling indie bands? In the spirit of Mauno, let’s say it was a bit of both.
Mauno perform Friday, July 19 at the Copper Owl (Victoria), Sunday, July 21 at Red Gate (Vancouver), Wednesday, July 24 at the Rec Room (Edmonton) and Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 25-27 at the Calgary Folk Music FestivalCalgary Folk Fest, Copper Owl, Rec Room, Red Gate