Yeah, it’s February, but it took a while to compile this list.
There was a specific criteria, complex formulas and intense discussions around many a barroom (or maybe I put a bunch of CDs on the floor to see which ones my dog would run off with).
Either way, one weird coincidence that wasn’t criteria was that all of these bands (with the unknown exception of the mystery band) started out as solo projects.
The Indie Buzz Kids
Winnipeg indie quartet Animal Teeth has been a band for exactly one year, and even though not all the members in the group have reached the age of 20, they’ve been in more successful bands than you and your friends combined, including Spirit Children, FMSea, Boats and Narwhal Strike.
“We’ve all worked hard in our other bands and made lots of connections,” guitarist Hudson Fedun says over beers at the Toad. “We made a pact to play as many shows as possible for the first five months and our first show was two days before our second show, which was opening for Zeus and The Darcys.”
The big gigs kept on coming, playing the Big Fun and Rainbow Trout music festivals and opening for Royal Canoe.
So yeah, you’ve seen Animal Teeth on a lot of posters this year.
Forming the band around songs that singer/guitarist Stefan Hodges wrote as Spirit Children was coming to a close, the band eventually became a collaborative effort.
“I’m trying to lose control,” Hodges says. “I’m in a band with some of the best songwriters in the city, I want them to take control. Most of the songs I wrote were written in three months, it was a really specific mindset. I need to write a song that the band is gonna like.”
“You need to be in a good place to write Animal Teeth songs,” Fedun adds.
The songs, five or six of which will wind up on the band’s yet-to-be-recorded debut EP, are quite melancholy, yet hopeful and poppy.
“I think it’s kind of making fun of being sad,” drummer Ian Ellis says.
“It’s the only way to try to escape (the sadness),” Fedun adds with a laugh.
Eagle Lake Owls
The Rural Manitoba Advantage
In June 2010, Andy Cole started gigging as Eagle Lake Owls, playing honest, bare bones acoustic songs to receptive audiences.
Always having the intention of doing it as a band, he eventually hooked up with multi-instrumentalist Dominique Lemoine and cellist Nathan Krahn.
“I’ll come with an idea of something and if everyone’s into it, we’ll take the skeleton of the song and rearrange parts,” Cole says.
“What I like about it is that it’s a lot easier than writing your own songs,” Lemoine adds with a laugh. “I can tell right away where it can go. I think Andy and I have similar ideas of what we want the music to sound like. The more we do it the more it comes naturally.”
“At this point we’ve mapped out the sound of what we sound like as a full band,” Cole says.
Last fall it felt natural enough to lay down five tracks for a self-titled debut EP due in May (disregarding Cole’s solo output as Eagle Lake Owls).
Recorded with Jeff Patteson at Home Street Recording, the process was a breeze, but had to happen quickly.
“It was drama free,” Cole says. “I knew people who’d recorded with Jeff and they’d had good experiences. Our cello player was supposed to leave and go to England and we were going to ease into it, then suddenly we’ve got until the first week in October.”
The strength of a group is something that Cole always wanted, and wouldn’t change now.
“I’m getting better at feeling more confident in my ideas,” he says. “When you’ve got no one to bounce it off of except the crowd once they hear it, you can usually tell pretty quick if it works or not.”
The Meditative Mennonites
After releasing a lush yet subtle quasi-folk solo album with friends as From Giants in 2010, Jaymie Friesen (vocals/organ/piano and no relation to this writer) found herself with a new roommate and a new band.
“I moved in with this girl named Gabby (Neufeld, harmonies/percussion) who turned out to be an awesome singer and I asked her if she wanted to jam with me in the living room,” Friesen says.
After meeting Nathan Krahn (cello) and Charlie Enns (banjo) through friends a few months later, From Giants has been this way since 2011.
“I have so much trust with them,” she says. “I feel a lot of relief in playing with the three of them. It’s a bunch of responsibility on one person to come up with everything and every part. I can never have come up with some of the stuff that they do.”
Recorded in two sessions last year with Michael P. Falk (Les Jupes) at the studios on campus at Canadian Mennonite University, the band’s forthcoming six-song EP is set for a May release.
“(Recording) made us be conscious of the whole song as a piece,” Friesen says. “We’ve become a lot tighter as a band, personally and musically.”
Though the band members are responsible for their own parts, Friesen still writes the lyrics.
“Most of my lyrics come out of a place of pain,” she says with a laugh. “Either someone else’s pain that I’ve witnessed or my own and in those kind of moments the song will come out of me. Those moments don’t come very often.”
Ricardo Lopez-Aguilar is finally set to follow up 2007’s electro-indie pop masterpiece We Are the Feeding Line with what has been dubbed by former drummer Shaun Gibson as “the most insightful, self-aware, and honest divorce album I have ever come across.”
Black and Blue, out May 7 through local imprint Head in the Sand, has been a labour of love for the multi-instrumentalist/recording engineer.
“It feels like I’ve accomplished something huge,” he says. “This album has been in my heart for three years, and now it’s time to share it. When I got the masters back, I was laying in bed, covered in tears of joy hugging a pillow. It elicits an emotional response in me, and I hope that translates to other peoples’ experiences.”
Having written a much bigger, more fleshed-out record this time around, its live version necessitates a much larger band than Feeding Line’s duo of Gibson and Lopez-Aguilar.
“Assembling a band has always been a source of stress for me,” he says. “Luckily, I have amazing friends in the community who have been able to help out or recommend someone to replace them if they can’t play.”
With plans to tour throughout 2013, this version of OH will include Jon Lemer on drums, Brennan Wall on guitar and Adam Hugo Nikkel on bass.
“As I personally evolve, the project will be reborn,” Lopez-Aguilar says. “I’ve come to enjoy and embrace change in my life and I find that it really helps my art when I just go along with it.”
The Famous Sandhogs
The Underground Band
This last band is a total mystery to us.
On Jan. 4 this writer was working the merch table at a show at the Windsor. As the place was clearing out, someone came back in, dropped a CD-R on the table and ran off.
We picked it up, shrugged and tossed it in the box with the rest of the discs.
At first we thought the writing, scrawled on the back of the case in Sharpie was gibberish, but as we get deeper into the disc’s 32 tracks, it’s revealed that these are actually the song titles.
The mostly acoustic and expertly lo-fi tunes that make up Vol. 2 feature haunting vocals, brilliant lyrics (Thank Fuck and that one about Samuel L. Jackson are standouts), delicious layers are each completely diverse.
Think early Brian Jonestown Massacre without the retro rip-off and you’ve got one of the best discs of the year.
Though they’re amateur recordings, the harmonies and guitars sound incredibly rehearsed, giving the disc a charm that so many industry-focused musicians forget about - that it’s about the song, not who records it, how much money you’ve spent on it or how many likes you’ve got on Facebook.
If you can’t sing along, nobody’s going to give a darn.
Winnipeg needs surprises like these. I just wish the band had written its contact info on the disc…
Published in Volume 67, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 7, 2013)