Hope and Passion are naturally engrained in this thing that we’re doing as a band.
They’re Canadian, they play danceable indie pop with a lot of synthies, a lot of beats and a lot of choiry arrangements – yet, somehow, they didn’t seem to fit the cliché. The guys of ROYAL CANOE were one of the most striking experiences at this year’s Immergut Festival. Although they didn’t do anything we haven’t heard before, they somehow did it with a lot of recognizable passion. Besides, they turned out to be a very lovely bunch of friends who not only packed up all of their equipment, drove it to a nearby-place and unloaded it again, just to play us little writers a memorable session in the woods, they also turned out to be quite reflective and talky about where they stand as a band. With their first full-length Today We’re Believers coming out in September, we should definitely hear some more of this Canadian six-piece in the next time. Read our conversation with them right here; among the diverse offer of topics: Gangsta Rap, how to really hate Winnipeg and the agony of musical education. Enjoy!
First of all: who did come up with that name, it’s sort of cliché-canadian, you know?
Matt Peters: It is very cliché canadian! The story is this: one of my friends worked as a waitress at a café that I went to and I sat there one day, trying to come up with a name – suddenly she just put her hands down onto a newspaper. Some member of the royal family was in town, that’s why they made a reference to the ROYAL CANOE-Club in London in the headline and she suggested that as a name. I think my reaction was: ‘Well, it’s not the worst thing I ever heard…’ (laughs). And yeah, it’s definitely not the greatest name but it isn’t the worst either, so it stuck for some reason. Names are empty vessels, you know? And you hope to be able to fill them with whatever you do. I think, because we are Canadians we don’t see it as typically Canadian but from an outsiders perspective, you’re right. It’s pretty beardy to have Royal Canoes in it…
For those who don’t know your band – would you mind introducing yourself a little?
Matt Schellenberg: I’m Matt, and I play in the band. This is also Matt (Peters) and this is Bucky (Driedger) on the guitar. Then there’s also Branden, Derek and Michael.
Matt P.: We have two drummers, two keyboarders, a guitar, four of us sing and there’s obviously a bass, the most important instrument.
Okay, now try to describe your sound without using the word weird!
Matt P.: Bizarre, right. Strange! Well, we talked about that earlier as well, about the difference between your own perception of what you do and others perception of what you do. I find it terribly difficult to put our sound into words and describe it but I think every band is like that, because every band thinks what they do is so…
Matt S.: …incredibly special. I suppose if you ask someone about ROYAL CANOE, they’ll say something like: ‘Yeah, they play pop music and there’s some synthesizers in it and it’s kind of dancy”.
Matt P.: Right. But for us, we draw a lot of rhythmic inspiration from hip hop, f.e.. The rhythmic aspect is very important to us, that’s why we got both electronic and acoustic drums, while the vocals, I guess, have a sort of indierock-sentiment to them. Yes, somewhere in the middle of all of that, in a “strange” way, you might find ROYAL CANOE (smiles). As I said, I’m just horrible in trying to describe what it is.
Your first record Today We Are Believers is going to be released this summer – would you like the people to rather dance or to think along with it?
Bucky: Maybe a bit of both. We try and live in the space between those two things. I think lyrically, we definitely put a lot of thought into the words. They mean a lot to us and represent f.e. the city that we live in, things that we experience there. But musically, especially when we play live, we definitely are encouraged when people are moving and having a good time. So, yeah, somewhere in the middle.
Matt P.: (laughs) There’s a lot of those answers.
That’s okay. My next question would have been if you guys will ever make a song with just the amount of instruments that a single van is able to carry, but I see that you actually got a single van there, so…
Matt P.: Yeah, obviously we do write those songs!
ROYAL CANOE: “That notion of ‘I hate Winnipeg’ is pretty spot-on”
Right, forget that one! You talked about where you come from and how it influences you – where you come from is Winnipeg, right? So, are you guys okay with John K Samson (THE WEAKERTHANS, author of the line: “I hate Winnipeg”)?
Matt P.: Absolutely! That song and the lyrics are a perfect way to express that love/hate-relationship everyone in the city feels. When you live there, it’s very difficult to always see the good side. At least from our perspective, there’s so many moments you just fucking hate the place and then there’s so many moments when you love it. Invariably the moments that you hate it are in the winter and the moments that you love it are in the summer. We also have that extreme variance of seasons and weather – we also have a lot of mosquitos! – it’s hard for that not to affect the music in some way. In short, that notion of “I hate Winnipeg” is pretty spot-on.
More general question – what kind of music are you into?
Matt P.: It’s pretty wide-ranging, if you have six people in a band. Some of the guys like to listen to music all the time, but me, and maybe Matt as well, not so much. I like music obviously, but I don’t want to hear it every single second – often we put some classical on to fill the void while driving around. And as I said, there’s a lot of Hip Hop because Michael and Brandon usually drive and they love that; and so do we! But I think I’ve been exposed to more Hip Hop in the last three years of ROYAL CANOE than in the previous 29 years of my life. It’s great, you always hear things you never heard before.
Okay, which kind of Hip Hop do you like?
Matt P.: Oh, any examples guys?
Matt S.: Today we listened to some DR.DRE, some WARREN G.
Matt P.: It’s not just Gangster Rap, but there’s a lot of it. (laughs) For some reason, part of our sound is connected to that – we really love that aesthetic: the tight-muted guitars, the huge ridiculous beats, the over-the-top, dry vocals – somehow all of that worked its way into our sound.
Bucky: It’s just so undeniably groovy. Regardless of how sometimes awful and terribly misogynist the lyrics can be, the production and the grooves are just very well done.
Matt P.: Also, we actually have this tradition of listening to the 2001 (DR. DRE) when we’re coming home after a tour.
Bucky: We start the record right when we cross the border of the states and it ends when we arrive in Winnipeg.
Matt P.: Right. After a tour you’re just so fucking tired and you want to be home and then you put that on – fits perfectly!
ROYAL CANOE: “We were exposed to harmony from a very young age
As you all seem to be very into your instruments – how much of your childhood did you spent in annoying musical education?
Matt S.: (laughs) Ha, I started when I was three years old. I once even ran away because my mum was making me practice piano and I hated it so much. Not like seriously, I just got to the park and then went home because I didn’t have a tent. But, yeah, I spent a really ridiculous amount of time practicing piano when I was a kid and I hated every moment of it. My mum always said I would thank her and, well, of course she’s right; it sucks, but she’s right.
Matt P.: I had the same kind of story. Taking piano lessons as a kid, theory as well – I don’t know, it seems that where we come from you’re very encouraged to do that, a lot of kids end up taking piano lessons, drums, vocals; it’s a very musical community. I remember one time I really wanted to quit and my mom just said: ‘Okay, fine.’ And I was like: ‘Really? Cool, more time for videogames.’ Then she picked up the phone and said: ‘You just have to call your teacher and let her know.’, already dialling, and I was like ‘Ahem…’ – well, she had me that way.
Bucky: No disturbing story about music in my childhood, sorry. Like he said, it’s a very encouraging environment, a religious town, very churchy, old and conservative. That results in a lot of choirs and four-part-harmony, hymns, things like that, so, I guess from a very young age we were exposed to harmony. The community had a big focus on having excellence in music.
Matt P.: Actually, you were either a hockey-dude or a music-dude. There’s not a lot in between. So, as no one of us is really good at hockey, although Bucky claims he is, we ended up playing music.
Little teasement, referring to one of your songs – should we really Hold onto The Metal?
Matt P.: (smiles) Well, it depends on what the metal is.
Matt S.: There’s a story behind that: I used to live in Haiti for half a year and we would get around absolutely everywhere in the back of these trucks, where these metal bars get over the top in something like a U-shape and the only way you didn’t die was to hold onto that metal. So, you were on these trucks, with five other strangers you barely knew, holding onto this metal bar and it kind of became a metaphor for some shit I was getting through, getting past things at that time that troubled me. In a strange way, in this bizarre situation among these strangers holding onto the metal for your dear life, it was a really relaxing, relativizing experience.
Very nice story – one last question, as our magazine is called “NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION”: What do these terms mean to you, Hope and Passion?
Matt P.: Ouh, that’s a deep one. Everyone’s looking at me, okay, let’s see. First of all, I really like expecting something positive out of the future, I guess. And both, Hope and Passion are naturally engrained in this thing that we’re doing as a band. As we get in the van, the seven of us, driving around for weeks and months, sleeping on floors – if you don’t have Hope and Passion as well as massive supply, you’ll end uo having a pretty difficult time, doing music. Besides, it definitely helps to have each other, because there will always be times that you’re let down and get stressed out by the difficulties of touring but it’s amazing how quick you can turn things around by doing a little talking with your friends and nice people. Nonetheless: Hope and passion definitely help to facilitate that.