Somewhat risen from the ashes of Ottawa psych-rock indie band How Far to Mexico, Shadowhand’s name has been popping up everywhere in Ottawa’s music listings as a group to watch. On March 10th they’ll play the second of Ottawa Showbox’s new concert series at St. Alban’s Church, releasing their album on the same day and sharing the stage with fellow Ottawa acts Heavy Medicine Band and Merganzer. The band’s frontman Jamieson Mackay fielded a few questions for Apt613 in advance of the show.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: While the band is relatively new to the scene, your music and chemistry as a band give off a vibe that it’s been a long time in the making. Can you shed some life on how Shadowhand came together?
Jamieson Mackay: I think our chemistry as a band really owes a lot to us sharing so many major influences as a group. From the first jam, we’ve really clicked as a unit, everyone has a role that plays to their strengths as a musician and as an arranger. Brandon [Walsh] and Sean [Tansey] have played together for 4 years in different bands, while Matt [Corbiere] has been playing in bands for 15 years, so they bring a lot of experience to the table.
You’ve been quite active in the scene with your other band How Far to Mexico. What made you guys want to move on to the new project Shadowhand?
I had written a lot of songs that didn’t fit the vibe of How Far To Mexico. I had been performing them on my own and I wanted to make a solo EP, so I recruited some friends and coworkers who I knew were active in the scene and shared some common tastes. The EP turned into a full length and we started playing shows. Brandon and I were playing in both HFTM and Shadowhand for the better part of a year before I decided that I needed to pick one and that I felt Shadowhand was a better representation of myself and what I wanted to say and do through music.
March 10th will be the release of Shadowhand’s first full length album. What was the production process like for Through The Fog? Who did you work with?
We recorded Through The Fog in two weekend sessions during fall 2016 and winter 2017 at my parent’s house near Ladysmith, Quebec. The bed tracks were mostly recorded live. Arturo Portocarrero engineered everything and did a stellar job. A few overdubs here and there. The final track, “West Quebec” was recorded in my apartment as a single live take. We borrowed some recording equipment from Dean Watson (Gallery Studios), and David Sklubal lent us a couple microphones as well. Somehow, Brandon managed to mix the record despite my being constantly in his ear about how I thought it should sound – he did a great job. It was mastered by Philip Shaw Bova.
What music is most inspiring you lately? What influences are you drawing on for songwriting and performing?
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Big Thief. Their album Masterpiece is exactly that (a masterpiece). I think I speak for the whole band when I say a lot of Dan Romano and Leif Vollebekk. My biggest influence is Bob Dylan; I’ve learned a lot of his songs and they serve as a masterclass in songwriting when taken from a certain perspective. When performing I just try not to think and let everything flow naturally.
What sort of themes are you exploring with the words of this music? Is it storytelling, stream of consciousness, or maybe a mix of both?
I typically write in a stream of consciousness style, sometimes I make changes later, sometimes it’s as it was. I think the songs on this record mostly deal with the feelings of isolation and displacement. Some songs tell a story, directly or indirectly. “Leaving Alberta” is narrated by a character who is displaced by the oil sands. I think most of the songs are conversational, either between myself and another character, or an introspective conversation.
Any big plans in the works for the rest of 2018?
After the big release show at St. Alban’s we’re going on a little 401 tour. I hope to do some solo touring this summer and head East with the band, as well. We’re about half way through writing a second album, so I’m quite sure we’ll be doing some recording as well this fall.
Shadowhand plays on March 10, 2018 at St. Alban’s Church (454 King Edward Ave) with Heavy Medicine Band and Merganzer. Tickets cost $10 online and $12 at the door.