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Interview: Ryan Dahle’s Limblifter is touring the 20th anniversary vinyl release of Bellaclava—03.07.20 at 27 Club

By Stephane Dubord on March 6, 2020



Amidst all these shows is a name that has not appeared on a marquee in Ottawa in over a decade.

For the first Saturday night in March, live music fans have options across the city, from small clubs to the largest of venues. Our monthly Gig Picks provide you with a snapshot of the many shows in town, from Bif Naked at Neat Coffee Shop, to Matt Holubowski and Dan Mangan at La Maison de la culture, to the Lumineers and Mt. Joy at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Amidst all these shows is a name that has not appeared on a marquee in Ottawa in over a decade: Limblifter.

Formed in Vancouver as a side project from Age of Electric, the band quickly became a mainstay on radio and MuchMusic in the late 90s and early 2000s on the strength of massive hits “Tinfoil,” “Screwed It Up” and “Ariel vs. Lotus.” After bursting out with 1996’s eponymous debut, they followed it up with 2000’s Bellaclava. After a few lineup changes, the band returned with I/O in 2004, including a show at the Capital Music Hall that October, before going on intermittent breaks over the subsequent fifteen years.

They did return in 2015 with Pacific Milk, and subsequently toured in 2016 for the 20th anniversary of their debut. However, neither of those tours included Ottawa dates (the closest being a Calabogie date on Canada Day in 2016).

The 20th anniversary of Bellaclava provided the band with a perfect reason to hit the road for a few shows, and finally grace a stage in Ottawa again.

We caught up with bandleader Ryan Dahle to chat about his many projects (including Age of Electric and The Mounties), and Limblifter’s return to Ottawa. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

APT613: As far as we could tell, there hasn’t been an actual Limblifter show in Ottawa since at least 2008.

Ryan Dahle: It’s at least before we got back together. But wow, twelve years! I wonder if it will be a twelve year crowd. When you wait that long, it’s either you’re forgotten about, or a lot of people come because they’re excited to see you.

So when was the last time you actually went on tour with Limblifter?

When we released our record in 2015, we toured around that. Though for some reason, we just never had any shows in Ottawa. But I’ve been through Ottawa with Age of Electric recently, and with The Mounties, we’ve been to Ottawa. I came through Ottawa with a guy named Donny McCaslin from New York with his band. That was amazing.

It seems lately every time you come to town you’ve found places to play around Ottawa. You played a Calabogie festival in 2016, and I think when you came through with Age of Electric, you played Arnprior, so it will be nice to finally have a show in Ottawa.

We love playing Ottawa. We’ve had a lot of good shows there with Limblifter and with Age of Electric.

In terms of the anniversary re-release of Bellaclava, I know you finally got it pressed on vinyl, which is nice, but there are also two new songs on there, that hadn’t been released before?

Yeah, there’s a song called “Oompapa” and one called “Vanishing Cream.” And it’s funny because we did those songs when we were kind of figuring out what we were going to do next, like how we’re going to make a record, because we weren’t sure.

We started working with two guys in Vancouver, one that owned a studio, named John MacLean, and Sheldon Zaharko, who we still work with all the time. John had a studio in Vancouver for 17 years called The Factory, which used to be Little Mountain. So those two songs were kind of our trial with them, and we spent a lot of time with them. We really liked them but by the time we were done the rest the record, it turned out more like a rock record. And those songs sounded a bit too experimental, with different time signatures. They felt like they didn’t match a lot of the songs, and we had a lot of songs, so we ended up taking them off.

“They were stuck in our heads all these years.”

But they were stuck in our heads all these years. We just assumed that they were on the record, that’s how well we had kept them in our mind. I dug into my storage room at my studio here, dug into the old master tapes and got out the half-inch reels of tape, and I simply recorded them to digital and mastered them. They sounded great—the mixes John had done back in the day were incredible. So we were really happy with them.

Then we found another three songs that were on multi-track, that I would have had to bounce from multi-track and mix. We figured there’s enough songs, there’s like fifteen altogether which is enough for vinyl, so we decided to release those two only.

You’ve got so many different projects, between Limblifter, Age of Electric, The Mounties… How often does the start of a song idea get put aside only to come back and inspire a song for a different project?

I mean, there’s a lot of material and there’s different ways that you write in different situations. The only real crossover where I’m writing full songs on my own would be Age of Electric and Limblifter. So like “Remote Control,” for instance, started as a Limblifter song, but then we were about to do an Age of Electric record and it just seemed like the right kind of fit for it. On the original demo I sang, and thought to myself, “oh, it’s pretty high!” and I thought it would be perfect for Todd (Kearns). You go with the best material that you have at the moment.

There are certain times where something might not fit with something else. Songs I’ve been writing with Donny McCaslin involve Donny and other collaborators, and that’s the beauty of it. Same with The Mounties. There’s this loose rule with The Mounties, going into it when we started the first record, that we should arrive empty handed—don’t bring anything, because we just didn’t want to be bogged down by demos or ideas from the past. We wanted to see what our chemistry would bring, and we all agreed that that was the way to go. That ended up being the right decision, because we were just so productive together, just based on our excitement of playing with one another.

When you see Hawksley Workman playing a drum kit… He’s a virtuoso on so many instruments, but he’ll start playing a drum kit and we just flip out. So we always come up with so much material. And then, you know, lyrically, Hawksley and Steve (Bays) pull so much out of the air, instantly, that I’m just in awe of it. So I see no reason why we should show up with tidy little ideas when we create all this stuff right in front of each other. It’s just more exciting. That excitement leads to productivity and finalizing things quicker than if you were scratching your chin, listening to things, thinking “oh, what should we do with it?” There’s no thinking with that band. It just happens. It’s efficient and exciting.

Speaking of collaborations and projects coming up, I’m wondering. You’ve got the five dates so far for the 20th anniversary of Bellaclava. What else is planned for 2020?

For Limblifter we have one festival we’re doing now called Gateway in Saskatchewan. I’m from Saskatchewan, so I always love playing the festival. One year we played with Steve Earle, which was awesome. We played with Sloan one year which is cool, since Greg McDonald, who plays keyboards with Sloan played guitar in our band at that time, so he sometimes plays in our band when he’s not busy with Sloan.

This year we’re playing with the Northern Pikes, which is exciting for me. Growing up, the Northern Pikes meant that there was a possibility that we could do something with music. Don, their drummer, is sort of a mentor to me and the whole band was always so great to us.

So after the tour and the festival, are you planning another anniversary release, given next year will mark twenty five years for your debut Limblifter album, or if you’re planning anything in terms of anniversaries for Age of Electric?

We do have something in the works for Age of Electric, but with Limblifter, I think after this, we’re going to release I/O at the twentieth mark. But it probably won’t be continually anniversary things. I think the reason we’ve been doing these is because they were combined with vinyl releases that we’d never released vinyl, and that was exciting to us. So it corresponded and gave us a deadline and a reason to get these things done. It’s been 20 years, so let’s release vinyl.

“I think if we do anything, it’ll be with new music.”

There’s not a huge demand, but there are enough fans that appreciate it. We’ve sold out of almost everything we’ve made with vinyl. Even the new record on vinyl is almost gone. So it’s kind of exciting that people are buying new records and we’ve got a lot of songs recorded for Limblifter. So I think if we do anything, it’ll be with new music.

I really want to make a couple records with Eric (Breitenbach), the drummer that we’ve been playing with for years now. We haven’t really released anything with him, but we’ve been recording like mad, so it’s just a matter of finding the time to finalize mixes and put together a full record.

For Saturday’s setlist, are you playing the entire album front to back, like many of the anniversary shows seem to be doing of late?

When we put out the first record, we went out on the road and we played that record from front to back. Like, when it came out. We thought it was funny at the time and we thought that was cool. But now other bands have been doing it, I know Sloan did it, and a few other bands did it.
We did it with the first record, when we rereleased the vinyl for that record. But we started doing it with this record and I just felt like it was better if we mixed everything up. So we’ve been mixing everything into a set that we just feel works because starting the night with “Count to Nine,” “Ariel vs. Lotus” and “Wake Up to the Sun”, it just felt like it was too front heavy.

That is a pretty strong combo right off the top.

And logistically when you’re playing a small club, sometimes you get offstage and somebody says “we couldn’t hear your voice for the first three songs.” You don’t have your sound man with you and you just kind of trust whoever is over there to do it. So we find that if we do those songs later, there’s more of a chance that things sound great. It’s more exciting to start with some of the later songs, as far as that record kicks up, there’s a few really heavy sections, so starting with them feels really good.

Limblifter is playing The 27 Club (27 York St) on Saturday March 7, 2020, with support from local band Outfielder. Doors open at 8pm, Tickets ($18) available online or at the door.