Winnipeg electronic art-rock favourites Royal Canoe are hitting only a handful of cities on tour this fall, but have included Ottawa among a dozen-or-so stops in Canada and the US at which they’ll debut new material.
Their new single “RAYZ” is a tight package of all of the elements we’ve come to expect from the band, yet steeped even further in interwoven melodies, creative sampling and crisp production. Apt613 spoke with frontman Matt Peters ahead of their show at 27 Club this week.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: I was impressed at how Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit went in a different direction from Today We’re Believers, yet there’s still a common thread that sounds very “Royal Canoe” about your record. What can we expect from Waver and the aesthetic you’re exploring?
Matt Peters: With Waver we tried to write clearer melodies and worked on creating arrangements that left space around the rhythm and vocals. Most of the basic songwriting starting points were the byproduct of a few group writing sessions during the last year—you know, dudes go to cabin kinda thing. All of this contributed to a more congruent sound on this album, but to us it still feels like our band. Even when we think we’re being spare, there’s still so much going on… we can’t help ourselves.
I’m hearing more sampling and a hip hop influence on the new single “RAYZ”, which wasn’t absent from your last album, but is certainly prominent now. How do you approach combining your influences with the experimental indie sonic vibe that the band is known for?
I guess I don’t feel like those two things are that far apart. A lot of the hip hop we’re listening to these days sounds more risky and cutting edge than anything going on in the indie world—yet it’s still playful and alive—the good ideas don’t get bogged down in pretension or self-awareness. I think the experimental indie world, at its best, follows that same script.
Our process has always owed more to hip hop production than anything else—we usually start with a beat, we build our songs layer by layer. So, for us it doesn’t feel like a stretch to be more overt with that influence since it’s always been present.
When writing new music, do you set limits or are you more of the “anything goes” approach?
We’ve worked hard at trying to set limits. It doesn’t always work, but simplifying the palette can help to keep the focus on the most important bits. This can obviously be overthought and you gotta know when to break the rules and pu’ a donk on et.
Do lyrics and structure typically come first? Or are the words added after the fact?
For the most part, we write at least a chunk of the music first, to establish some sort of vibe. Sometimes we’ll pull from words that were already written, but usually a melody comes first with all of the requisite gibberish, and then we spend time figuring out what we want to say.
This can obviously be overthought and you gotta know when to break the rules…
The lyrics help steer the ship from there after we get a good starting point. Will the song have a chorus/refrain/bridge? The lyrical style really guides those decisions. We tried to be more personal and less imagistic with the words on this album. As a result, the lyric writing felt more natural and honest.
What are you guys listening to lately as far as recorded music, new and old?
Yup… lots of hip hop.
Is there anyone from your neck of the woods (Winnipeg) that we should keep an eye on?
Begonia. Alexa is such an outrageously talented singer, producer, artist, person and she’s gearing up to release her full-length this coming year. Matt S. and I co-produced and co-wrote the album with her and Marcus Paquin. She’s sung on a number of Royal Canoe tracks AND she’s on tour with us right now. So many connections. Definitely come to the show early and check her out. Her band is Grade A+. She’ll be selling out stadiums soon.
You went through a touring band’s worst nightmare when your trailer was robbed in 2016. What was the experience like, rallying back from that, and keeping the tour going? I can imagine it took an insane amount of spirit and hard work to pull off such an impressive feat.
That was a difficult stretch for sure. Luckily we had a lot of support from family, friends, fans and our whole community. Replacing some of the hard-to-find gear would’ve been much more of an impediment to the tour continuing had we not been in Toronto at the time. Kijiji and Long & MacQuade were pretty vital to making it all happen.
We had like three or four days to get everything together and we only had to cancel one show, but somehow we pulled it off. Not something I want to repeat, but also an experience that reminded us how much we depend on those around us for support. People were offering gear from all over the place. In the midst of this demoralizing event, we were overwhelmed with real human kindness and generosity.
Your live show is effectively a chamber orchestra of electronic instruments that blend together with impressive synergy. Has the instrumentation for your upcoming shows developed any further?
The instrumentation is fairly similar from our previous tours. The only really difference is that we have one live drummer now instead of two. Derek had some real-life opportunities come his way that he couldn’t pass up, so Michael is covering both parts (e-drums and acoustic drums). It’s a sight to behold watching him play eight limbs worth of parts with four.
Royal Canoe play at 27 Club (27 York St) on October 3rd, 2018 at 8:30pm with special guests Begonia. Tickets cost $20 online. The band’s new full-length album Waver comes out on January 25th via Paper Bag Records.