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Theaternia builds on its dark, atmospheric soundscapes on new EP, Changer

By François Levesque on September 13, 2013

Sometimes, a city will inspire you. For musician Caleb Abbott, the creative force behind Theaternia, the inspiration was a year spent in Paris.

“It wasn’t the music scene there necessarily, it was the time alone to focus on writing that propelled Theaternia. Paris has a way of pulling things out of you, and I chose not to resist.”

Abbott had been a drummer in a few different bands around Ottawa, but felt he needed to make something his own, both in terms of the output and the process. 2012’s Post-Secural, a labour of love more than four years in the making, owes a debt to this time of reflection far from home.

This past winter Abbott wrote and recorded the follow-up EP, Changer. I spoke to Abbott about the creation of both records, Theaternia’s sound and aesthetic, and where he hopes to take the project next.

Abbott’s music – percussion based with prominent synths – is atmospheric, electronic and often dark, creating a sound I’ve come to describe as dream synth. The music has a lot of 80’s undertones. Or at least that’s where it starts, but it branches out in completely different directions.

The sonic environment that Abbott creates occasionally entices the body to dance, but what the artist really wants is for the listeners to absorb the music. It lends itself well to visuals, and artist Hard Science often performs live analog video modulation at Abbott’s shows.

Abbott invited Hilotrons drummer and his recording engineer Philip Shaw Bova to our conversation because he wanted to stress the importance of the recording process. His first record in particular focused on recording, as there was little thought of making Theaternia a touring outfit.

As a long-time recording engineer and drummer, Bova understood the emphasis on percussion, beat driven music Abbott wanted to make. “I’m a big Hilotrons fan,” says Abbott. “It’s also what brought me to Phil. His drumming is second to none. It made sense to go to him to record.”

Without that process and the relationship, the first record, which took the better of two years to record, wouldn’t have been possible. Phil’s presence also expedited the recording of Changer and influenced its production beyond what is typical for sound engineers.

I’m always amazed at how the creative process can unfold differently for each new project. While Post-Secural was a loose assortment of ideas, there was a bit more structure to Changer. Abbott had a clear vision of what he wanted the album to sound like, including exploring vocal collaborations.  One of my favourite tracks – Visions – has a hip hop breakdown featuring NDMA. Abbott also sings a beautiful duet with Lidija Rozitis of Roberta Bondar.

The new record’s been toured both as a full band and as a one-man show, two totally different experiences. “There’s something nice about being alone. Doing it alone was intense.” He enjoys the versatility of being able to do both, but hopes in the near future long time collaborators and friends Bova, Cabaal and Hard Science will be able to work on a collaborative set. More touring is also in the works.

Today is a special day, because up until now (unless you have been at one of the Theaternia shows this summer) you haven’t been able to put your hands on the latest record. Now it’s out for the whole world to listen to.