Interview: Royal Canoe at Bonnaroo
Jul 8th, 2014
By Mallory Turner
Category: Bonnaroo, Interviews, Royal Canoe
At Bonnaroo we had a chance to sit down and chat with six piece Winnipeg band Royal Canoe. We learned how braving the negative 40 Celsius winters of their hometown helped shape their unique sound. They came to Bonnaroo not long after touring with Bombay Bicycle Club and Bear Hands, and are set to play at several Canadian music festivals this summer. (and will be playing in LA October 16th at the El Rey!) Their full length debut “Today We’re Believers” was released late last year, preceded by two EPs in 2012. Be sure to check out the video for their single “Bathtubs” at the bottom of the post!
from left to right -
Royal Canoe is Bucky Driedger – electronic guitar , Michael Jordan – electronic drums, Derek Allard – drums,
Matt Peters – vocals, acoustic guitar, Matt Schellenberg – keyboards, Brendan Berg - bass.
How did you all come together as a band?
Matt P: It kind of started as a side project from a different band that I had. You know, writing songs with friends. I wanted to have a way of doing the songs live, and so, slowly we started piecing together a live band and then we decided, “Hey, we should try writing songs together.” When we started doing that we started liking the new songs a lot more than the old songs and realizing that, wow, we have a creative project here with the six of us. So that’s kinda how things started moving, and then we worked really hard for a couple years on the record called, “Today We’re Believers,” that we are really excited about. That was us sort of figuring out what we were doing with our sound and its incarnation.
How did the double mics and other unique aspects of your sound come about?
Matt P: Often that stuff just happens because you’re just in your space and you’re jamming, that’s actually just what we were doing. That song was Bucky and I. We were just kinda hanging out; we had a little melody that we liked and I had this pedal that I had bought in a past band and I thought that I was going to use it for something and it didn’t work out. I almost sold it on Ebay a couple of times, and I’m glad I didn’t because that pedal has sort of become the foundation of our sound. We run a lot of drums through it, and g chords and vocals.
What is your songwriting process like?
Matt P: It’s never a moment where it’s all of us at the same time.
Matt S: There’s a lot of computers involved – we have a hard drive at our recording space so that anybody can go in and update a recorded version of the song that we’re working on. So, sometimes you come in and are like, “Oh shit, there’s a new – this is the lamest thing ever – but there is a new Save As! This is great, who did that?” Then you see it was somebody who was working all weekend on this song; and you check it out and add to it.
Matt P: We’re definitely at a point where we’re working on some new songs now and realizing at a point they can only go so far in the computer though. And now it’s time to start trying them out as a group and seeing how that affects the sound. Because, you know, you can mess around with like, in-the-box kind of instruments, and dreams of what vocals are going to sound like and what guitars are going to sound like. But then, when you actually get to playing, suddenly it informs the arrangement so much and you realize, “Oh, this part definitely does not work after this part.” And sometimes when you’re working on the computer, you’re like, “Oh but there will be a cymbal there,” – like a cymbal somehow covers up every mistake. You have to actually hear it and that’s always a challenge for us, is taking the things that we do on the computer and then figuring out how we are going to do them live. Thankfully, there is six of us so it’s a lot easier.
Do you write at all while on the road?
No, it’s very difficult to. Words kind of, from time to time, but it’s very difficult to work on our kind of music in the van. I mean if you’re in one of those things – directly behind us there is a beautiful bus that probably has a lounge area with air conditioning and like probably fifty midi keyboards all synced up to Pro Tools 15. If you have that, it would probably be a lot easier to just have an idea be like, “Oh, I’ll record that quickly.” There is probably an engineer there, like “Is that mic at a good level for you sir?” Anyway, we don’t have that. Instead there is seven of us crammed into a van and you’re sort of desperately hunting for every gulp of air-conditioned air, let alone trying to balance a keyboard on your knees and write a cool hook or something.
How did the name Royal Canoes come about?
Matt P: It’s a lame name and it’s like a lame story too. I don’t know. It’s such a bad name I can’t even think of an exciting fake story. It’s just like, literally there was a newspaper and someone was like, “Put your finger down on a headline.” That’s as much effort as went into it.
Matt S: Every band name kind of sucks anyway. So you just have to pick something.
Brenden: Something that’s over thought can be disastrous. So, it’s nice to have something that is a little bit irreverent. It’s just something people identify you with. You hope that your music will just stand for itself.
Do any of you have a favorite song off the album?
Matt S: My favorite is called “Button Fumbla”. I just think it has all of our little tricks in it. Just the way that it came about, the lyrics – everything seems to summarize what we do. Because, with our sound there is definitely like – we’re poking over into acoustic guitar territory and then poking over into hip hop territory at the same time and then it kind of has this indie rock foundation so, a lot of the songs are sort of a combination of a couple things over here and a couple things over there. That one song seems to kind of sum up what we’re trying to do. So hopefully on the new record, we are hoping that things are maybe even more focused so we have more like that.
Brenden: I like “Birthday” the best – the most recent song we recorded, the last time we were in the studio we recorded it – so that one for me. For the same reason I’ve been really craving to play the last song on the record “If I had a House” It’s really fun. Obviously I play the bass and it is a very bass centered song. Tons of fun to play, it’s in the seventh chord, so just kind of thrash a little bit. We don’t play it very often because there is a lot of screaming and it doesn’t really work well for the longevity of Matt’s vocal chords.
Are there plans for starting work on the next album soon?
Matt P: Yes, we’re excited. We’ve actually been working on songs for a while.
Matt S: Were the kind of band that makes a lot of tracks and then whittles down from there.
Matt P: Lots of bad things too, come of it, like really embarrassing shit that you end up hating afterwards, and deleting and hoping none of your bandmates see. And then suddenly someone’s like, “What’s that track?” and it’s like, “No! Do not play that one!”
So were hoping this summer and into the next year we are going to be finishing up the recording of it. Right now, again, they are just these files on our computer. We were just starting to plan a weekend jam session.
You guys put on such a high energy live show, are there any difficulties when translating that into the record?
Matt S: It’s more the opposite, trying to take the record into live. I’ll be listening back to something I’ve recorded at three in the morning, three years ago and trying to figure out what note that is. That is just the nature of the way we record, so it’s kind of the opposite. One song we just learned how to play a couple of months ago. And one song, we have never really played, we can’t figure out [how to play it live]. We’ve never really attempted at trying and we actually don’t think it’s possible with what we have to play it. It’s called “Light”.
Matt P: To me it’s amazing that the songs end up working out a lot – that they end up translating. Because, when we’re writing them, we’re not thinking, “Okay, now I’m going to do something here, and there’s only six people but then we have twelve hands.” It somehow works out exactly. Everyone is busy throughout, and we’re kind of playing all of the parts.
Matt S: Like, I’m pretty sure on the next record, I’ve written maybe twelve songs that I have absolutely nothing to play live on. I’ll have to figure out exactly what I’m going to do. But you just don’t think about it, you don’t worry about what it’s going to be like live.
I love that you are trying to stray from the typical music video narrative. How do you go about developing your concepts?
Matt S: It’s really a list of what not to do. We actually literally made a list for our label of what we don’t want in a music video and said, “Could you please send this out to anyone pitching?” The way it works is that directors pitch to your label, what are called treatments, which are pretty much synopsis of music videos. We were getting so many where it was just like, “Okay and now you pants the bikini girls,” It was just like, “Really – still?” – after all this time. So we made a list of all the things we don’t want and we sent it out to directors and they sent us some really creative, wonderful treatments back.
Matt P: Two of them are live performance videos which are something we really like to do. The idea of lip syncing and fake playing your songs – the ‘90s kind of burnt that out. How many Third Eye Blind, wide saddle leg guitar rock poses do you need to see? Or Nickelback songs where the light is just perfect in Chad Kroeger’s hair where he’s singing some bullshit lyric.
Yeah, like we just don’t need another video like that. And there is some parallel narrative with like, some dude who lost his dog or some soldier going to war. So just trying to do a performance video where we’re actually playing and you’re hearing what we’re playing; and playing with that a bit – because obviously we’re doing multiple takes and shooting it from different angles, but still you’re hearing music that is being created while the filming is going on. I think that is more interesting and more reflective of what you sound like. I think it is very frustrating when you’re just hearing a processed album track. That being said, we do have some videos like that but we’re not in them.
Matt S: If you’re going to do that then you try to make it more about the video. There is only one video where we’re not actually playing instruments. It’s good, but I like the idea of actually having your guitar being plugged into something that’s making the noise.
Any favorite music videos?
Matt S: I do. Feist’s “The Bad in Each Other.” If you haven’t seen that music video, it is one of my favorite ones. It’s like all of these narratives but they never let them come to fruition. It’s like the first third of every story and you’re left in your head to figure out how it ends. Like a really good short story. And really high production value – I think it was shot in South America. It’s an incredible video.
Brenden: There’s also that Fat Boy Slim video with Christopher Walken just dancing. “Weapon of Choice”.
I loved the story of the meaning behind your single “Bathtubs.” Is there another song on the album that has an interesting origin like that?
Matt P: I think they all do. The song “Nightcrawlin” is kind of the most obscure story, because I feel like it has two meanings to it. There is a narrative that Bucky and I wrote about a friend of his that had set up an ice fishing shack – it’s a story about this guy who really wanted his little bro-tel on the lake. Not a nice guy – he would try to bum joints off the middle school kids from a bible summer camp in the area.
I think sometimes when you are writing character songs, you’re always trying to find some tenderness or some humanity in these people, even if they are characters you don’t like. And then inevitably, you come out of the song no matter if you want it or not. Suddenly you’re out there in the fishing shack bumming papers off thirteen year olds. – I hope I’ve never done that.
Where did the album name, “Today we are Believers,” come from?
Matt P: It’s the first song on the record. That song, Matt and I, wrote the words to it and it’s funny because initially it was an acoustic guitar song. Sounds nothing like that now, it was really bad actually. We wrote those words as we were sitting along this riverbank on the first day of Summer/Spring in Winnipeg – those are kind of the same thing because [the weather] is either miserable or really nice. And when that happens, people just come out of the woodwork and everyone is just so excited and joyous – like, “We survived.”
It’s a collective positive vibe throughout the city, people are smiling. Whereas a place like here, where the weather is really nice all the time, when you see a blue sky with a brilliant sun, you maybe just take it for granted a little bit. Whereas we don’t do that out there.
Matt S: It really binds people together. You know when you are in a restaurant or something and there is a really awful thunder storm and everybody kinds of goes up to the windows and suddenly you talk about it. People that would ignore each other the entire time are suddenly talking about this same thing they are going through. Winnipeg that day is kind of like that, because everybody has survived the winter and everybody is like, “I have no idea why we live here.”
Matt P: Everyone says, “This is the last time.” I said that this year again, for I don’t know how many times.
Brenden: Then that summer rolls around and everyone is back out on their bikes and drinking beers in parks and it’s like, “This place is awesome. I love this city.” And that day you’re believers – hence the name, “Today We’re Believers”
Where did you record the album?
Part of it in our practice space but mostly in a studio in Winnipeg called, “Private Ears.”
What is the music scene like in Winnipeg?
Good. It’s pretty vibrant. There are lots of people who are in bands and everybody knows everybody. It’s pretty high per capita, It’s not a big city, but I bet if you compared it per capita to other cities it would be doing well, and I think that’s because the crowds are supportive and come out to shows.
Are there any other Winnipeg bands that we should know about?
A band called the Catamounts that just about nobody knows about. They’re awesome. They’re an instrumental surf rock band.
Do you have a memory of your first show where the crowd was all singing along and you were like “Okay, this is happening.”?
Yesterday might have been that. It was one of those moments where we are really far away from home and I still get surprised when people show up and know the songs – and not just former Winnipegers.
It really has been such a gradual climb for us. We’ve never had that big, like, bump moment where suddenly one day you are playing to 20 people and the next day you are playing to 2,000. It’s been like 20, and then 40 and then 100 and 150, just constantly building and it’s a very gradual climb. I think, because of that, we try really hard not to take anything for granted when it comes, so any attention, any applause feels amazing you know. We know how long we’ve worked at it to get to the point that we are. We are also very aware of how much further we could go – we’re all really dedicated and we want to keep doing it.
I noticed you had a lot of Canadian love in the audience at your show yesterday. Do you get that a lot being where you are from?
Matt S: I think from our city and also from our country, just because when something starts to succeed in a bigger market like America, it’s really great for us because people sort of take ownership over it. They are like, “Oh, here is this thing like, from my city or from my country,” and we really benefit from that and don’t take it for granted.
Brenden: The weird thing with Winnipeg, where you are always someone’s cousin away from someone. People from Winnipeg are just everywhere. Regardless of familial relations, it seems like people stay in groups, like in Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver – people who leave Winnipeg, their circle of friends will be predominantly ex-Winnipegers. Even if they weren’t friends before they moved away from Winnipeg, they’ve become friends because there is just something that we all share. Something that affects our personalities. It’s the cold.
Matt S: There is a great part in The Simpsons – where they are traveling to Winnipeg and there is this sign that says, “Welcome to Winnipeg. We were born here, what’s your excuse?” Kind of sums it up. But it’s great, we all love it. It’s this very very backhanded weird love. It’s this sort of beauty in the ruin of it all.
Matt P: It becomes easier to love it, now that we’ve been spending 4-6 months of the year away from it too. You come back like, “Okay, this is great.”
Photos – Royal Canoe at Cafe Where Stage at Bonnaroo
Interview by Riley Carithers and Mallory Turner