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Spirit, melody and the mountains

When I found out I had been invited to participate in The Banff Centre’s Indie Music Residency, I let out a very happy shriek. Get this straight: I am not a shrieky person, and no one would ever describe me as a “woo girl”. I was THAT excited. It is a program that I have wanted to partake in ever since the Centre introduced it in 2009. My peers who have participated in previous years always describe it as an unforgettable and tremendously supportive journey. I can’t wait for mine.


Kat Burns, from the experimental music project Kashka, is in this year’s Independent Music Residency. Photo: Tiana Feng.                                              

This opportunity to spend two weeks honing my craft – in a dedicated rehearsal space  - in a supportive environment,  smack in the middle of a small break before a new record release and subsequent tour. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

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“Architect” built with patterns by Morlove


Morlove is Miss Emily Brown and Corwin Fox. Photo: Friday Design

Corwin Fox and Miss Emily Brown, of the band Morlove, came to The Banff Centre on an independent music residency in 2011. The resulting album, Old Tomorrow, was released in the spring of 2013.

I knew The Banff Centre would be a good place to write, but I had no idea I would spend so much time in the library. Comfy chairs, tall windows exposing glorious mountains…I probably spent as much time there as I did in my music hut. And it’s a good thing too, because the library proved integral in the first successful piece of music composed for the new Morlove album, “Old Tomorrow“.

We wanted to compose an album exploring patterns, and we had pages of ideas about how to go about this. Although we didn’t end up meeting with the mathematicians to try making music based on irrational numbers, we did spend time with some weavers in Visual Arts. Those encounters led to a chain of events which culminated in the library, where we pulled down some books from the 900′s section that contained various weaving patterns. The patterns we found looked like music on a staff! There were five lines and four spaces. Each space represented a colour, and a black rectangle inside each space showed the number of stitches required of that colour. (The number of stitches was also noted numerically above the black rectangles.)

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Indie alumni: recording and touring

The band Mise en Scene, alumni of the 2011 Banff Centre Indie Band Residency, recently tweeted “First meal in France. Bottles of wine are $3. Life rules.” Earlier this month another alumni band, The Abramson Singers posted this on Twitter: “Dear universe, please send us a #tourvan with room for gear and a nice transmission.” Both comments seem auspicious: a record of thriftiness, a sign of musical dedication, is a must for earning the indie scene’s stamp of authenticity.

Indie Band Residency alumni Leah Abramson (right) and The Abramson Singers.

Indie Band Residency alumni Leah Abramson (right) and The Abramson Singers.

A month since their song “Jack of Diamonds” hit the number-one spot on CBC’s R3-30 charts, The Abramson Singers are gearing up for the May launch of their second album, Late Risers. Itventures into pop territory, but maintains their foundation in folk tradition, which inspired gorgeous, lyrical gems like “Fool’s Gold” from their self-titled debut. Much of Late Risers was recorded at The Banff Centre as part of their 2011 residency. “The Centre really helped us gel as a band and figure out our sound,” says lead singer Leah Abramson, who will soon be touring Western Canada with her band. They’ll be back in Banff for a show on August 11.

Meanwhile, rock duo Mise en Scene is in the midst of a European tour, jetting between Liverpool, London, and continental Europe (exactly what The Beatles did before they hit it big, remember.) The band’s most recent album Desire’s Despair, an unusually elegant garage rock record that was produced largely at The Banff Centre, has been charting nationally since its release in the fall of 2012. “There’s been nonstop playing and traveling since the album’s release, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon,” says Mise en Scene’s singer and guitarist Stefanie Blondal Johnson.

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Baroque social scene: Indie pioneer finds inspiration in Banff

Kevin Drew, co-owner of the Arts and Crafts label and a Broken Social Scene founding member, was recently here The Banff Centre to deliver a public lecture, and work on recording tracks for a new album. Image © Jesse Senko, courtesy Arts and Crafts.

Kevin Drew, co-owner of the Arts and Crafts label and a Broken Social Scene founding member, was recently here The Banff Centre to deliver a public lecture, and work on recording tracks for a new album. Images © Jesse Senko, courtesy Arts and Crafts.

When I first admitted indie music – more precisely bands from Toronto’s Arts and Crafts label – into my playlists, I was otherwise doing my best to become a classical music snob. Whatever affections I assumed, I earnestly and passionately loved Bach. In his music, I could escape to a world of sublime logic and immaculate forms. But in indie music, I found a world that felt a lot more like the one in which I was living. The post-millennial explosion of indie acts like Canada’s Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene (BSS) established a new soundtrack for being young, hip, and underemployed. And they forged a musical palette that was fresh, while also appealing to my taste for the instrumentally rich sound that had inspired my love of baroque music.

I’ve continued to follow Arts and Crafts, whose acts and alumni read like a who’s who of today’s indie scene. So, I was excited to learn that Kevin Drew, co-owner of the label and a Broken Social Scene founding member, was coming to The Banff Centre to deliver a public lecture, and work on recording tracks for a new album (with members of BSS and Do Make Say Think) – a somewhat mysterious project that might be labeled a solo album, a BSS album, or who knows what. And thanks to this Inspired assignment, I even got to pick Drew’s brains after the group’s all-hours week-long recording schedule wound down.

“I believe there’s something very sacred about The Banff Centre, and about its history,” says Drew. “And that was something I wasn’t taking lightly.” Continue Reading →

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Indie Band Recap – Chad VanGaalen

Polaris-nominated Chad VanGaalen helped close The Banff Centre’s Indie Band Experience with a concert.

Calgary’s Chad VanGaalen headlined the October 1 Indie Band Showcase Concert at The Banff Centre. Photo courtesy The Banff Centre/

All this past week I’ve been recapping The Banff Centre’s Indie Band Experience, playing you interviews, concerts and some amazing videos. To help culiminate the amazing experience Mise En SceneDoldrums, and The Abramson Singers had working with Producers Tony BergHoward Bilerman, and Shawn Everett, Chad VanGaalen stopped by to play some classics and new songs off his album Diaper Island.

Chad VanGaalen helped close The Indie Band Experience. Photo courtesy Jeff Thorburn.

Coming up in the next few days you’ll hear that recording of Chad playing at the Margaret Greenham Theatre and an interview he did with Jessa Runciman. Subscribe to our podcast to make sure you get that interview and the concert recording. While you’re there, you can hear all the other interviews and concerts done by the Banff Centre Audio team.

It’s been really amazing getting to recap The Indie Band Experience. I know everyone had a great time working, recording, and making some amazing music. Keep your eyes on the blog to stay apart of other incredible things happening here at The Banff Centre.

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Indie Band Recap – The Abramson Singers

Captivating, haunting, and completely mesmerizing, are just a few ways to describe The Abramson Singers.

Leah Abramson and the Abramson Singers play The Club. Photo: The Banff Centre.

We’ve been going back to the fall of 2011 on the blog this week to recap The Banff Centre’s Indie Band Experience. So far we’ve featured videos, interviews, and concert recordings all in the attempt to recount the amazing 3 weeks bands had recording, writing, and working with faculty like former Banff Centre resident and Weezer Producer Shawn Everett.

Yesterday I featured an interview and concert with Toronto’s Doldrums. Today you’ll hear an interview with Leah Abramson of The Abramson Singers followed by her sonically rich concert in the Margaret Greenham Theatre.

Leah Abramson belts it out. Photo: The Banff Centre.

“Singing makes me happier than anything…Even if I’m singing something sad, it still makes me happy.

Listen to that interview and the concert recording.

Also, check out the great video below from Shot at the Dark of The Abramson Singers trekking their instruments through the Banff forests and making great music.

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Special thanks to CBC Radio 3‘s Chris Kelly for his ongoing support.

Our last blog post on the Banff Centre’s Indie Band Experience will feature Chad VanGaalen, keep your eyes on the blog or our iTunes U page for that interview, concert and more.

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