Royal Canoe (Sterling Andrews)
For a bunch of prairie kids from Steinbach, playing the Palladium two nights sold out in L.A. is a dream come true.
—Matt Schellenberg, musician
Sometimes described as musical mad scientists, Royal Canoe is a Winnipeg band that has done well by experimenting.
With two hometown concerts in Winnipeg on the horizon, a new LP, Today We're Believers, due out in September (on L.A.'s Roll Call Records and Toronto's Nevado Records), as well as gigs opening for Alt-J and Tricky late this month and into the fall, this six-member band is poised for great things.
Two of them, Bucky Driedger and Matt Schellenberg joined SCENE on Air guest host Chris Hannah this week.
Driedger and Schellenberg, along with fellow bandmate Matt Peters, are originally from the Steinbach area where people either played sports or music. According to Schellenberg, "My parents never had enough money for all the gear and stuff, but I think they secretly wanted me to go into music. My dad was a conductor and my mom sings."
"I played lots of sports growing up," chimes in Driedger, "but I also played music. Steinbach is a musical place with lots of big choral opportunities there. I realized I didn't really want to hang out with the people who were playing hockey."
According to Driedger, the songwriting is a collaborative experience in the band. "I'd say lyrically the two Matts (Schellenberg and Peters) handle most of that. The thing that's been really fun about this band is that everyone is afforded an opportunity to be a part of the creative process," he explains.
"We have a hard drive at the rehearsal space so we can all go there and hook up our computers and record stuff. So I might go in and record a little loop of some samples that I made. Matt could come in the next day and find it on the computer and think of a melody. Then at the end of it, all six of us sit down and make the bigger picture decisions about the song."
Despite somewhat complicated arrangements, Royal Canoe is known for playing everything live. "We committed to it pretty early on," says Driedger.
"After going to shows and seeing bands with a laptop on stage, then pressing play and playing a guitar along with a full backtrack. I think the audience appreciates seeing a band play their songs. It also helps to keep us interested night in and night out, to be interacting with our instruments in a meaningful way. It keeps things fresh for us too."
The band has some big gigs coming up, including opening for Alt-J at the end of August. Schellenberg says they will be like kids in a candy store when the time comes. "For a bunch of prairie kids from Steinbach, playing the Palladium two nights sold out in L.A. is a dream come true. Just having that opportunity to play to Alt-J's fans which is a band that we really enjoy...I'll be taking lots of pictures and sending them to my mom."
But according to Driedger, they endured a string of bad luck behind the scenes leading up to this. "We can never complain because our lives are great but this Tricky tour that we are doing in October we were actually supposed to do in June and it got cancelled because he couldn't get his visa," he says.
"And our record was supposed to come out as well. We were in Europe, the tour was going to start in 10 days and it got cancelled and our record release - our label wanted to move it. So we were just really bummed about that. Once we got these Alt-J shows and Tricky, it was more like suddenly everything just got pushed back a few months. We're always excited because we love what we do so much."
Watch: Royal Canoe reveals quirky new video
With the level of success the band is currently enjoying, moving to a bigger city is certainly something they've considered. But for Driedger and Schellenberg, there are no plans to relocate anytime soon.
"In many ways Winnipeg is an awful place," Schellenberg says. "There's a lot of big box stores, urban sprawl, a forgotten downtown but then there's this whole group of people that have decided to stay here and make it better, the next generation graduating with their business degrees and instead of going to Montreal and Toronto we have all these great coffee shops popping up and these great new ideas. So we're just committed to trying to make Winnipeg a better place and writing music about what a great place it is."
See Royal Canoe on August 22 at the Park Theatre, then on Friday August 23 at Union Sound Hall. Before then, hear them in conversation with guest host Chris Hannah on SCENE On Air. The show airs every Saturday from 5 - 6 p.m. on CBC Radio One, 89.3 FM/990 AM/97.9 FM in Brandon.