On top of having just been announced as being on the Polaris Music Prize 2009 long list late last week, Toronto’s Bruce Peninsula have just started their three week Canadian tour with their first performance taking place on Saturday in a slightly soggy Kingston, Ontario at the annual Skeleton Park Music Festival. More a collective than a band, the group usually consists of anywhere from 7 to 12 members. Started in 2006 by Matt Cully and Misha Bower, the group has grown to include a dynamic cast including Neil Haverty, Andrew Barker, Steve McKay, Leon Taheny, Kari Peddle, Daniela Geshundheit, Katie Stelmanis, Caseey Mecija, Maya Postepski, Isla Craig and Doc Dunn.
Bruce Peninsula’s sound ranges from folk to gospel, from jazz to soul. Focus is put on choir vocals. Honest, uninhibited and gutty, they use beautiful harmonies and call-and-response singing to utterly enchant their listeners. I challenge you to listen to them without finding yourself wishing to be a part of that beautiful choir, or at least thinking you’re lost in some alternate ethereal universe.
Listening to Bruce Peninsula is a pleasure. They are an awesome gang with an awesome sound. In the spirit of awesomeness, I sat down with Matt and Neil. Rather, I sat, they stood. What else can you do when its pouring rain and you have to crash the remnants of a bake sale tent to make sure your paper stays dry? As you read: start with a listen to ‘Shanty Song’, included below, off the well-deserved Polaris nominee A Mountain Is a Mouth.
So we didn’t steal the last lonely muffin or the crumbs that sat next to it, but we did talk some music. I learned some pretty cool things about this band, two things in particular that need to be shared: how Bruce Peninsula has chosen to approach their music and what their up-coming tour means to them.
Matt let me know that when putting the band together it was important for them to make sure they were doing so from a non-commercial standpoint. Therefore, they weren’t going to allow themselves to be in any way constrained by questions of “why?” but ask instead, “why not?” So when they added instruments or their amazing choir there was no need to consider whether or not they could do it. As Neil put it, “we want to hear what we want to hear.” Never mind the rest. Following on that same ethic, they told me of how the Bruce Peninsula sound is a result of songs being worked and re-worked – that writing a song can take up to six months – that the sound cannot be accepted without everyone getting to put their own hands in the plasticine and everyone having their say. As Matt put it, “we are our own audience.”
We also talked about the bands freshly-begun Canadian tour. They are planning on traveling ten thousand miles in the next three weeks on a crazy adventure that will allow them not only to share their music but also to see Canada. To be able to see so much of the country this way – packed tightly into a van, singing on the road, seeing a ton of places in a few days – is an opportunity only a few people get, and the honour of such an adventure couldn’t fall to more worthy recipients. Neil told me that he feels a great sense of Canadian patriotism. “I wouldn’t play music of I didn’t feel such a sense of Canadian pride.” Matt explained that as part of their music they have really investigated how where they come from influences their music. With that in mind there is comfort and familiarity in embarking on a Canadian tour. Europe and the States will come later. For now, Bruce Peninsula will be exploring their ten thousand mile backyard, be sure to check out their tour dates for when they’ll be knocking on your door.