By Thomas Johnson, February 1 2018 —
Colton O’Reilly, the bandleader for Calgary’s I Am The Mountain, is curbing the frigid cold by way of beanie and Blundstones. Between sips of hot chocolate and bites of banana bread, he tells me about their upcoming EP, We’re Here For Each Other, their first project since 2015’s While Off Adventuring.
“There’s still a lot of soul in there and the lyrics are still folk — it’s storytelling,” he says.
And he’s right. We’re Here For Each Other, set for independent release on Feb. 16, continues the band’s steady progression since the 2014 singles that cap off their Bandcamp page. The acoustic guitars that defined their self-described ‘campfire soul’ are still present, but rather than providing the skeleton, they are fleshed out with brawnier instrumentation. New sounds include horn sections and multi-vocal tracking — elaborate production techniques that provide an almost neo-grunge aesthetic. It’s the culmination and logical conclusion to nearly two years of grinding and recording.
Within that time, the band underwent sizeable change.
“These musicians weren’t even on the last album. It’s totally different members,” O’Reilly says.
In addition to the new members, I Am The Mountain received backing from veteran industry professionals.
“We wanted to do everything really properly — so we go the best mixing guy [we could],” O’Reilly says. “And the mastering guy, I scouted him out for a long time and he mastered some of my favourite albums. His name’s Fedge. One name.”
Fedge, a.k.a. Jeff, is a Toronto-based studio engineer with over 20 years of experience in mastering.
Another pair of veteran eyes helped determine their newfound grit. Juno award nominee Nils Mikkelsen, who helms Calgary-based electropop duo AM Static, afforded the band a veteran’s perspective.
“He’s a co-producer,” O’Reilly says. “He just knows, right? Like, ‘If you take this out it’ll be more effective the second time around. It could be a really powerful part.’ And we were like, ‘Uh, ok, let’s try it.’ And it was right. It changed the way we play it live too. He affected [the album] a lot.”
Mikkelsen approached I Am The Mountain after hearing their unreleased work at an event. His influence permeated not only the band’s sonics, but also their work ethic.
“He’s a master,” O’Reilly says. “He brought his portable studio to our basement and we just stayed down there — like we slept there at the house in the basement — for three days in a row. Twelve-hour days.”
The fruits of their labour are immediate. We’re Here For Each Other is gruff folk. It’s The Lumineers after too much whiskey or old Black Keys at a coal-walk instead of a garage. Acoustics are inflated to stadium proportions and jazz and soul are distilled and mixed in. The inclusion of the brass muscles up the music, making a raging bonfire a more appropriate setting than a campfire singalong. According to O’Reilly, it was family affair.
“We have songs that the band has written,” he says. “We’ve been composing a lot together and so the songs are more complex.”
Accordingly, their alchemy has already caught steam. The band is slated to premiere the new EP at Ironwood Bar & Grill on Feb. 16, with a follow-up concert in Edmonton the next night. The month after, they’re scheduled to perform at the Palomino.
I Am The Mountain are going to ride the current wave and plan on basking in the reward of the long road they took. They paid their dues. It’s time they reap their rewards.
“We are self-promoted. We’re getting help but it’s still a lot of grunt work,” O’Reilly says.
“We’ve played these venues so much that now they’re starting to contact us,” he adds. “Shout out to the Palomino. They have bacon-wrapped corn on the cob. And it’s really good.”
We’re Here For Each Other will be released on Feb. 16 at their all-ages performance at Ironwood Bar & Grill, featuring Swear by the Moon and and John Lost & The Cause. Music from I Am The Mountain is available to stream on Spotify with downloads available on Bandcamp.