Entertainment

Summer isn't really that far away

Calgary staple The Summerlad muse about changes, labels and vinyl

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People often forget the city's soundscapes as they go about their daily grind. Sounds like the low whipping of the train while it trundles along the tracks or the revving of engines as they idle in gridlock are common sounds most tune out from day-to-day. This is the wall of noise that we live through every day. The Summerlad's latest album, City of Noise, is a sonic exploration of one day in the city. Originally a project for One Yellow Rabbit's High Performance Rodeo back in Jan. 2005, it's been a nearly three-year process to cut the record. The performance will be replicated Fri., Feb. 1 in That Empty Space with local band Woodpigeon.

"We've done it as a three-piece once when Liz was sick and we've done it with bits of Woodpigeon before already," says bassist Arran Fisher. "We've also done it with an entire ensemble of about nine players or so. It ended up being 17 for the original performance, with four singers and seven guitarists."

In the years between 2005 and the Dec. release, the band has occasionally played the full album live. They've also been recording City of Noise, cutting other records in the studio, playing live shows and touring. In all that hustle and bustle, it's no wonder City of Noise was only recently released.

"It started out as a big rush in the beginning," explains Fisher. "After we did the live show in 2005, we laid down 80 per cent of it right away. So a lot of the recording, structurally, is how we played it live because of how soon we recorded after the show. Because we had another full-length album [2005's Themes: International], a seven-inch recording, and another project for the [2006] High Performance Rodeo, the City of Noise project was shelved for a while. It's been a year and a half where nothing was done."

The album was released to a minimum of fanfare by the press, a seemingly unusual move considering the top-quality nature of the act. But unusual moves are not uncommon for the band. While the band did the traditional CD release, the album was actually released as a set of two vinyl records on local Calgary label Saved by Vinyl with a digital download code included.

"A lot of times, vinyl will sound better," explains singer-guitarist Garrett McClure. "I've heard the new Arcade Fire album on CD and I thought, 'Yeah, it's pretty good.' I then got it on vinyl and it sounded completely different. It sounds super gorgeous and really warm."

"Vinyl is our personal preference," adds Liz Collins, keyboardist in the group. "If any CD I want is on vinyl, I'd rather have it on vinyl."

The band, together since 1999, has added new blood with Collins. A longtime fan of the band and friend of McClure, her addition to the band has really shifted the sonic quality of the band in a way that has enhanced the music while maintaining their distinctive aural qualities.

"She's changed the band's dynamics in a really great way," says McClure. "She's new to the keyboards when it comes to the demands of the Summerlad, which is understandable as our songs are really intricate. But she has a really good ear and she totally understands the band."

With the addition of Collins, the band lost founding member and guitarist Sean Grier. Though this is always a sad moment for any group, it was tempered with the addition of an instrument that was, before anyway, not a main part of the Summerlad's permanent line-up.

"We sort of gained a keyboardist and lost a guitarist," explains McClure. "Because of that, it really sounds different. It still has a wall of noise quality, but we're able to have much clearer melodic parts come through--which is really, really nice."

Collins' time as a new member of the group has been both a learning experience and a rare chance for the friend and fan of the band to play sweet, sweet music.

"It's been interesting. I've learned a lot through playing with them," adds Collins. "It's something I've always wanted to do and it's an awesome opportunity that I was granted."

The release of City of Noise on local Calgary label Saved by Radio's sister label, Saved by Vinyl, has been a blessing to the band. Not only has the Summerlad been able to have their records released on their beloved vinyl, but Saved by Radio isn't a label that's going interfere with the group, something that's very special for McClure.

"The people who run Saved by Radio and Saved by Vinyl are crazy, crazy music fans in every good way possible," says McClure. "They really love to have their favourite bands on their label. We're different from their normal roster--they tend to have the more rootsy, alt-country bands."

McClure was part of one of Calgary's bands that could have truly gotten big: the somewhat-mythical band, the Primrods. They were the most perfect example of what can happen when a big record label gets their hands on the little guy--through the bureaucracy of a big name corporate label, the band was dumped unceremoniously after a merger with another conglomerate. Now that McClure--known only as the elusive P7 back when the Primrods were together--is part of Summerlad, he can reflect on the experiences of the oft-lauded idea of being able to create a big label record.

"I realized how important it is to not lose control of your band," says McClure. "Not just creatively, but also business-wise, aesethetically and media-wise. It made me realize that it's much better for a band to have control over how they're presented instead of letting some huge entity control what's best for you."

Thankfully, McClure and the rest of his bandmates have control of their act. With that control, they've been able to make music that is unique to them. There are few bands that sound quite like the Summerlad and even fewer still that can make a 40-minute song so eminently listenable.

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