For Winnipeg’s The Details, hard work pays off. Since their inception in 2006, they have been tirelessly recording and touring. Their first full length, Draw a Distance. Draw a Border, released in 2007, broke the Top 100 on the CMJ charts and established them on the Canadian scene. In the last two years, they have made smash appearances around North American festivals, rocking SXSW, NXNE, Pop Montreal, CMW and even stages as diverse as Sled Island Festival 2007 and 2008 and the 2008 Jazz Winnipeg Festival. Despite all their touring, they still call the Manitoba capital their home. “We feel a special connection to Winnipeg,” says singer/guitarist Sean Vidal. The Details are also making waves south of the border, with one of their songs featured in NBC’s Lipstick Jungle. Sharing stages with Stars, The Constantines, You Say Party! We Say Die!, it won’t be long before The Details join the ranks of Canadian household names. Watch for their new record and upcoming cross-Canada tour. Visit thedetails.ca.
Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell started cutting her teeth as an indie-pop songwriter and solo performer at the tender age of 14 in Guelph, Ont., before enrolling in the jazz program at Montreal’s Concordia University, where the original members of Land of Talk came together. When they released their debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, in 2006, they hit the road running, but oddly enough, they first garnered attention south of the border, with Europe and the U.K. quickly swooning afterwards.
“We’ve been really lucky, being a Canadian band,” says Powell, Land of Talk’s principal songwriter, singer and guitarist, “but we never concentrated that much on Canada because right from the start, it was places like New York that took us under their wing. It wasn’t until after we toured with Broken Social Scene and got some airplay on CBC Radio that Canadians started to pick up on us. Even though we don’t sound like Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire, I think that the phenomenon of those bands made it easier for us.”
The band’s new record, The Golden Guess, is probably its true jewel in an already well-decorated crown. With a denser musical mix that further carves out its signature sound, Land of Talk — with Joseph Yarmush on bass and Andrew Barr on drums — still possesses the strong pop sensibility that earmarked its earlier releases. But Powell’s croon and hard-fought lyrical pearls now burrow deeper into your skin, while the band is able to push beyond conventions and still remain grounded.
“When we were writing for the new record and recording it, we didn’t have a label in the picture, and we found that really freeing,” Powell says. “Because we didn’t have anybody looking over our shoulders, we were able to make the record we wanted.”
Much of the disc’s psychedelic flair and steadfast direction could be attributed to Jace Lasek, co-producer and member of the Besnard Lakes, whose grubby mitts [??] can be found all over the record. “We’ve worked with Jace before, but we were adamant about him coming more to the forefront,” says Powell. “He was pretty light-handed previously because he wanted to see how far we would take it on our own, but this time, I was really upfront about co-producing with him. Even if Jace and I didn’t live in the same city, I would travel anywhere in the world to work with him again. He really helped me piece together all of this crap that was trapped in my brain. He’s amazing.”
Thom Swift laughs when he thinks back to winning the 2008 Maple Blues Award for New Artist of the Year. “I’m sure a lot of people were looking for this young, beaming face,” he says, poking gentle fun at himself, “and instead this old guy crawled out of the crowd.”
That’s because, although his solo career may be a relatively new venture, Swift is hardly a musical newcomer. His solid reputation was established playing finger-style guitar with the blues-jazz group Hot Toddy Trio for more than 12 years. Together they released nine records and toured extensively.
But when the group decided take a break, Swift says he was “forced through another door. I wanted to continue what I was doing,” he says of the transition to solo work, “so it was a no-brainer.” Still, Swift, who has been based in Halifax for the last five years, admits the change was challenging. “I think on the one hand, it was a little frightening not to go through the door with the guys I’d been hanging out with for so long — but on the other hand, it was great. It was liberating. I was the master of my own destiny.”
It was a gamble that paid off. Swift’s first solo album, Into the Dirt (2007), which was produced by Charles Austin (who has also produced albums by Joel Plaskett, Buck 65 and Matt Mays), won him an impressive array of hardware, everything from an East Coast Music Award for Blues Recording of the Year to the Galaxie Rising Star prize and two Music Nova Scotia Awards.
Though Swift’s rich, textured songs straddle genres (“I’ve always been in a bunch,” he says with a laugh, “I’ve never really dealt with borders”), when it comes to songwriting Swift says he is always compelled by truth. “That’s where it all starts from,” he says, “it has got to be real — that’s a rule I have in my life. I don’t have anything to do with anything that isn’t real.” Swift, who recently became a father, says his inspiration generally comes from the day-to-day. “I write about the things I’ve seen and heard, same as everyone.”
His second album, blue sky day, was released in February and has already been embraced by the rock, folk and blues worlds. Though he admits Into the Dirt was “a little darker,” blue sky day reflects Swift’s current state of mind. “The stuff I have going on in my life right now is very positive on all fronts,” he says, a smile creeping into his voice. “It’s a good time in life right now.” Then he pauses before stating what feels wonderfully obvious: “It seems like there is a lot of blue sky for this album.”