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Interview: Birds of Bellwoods

You guys seem to have a firm base in the folk sound but you also do a wonderful job of stringing in pop, R&B and even harmony sections. Is it at all difficult to meld each of these genres into one cohesive sound? What has impacted the development of your sound as a band the most?

Adrian Morningstar: I would say it’s not very difficult actually. Simply because all of our influences vary so widely. Like we’re all bringing in influences from our own lives, and our own specific tastes in music.

Stevie Joffe: I would agree with Adrian that it’s not difficult only because I don’t think we’re consciously attempting to meld any of those sounds together. I don’t think we’re aiming at having anyone to describe us that way, and I think it’s something that happens naturally when you infuse all of the influences that we have. I think the way music is created nowadays is a combination of a lot of different influences from a lot of different genres and that’s just the reality of existing in a time where music is at our finger tips. How can you not be influenced by the people around you?

AM: Just to add on, I’d like to say that yes, we’re making folk music, but we’re not attempting to make folk music. I think our makeup of instruments and vocals sort of made us folk from the get go, rather than attempting to write folk songs.

SJ: What we’re primarily trying to do is tell stories, and different experiences and stories may end up sounding entirely different, but fundamentally what we’re trying to do is tell those stories in the best way possible.

You guys take your name from Trinity Bellwoods Park here in Toronto, which I understand you are quite fond of. What would you say was your favourite memory there?

AM: I would say one I always come back to for one reason or another, is this image I have of myself and a girl, a girl from time past sitting in, I guess it’s the dog park, but anyways in the middle of the day walking her dog. And it was just such a simple moment, but for some reason it had this lasting image in my mind. Summer, you know?

SJ: My favourite memory would have to be this rehearsal we had early on in our time together when we got together and drank more beer than we should have and did our first ever interview as a band with a company called We in the Pocket. But basically any of my Bellwoods memories blur together [laughs]. It’s a crazy thing cause it actually reminds me of the time I spent in Montreal and I get to keep a little pocket of that alive in this beautiful neighborhood of Toronto.

Some of your older existing online recordings were recorded all in one take. Do you think that contributes to the raw intensity of the music that you guys are after? 

SJ: Actually, all of the music we’ve released so far has been recorded all in one take. We’ve only every done live sessions, but we are right now working on our first studio album. So, to answer your question, I absolutely think it’s what we’re after. I think one of those things that we’re pursuing for most is exactly as you said: rawness, intensity, truth, honesty, both in the way we formulate these stories and in the way we record them. Right now as we’re putting out our music, we don’t want to show people what our producer can do, we want to show people what we can do and what is the closest to a true Birds of Bellwoods concert experience. We hope that when you hear the material that we’ve released so far, you’re getting a true sense of us as if we’re playing in your living room to you alone.

AM: I just want to say that on top of all that Stevie said, by performing live or by recording live not only are we trying to capture the sound, the meaning, everything that comes into writing the song, but we’re also trying to capture the moment of the sound.

SJ: That’s arguably the most important point. When you hear what we’ve recorded thus far, you’re hearing all of us play together. You’re hearing us singing to and for each other and soliciting an experience as a full band as opposed to something that’s been pieced together.

You’ve just recently released your latest EP, Livewires. How has the reception been thus far? Can you tell us a bit about the writing and recording process? 

AM: So far, yeah. It’s funny cause we basically needed something to bring with us when we went on tour. We went on tour and we needed something to bring with us to share. So we thought: ‘How the hell do we get an EP together? Oh right, let’s rent mics, and record straight to logic’.

SJ: It was all rugged and came together fast and dirty, but that’s the way we like it.

AM: But with that said, we only intended to press 200 copies and only sell it as such on the tour and since then people have been asking us for copies so we’re currently getting more copies pressed. We’re selling them off Bandcamp but we’ve gotten some good feedback!

SJ: We’ve been surprised and overwhelmed by the reception of the EP. We didn’t expect it be in such demand. We just figured it would be something to help tie us over until the full studio album is released. But what ended up happening was that the demand from our audience became so high that we’ve had to consider it a full EP. I’m still excited about the fact that our live EP is a step out cause it represents us well.

One really interesting aspect of your band is that there isn’t just the staple, guitar/vocal/bass/drum combo, but rather a much larger expansion. There’s banjos, stand up bass, mandolin, etc. Do you guys ever struggle when doing that live in contrast to the studio, or is it something that comes quite naturally for the group?

AM: I would say the fact that we have stuck with the shape and sound that our voices provide for us, and what they bring, we haven’t had much trouble with it yet. And I think it’s interesting not having percussion. We’ve only really performed live with a percussionist once and that was sort of out of our element.

SJ: It was something we tried, and it was fun, but we wanted our sound to come from a different place. Percussion is something we introduce to ourselves in correlation with our instruments. So what I would say is, we’ve talked about the raw sound and that our studio recordings have been live so far, so that’s really been a huge favour to ourselves in that our transition from the studio to our live performance has been pretty well seamless. We’re lucky enough right now to be playing with a pure enough set up, both in studio and out of studio, that it’s all been in motion.

AM: We really carry our sound on our backs in the sense that it’s all the same whether it’s plugged in or not amplified at all. Either in studio, out of studio, in Bellwoods Park or in our living room. It’s still going to be the same instrumentation, so it’s going to have a similar effect.

SJ: No matter the setting, you’re always going to get an intimate performance and an incendiary performance out of us.