Published Feb 22, 2012Through artful ingenuity and a genuine effort to omit the ego other bands break their backs to appropriate, the Elwins have come out on top. Their debut full-length, And I Thank You, is an offering of sensitive love jams masquerading as catchy pop songs, played by talented musicians who aren't gunning for top 40 flashiness. The music is upbeat, the lyrics occasionally aren't and there's enough sha-la-la-ing to induce an acid flash back. Pop rock records these days tend to swap real guitars for the synthetic, but And I Thank You keeps it real. "Behind My Eyes" resembles what a Don Ho guest appearance on an early Beach Boys album might have sounded like, and the sunny strumming with which the album opens is never fully abandoned. The whole thing feels a bit utopian, until the lyrics (and the sentient relationship metaphors within them) are given astute attention. With And I Thank You, the Elwins have freshened up a genre that's tough to crack and even tougher to do justice.
Your new album, And I Thank You, has been finished since last summer. What was the hold up getting it out?
We weren't in a rush to release it. We were kind of asking our friends what they thought we should do, talking to people and getting a lot of advice; it just took us awhile to find the right situation, and then we were finally in a comfortable spot. Everyone felt good about it and wanted to go ahead with it, so we just kind of ended up doing it now.
And the right situation ended up being an independent release?
Yeah, we're doing it independently with outside support.
So this album is coming out independently and your last EP was available for free. Those are two fairly risky business models.
I feel comfortable with it. I think the success that the record has will be determined by how much hard work we put into it and how much hard work we put into playing lots and having a good time. I feel good about it because I know that we're all in this. The four of us in the band are all going to be giving our all and doing as much with the record as we can. We're really trying to get it out there and move around.
You played with Jay Ferguson and Brendan Canning at Exclaim's anniversary bash. Are you guys big Sloan and Broken Social Scene fans?
Both, for sure. It was an honour; I felt like a schoolgirl or something. With Jay, we played a Sloan song. I got crazy goose bumps playing with him; he's a really cool guy. I haven't seen Sloan play in so long, but I think they're going to be doing some playing this year, so that'll be cool. And we got to go and rehearse with Brendan, which was amazing.
Did they have any wise words of advice for you guys?
We got to hang out with [Brendan Canning] and we showed him our record. He gave us some advice and was telling us which songs he thought were good singles and stuff like that. It was just so cool to hear his opinion on that sort of stuff; we were definitely picking his brain. I think we're going to get together with him again just to talk and hear his thoughts about what we're doing.
Having listened to it a few times, I can't decide whether the album is upbeat or not. The music is, obviously, but not all of the lyrics. Did you guys try to be emotionally complex?
The process of choosing all the songs was interesting. We did a project called "song of the week," where we would write and record a song every week to develop a big repertoire so that when we made the album, we would have a huge amount of songs to choose from. So a lot of the songs on the record came from that. We had about 40 songs and then we talked to the producers and sent them demos and chose the songs. We ended up recording 14, so there are four tracks we have that aren't on the record. We probably chose a lot of the more upbeat sounding songs that we had. There were some other songs that we had from the "song of the week" project that were more down tempo and maybe a bit more emotionally complex, like you said.
Does the fact that you've known each other for so long influence the band in any way?
I think so. Myself, Matt [Sweeny] and Travis [Stokl] all went to high school together and we played in another band before the Elwins. I left to go to college and that's when they formed the Elwins, just the two of them. I joined awhile after they had been doing it as a two-piece. We kind of met Chris [Shannon] through the local music scene. He went to high school in Aurora, ON and played in a band called the Expos that we all knew and loved. We all know each other pretty well. Three of us live together right now and we get together every day to work on stuff. We spend eight hours a day together.
You live together and work together? How do you manage to not kill each other?
That's a good question. I guess we've all just learned how to speak each other's language; we've just gotten to know each other really well. They're super-nice guys. They're not hard to get along with, in my opinion. I like spending time with them.
Which is good, because you lived together at Bear Creek while you were recording.
We were there for 25 days, so we got really settled in; it was so cool. The gear they had there was just fun to play around with. Ryan [Hadlock, the producer] has so many keyboards and different things that we fooled around with a lot. There was always stuff to play with. We got really settled in there after Travis finished tracking his drums, which was maybe the first six days that we were there. He became the resident chef for the rest of the time and he would just make us sandwiches and pasta all the time. It made it amazing. And Ryan would bring his dog over. It was such a great vibe there, just easy and really nice to work in. We got to stay really focused on the record. That place is just beautiful.
Do you think the Bear Creek cabin vibes made their way onto the album?
I do. Ryan Hadlock is such a great producer and he's all about the vibe. He's got crystal lamps and all this sort of stuff; he loves to set the vibe just right. I think he helped a lot in setting the tone for the record. There was an old polo hat from when people would ride horses there. We used it as percussion on one song. There's a ballad on the record called "I Miss You and I," and in the chorus ― you have to listen for it ― but there's this little "tsssktka" sort of thing and that's layers of us tapping on a polo hat. It sounded pretty cool.
You guys are a relatively young band, which I'm sure you hate hearing, but you have had some big moments already and there's a lot of chatter over this album.
For us, it's just really exciting. We're all just super-excited to be doing what we're doing and we feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work so much on it, because it's pretty much what we spend all of our time doing. Being in this band is what we all want to be doing. To have been able to do some of those things feels so great. We're really amazed with what has happened in this short time; it's been a blast. We're kind of on a rollercoaster because we've never done anything like this before. We're going at it head first. (Independent)