Published Jan 22, 2009If it wasn't true, it might come from a cheesy teen flick revolving around a high school band. Two friends are jamming away when another pops his head around the corner and says "Hey, that sounds good! Can I join?" It's not quite the origin of Toronto's Bruce Peninsula, but it's close. Friends Matt Cully and Misha Bower were re-interpreting rural folk and traditional recordings for a concert while roommate Neil Haverty listened in. "They practiced in the back room of our apartment," Haverty explains, "and it was, 'I like this and I want to join in' so I basically told them and they didn't oppose that." Two more joined - Andrew Barker and Steve McKay on bass and drums, respectively - and so did an amalgam of six other musicians known as the choir, which can include Katie Stelmanis and Ohbijou's Casey Mecija.
This large organization, though, is not apparent on their debut album, A Mountain Is A Mouth, where the group sings seamlessly as one unified voice. For Cully, the old traditionals sparked an ongoing concern: "'Why does this music speak to me, or why does contemporary music expressing contemporary attitudes not speak to me? Why does it turn me off? Why is there something aesthetically that I can't quite latch onto?' So, I found myself more and more going back to that music and developing a deeper connection to the songs and the way the voices sound."
But the traditionals were just to get the creative juices flowing. "It was a really good jumping off point for everyone and it got everyone inspired about singing together," Haverty recollects. "It made us feel comfortable about singing together, which a whole lot of people aren't. To get six people in a room and sing in harmony is a little daunting at first but since we had all these recordings of people doing it so well, it really made everyone say 'We can do this too.'" The experiments might have been tentative, but Bruce Peninsula have become significantly more comfortable in their musical skin. Their debut features stomping melody, rough guitars and manic tempos that are not an emulation of older music, but an evolution. There is no better evidence of this than their live show, where Bruce Peninsula coalesce into a powerful band that effortlessly induce goosebumps when all 11 members let loose with their collective cry.
As Cully describes it, "We try to bring a spectacle to the audience and basically not let anyone go untouched. Maybe someone won't like it if they're indifferent, which to me is the worst kind of feeling you could get out of it. It should be either 'It was loud and crazy and shit' or 'Whoa, I got out of my seat because I was really excited.'" Therefore, don't go pigeonholing them as having a throwback sound, as, for Haverty, "[The traditionals] gave us a lot of good lessons, but we're not in that class anymore. It's something that really helped us start the band but now that we know more of what we want to be as a band, it has very little to do with it anymore."
In the end, Bruce Peninsula may sound like the past, but they are all about the future. "The best part about making music," Haverty offers, "is trying to discover the original bits and trying to experiment and I don't think we want to be in a band where we're doing something that we've heard before. We want to push ourselves."