Published Sep 27, 2009With a heavier foot on the distortion pedal and an extra measure of haunting balladry, the Wheat Pool deliver a second crop of the dark, prairie-ified roots rock that went down so well on their 2007 debut, Township. The Edmontonian quartet hit a perfect note right off the top with the opener "This Is It." The song's swaying rhythm builds to a thick layer of horns and piano, breaks down into an a cappella refrain of reverb-laden vocal harmonies and finally wraps up in a storm of grimy rock guitars; it's a joyful marriage of rock and country sensibilities. Although they lean towards straight rock on tracks like "I'm Not Here" and "Too Far Apart," even at their rawest the band exhibit a deliciously wholesome prairie flavour: a rhythm reminiscent of the swoop and peak of telephone lines strung along an impossibly long highway, or a timbre imbued with the crazy blue of an Alberta sky on a clear October afternoon. The band that pride itself on making music perfectly suited to road-tripping have succeeded again with an album that makes a body yearn for the sight of that broken white line disappearing under the front wheels of the car. (Shameless, www.shamelessrecordscanada.com)
Can you tell me a little about the urge to drop place names and play with geography in your songwriting?
Guitarist/vocalist Robb Angus: When you live in the prairies it's pretty much a ten- or 13-hour drive to get to anywhere to see anyone you know or care about. We have a lot of family out in Winnipeg and Ontario, so we spent a lot of time growing up driving through the prairies and the mountains, and we just write a lot of songs about the geography around us. Those experiences had a pretty big influence on us as songwriters.
There definitely seems to be a strong prairie influence in your music.
Yeah, we don't really like to call our music "alt-country" and we don't like to call it "country rock." We prefer the term "prairie rock," to be honest. That's what we're shooting for: for people to realize there's a prairie theme to our music. We're definitely not hiding where we come from and what our influences are. It certainly comes out in the songwriting.
Do you think geography has an effect on a musician's songwriting?
It certainly has for us. With the last album, we really wanted to make a driving album, something you could pop in on the highway and listen to three or four times over between Edmonton and Winnipeg. And we got a lot of comments on the last album; people were saying, "it's a real driving record, good on the highway." It was great to get that kind of recognition for what we'd set out to do. And the new album, in a lot of ways, isn't too different. The darker songs are a little darker and the pop songs are a little poppier, but I think the main feel is the same. There's a common thread running through the album, start to finish, and even a common thread between the first album and this one.
Are you going in a darker, grittier direction with your music?
Yeah, this time we left more of the country behind and went a little more with the dark pop. We're definitely headed down that road. We'll never get away from the country sound completely, and I don't ever want to get away from it, but we're definitely headed in more of a pop direction with a roots folk background to it. It's gritty and poppy but it's still structured and based in that country roots feel.
What inspired the album title?
The title is sort of a contraction of two terms. As a band, there's always that implied notion that if you want to get noticed or if you want any attention or you want to make it you sort of have to get to Toronto and have success there. Pretty much the centre for music in Canada, as far as the industry's concerned, comes out of Toronto. Being a western Canadian band, that's always sort of hanging over your head; you can't really resent it. When you're a travelling band, it's sort of a target for you. If you want to fight it you can fight it but it's just sort of always there. I'd been talking about a title I thought would be a good one just based on the first two or three songs I'd written for the album. They had a really slow, dark, haunting feel to them. I was leaning towards wanting to call the album Songs Haunt but there was also the whole theme of Ontario that we kept coming back to. And then one day that contraction between the two words just came out.
Why the two different versions of "Too Far Apart"? They seem to represent the two sounds you play with: the rock side and the rootsier, ballad-y side.
The slower one, the last track on the album, is how it was originally written. When I brought it into rehearsal, I played the slow version, to moderate reviews. And then I reworked it, but we couldn't decide which one we liked better, so we decided to record both and by the time we'd recorded them both we'd found a way to play each version in a way that we were happy with. That definitely is a reflection of both of the forms our music has. The darker, slower stuff, that haunted feeling that's reflected in the title, and the more upbeat pop that maybe isn't so different from a song from the last record like "Evergreen."
Is it hard to find a balance between those two sides?
I find it hard as a songwriter. I really love sad songs; I always have. Whether it was Blue Rodeo or Ryan Adams or Phil Collins, it doesn't matter who it is, if it's a great ballad I'm in love with it immediately. Since I'm drawn to that as a listener, I often find when I'm sitting down to write that those are the kinds of songs that I try and write. And the conflict is that I don't ever want to have an album that's entirely filled with these slow, emoting, depressing songs. If I didn't police myself that's probably what I'd end up with. The more upbeat songs are tougher to make myself write. (Shameless)