The Acorn

The Acorn
It wasn’t too long ago that Ottawa-based folk rockers the Acorn released Tin Fist into the musical wild. Wrapped in a sprightly haze and sealed with a meadow’s kiss, the six-song EP gave listeners an indication of quintet’s true intentions — as well as why songwriter Rolf Klausener was carrying around a tape recorder in his back pocket. The Acorn’s first full-length recording, Glory Hope Mountain, was an album two years in the making, and according to Klausener, was meticulously planned to recount his mother Gloria Esperanza Montoya’s life, from birth to age 30. While Tin Fist provided the band with a year’s worth of touring credits, Klausener suggests that this latest work pushes the boundaries between lyricism and storytelling, individual desires and collaboration. Glory Hope Mountain stretches their atmospheric gaze into the realm of heart-drums, gut-strings, ukuleles and marimbas, all to capture the struggles and hardship Klausener’s mother overcame in her native home of Honduras.

Was Glory Hope Mountain already in the making when you released Tin Fist? Considering that Tin Fist was released in early 2007, it seems like you guys were fairly quick to release your full-length.
Rolf Klausener: I started working on Glory Hope Mountain in January 2006, and the original idea came to me even a bit before that. The idea was really spontaneous; I had been talking and thinking about writing an album about my mom, and jotting down her life story for years. One day, I just blurted out to my band-mates, "Hey, what if we did an album based on my mom?” and they were like, "Yeah, okay!” We didn’t really think much about it but then there were a whole bunch of arts grants coming up so I decided to apply for some in the fall of 2005 and we got them in the spring of 2006. By that time, I had already interviewed my mom and gotten about eight hours worth of interviews, so when we got the grants we were all like, "Yay! We can record!” So I started thinking about how I wanted to approach the songs, and I started doing some research on native Honduran music and the background my mom is from, because I didn’t know anything about it. I went to the Smithsonian, I researched at some of the universities in Ottawa, and I talked to some ethnomusicologists. So basically, I had been working on [the album] since early last year, but what I didn’t anticipate was the fact that I’d have to sit with this music and my mom’s stories for a long time before I could really start writing. We were at a bit of a standstill last summer, and we had a few songs that we knew weren’t going to be on the album, so we just recorded them in the studio, wrote a bunch more songs and that became Tin Fist.

Why did you choose to write a biographical record?
It wasn’t much of a conscious decision. I’ve wanted to write about my mom for a while, because I knew bits and pieces of her experiences and I knew she had a pretty amazing life, but I didn’t know the whole picture. Once you get older and your family gets older, you start to get a bit nervous and you want to know where they’re from. I didn’t really know where my mom was from, and my father died when I was younger, so I wanted to know where my mom was at, where she’s from and the entire story before anything bad happens. It’s a pretty long story, but basically she is born in Honduras, has a very hard life, escapes her father who is very abusive, is on her own at the age of 11 and 12, works on her own, moves to Nicaragua, goes on a trip to Miami and meets a woman from Montréal who says, "Hey, you should come up and visit me for a bit.” My mom just packs up everything, goes to Montréal and is ditched at the train station there. She’s stuck there, doesn’t speak English or French, but ends up staying in Montréal. About six months after that, she meets my dad, falls in love and gets married. That’s sort of a very brief synopsis.

Considering most of the disc is very personal, did the rest of the band feel disconnected from the music and subject matter in any way?
We talked about that, and not really. I was really open with the band about the stories and they felt a certain connection because they know my mom, and also a lot of the stories are universal: survival, abuse, relationships with your parents and the questions you ask yourself about your family, about what’s inherently part of them and what’s part of you. It’s about what you share with your family and the patterns that repeat themselves in you. As you get older, you start to realise how much of your parents are imbued in you, and how much you can and can’t escape. The band could really relate to that, for sure, and I think anyone can. But really, it’s a story about family and how it affects you. The band never really felt that far away from the music at all.

Which song on Glory Hope Mountain best describes the relationship you had with your mother?
I definitely think the last song, "Lullaby (Mountain)” for sure, because my mom is kind of a bit over-protective, like all moms, but she’s always told me to do my own thing. She’s been very supportive of everything I’ve done. Whenever I cut myself, or whatever, she’d always say, "That’s my blood.” She reminds me that we share blood and that’s a strong connect in my mind. If there’s any song that sums up [our relationship], it’s "Lullaby (Mountain).” And the reason I got Casey [Mecija] from Ohbijou to sing it was because in my research of native Honduran music, lullabies are traditionally sung by a woman or by two women; they’re not sung by men. I felt like it was only appropriate that a woman sing it, and since I’m really good friends with Casey and Ohbijou, I thought it would be good for her to sing it.

Some of your songs, like "Crooked Legs” and "Flood Pt. 1” have more of an ethnic, rootsier sound rather than your typical atmospheric sound. Why is that?
I’ve never really felt tied to a particular genre. Sometimes I wish that I could have a really distinct sound. Really, when I was approaching Glory Hope Mountain after doing all the research and interviewing, I didn’t want the album to be all guitars and drums and bass. I wanted to explore the sonic possibilities, so I figured there might be something interesting in Honduran folk music that I’ve never thought of. At first, the research was really bad because the music I found was really dissonant and the musicianship wasn’t very interesting a lot of the time. But then I found this particular style of music that was very percussion-based, and the percussion was all very tribal and involved hand drumming. The accents were also very different; whereas most music the emphasis is on the first beat, this stuff was on the second beat. I actually took those folk songs and tried to emulate the drumming. We did a few scratch recordings of these percussion tracks, and that’s when I wrote "Crooked Legs” and "Flood Pt. 1” over. Basically, I wanted to try something new.

You seem to incorporate some ukuleles and marimbas into the music.
A lot of people in the band are multi-instrumentalists, but the big thing was the drums. The foundation of a lot of pop music is drumming, so to make the drums different was key. We did a lot of research into instrumentation and we ended up getting a marimba because it’s used in traditional folk music. There are also a lot of gut-strings, guitars, ukuleles, marimbas and percussion. "Low Gravity” and "Flood Pt.1” incorporate a lot of those elements.

How did bands like Ohbijou, Wooden Stars, Big Sky and Fiftymen end up making guest appearances on the record?
I was really interested in seeing how many live performances I could incorporate into the record. Obviously, some of the songs have multi-tracking and stuff, but most of the songs are based on live performances. All of the percussion you hear in "Flood Pt.1” and "Glory” and "Low Gravity” is live; we got like seven people together, sat down and did live drumming, without the song even being recorded. It was like, "Let’s record a bunch of percussion and apply the song on top of it.” When looking at the different instrumentation as the songs began to take shape, we couldn’t do it all on our own. We needed another percussionist, so then I talked to my friend Jake in Fiftymen. And then I needed a weird, low spiritual voice, so I thought of my friend Flecton from Big Sky, who is this huge dude with this guttural voice, so he was perfect for that. And like I said before, with "Lullaby (Mountain),” I needed a woman’s voice, and since we’re really good friend with Ohbijou, I though Casey would be perfect for it. We really, really threw our egos out the door for this album. We had to ask what the song needed. It was all about giving yourself up to the song. The songs dictated what we needed.

What can audiences expect from your live performances of the album?
I’m hoping people won’t come to the shows thinking they’ll get something wispy or specific, because there’s going to be a lot of different music. Some is going to be loud and bombastic, and then there are going to be other songs that will be more dynamic. We’re going to stick to the album as close as possible when we’re on tour.

To get all the tour info head to Exclaim!'s Wood, Wires, & Whisky Tour