Interview: Quantum Tangle, “Shelter as we go…”

Quantum Tangle

Hailing from Canada’s North, Quantum Tangle broke into the limelight earlier this year with their Juno for Indigenous Album of the Year (for their stunning EP “Tiny Hands”).  It seemed inevitable that their next release would dig even more deeply into the potent stew of blues, roots, and indigenous music styles that marked “Tiny Hands” – and it has surely done so (and more).  “Shelter as we go…,” Quantum Tangle’s first full-length album, was released earlier this month and it is spectacular.

Quantum Tangle combines the wide-ranging artistic visions of Greyson Gritt and Tiffany Ayalik, who draw from their respective Anishinaabe-Métis and Inuit backgrounds to create a fusion of old-world sounds and new-world flair. Woven throughout “Shelter as we go…,” deep blues riffs, traditional throat singing and haunting melodies intertwine with hard beats and equally hard-hitting storytelling.

Highlights from the new album include “Freeze Melt Boil,” a powerful indictment not only of government inaction but also of individual indifference, and “Igluvut,” a beautiful ode to home and the shelter found wherever that is constituted.

Both Grey and Tiffany kindly took the time to answer some questions about the new project, for which we are deeply appreciative.

This album focuses on the idea of shelter – ways in which shelter is protective, ways in which shelter is violated.  A number of people who end up hearing your album may experience the first but never (or only rarely) the second; what are some of the ways in which you hope this project opens their eyes (and ears)?

[Grey] This idea of making shelter where ever you are, and being able to feel safe is something that should be the norm and not a luxury.  We are hoping that people who listen, can appreciate the shelter that they have but also understand that that is not what everyone enjoys.  We should feel shelter in our relationships, being able to love who we love, but also feel safe on our land and water, knowing that those are safe as well.  In many parts of Canada, something as essential as accessible as clean water from the tap should be a national standard, but for many, especially living on reserves, this is not the case.

Quantum Tangle - Shelter as we go...

On the one hand, it seems as though indigenous concerns are more present in the news than ever, but on the other hand, there’s still not enough attention paid to the crisis of indigenous suicides in parts of Canada, and the fact that treaty violation is the norm and not the exception.  Is any progress being made at all, do you think?

[Tiffany] This is a bit of a triggering question for us – and seems a bit outside the scope of our music.

We both know many people who have lost their lives at the hands of poor mental health support, depression, and at the hands of discrimination. We have all suffered because of the treaty violations and Indian Act. There is a lot of good being done by our own people. How can a nation be an equal partner in reconciliation when most of its citizens know nothing about our history? It only takes 2 minutes on a CBC Indigenous thread to see just how little Canadians know about our history and realities. About institutional racism, sexism, and about LGBTQ+ -phobias.  Any progress that happens seems to bring out complete vitriol in others, making it hard to gauge if change is happening at all.

Looking over your list of tour dates, you’ve toured through quite a bit of Canada.  How have you found audiences’ response to your music?

[Grey] Overall the response has been really great. It’s great to play to big crowds but probably our favorite audiences are small and intimate where we can occupy the same space and really feel connected to our audience. Sometimes we have a lot of challenging material in our shows and because we mix a lot of humor and a lot of beauty and with our music, I think it helps to get the message across without alienating people. We love having audiences full of all kinds of different people witnessing the same performance. And when we get to some of the more challenging content it’s great to see how different audience members react to different things in different ways. Maybe they have been the ones to ask inappropriate questions or maybe they’ve been the ones who have had to answer them. But we try to do it with a lot of humor so that we can all see that there are better ways of doing that.

In your bio, Tiffany says, “People are recognizing that the silencing of the voices of an entire group is not only bad for  those  people,  but  everyone  is  going  to  miss  out  on  something  when  those  voices  aren’t present in an artistic conversation in this country.”  Being present in the artistic conversation is a great step but what would you hope for, going forward?

[Grey] There has been a lot of buzz with the whole Canada 150 celebrations going on right now all across the country. I know that a lot of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous have mixed feelings about participating.  A lot of our Indigenous friends who are also artists have been asked to participate and have got a lot of work out of Canada 150 money. They are right to have their voices heard to help balance the celebrations. We know many people are glad to have the opportunity and the platform to speak out against colonization and how Indigenous people are treated in this country. We also know many who are boycotting this event and have refused to participate in anything that has Canada 150 money attached to it. They are also right.

I think that something good that has come out of this event is that many Indigenous people have been included in projects, we are taking up that space and now that we’ve been invited to the table it’s going to be harder to be left out.  On a national scale Indigenous people are speaking up and speaking out and it’s going to be hard to take that platform away from us now.  Moving forward I think we hope that non-Indigenous Canadians start to understand their role in complacency. It’s time now for allies for many different causes whether they be Indigenous, LGBTQ2+, women’s rights, these fights can’t be fought only by the people going through them. It’s time for allies to be brave and also speak out when they see things going wrong for these communities.

I love the whole album, but “Igluvut” in particular paints a picture of a world that’s completely unfamiliar to me, having never been very far north.  Can you talk a bit about how your life in the north – far from being forbidding, which is how I suspect many of us down here think of it – is sustaining and sheltering?

[Tiffany] We wrote Igluvut as a love song to Iglus.  I think if people don’t have a close connection to the land any amount of time they spend out on the land might seem like “surviving.”   But Indigenous people didn’t just survive on the land, they thrived. Life was hard but life was all so beautiful, funny, full of laughter. That was everyday life. And especially for nomadic people like Inuit,  being able to roam freely and hunt and fish wherever there was food is still a huge part of our culture. I think we can often get caught up in the idea that our home is a building. This song is about the structure of the iglu but also about our family and the shelter that we should feel being with the ones we love. One of my favorite lines in this song is “we leave this house but take our home.” Especially as musicians tour a lot. We are 21st century nomads. Trying to find a sense of Home wherever you are is important. The North is a beautiful place full of beautiful people who are just trying to get by just like anybody else. It’s a land of extremes. Its harshness is in striking contrast to its beauty and its joy.

The album closes with “Angnahiak” – why was this particular (and wonderful) track chosen to round off the project?

[Tiffany] Angnahiak is my eight-year-old cousin. Her English name is Hannah. She is a goofy precocious eight year old and she isn’t too shy of anything except for throat-singing. She came on tour with us and did her first performance in Copenhagen when Quantum Tangle was performing.  She was really brave when she agreed to throat sing on the album. We brought her into the studio, she was really silly and we had a lot of giggles. And then all of a sudden she closed her eyes and she plugged her ears and she really focused on what she was singing. She was making sounds I have never heard her do before and she was improvising and creating her own song. I got a lump in my throat and I almost ready to cry because I was so proud that she was being so brave.  This one of the reasons why we do what we do. So that Indigenous Youth can be proud of where they came from and claim their traditions with blissful abandon.

~ L

Visit Quantum Tangle’s website.

Preview and buy “Shelter as we go…” on Bandcamp.

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