If you caught any of the 2017 CBC Searchlight competition, you probably heard “Breathe In, Breathe Out” from Vancouver-based The Long War, the group that ultimately won. Now, on the heels of that win they have released their first album, “Landscapes,” a breathtaking collection of songs that capture not only their excellent folk rock sound, but also the inspiration that landscapes and environments have provided to Jarrett Lee, the group’s singer/songwriter.
The album begins with the strong opening track, “Landscapes,” and goes from strength to strength with “Ocean Below,” a tune with a driving beat that belies its deeply thoughtful lyrics. To me, while “Breathe In, Breathe Out” is a superb song, it might not be the strongest song on the album – which speaks volumes about the project as a whole. “Waiting on a Plane,” as I note in my conversation below with Jarrett, awakened all sorts of airport memories in me (from the long distance, trans-Atlantic years before M moved here) and perhaps would get my vote for favorite track; the songs that stay with us the longest, after all, are the ones with which we resonate personally. “Lake Louise” gives the album a compelling finish and leaves this listener, at least, looking forward to more from this talented group of musicians.
We’re delighted that Jarrett Lee took a few minutes mid-tour to answer some questions about the album. Lest you worry that you’ve perhaps missed hearing the band live, don’t fret: they’ll officially celebrate their album release with a show at Vancouver’s Biltmore on 31 May, and (as noted below) have scheduled some festival appearances this summer.
What are some of the ways in which the Searchlight contest has made a difference in your careers?
Winning Searchlight was a validator in a lot of ways but we approach it as an opportunity. We’ve definitely gotten more opportunities, coverage and played higher profile shows. But we’re determined to prove ourselves as more than just a contest winning band. You could say that Searchlight gave us the push we needed to take The Long War to the next level. But it’s up to us to put the work in and make the absolute best of this opportunity.
On your website, you mention that your writing is influenced by landscapes and environments… can you talk a bit about that?
The songs on this album came together during a difficult time. I had been in Ottawa writing music and performing for ten years and never really got anywhere with it. I was looking for something else, a change and decided to quit music and move west. I drove across the country which I’d done a few times but I took it slow and it really had an impact on me. It’s a beautiful place, it’s so vast and unique. That imagery lives in the lyrics combined with the indecision that creeps in. The songs are a result of what I was going through and the fact that no matter where I was I still had a longing to write music – but that came with an inner conflict and indecision.
“Breathe In, Breathe Out,” of course, was the song you submitted for Searchlight; were the other songs on the album written on or around the same time, or after?
“Breathe In, Breathe Out” was half finished and I took it with me when I went west. Chad and I collaborated on that one, he had convinced me to play a show with him which was basically a handful of his songs and mine. That’s actually how the band formed, but he wrote the second verse and half of the bridge of that one. I had written “Lake Louise” around that time, maybe before. I was also working on “Landscapes” but that song really formed when the full band came together. Songs like “Ocean Below” and “Lightning and Thunder” were written in Vancouver. “Abigail” is an old song I used to play back at an open mic I hosted in Ottawa that Chad cut his teeth at. He reminded me of that tune when we played our first show together and had somehow memorized it. I’m happy it wound up on the album.
As I write this, you’re nearing the end of a tour of eastern Canada; how has the experience been? Any special highlights you’d like to share?
The tour has been fantastic, we’re currently on the east coast which is a beautiful part of the world and people are so interested and sincere. For highlights, we just played The Carleton in Halifax. Joel Plaskett was on the bill the night before and it’s pretty special to see your name on a poster next to his. I’ve always wanted to play The Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield and that show was so incredible. We played the Empire Theatre in Belleville where Chad is from, his whole family had the chance to see him perform. We’ve met some lovely people along the way, ate lobster in Cape Breton, and played alongside some incredible artists. A definite highlight is having the chance to begin to cultivate relationships with those folks as well as enjoy their art. We’ll be in PEI soon – it’s crazy to think we came all this way!
I think one of my favorite songs from the album is “Waiting on a Plane” – I’ve felt that sense of indecision about staying/going a few times… was there a specific incident that inspired this?
“Waiting on a Plane” is an older song I wrote that needed a bit of fine tuning. Our drummer Neil was a big supporter of it and really helped give it some life. It’s about leaving a place that you were so determined to move on from and then suddenly someone comes into your life and makes you question that decision. At the time it felt like I had my own plans but the universe was thinking otherwise. I remember the first time I moved away standing in an airport feeling that way and looking around me wondering how many others were leaving something behind and wrestling with that same emotion?
Once you get back to BC, what summer plans do you have – any gigs or festivals that folks should put on their calendar if they’d like to hear you live?
We’re having our Vancouver album release at the Biltmore May 31st. We’ll also be playing CBC Nooners in Vancouver July 26th and some festival dates are on the go including the Revelstoke Street Festival.