Ever so often, an album comes along that is utterly impossible to take out of the player. “Speak in Rhythms,” the first national release from BC-based Carmanah, is one such project. From its opening track, the delectably lilting “Roots,” to the end, this record has been a persistent earworm from the first time I pressed play.
As mentioned, “Roots” is a delightful track that fully demonstrates the skill with which Carmanah easily floats between the genres of folk and soul, with its trippy rhythm and its funky horn arrangements. “Cry” evokes some of the best 1960s soul ballads while maintaining a folk sensibility, while “Nightmare” reminds me a bit of Brit pop with its keyboard arrangements and tight harmonies behind Laura Mina’s fabulous singing.
Listeners whose tastes lean more toward folk sounds will likely gravitate to some of the slower tracks on the record, the romantic tune “Candlesticks” and the lovely and delicate “Another Morning.” More into rock? Check out “Get It Together” and “Send It to Me,” which constitute the middle portion of the album.
What impresses me most about this album is the seamless way in which Carmanah blends a number of different influences into a sound that becomes uniquely their own. In less gifted hands, the attempt might sound uneven and choppy, but this album is a coherent, thoroughly delightful experience from start to finish. Highly recommended.
We’re delighted that Laura Mina, Carmanah’s vocalist, chatted with us about the album.
Your music has been described – quite appropriately, I think – as ‘West Coast Soul.’ I was really intrigued by the mix of folk music with very soulful horn and vocal arrangements… what musical influences have shaped your sound?
One of the questions that musicians are asked most often is “what genre is your music?” When our producer, Gus Van Go, described our genre as West Coast Soul, I think we had a moment of relief knowing that we finally had a satisfying answer to this frequently asked question. We enjoy mixing a variety of styles and influences into our music. Individually, each band member offers their own touch to the arrangements and to the production of our music. To name a few personal influences, I’ve been inspired by the guitar work of Bahamas, the unique artistry of Feist, and the vocal power of Roy Orbison.
“Nightmare” has been stuck in my head since I first started listening to the album – it’s a really addictive sonic mix of soul and Britpop (to my ears, anyway). What inspired this particular song?
Nightmare is about choosing to open your eyes and observing what is going on around you, versus living with eyes closed in short-term blissful ignorance. In our modern world, it is easy to turn a blind eye to the many atrocities and issues that need to be addressed. Specifically, Nightmare’s lyrics dive into the threat that logging has on the remaining old growth forests of Vancouver Island. These are rainforests that have never been logged, so the trees are ancient and massive and the ecosystems are irreplaceable.
Gus Van Go has worked with some fantastic Canadian artists (The Arkells, Terra Lightfoot, Whitehorse, just to name a few)… what was the experience of working with him like?
Working with Gus, and his production partner Werner F., was totally amazing. While in studio Pat (bandmate, vocalist, lead guitarist) commented that every day we spent with these guys was like going to university. Gus and Werner took us and our music under their wings and helped us become our very best. They also got a huge kick out of our apparently Canadian “accents.” It was a fun, rewarding and eye-opening month in Vancouver’s Warehouse Studio. The experience continues to inspire us to hone our craft, develop our music and work towards the next album.
If I read correctly, this is your first album (commercial, at least); you released it about a month ago… what has the experience of launching an album been like for you all?
Yep, Speak in Rhythms is our first professionally produced album and we poured our hearts into it. Releasing the album has definitely been a turning point for us in our musical endeavours. It’s been exciting to see the album create a bit of a buzz. On March 9th we celebrated our hometown album release in Victoria, BC at the Capital Ballroom. Hearing people singing along to our new music shortly after the album was released made us so happy. Now we are touring the album throughout Canada and hearing our songs on different stations, having interviews and meeting folks in far places that are thrilled with the album. The sense of community and support from all over is super heart-warming.
You mention on your website that you fuel your tour vehicle with used vegetable oil, and you’ve talked in various interviews about being a conservationist – in addition to lessening your carbon footprint, what are other ways in which your ecological principles impact your work as musicians?
Haha running on vegetable oil is a hot topic for us, and it often leads to further discussions with people about the environment and the need to lessen our individual and collective ecological footprints on the planet. We have found, more and more, that people are receptive to talking about the issues at hand and are often excited to share what they are doing in their own lives to be part of change for the better. On the road, we are learning to be as “waste-less” as possible, using our own mugs and utensils, refusing plastics, eating vegetarian food and supporting local businesses. We take it a step further with our Jellyfish Project presentations at schools all over. These presentations intend to educate youth on ocean acidification, climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution, and inspire conversation and action regarding treating our planet better.
You’ve been touring parts of Ontario; does the music scene in the east differ markedly from British Columbia’s scene?
It’s March 17th and I’m currently writing this while on the road with the band in Ontario! We are three gigs in at this point (Toronto, Burnstown and London) and it’s been a hoot so far. The venues (the Rivoli, Neat Cafe and the Aeolian) have treated us so well and the audiences have been warm and wonderful. People are good all over and music unites. We see this on the west coast as well, but we’ve definitely been noting and appreciating the concentration of musicianship and skill level found in Ontario’s music scene including PR, promotions, venue managers and sound/lighting techs to name a few. Maybe due to population, maybe deep roots and a driven commercial infrastructure. Either way it’s stimulating.
Do you have additional touring/performing plans once you get back to BC?
We play at JunoFest in Vancouver on March 24th and then head home to the island for a bit of downtime before the summer. It’s been an exciting couple of months and we’re looking forward to focusing on the next album and living the next adventure that music will take us on.