Birds Of Bellwoods is the band Toronto can’t stop humming along to.
This band from Toronto have a serious background in the entertainment industry – most of them having studied acting, and having played classical instruments from a very young age – it’s no wonder they are catching peoples attention. They have a true Canadian flavour – with a 50’s style, vocals as strong as Kings Of Leon, and folky harmonies resembling The Lumineers. This special blend between classical, folk, and rock is something Birds Of Bellwoods can be proud of. In the midst of the cool “hipster” indie scene in Toronto these guys will most likely be playing some of the best festivals and venues not only Toronto but in North America – if they keep their feet grounded as much as their kick drum and their stage presence as true as their lyrics.
Toronto Paradise caught up with Birds Of Bellwoods in the midst of their busy Canadian Music Week schedule.
See the full interview below:
1. Tell us more about how you guys met & started making music together!
Stevie and Adrian have known each other since they were about ten years old. They were in a play together way back when, at the Elgin Theatre. Kintaro came into the picture in high school, he was already playing upright bass by then. All three of them went to Earl Haig SS, but they didn’t play together at the time. Stevie and Adrian went on to study at the National Theatre School of Canada, where they started writing music together, meanwhile, Kintaro was over at McGill. Once back in Toronto, Stevie went through a pretty bad break up and thankfully Adrian helped channel that into music. At this point they started taking things a little more seriously, enlisting the best bassist they knew, Kintaro, who was not only down to support, but also to expand. At midnight on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, they gathered at the crossroads and made an agreement they perhaps shouldn’t have. Chris was born, and the band was the band.
2. How did the name Birds of Bellwoods come about?
We’ll literally never tell anyone that, you’re not the first interviewer to try to crack the code but it’s not going to happen and the world is just going to have to accept that they’ll never truly understand the origins of our name. But we will say that it reflects our sound: rural heart, urban influence, feathers and bark.
3. Who influences you in your music? There’s a lot of folky sounds in your records.
Surprisingly, we don’t listen to a ton of folk music. That’s just kind of the instrumentation working its own magic. We get a lot from musicians in the community around us, amazing artists like UKAE, Scott Helman, Midnight Vesta, Gold Complex, and others… Toronto is amazing. In our headphones right now is a lot of PUP, Lady Lamb, Shakey Graves, super getting into the new album from Tallest Man On Earth. Our influences vary a lot. This diversity is what creates our unique sound.
4. You have a unique, rocky voice that stands out. Did you ever try out any other genres?
D’aww shucks. That’s sweet. Stevie and Adrian play around on electric guitars every now and then. Stevie is kind of working on a weird ethereal Volcano Choir-ish one-off project but really he just wants to have a punk band on the side. For Kintaro this particular sound is kind of a stop on a train. He has personally explored a bunch of different genres to varying depths. Right now this is where he is, but that is always evolving, linearly and laterally. When it comes down to it, our genre as a band has already changed quite a bit, our sound has been evolving from day one. I don’t think we will ever stop trying out new ideas with each other. Adrian also has a secret electro-pop dance music project you might hear about soon.
5. You’ve gained a lot of recognition in the city and further afield – with some big publications naming you “amongst the city’s most talented emerging songwriters”. How do you stand out in a town full of people wanting to succeed in music?
If everyone learned how to stand out we’d be doomed, wouldn’t we? But seriously, we just work hard at the right things. We set our goals very high. One of us is always doing something band related, round the clock. We take ourselves and each other as seriously as we want to be taken by the public, and try to turn every opportunity into three more opportunities. We’ve always got our stick on the ice.
6. How important would you say being trained musically is as opposed to learning “by ear”?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Chris learned a lot of chord syntax in university which is useful for making original-sounding progressions, but having less formal training sometimes makes it easier to just bang something out without overthinking it. They play different roles, but both are necessary. At the end of the day if it sounds good, it is good. Musical training should never stifle that (which it can a lot of the time), but it should rather allow you to explore new possibilities.
7. Three of you have backgrounds in acting – do you think that that comes in handy when performing? For stage presence etc?
Actually all four of us do, Kintaro is just a little less vocal about it. And yes, I think it’s vital to the work we do on stage. All the crazy ridiculousness we learned in theatre school applies just as well to performing musically. When we’re up there we’re pursuing an objective, same as being in a play or a film. Every now and then, there will be someone who approaches us after a show and says we have such a dynamic presence on stage, and that’s because we’re really communicating up there, with each other and with everyone in the audience.
8. You’ve done a lot of live sessions – how important do you think live sessions are for a band in 2015?
They are a really lovely way for your audience to get to know you and your natural sound. People want the intimate experience, they want to feel like they had you play for them and them alone, they want to feel like they’re supporting someone they know and trust. And with technology as it is, now we can do that for people all around the world without going door to door, and we’re all for it.
9. You guys have more of a vintage, 50’s meets Williamsburg style with the classic suits. What made you decide to not go for the modern pop band look?
Simply put, we’re not a modern pop band. We dress to suit the music. Although there’s no guarantee that won’t change. But essentially, aesthetic is an important part of the live experience, and we want every variable working to the same end. Also, it is pronounced Williamsboig.
10. If you guys could master any world instrument each – what they be and why?
S: Hell, I’m still trying to figure out the mandolin. But I’d love to learn the violin too.
C: Violin as well.
A: Definitely want to try the tabla. Such a unique sound.
K: In a perfect world we could all play every instrument! That said, there is something very valuable about spending time with one instrument and trying to get to know all the ins and outs. In this day and age the possibilities are endless in music, so sometimes it is nice to give yourself some parameters to stay within and explore.
11. What are your top 3 places to hang out in Toronto?
We go to a bar called ‘The Whippoorwill’ a lot. AMAZING drinks (Stevie refers to the bartender as an anesthesiologist) and one of the best burgers in town. It’s actually where we shot our photos for the upcoming EP. Also Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, and Pearl Court (Adrian intends to have his wedding reception there). Bonus answer is Riverdale Park in the summertime.
12. How has it felt to play Canadian Music Week in your hometown with so many great artists from around the world?
It was amazing to see so much talent flood our city, and we all did our best to get the most we could out of it. Being a part of that wave was such a treat. And we were blown away by the support we got during our showcase, although it sold out real early and even the producer of our new EP couldn’t get in!
13. Who were some of the best artists that you have seen perform at Canadian Music Week this year?
We’ve gotta tip our hats to Lady Lamb, Rob Moir, Gold Complex (talk about a tough act to follow), and Midnight Vesta. Also Kale Matheson. His music was beautiful and he had the lovable jerk thing down and it felt real. Heard he won SOCAN artist of the year. Furthermore Busty and the Bass was absolute fire, Ivory Hours sound better and better every time they play, and Eli and the Strawman were very tight.
14. Best piece of advice from a music industry insider?
S: “Industry rule #4080, record company people are shadyyyy!” (Q-Tip)
C: Just be honest.
K: Get out. (we didn’t listen though)
A: Don’t hire backup dancers.
15. What can we expect over the next year from you?
Well you can catch us at NXNE or the upcoming Boots and Hearts Festival, but the most exciting thing coming up for us is the release of our new EP, The Fifth, which will be released toward the end of this summer. It’s going to be something.
16. Where is Paradise for Birds of Bellwoods?
We’re gonna quote Johnny Cash on this one. “This morning, with her, having coffee.”
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