I marvel at Canada’s indie music scene with all its kaleidoscopic changes. Bands form, make some great music, fall apart, and reform again in new patterns. I find myself watching the trajectories of particular musicians, because most bands seem to dissipate into the ether. But, when a band makes it to a third album, I pull out a beer (ok, in my case, it’s kombucha) and celebrate that this constellation might be around for a while. Edmonton’s The Provincial Archive is just such a band. Having just released their third album, the electro-folk rock band is thriving with its maturing sound. I spoke to chief songwriter Craig Schram about their recent adventures abroad and their new album, It’s All Shaken Wonder.
Rachel Levine (RL): You spent the spring touring the UK and Germany. How was that?
Craig Schram (CS): Yeah, touring Europe is amazing. The record came out in Germany in May in advance of Canada by some weird twist of fate. It was a release tour overseas. It was awesome. I would say that… well, I have no idea if it was better. It’s how things worked out. The shows were full and I guess we didn’t know what to expect going into it. The experience was positive and we plan to go back.There are obviously cultural differences wherever you go in Europe or the Uk, but all the shows were great, and very different, depending on the location.
RL: It’s been awhile since you’ve been to Montreal, any expectations or thoughts?
CS: It’s been awhile. I tend not to form expectations in advance of our shows. I love Montreal and the band loves Montreal. It’ll be amazing to be back in the city and Pop Montreal is an amazing festival and we’re looking forward to being a part of that, especially on the heels of our new record.
RL: That’s precisely what I wanted to ask you about, this new album you guys have out. Can you tell me about it.
CS: So, this album was different from things we’d done in the past. For things in the past, the music was a self-produced, home-recorded thing. It’s amazing because you have a lot of time to reconsider what you’ve done and re-record if you need to. It was good to go through and you can fully realize your vision for a song. I guess you can do that in a home-recording environment. For this album we went into the studio. We’ve all recorded albums in the studio many times over, but this was a new thing for the band, for this band. It’s a beautiful process and it forces you to really think about your ideas in the moment when you’re creating them. You have to be sure of the choices you’re making.
RL: So, to clarify, you had to know exactly what you wanted ahead of time? What did you think of that?
CS: We had a very clear idea of who we wanted the production to sound like in the end. Now that we’ve done both as a band, I wouldn’t say one is better or worse. They’re both amazing but different process to go through.
RL: Did you record the album live on the floor? in tracks? How exactly did the recording go?
CS: We were taking a few tracks at a time and it took us a long time to do. There were a lot of things going on for band members as we were recording. For the most part, we would run through pre-production and work in our rehearsal space, then hash out everyone’s parts and listen to everything on its own and understand how it fits in. Once we were comfortable with that, we’d go to studio to record.
RL: If you were working on parts together, was it a highly collaborative album.
CS: Everyone’s input was very collaborative, from songwriting to production and mixing. I think that I’m the principal songwriter and I was hoping for this new album to be more collaborative and everybody had a lot of input along the way. You can really hear that in the final product. It’s difficult for others to understand, but I know as a songwriter what that song looked like in my mind when I finished it in my music room and what it looks like on the other end.
RL: Can you walk me through one of the songs that exemplifies that process?
CS: A good example of that process was Common Cards. That song, as most of my songs, or our songs for the band, start acoustic guitar and vocals. The finished product has a very… well, its identity is the drum part. When that song came out of me, it didn’t have that pulsing rhythm that it has on the final recording. When that happened in rehearsal, it really changed how I played my guitar part, how I delivered the vocals, and really defined that song in terms of writing all the other parts.
RL: Is that the usual process for making music with The Provincial Archive?
CS: It’s different all the time. Sometimes, I’ll track a demo of just voice and guitar and send it off to everyone. That gives them time to sit with it and think about what could make it better or how they might change it. Other times, you have something that is simple and I bring it into the practice space and everyone can jump on with something. It depends on the song. There’s a multitude of different ways that we go at it. It always changes. I love that variety.
RL: Does the album feel like an evolution from the old one? What’s it like to bring the new songs to a live audience?
CS: Well I think the new stuff is quite a bit different from the old stuff. I think it’s a little more up tempo and louder. So, I like performing new songs as well as old ones too. I think we didn’t finish the tunes that we didn’t enjoy playing. Deciding on a set list is hard because we really have a good time playing all our songs.
RL: In general, as a songwriter, do you prefer songwriting, recording, or performing?
CS: Had you asked me that question three years ago, I would have… well, I was interested in the recording process and finding sounds. This is as far as recording goes. Now, I love the sort of the search where I’m kind of looking and putting together a song, looking for the right change and the right place to elevate that song. That’s something I’m really into. That’s my favorite thing. Performing is a different thing altogether. That’s a joy. That has always been a joy and always will be a joy.
RL: One thing that strikes me especially is the thoughtfulness of the lyrics. They seem considered and meaningful. They don’t seem like something added afterwards.
CS: I spend a significant effort on the lyrical parts. I read this book on writing short stories years and years ago, and it talked about being intentional with every word you choose. If you’re writing a short story or lyrics, you only have so much room to convey something that might be very complex. And, so, I place a lot of value on lyrics and as a result they’re meaningful to me. When I perform them, it certainly takes me back to the time when I wrote that song. It makes me feel the things I felt when I wrote that song. I wouldn’t say the meaning changes, but how I feel about the person who I was when I wrote that song changes over time. It’s cool to perform it and understand who I was and who I am now.
The Provincial Archive plays Pop Montreal with Jeremy Fisher, Young Liars, RIval Boys and Lil Andy on September 19 at Petit Campus. Show starts at 8 p.m., their set is at 10 p.m. $10