Dive into the sonic realm of The History of Gunpowder's latest single and music video, "Eye, the Sky."
This exceptional creation unveils the band's musical evolution through a live-off-the-floor performance captured in a visually engaging film, addressing the prevailing uncertainty of our times and the universal longing for connection.
Recorded during an intimate seven-day residency at the Weird Church in Cumberland, BC, the band boldly shifts their signature style toward an acoustic exploration. Here, distortion gives way to velvet textures, and primal growls are exchanged for heartfelt howls, showcasing an auditory landscape that marries the band's characteristic rawness with newfound depth.
Making innovative use of the church's renowned 19th-century pipe organ and choral vocal additions, The History of Gunpowder crafts an intimate yet monumental sonic tapestry that delves into community, music, and art themes.
As stalwarts of the Canadian live music scene, The History of Gunpowder consistently challenges conventions on stage and in the studio, garnering a devoted international following. The film unveils the band's unreleased material and incorporates video vignettes and original soundtracks, providing a glimpse into their creative process and the vibrant community surrounding them.
"Eye, the Sky" is a captivating journey that allows listeners to experience the magic of their live performances, immerse themselves in their enigmatic energy, and become part of a vibrant, resonating community.
The shift towards an acoustic sensibility in "Eye, the Sky" is evident. Could you investigate what drove this stylistic transition and how it influenced the creative process during the recording and filming?
The majority of what I write is along these lines. For every loud, chaotic, and expansive song in terms of instrumentation, I write ten that originated on acoustic guitar and would stay in the folk/acoustic world. Ironically, the rest of The History's catalog is unique in my writing process. "Swallows" was an excuse for me to produce some of the songs that were dear to me that I thought did not have a home in The History of Gunpowder without a concept.
This concept I found in recording and filming in a church; the environment was perfect, acoustically and visually, and the decision to shoot everything live off the floor felt suitable for these arrangements. Many songs, including Eye, the Sky, were written in the church the summer before recording. I was offered the keys to the church, and I was fortunate enough to spend time in that room alone, working with the acoustics, finding the subject matter and arrangements that would resonate well within the space.
This was even more important as it would be captured on film, so the entirety of the project would be heightened if the songs matched the room. It isn't often that we can pursue this kind of exploration, and I am grateful to have had the chance. The song "Eye, the Sky" is an interesting one... it is spoken from the voice of the Sky, trying to communicate to all of the folks below how absurd their lives are and how carefree it would seem if they could only step back. A reminder to myself.
Using a 19th-century pipe organ and choral vocal additions is a unique aspect of this project. How did these elements impact the overall sound and mood of the music, and what was the inspiration behind incorporating such unconventional instruments?
This project was part of a residency at the church centered around using the organ; it was baked into the mandate itself. The organ had much more of an impact on the interludes, extra songs, and soundtrack/ambient pieces to the film rather than the songs on the album. We experimented quite a bit with the pipe organ's wind, how we could control the pressure of the air, and how we could attain microtones by regulating pressure. As for choral arrangements, I have always felt the gravel of my voice requires some upper register accompaniment. In fact, if I had it my way, I would opt for the voice of Leo D.E Johnson over pretty much any vocalist I've met. They are incredible. The vocal additions on this record include Leo, Marisa Etchart, Elise Boulanger, Della Kit, and Lola Whyte. It was a pleasure working with them on harmonies and featured sections. The most incredible part is all of this is live off the floor (no tuning, of course), so all the harmonies you hear are live; they were able to lock in so well. As the rehearsals and recording days went on, we gave the voices more liberties and had quite a few improv and solo sections just because they became a through-line to the project, one of the grounding components of the sound.
Lucky for us, the film features unreleased material and video vignettes. How do these elements contribute to the narrative of the project, and what was the thought process behind intertwining live performances with this style of visuals?
How this project came together still needs to be clarified. We knew we wanted to go in to record these songs - Eye, the Sky being one of them - but we needed to know what the end product would look like. I knew I wanted to have improvisational recordings during the days at the church and record the pre-rehearsed songs in the evening when we could work with the lighting rig. But Adam Amir captured enough raw video to complete a feature-length project that could consistently hold the audience's focus. During the days, he would go and shoot character profile vignettes of each member of the band. Some of these became interludes. He would also shoot ambient shots of Cumberland. These became interludes. He would also document the behind-the-scenes party nights, rehearsals, and everything else. These became interludes. His commitment to the project and ability to consistently be the observer brought in enough material to finish a project of this scale. He is incredible. You rarely meet another artist in a different medium you trust and are inspired by; I am fortunate to have met a videographer I can rely on and trust his artistic instincts. The overall narrative was crafted by Adam and myself every week, meeting after meeting, choosing the right momentum, cuts, direction, and order of scenes. It was a thrill to work with him, and I'm sure it will not be the last project we work on together.
You're all known for pushing boundaries on stage and in the studio. How does this latest work align with your artistic vision and sonic experimentation approach?
This project is unique for us in every way. It has two ends 'products': one is a feature-length video album, and the other is an audio album. The feature-length film premiered in a theatre, which was a wild experience. The audio album has yet to be released. Still, the experimentation involved here involves the overall concept, arrangements with pipe organ and choir, and being guided by the visual accompaniment. In many ways, this album and project is a soundtrack to the 'making of' video that was captured. "A soundtrack to the film about the album" is how we promoted it. It may not make much sense, but it is how it turned out if you look at the process of finishing the music.
Community and collaboration speak wonders. Could you share some insights into those aspects of this project, both within the band and with other musicians involved? How did these collaborations enrich the creative journey, and how do you expect them to enrich it moving forward?
At the film premiere for "Swallows" at the Rio Theatre, I introduced the film as a love letter to the members of The History of Gunpowder and the Cumberland Community in all their weirdness. After almost 20 years of writing songs, I have learned that music is about the community that works to get it from the page into the world. Amazingly, these songs brought 16 people together to produce, record, mix, and play this music. In the end, the film is something that The History family will always have as a snapshot in time: a blissful week in the middle of COVID at a time when everything was falling down around us when we turned a church into a studio and created music for a week and enjoyed each others' company. There is a lot of love in this group, and I consider them my extended family, so really, these projects that we do are driven by the fact that we enjoy spending time with each other and pushing ourselves as musicians. This is the reason that has kept this band moving forward tirelessly. What else could you want?