Rock­ers Na­ture Of head to school

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - FISH GRIWKOWSKY fgri­wkowsky@post­media.com

Na­ture Of is feel­ing ex­tremely lucky. Not only is the Ed­mon­ton four-piece hav­ing their al­bum recorded, mixed and man­u­fac­tured for free — it’s be­ing co-pro­duced by Mar­cus Paquin, en­gi­neer on Ar­cade Fire’s The Sub­urbs, with an even greater role on The Na­tional’s Trou­ble Will Find Me, where he was en­gi­neer, as­so­ciate pro­ducer and mixer.

“The Na­tional’s, like, hands down my favourite band,” says Na­ture Of ’s singer/gui­tarist Steve Sch­nei­der, 26. “It was mind-blow­ing — just that he even knows those peo­ple.”

So how did this hap­pen? Through the sec­ond-great­est ini­tia­tive of Bent River Records thus far: a con­test last fall where mu­si­cians could ap­ply for this al­bum-shap­ing op­por­tu­nity.

And what was Bent River’s great­est ini­tia­tive? Its very ex­is­tence since last spring, I’d ar­gue — the fact MacEwan Uni­ver­sity has its own record la­bel, to train in­dus­try types and con­nect with a wider world.

Down in the base­ment un­der the red “record­ing ” light out­side Stu­dio A in Al­lard Hall on 104 Av­enue, MacEwan’s Fac­ulty of Fine Art and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions as­so­ciate dean Rose Ginther ex­plains the sce­nario as Na­ture Of takes an­other pass at their beau­ti­ful song Night Ski­ing on the other side of the vault door.

“When we first started the la­bel we were think­ing, ‘How can we work more with the com­mu­nity? How can we bring peo­ple into the stu­dio who wouldn’t nor­mally get a chance to record here?’”

Clev­erly, Bent River held a com­pe­ti­tion to have a full-length al­bum recorded, pro­duced, mixed — all the way up to a vinyl press­ing, the la­bel’s head hon­cho Paul John­ston an­nounces to the band later that af­ter­noon to communal cheers.

Over 120 mu­si­cal en­ti­ties ap­plied, fi­nal­ists picked by a jury in­clud­ing Ginther, John­ston, Paquin — plus Ed­mon­ton mu­si­cians Nuela Charles, Chloe Al­bert and Lionel Rault.

Those lo­cal con­nec­tions are in­ten­tional, says Ginther.

“Part of our rea­son for ex­ist­ing is to pro­vide those kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties, to help to build ca­pac­ity in the (mu­sic) in­dus­try. Not to com­pete with what’s out there, but to help pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for the bach­e­lor of mu­sic stu­dents here. We’ve even got de­sign stud­ies stu­dents work­ing with us (on the al­bum).

“Now that we’re down­town, we feel like we can re­ally be­gin to be that hub of ac­tiv­ity.”

So what was it about Na­ture Of that won them the prize? Ginther says of the band’s lay­ered, dreamy rock, “Some­thing about the sound re­ally ap­pealed to all of us.”

John­ston notes Paquin’s early re­ac­tion: “He was in Montreal when we sent him the ap­pli­cants. He sent me a text say­ing, ‘Na­ture Of has a fn great singer.’ I asked him, ‘ What does ‘fn’ mean?’ and he texted back, ‘You’re kid­ding me!’”

The band first heard about the con­test through a friend. Gui­tarist Cole Switzer laughs, “We ap­plied on a whim and didn’t have high hopes. We def­i­nitely thought our chances were zero.”

But John­ston, who’s co-pro­duc­ing with Paquin while en­cour­ag­ing mu­sic pro­gram stu­dents to try their hand on the board, notes, “It’s go­ing ex­actly as planned. The visit with Mar­cus was amaz­ing.”

This par­tic­u­lar record­ing ses­sion — early last week — is an ex­ten­sion of Paquin’s Fe­bru­ary ses­sion. So far they’ve landed seven songs.

Sch­nei­der couldn’t be hap­pier, even though he ac­tu­ally thought he might be in­tim­i­dated by the aca­demic set­ting. “I thought I’d be sweat­ing: kids star­ing at you. I crack un­der pres­sure all the time,” he laughs. “But it’s been great.”

John­ston, also a MacEwan prof who’s ex­cited to note a bach­e­lor of mu­sic de­gree ma­jor­ing in record­ing start­ing at MacEwan in fall 2019, re­turns the com­pli­ment. “They’re very son­i­cally aware.” Most of the bed tracks were recorded ear­lier at Stu­dio A with Paquin, though John­ston loaned the band gear to record out in the coun­try. “The fact the pre­pro­duc­tion is com­ing in, I can hear the song be­fore we even record it. And then we can track on top of that and re­place parts — it’s been a re­ally neat process.”

Sch­nei­der notes he learned from Montreal’s Paquin, “Oh, tons. The way he works in the con­trol room — he’s very quick, very or­ga­nized, but also su­per clear and de­ci­sive.

“As far as pro­duc­tion and the sound of ev­ery­thing, he was do­ing stuff that was over our heads that was mak­ing us sound great.”

The band in­cludes bassist Kyla Rank­ine and drum­mer Cam O’Neill, and it’s in­ter­est­ing to be in room as they play over pre­vi­ously-recorded lay­ers only they can hear though head­phones. After­wards — and in the video the Jour­nal filmed — it all co­a­lesces nicely.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, 33-year-old Switzer is cur­rently at­tend­ing MacEwan, chas­ing a BA ma­jor­ing in psych. O’Neill, is a mu­sic pro­gram grad. This was not a re­quire­ment but a happy ac­ci­dent.

The band’s been to­gether five years, and met as skate­board­ers, where they were of­ten has­sled by cops. “All the time,” laughs Switzer.

“A lot more than for mu­sic, that’s for sure,” Sch­nei­der smiles.

He es­ti­mates this god­send would have cost them tens of thou­sands dol­lars, and for MacEwan he has, “End­less thank-yous. Th­ese fa­cil­i­ties, we could never re­pay the debt we owe.”

For her part, Ginther hopes the con­test will hap­pen again.

If so, Sch­nei­der has ad­vice for any band think­ing of ap­ply­ing. “It’s a no-brainer — we lit­er­ally just show up here, the kids set up all the stuff. We feel very spoiled.”

After the 7 p.m., Satur­day, June 9, pre­miere at Garneau The­atre (8712 109 St.) of All Aboard — Ed­mon­ton film­maker Dale Bai­ley’s first fea­ture Sch­nei­der scored — Na­ture Of is play­ing the Forge on Whyte, 10529 82 Ave.


Clock­wise from top left, Na­ture Of band mem­bers Kyla Rank­ine, Steve Sch­nei­der, Cam O’Neill, and Cole Switzer record their song Ski­ing at Night in MacEwan Uni­ver­sity’s Al­lard Hall Stu­dio A ear­lier this month. The group won a ju­ried con­test to have their al­bum recorded and re­leased for free on the uni­ver­sity’s Bent River Records la­bel.

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