British Columbians can't wait to go back to the future
“I’m a Luddite,” acknowledges British Columbians frontman Girard Knox with a hint of apology in his voice. Across the table from the singer-guitarist at the Whip on Main Street, drummer Dave Moran confirms his bandmate’s admission. “You’re definitely a Luddite and I’m the futurist,” he says. “But I think we pull each other enough to the centre.”
Certainly, the two bandmates inhabit opposite ends of the technological spectrum. While Moran has a penchant for modern gear and even operates a modest home studio equipped with computers and Pro Tools software, Knox has a fascination with rudimentary techniques that dates back to childhood.
“When I was a kid, my dad had a reel-to-reel tape machine,” he recalls. “I became obsessed with making reel-to-reel mixes. Other people would make mix tapes, I would make mix reels.”
When it came time for the British Columbians to record their recently released sophomore album, Made for Darker Things, the band—which also includes keyboardist Owen Connell and bassist Christopher Ellis—turned over production duties to a local legend: Colin Stewart, whose Hive Creative Labs studio has hosted Vancouver icons like Black Mountain, Dan Mangan, Destroyer and dozens of others.
“He’s kind of like an auxiliary member,” Moran explains. “His ear is to the band. He can really collaborate on the sound.”
Knox agrees, and notes that Stewart is able to capture the group’s organic energy without imposing too much of his own sonic stamp on the recordings. “The sound in the room, that’s the sound that he captures, and he knows how to get that,” the singer says. “There’s a natural spark and a natural energy that isn’t cluttered by other instrumentation.”
“Colin’s the shit,” Moran adds simply.
The producer’s unfussy approach was an invaluable asset to the British Columbians, who explain that the new album was largely recorded live off the floor. According to Knox, this stripped-down approach was inspired partly by the mistakes of other local acts.
“I’ve guitar teched for some bands that have gone into the really expensive studios in town, and seen how they operate,” he reveals, “which is to record in pieces and then cut and paste. And that’s how they build their songs. That’s just not very inspiring to me. I just look at that as painting by numbers.”
There’s no mistaking the raw energy of Made for Darker Things. “A Fine Mess” is laden with blistering, Zeppelin-esque monster riffs and thundering drums, as Knox threateningly howls, “You’re going to lose more than a finger/You’re going to lose more than an eye.” The eerie, spaghetti western-tinged “Evil in the Pines” is comparatively mellow—at least until the halfway point, that is, when it unexpectedly explodes into a frenetic, slide guitar-assisted gallop.
These soulful tracks are steeped in the spirit of the blues, which is only fitting given Knox’s lifelong love affair with the genre. “I worked at a record store and people would come in and ask for blues, and I would recommend people like Mississippi Fred McDowell or Blind Blake,” the axeman recalls. “Invariably those people would come back and ask for a refund. They would say, ‘This record’s too scratchy.’ ”
Moran chimes in, “ ‘Does B. B. King have a new one?’ ”
Not all of the British Columbians’ material is grimy blues rock, however. The psychedelic slow-burn of “The Munitionette” is soaked in amorphous feedback, while the all-acoustic closer “Heart on the Wrong Side” is a tender ballad that features a gentle flugelhorn solo. “I never wanted to make one kind of music,” explains Knox. “We have very eclectic tastes in what we listen to.”
Made for Darker Things came out digitally on August 1 (B.C. Day, appropriately enough), and the British Columbians are planning to spread the word with a tour to Alberta this fall. The rockers have played in the prairie province before, where they admit that they have encountered some resistance to their band name.
“You see the arms folded across their chests, and they’re ready to look for a reason to pick up that tumbler and throw it at you,” Knox says. “At the end, they’re always the ones that are coming up after the show that want to tell you what they thought. They seem to really enjoy it.”
When it hits the road, the group will be selling CD copies of Made for Darker Things. Soon, however, they hope to be able to press the album on 12-inch wax. “That’s part of the reason that it’s eight songs and not more. I really, really, really want to put it out on vinyl,” says Knox, infatuated as ever with retro technology.
“That’s how I listen to music,” he continues. “I mean, sure, MP3s are convenient. It’s a nice snack. But when I want a meal, I want to sit down and I want to spend my 45 minutes—or 43, or whatever it is—listening to a record.”
The British Columbians play the Media Club on Friday (September 9).