Japan visits the International Pop Overthrow: an interview with Nature Airliner

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      The International Pop Overthrow is just what the name implies: an international festival of pop and power pop, marking its 13th anniversary here, starting today (August 30) at the Fairview Pub.

      The Straight spoke to California-based IPO impresario David Bash last year about his travels to various IPO's globally and past notable IPO installments in Vancouver. 2018 finds him as enthusiastic as ever about coming to Vancouver, "which is definitely my favourite of any city I've been to,” he says.

      Bash tells the Straight he’s particularly looking forward to "good food, particularly Indian at Judge's and India Oven, and of course there will be record shopping." (We’ve been recommending Noize to Go, which, last time we visited, was bursting with cool stock). 

      But much as he loves Indian food and vinyl, Bash is, of course, mostly looking forward to the live music. One band he’s particularly excited to see is the rootsy pop unit Pikal, from Anchorage, Alaska. “I think they’re wonderful. They're only the second band from Alaska we've ever had at IPO,” Bash explains, the first being a band called Roman Candle who played the IPO in Los Angeles in the 2000s. 

      There will also be several IPO regulars, including—among many others—axewoman Siobahn DuVall, youthful Liverpool-esque pop craftsmen the Top Boost, the delightfully-named Gold Stars Are For Suckers, and We Found a Lovebird, fronted by Larry Lechner, whose time on the Vancouver music scene dates back to 1980s band One Fell Swoop. 

      “We Found a Lovebird is an excellent pop/rock band,” Bash enthuses, “and Larry's been very cool about lending their drum kit to the festival.” (For his part, Lechner points out that the band has a new video, "Jesus and Radiohead", recently premiered by the Straight. (See also our 2017 feature with him here.)

      Besides that, there are two unexpected reunions at this year’s IPO, of "the Top Drawers and the Rye Catchers, two awesome pop bands from back in the day," Bash tells readers. "They'll be part of the bill on Saturday, September 1, and everyone is getting really excited about it!  Patrick Jacobson, one of the main men of the Top Drawers, moved to Yellowknife a few years ago, but will be back in Vancouver for this show, and we can't wait to see him!"

      Meantime, one of the newer acts that catches the Straight's eye is Friday openers Nature Airliner, a duo consisting of Edmonton-born guitarist Laurier Tiernan and his wife Eiko. They play fragile, gorgeous, and somewhat haunting folk-rock.

      Tiernan’s backstory includes a youth spent under the shadow of Marfan syndrome—an incurable genetic disorder that can lead to ruptured aorta, if untreated. The discovery that he had this condition, when he was a teen, caused him much depression. It was music that helped show him a way forward, he explains: 

      “In 2001 I graduated with honours from the Professional Music and Technology program of Selkirk College [in Nelson, B.C.] and won the ‘Gala provincial de la chanson’—an annual French-Canadian singer-songwriter competition—in Vancouver. This led to my first airplay on Radio Canada and CBC television, and my first royalty check; which showed me a glimmer of hope for my life.” 

      The road ahead wasn’t without pitfalls, but eventually Tiernan would move to Japan, marry, form a power trio called tiernan. He recorded an EP called The End of the World, but just as it was catching on, Tiernan’s aorta began to rupture. He was rushed to hospital for an eight hour emergency surgery, which saved his life. 

      “After the surgery on my aorta, I had a ‘change of heart’ and decided to give up my former angry punk rock career to start an acoustic singer-songwriter duo called Nature Airliner with my wife Eiko on vocals,” Tiernan explains. “I think I was making punk rock because subconsciously I was always pissed off about my life hanging in the balance, so to speak. After my heart surgery, as Eiko likes to joke, I started having more blood go to my brain, so I could think more clearly,  became a happier person, and wanted to make more spiritual and more positive music.”

      Eiko and Laurier of Nature Airliner

       “More than half of our common interests are music-related,” Eiko chimes in. “In terms of our musical tastes, we are from different generations, so our tastes didn't match when we first got married. Now we both listen to 70s and 80s music quite a lot, like Cheap Trick, Queen and Fleetwood Mac. In terms of things that we disagree on, Laurier is a huge Jónsi fan, but I can't stand him. He also tends to like glitch and things like that, which I dislike.”

      Speaking of influences, Tiernan nods to the “transcendental and spiritual sparseness” of the acoustic guitar on the early albums of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.  “And of course, I spent my musical formative years in punk rock, so Canadian bands like SNFU and Propagandhi—as well as American bands like Nirvana—definitely had an influence on my right hand technique.”

      Another thing that brings them together is a distaste for what Eiko calls “factory-made J-pop,” with its thin sentimentality and saccharine sweetness. She draws a blank on her favourite Japanese artists (but they’re from the 80s, she says, adding that “when I was growing up, most of the best music was from the U.K. or America.”) Tiernan’s favourite Japanese artists, meanwhile, are “indie artists like the grunge band D.O.G.S., the jazz singer Sachiko Hara and the folk singer Ken Hidaka.”

      2018 marks Nature Airliner’s first IPO performance, and the first stop off on a small cross-Canada tour. There’s only one final question for the band. What is a Nature Airliner, anyhow?

      Tiernan chuckles. “It's an anagram of my full name, but also we chose it because we are both huge fans of nature and air travel.”

      Nature Airliner opens the Friday night (August 31) lineup of the Vancouver International Pop Overthrow. The full schedule is viewable here.