West My Friend heading west
Thursday, Oct 20, 2016 06:00 am
After a BreakOut West showcase at the Western Canadian Music Awards in Regina, last week, Victoria’s West My Friend is wending its way home and passing through Canmore.
West My Friend – Eden Oliver (vocals, guitar), Alex Rempel (vocals, mandolin), Jeff Poynter (vocals, accordion) and Nick Mintenko (vocals, double bass) – play artsPlace on Monday (Oct. 24).
The four-piece band, now on its third album, the 13-track Quiet Hum, features a sound that’s a little difficult to define, but covers a genre range from indie-roots to chamber folk – as performed by former grads of the University of Victoria music program. Quiet Hum follows Place and When The Ink Dries.
In Regina, the BreakOut conference, which has featured the likes of rocker Colin James since its inaugural event in 2003, puts musicians in front of record label personnel, those looking to book bands for festivals and other venues, and business experts.
“There are people there from all aspects of the industry,” said Oliver. “It’s a good way to meet a lot of people in the industry in just a few days.”
Having formed in 2012, West My Friend came together as a tight group of four UVic musicians via a mutual acquaintance. Poynter and Rempel had known each other since they were kids, but all played in different bands at some point before melding together.
Since then, the band has put out the trio of albums and toured Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The current mini tour has carried them from Flin Flon in northern Manitoba, through Regina, Canmore and back to the coast.
Quirky Canadian trivia– Flin Flon was named after the fictional character Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin created by J.E. Preston-Muddock in his dime-store paperback, The Sunless City.
In hearing their crisp sound and complex four-part harmonies, it’s not hard to believe the group is classically trained and, as Oliver points out, “our music is fairly intricate. That’s why we love playing listening rooms, where people are really there to hear the music (ie. artsPlace).”
Things sometimes get even more complex and intricate when the band calls upon other musicians in their circle to amp up the sounds with strings, horns, etc.
When it comes to songwriting, Oliver typically puts together lyrics and chord structure before West My Friend jams as a group and has, “sometimes very lengthy discussions about where a song is going.”
Within the band, members all play a different instrument than they studied while at UVic. Much like the mechanic with the worst car, or the carpenter with the house that’s falling apart, West My Friend, “were all looking to find an instrument we weren’t already playing a million hours a day,” said Oliver.
“Alex got a used mandolin to play, I studied flute and education, but a roommate had a guitar, so I first borrowed that … For songwriting, I like to use a piano, but a guitar is also much handier.
“But I also love teaching choir and we all love multiple voice and we all love layering.”
As to influences, West My Friend was inspired by Owen Pallett, Joanna Newsom, Bright Eyes, The Decemberists and the Punch Brothers, and forged in the sonically adventurous acoustic music scene on the west coast.
Their diversity in taste and influences, and a keen interest in both traditional sounds and innovation, leads to constant exploration of new sounds.
The band is very rhythmic, but plays without drums, which makes for an easier fit in a minivan for touring. But again, at times, West My Friend will incorporate strings, brass, even a small orchestra, when called for in certain situations.
Place garnered several nominations, including Roots Album of the Year and Song of the Year at the Vancouver Island Music Awards, while When The Ink Dries was nominated for the Oliver Schroer Pushing The Boundaries Award at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and received the Readers’ Choice award for Best New Sound of 2014 at Sleeping Bag Studios.