Kudos from Kanye West. Tours with Elbow and Fleet Foxes. A rapidly expanding international fanbase. These are but a few of the achievements that Ottawa folk-rockers The Acorn can lay claim to since their debut record Glory Hope Mountain dropped in 2007.
The Acorn are traveling far and wide to promote their newest disc, No Ghost, released this past June on Toronto indie label Paper Bag Records. The band will be making one of two New Brunswick stops in Sackville tonight before they head off for a tour of the Northeastern US and then onward to Europe.
For the creation of No Ghost, the band left their Ottawa-area home base, rented a cabin in Bouchette, Quebec and proceeded to make their record under rural skies.
“At first, we simply started looking at cottages within a 200 kilometre radius of Ottawa and ended up checking out a slew of them,” Acorn founder Rolf Klausener says. “But we needed a location that would conform to all the requirements we needed for recording. We wanted something comfortable and big enough to host the band, our equipment and the recording equipment.
“The cottage we ended up renting wasn’t anything luxurious but the fact that we had our own private lake made the location incredible.”
Klausener said that after being on and off the road for a period of approximately 26 months prior to the start of the recording process for No Ghost, the band chose to do the bulk of the writing for their newest record at the cottage rather than coming in armed with a batch of songs. He says that the band members had agreed it would be nice to take the band out of their “comfort zone” and familiar surroundings for the making of the new record.
“The process of making No Ghost was experimental for us because we don’t typically write our material as a group. But for this new record, I had thought it would be nice to try writing together to see what came out of us by jamming the songs out and playing together as a group,” he says.
“Incidentally, what I feel are some of the best songs on the new record came from the first four days we were at the cottage.”
Asked if the cottage getaway was to help avoid external pressure of following up Glory Hope Mountain, Klausener almost laughs off the suggestion.
“Let’s be realistic, it is not as though we had turned into a band the size of Arcade Fire with our debut. Realistically, we had a moderate amount of success behind us when we started making No Ghost. I think that there is always pressure to feel good about what you’re writing and pressure to come up with something good enough that you want to keep people’s interest but we weren’t feeling any pressure in regards to following up our debut in any other respect.”
Clearly, Klausener and his band mates have zero issues with being grounded and keeping their heads on straight. When rap mega-superstar Kanye West took to the Internet to praise the band’s video for their track “Crooked Legs,” Klausener says that he literally thought the event was cool and then carried on with his day, not really giving it much more in the way of a second thought. But Klausener’s understated reaction didn’t stop a mini media frenzy from ensuing.
“I think that when stuff like that happens, you really have to temper your reaction in the grand scheme of things. Kanye West literally said the video for ‘Crooked Legs’ was beautiful and that was it. Literally, we occupied three words on his blog (“This is beautiful”) and it was blown up to be so much more.”
Admirers are certainly something that The Acorn will have to become accustomed to. This past Tuesday, the group released a remix record entitled Make The Least Of Your Day. Available digitally and at the band’s live shows, each of No Ghost’s tracks are given a makeover.
“For the remix record, we made a list of friends and people we had toured with and sent out e-mails to each of them and then just waited to see what the response would be,” Klausener says, citing Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes as two artists who were invited to remix The Acorn’s work. “Then as people started writing us back, we assigned them each a song to see what they came up with and were very pleasantly surprised with the results. Some of the remixes were very straight-forward but there were others that were out in left-field.”
Without trying to play favorites, Klausener cites Lake’s remix of “Slippery When Wet” as one of his favorites on the remix record. Lake, a band from Olympia, Washington kept Klausener’s vocal track in tact but re-recorded the rest of the song’s music themselves, giving the track an almost complete make-over.
For a man who never expected to play beyond Ottawa’s borders in the early days, Klausener admits that the group has achieved far more than what he could ever have anticipated.
“When I first started recording seven years ago, it was essentially a bedroom project and nothing more,” Klausener says. “I had been playing with a lot of other bands in Ottawa and it just so happened that they all went on hiatus around the same time.”
From there, Klausener started to teach himself how to record at home, releasing his first record a year and a half later. He admits being surprised at being able to find an audience for his music in those early days and is nothing short of amazed of all of the group’s achievements to date.
Among those achievements is a rising-profile throughout Europe, buoyed by a string of shows the group was fortunate enough to open for critically acclaimed band Elbow. With 50 European shows slated for between now and the end of the year, the group is taking full advantage of their growing popularity overseas.
“The tour we did with Elbow cemented us a pretty solid following in the UK and now we are able to play some places to crowds as big as what we would see in our hometown of Ottawa. We are very lucky.”
Although Klausener would never shun the group’s Canadian roots, he states that the band’s music sells better overseas than it does here at home, attributing that success to cultural differences first and foremost.
“Shows are much more of an event in Europe,” he says. “People tend to really get into their shows and make it more of an outing than a social event. Audiences are patient and really take the show in as a whole.”
No matter where The Acorn happens to be playing on any given night though, Klausener admits that he feels fortunate to be playing music for people all over the world and takes things one day at a time.
“I think the only thing you can do is enjoy yourself as you go along.”