Since forming in 2006, Bruce Peninsula’s “rolling soul revue” has left a wake of devastated but happy music lovers in every town they visit. Made up of an occasional sprawling number of members that include Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station), Ivy Mairi and Leon Taheny (Final Fantasy), the core of the Bruce Peninsula band is Matt Cully, Misha Bower, Neil Haverty, Andrew Barker and Steve McKay.
The group has two full-length efforts to their credit, their 2009 Polaris long-list nominated A Mountain Is A Mouth and 2011’s Open Flames, released on Canadian indie label Hand Drawn Dracula.
The latest release from Bruce Peninsula is an ambitious 13-minute track called Of Songs. The MusicNerd Chronicles recently spoke with BP vocalist-guitarist Matt Cully about his group’s epic song and what inspired them to take such an unexpected musical detour.
What was the inspiration behind creating a 13-minute track?
Cully: Just after completing A Mountain is A Mouth, we were approached by an American label to do a split 12 inch with another local band. Since we were responsible for one whole album side we decided to do a conceptual piece that would be many different songs in one but would still maintain a continuous flow. Neil and I were listening to a lot of trancey African tunes and minimal classical music like Steve Reich but there was also the desire to indulge our teenage crushes on prog and classic rock excesses. Mostly we just wanted to do something we’d never done before, something totally different from A Mountain Is A Mouth.
In today’s music market of so many artists trying to perfect the 3 minute pop song, a 14 minute song is obviously going to stand out. Did you approach writing the song knowing it would be this long in terms of length or did everything just more-less fall into place as you went?
Cully: We always knew it would be a roughly 15 minute piece. The first thing we did is outline the movements and arch of the song as a guideline for us to follow, then we sort of filled in the blanks over time. We even had a pretentious lyrical concept that is a little embarrassing (hint:it involves Greek myth and post-war existentialism), but it fell absolutely in line with the progginess of the tune.
As we kept working on it however, it was taking longer and longer and it slowly moved to the back burner while we wrote and recorded our second record Open Flames. The offer from the label had expired so we had this enormous, half-finished juggernaut in our archives but no immediate plans to release it. It was really Bruce Peninsula member Andrew Barker who stepped up and tackled the crazy task of editing, mixing and organizing the overall piece. He started that process about half way through making Open Flames and by the end of 2011, the song was ready to master.
Have you been playing the song live or will you be playing the song live? If you have been playing it, how has it gone over with the audience? Is pulling off such a long track live considerably more challenging than the studio?
Cully: We wrote the last half of the third part live in rehearsal. The rest of the track was written, recorded and performed in the studio. We’ve never sat down as a group and tried to work out how we would perform it…it’s a crazy tune! And ours is a hard band to organize rehearsals for. But maybe one day when we are old and grey, sitting on our piles of gold we might set up, plug in and figure the sucker out.
What are some of the band’s most favourite songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with Of Songs in terms of length?
Cully: I would say Echoes or Dogs by Pink Floyd; the album side tracks of Close to the Edge and Fragile by Yes; Music for 18 Musicians and Tehillim by Steve Reich (these are way longer but are still suites with many parts). Our drummer Steve loves Genesis and I think all the dudes in the band really delved into the early 2000’s post-rock stuff like Tortoise, Godspeed and Mogwai. We love short songs too, but this project was all about excess. We hope there is still room for epic formats in the internet age. We’re gonna keep pushing on as if there is anyhow.