Expect the unexpected. This is a rule that Nova Scotia indie-rock band Mardeen learned the hard way when it came to writing the material heard on the group’s latest EP, Silver Fang.
The four-piece band had wrapped up a brief tour of Central Canada when they had decided to isolate themselves in a rustic cabin north of Montreal in order to get the creative juices flowing.
“It’s something that we have done in the past,” Mardeen bassist Matt Ellis begins. “We’ve found that when you are free from the vices around you, and people randomly dropping in to say ‘hi,’ it can make for a much more creative and productive environment.”
Ellis says that in retrospect, the cabin they had selected would fuel their creativity, but not in a manner that they would have preferred.
“The cabin looked like it could have come straight out of the Hansel and Gretel story, to be honest. I felt a bad, supernatural kind of presence around us for the whole time we were there,” he continues. “We were also on the receiving end of hostility from the cabin owner, who insisted on telling us that we didn’t necessarily belong there. The starter on our van ended up being cut by somebody early on in our stay as well, which effectively stranded us there for four or five days.”
Ellis says that despite their misfortunes, Mardeen accomplished what they had hoped to get from their time at the cabin: new material.
“We accomplished what we had set out to do, but the whole experience was all at once discouraging, eerie and inspiring,” he says.
Better karma certainly awaits Mardeen when they take the stage of Moncton’s Tide & Boar Gastropub this Saturday night.
Formed in Judique, a sparsely populated part of Cape Breton Island where Ellis jokes “the nearest record store was an hour away, and there still isn’t a Tim Hortons,” he and the other members of Mardeen – Travis Ellis, Jon Pearo and Archie Rankin – were raised on the social and musical traditions that Cape Breton has come to be known for.
“Growing up in Cape Breton, music was pretty central to each of our lives. We lived through the clichés of kitchen parties and story-telling and whatnot that was all around us.”
As the band members wound their way through high school, before high-speed Internet was widely available, they discovered the musical cornucopia that the city of Halifax had to offer.
“We didn’t have the benefit of finding out about bands like Sloan and Thrush Hermit via the Internet. It was word of mouth for us, but what an eye-opening experience it was. To think that kind of talent was, for all intents and purposes, just up the road from us, was incredibly inspiring to us.”
Since releasing their debut full-length effort in 2007, Silver Fang marks a logical continuation of the group’s sound. Rather than caving to outside voices that might try to steer the group in a direction that they might not be comfortable with, Ellis says they have stuck to their guns and are happy to have done so.
“I feel that we have grown a lot over the courses of our releases, both in terms of our songwriting as well as our maturity. We stopped worrying about whether our music was going to work for others and instead focused upon making music that we were proud of. This is who we are. You can either take it or leave it,” Ellis chuckles.
Part of the inevitable evolution of Mardeen both as a band and as individuals have provided them a surprising, full-circle kind of opportunity. Rather than running from their musical heritage, the group has launched Villages, a band that pays tribute to the traditional music of Cape Breton.
Ellis says the decision to bill Villages as a separate entity became clear after the group admittedly tried out their traditional material on Mardeen audiences. While no tomatoes might have been thrown at the band as a result, he says it was clear that the music made by Villages was not suited for a Mardeen show.
“We have always had this musical side of us that just screams how much we love traditional music,” he says.
“It has always naturally co-existed alongside what we do as Mardeen. We arrived at a point where we had accumulated enough material that we felt it warranted being its own musical entity.”
Despite having already completed some Villages recordings with Halifax’s Joel Plaskett, Ellis says that it will be awhile yet before the traditional group has anything in the way of formal releases for the public.
In the meantime, he is all too happy to dispel the notions that fans of traditional music are somehow inferior to rock fans when it comes to enjoying themselves.
“Believe me, people in the traditional world party just as hard as people in the rock world,” he laughs. “It’s a great community, one we are truly happy to be a part of.”
What: Mardeen with Coyote
When: Saturday, March 7, 9 p.m.
Where: Tide & Boar Gastropub, 700 Main St., Moncton