Royal Canoe Continues to Build Its Story

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By Jen Zoratti

It’s all coming up Royal Canoe.

The local experimental electropop outfit is gearing up for the release of its hotly anticipated full-length debut, Today We’re Believers, due out on June 25 via Nevado Records in Canada and Roll Call Records in the U.S.

The release date will be another benchmark in what has been a landmark year and a half for Royal Canoe, whose ranks are Matt Peters (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Bucky Driedger (vocals, guitar), Matt Schellenberg (keyboards, vocals), Brendan Berg (bass, keyboard, vocals), Derek Allard (drums), and Michael Jordan (electronic drums). Last year saw the band make major inroads, inking a management contract with Nettwerk Music and booking agency agreements with Red Ryder (U.S.), LOUD Booking (France), and Burning Eagle Booking (Germany, Austria, Switzerland).

It’s also been a creatively fulfilling period; along with putting the finishing touches on the record, the band also mounted an avant-pop interpretation of Beck’s Song Reader, an album released solely as sheet music, as part of the inaugural Pop Nuit, a new element of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival, curated by Schellenberg in February.

Add to that a slew of press bona fides from the likes of Exclaim!, The New York Times, Filter, and more, and you’ve got the kind of advance album buzz most bands only dream of. It’s also the kind that comes with a lot of hard work, months of grinding it out on the road and getting in front of key industry people.

To that end Royal Canoe has made use of Manitoba Music’s Market Access program, which supported showcases at South by Southwest, CMJ, and others. The band is also headed across the pond this month to play The Prairie BBQ at The Great Escape in the U.K. alongside Del Barber, Boats, and other western Canadian acts.

Royal Canoe’s showcases are well attended now, but that hasn’t always been the case. Landing a gig at a high-profile industry conference doesn’t automatically result in opportunities. Those have to be created by the band itself.

“You need to have built a bit of a story going in,” Driedger says.

“You also need shameless bandmates who are willing to hustle,” Peters says, referring to Driedger. “I have trouble with that.” The guys recall their first year at SXSW and their attempts to cut through the noise with handbills. It didn’t work.

“This was our fourth year at South by Southwest but it was the first year people gave a shit we were there,” Peters says. “That’s the harsh reality. Unless you’ve lucked into buzz or have worked your ass off, no one gives a shit you’re there.”

Not unlike industry showcases, working with record labels requires initiative on the band’s part — something that Royal Canoe is already valuing about their relationships with Nevado and Roll Call.

 “A lot of the stuff has to come from the band,” Peters says. “We need to provide the artwork and the masters. One of the greatest things about working with a label is that they set deadlines.” A June 25 release date meant the band didn’t have a lot of time, but it relished in the rush.

Royal Canoe is eager to get Today We’re Believers out into the world. Although it’s technically the band’s sophomore album, it’s the first Royal Canoe full-length in a lot of ways; 2010’s Co-op Mode was a collage built by a huge cast of musical contributors and 2011’s pair of EPs — Extended Play and Purple & Gold — were snapshots of a band finding its sound.

“It took us a few albums worth of material to figure out what the new Royal Canoe sound would be,” Driedger agrees.

“I always see Co-op Mode as this germ, this seed and we didn’t know what was going to grow,” Peters adds.

Part of the band’s process was identifying its best parts and playing to its strengths — so, think plenty of falsetto, hip hop beats and deep, propulsive grooves. Today We’re Believers will doubtless be a strong introduction to Royal Canoe, 2.0.

“I don’t want to be able to define the sound of what I’m working on,” Peters says, “but I think we’re closer than ever.”

Read more about Royal Canoe here and listen to the band's brand new single "Bathtubs"...

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