Out of the Fog: Rock Outfit Federal Lights Finds Sound and Strength Revealed in the Remains of Heartbreak

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Federal Lights

Manitoba Music has teamed up with Fresh Radio for a new monthly spotlight on local music, dubbed Manitoba Fresh to introduce audiences to a stellar slate of buzzworthy local artists emerging on the Canadian music scene. Featuring on-air segments and online performances via Fresh Radio, and in-depth band profiles right here on manitobamusic.com, Manitoba Fresh continues this month with indie rock outfit Federal Lights. Tune in to 99.1 Fresh Radio and stay tuned for so much more...

By Jillian Groening

Sometimes a band’s demise can be just the right impetus for the beginnings of something better. After the initial breakup shock has passed and the jam space has been cleared of pizza boxes and beer bottles, the midnight hours spent alone noodling around on garageband transform into something fun and inspiring rather than a depressive trip down memory lane. The haze clears and the creative energy once spread thin between various band members is now honed towards a specific goal - the next band.

For Jean-Guy Roy, the collapse of his group The Morning After spawned the seeds of his latest and greatest project, Federal Lights. Comprised of guitarist Robert Mitchell, musical brothers David and Jason Pankratz on drums and bass, respectively, and Roy’s wife Jodi providing both vocals and keyboard skills, the Western Canadian Music Award-winning folk/rock five-some sings heavy hooks that are born of the wreckage in the best way.

“It was like a piece of me died when that band fell apart,” Roy recalls of The Morning After’s split. Realizing that the only option was to muscle up, Roy discovered independence and confidence in himself as a musician through his desire to keep playing. “It helped me grow and push myself musically instead of using all [the band’s] abilities as a crutch for myself to hide behind.”

Forging forward with a new sense of purpose, Federal Lights has toured extensively across North America and Europe with two critically acclaimed recordings under its belt. With the January 29 release of the band's second full-length, titled Coeur de Lion, the group developed a solid recording lineup consisting of producer Rusty Matyas (Imaginary Cities) and engineer/producer Cam Loeppky to bring its catchy tracks to light.

“He totally won us over with his sense of humour… like a desert it is,” Roy says of Loeppky, renowned sound mastermind and local funny man who has worked with the likes of Boats, Christine Fellows, and Shotgun Jimmie.

Playing across the country with acclaimed acts like Imaginary Cities and Great Lake Swimmers, the moody resonance of the first recording sent waves of swaying audiences sighing across the prairies. Earning critical praise and an Indigenous Music Award nomination for Rock Album of the Year, the group was swiftly picked up by Toronto’s Aporia Records, which released its first full-length We Were Found in the Fog. Dappled with poppy handclaps and bubbling with heartwarming tenderness, the record reflects on a cloud being lifted, a metaphorical stepping out from the heaviness of inevitable change.

Performing across the globe from NXNE to SXSW, the Pan Am Games in Toronto and the prestigious Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany, Federal Lights has found the key to staying calm amid the trials and tribulations of band life.

“Time, money, kids, money, kids, dealing with industry vampires,” Roy lists as some of the challenges the group has experienced. “The music is easy.”

With a strength and conviction in their work and their stage performance, Roy and the rest of Federal Lights are able to let the myriad amount of troubles roll off their denim-clad shoulders and concentrate on the important things, writing more songs and delivering a solid show.

“It’s so much more than writing, recording and releasing a bunch of songs,” Roy explains. “To go out and play those songs for people who want to hear them is the pay off. Live music has the ability to be something very special and very spiritual.”

The group of artists has grown exponentially from the days of sweatpant-concert sessions, and with the release of Coeur de Lion, the outfit is bound for a busy year. Currently gearing up for a Canadian tour, Federal Lights brings its stage magic to The Good Will on March 10.

“We used to walk and now we waltz.”

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