The members of Bruce Peninsula are bemused by foreign journalists who ask, “Which one of you is Bruce?”
BRUCE PENINSULA with the DARCYS opening for TOM FUN ORCHESTRA at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (January 31). $8. 416-598-4753. And in-store at Soundscapes (572 College), Wednesday (February 4), 6 pm. Free.
Getting onstage with 10 or more musician pals used to make for a startling spectacle, but not any more.
If you connect the dots between Montreal's Arcade Fire, Halifax's Tom Fun Orchestra, Vancouver's Choir Practice and Toronto's Broken Social Scene, you might guess the trend reflects the need of musicians based in bigger cities to establish their own portable communities of like-minded players within their highly competitive local music scene. That's one theory.
There's also a growing awareness that even if it's no longer feasible to sustain a career in music through recording and touring, there's still enormous value in playing songs with and for friends, as the members of Bruce Peninsula believe. If you're splitting concert fees more than 12 ways, you'd better be having a really good time.
"I guess this whole thing grew out of my obsession with the various regionally shaped forms of American roots music - blues, folk, spirituals, jazz - from the early part of the 20th century," explains singer/guitarist Matt Cully, who formed Bruce Peninsula with Misha Bower in 2006.
"When I look for a reflection of myself in contemporary culture, I don't find it as readily as I do in those old recordings. What you hear is a community of people trying say something about their lives and their values in a very genuine way, and those voices really speak to me. Today, most people making music seem to be driven by a desire for money, fame or to say something to the world. The notion of people getting together to play songs for the sheer fun of it has somehow been forgotten along the way. Don't get me wrong - we're not against making money, but there's much more to it than that."
While the Bruce Peninsula's Lift 'Em Up (Escape Goat) debut 7-inch EP revealed their inspiration in an endearingly lo-fi way, their new album, A Mountain Is A Mouth (Bruce Trail), is a gigantic leap forward. That's not just in terms of their impressive original compositions, but also in their elaborate orchestrations and arrangements involving a wide variety of slapped, blown and plucked noisemakers.
Regrettably, the lengthy refinement process cost the non-gospel choir some of the awesome stage power they wield when roaring at full heathen holler.
"If the recording sounds a little over-produced," says key contributor Neil Haverty, "it's probably because we spent days and days mixing and remixing tracks. Because it was our first real statement as Bruce Peninsula, we felt a certain amount of pressure to get things right, so we wound up second-guessing ourselves a bit. A year and a half was far too much time to allow ourselves to tinker with things, but I guess that's all part of the learning experience when you make your first album.
"Still, I'm totally happy with the results, and I think we all felt extremely satisfied when we finally heard the finished master."
Neil Haverty tries to explain why there are so many people in Bruce Peninsula
So what's the lowest limit on the number of participating members for it to still be a proper Bruce Peninsula performance?
Expect to hear something completely different from the Bruce Peninsula for their next release, Haverty warns.