The Canteens 16 December 2015 on Rocket Shop
WORDS BY TOM PROCTOR, PHOTO by JAMES LOCKRIDGE
You could compare The Canteens to any number of bands or sounds, but no comparison would ever quite hit the mark. Punk Norah Jones, Stringed CocoRosie, Horror Bailie Rae, all come close but The Canteens have a way of putting their own spin on a track that creates a unique sound that just can’t be replicated. Dubbed “Chamber Rock”, a genre that’s as new as they are, they incorporate cello, violin, guitar and rhythm, crafting dark melodic tracks. Often changing tempos and filling space with dramatic pauses, it brings forth a raw emotion that is rare to see in band with such a collective young age.
Fresh off their impressive win at the Higher Ground Battle of the Bands, the trio popped into the studio to give us a personal sample of their haunting orchestral tunes. Discussing their origins, covers and what’s to come for The Canteens, the trio sit down with Big Heavy World to share a chin-wag.
Tom Proctor: You guys just won battle of the bands, congratulations. How was the competition, were deserved winners?
Kelsey Ackerman: I was watching the other bands and i thought we were just doomed. We have such a different sound and presentation, so we felt a little out of place on the stage dressed all in black.
Michael Sheerin: Not only that but they told us the categories before we started and one of them was stage presence, which was a little worrying as we all sit when we play. Guitarists for other bands were jumping off stage into the crowd, taking their shirts off (Laughs.)
Justine Poole:I think we brought our all, that was our plan. It’s the biggest stage we've ever played on so we were just psyched to be there. We were just going to do our thing so I was just stunned by the result
TP: You guys started as a duo, now a trio, so how did you guys meet what brought you together?
MS: Justine and I work in the same restaurant and she heard that I could play cello. She was looking for a tutor and asked if I could help her out. The lesson didn't go too well but at the end she asked if i wanted to listen to one of her songs on guitar, she played this incredible piece, far better than what we were doing in practice, so I started jamming with her and it went from there.
KA: I came into band in March, Justine and I are cousins so we’ve been playing since kids. I played with Justin and Mike when they’d just started, but was living in Winooski at the time so when I moved up I told Justine she had to let me in (Laughs.)
TP: Where did the name originate from?
MS: People were coming up to us after we played with Kelsey to find out our name and we couldn't answer, so we started flouting names to each other once we got back to Burlington. I thought up The Canteens and it seemed to fit. It relates to our sound, it’s a vessel you would typically carry water in, but it's not a regular bottle it's a battle waterbottle. You take a canteen to war. You take a canteen yo climb a mountain. It's a fitting metaphor for our music because separately the three of us have always had music with us our entire lives, a life giving element that always stays by your side.
TP: I heard your cover of Britney’s “Toxic” while you were in the studio. Your covers put a great twist on songs, are you looking for anything in particular when you pick a cover?
JP: I love picking different styles of music and take it to the unexpected. Taking a song and making it embody what we do. I want to do “You Are My Sunshine”, which like “Toxic”, is also very heavy. When you really listen to the lyrics you can hear that this man has experienced some serious heartache, yet we all have this idea that it’s the musical embodiment of happiness. When you really listen you can hear that it’s not what you think it is, and I want to bring that to light through our sound.
TP: So it seems you gravitate towards songs that sound upbeat but tend to have a darker message?
MS: I think we may do that subconsciously but you’ve put it into words.
TP: Justine, you play guitar, snare, bassdrum and do vocals simultaneously, have you got plans to add any more instruments to your repertoire?
JP: I grew up singing and then started playing guitar so it wasn't too hard to put the two together. I’ve always kind of had my own rhythm, I change my tempo a lot, we call it Justine timing (Laughs.) Our pauses are emotional rather than timed. We all agreed we needed a rhythm section to make our sound grow, but we needed to stay true to our approach and our timing. So Mike scrounged together “The Tarantula”.
MS: I found it at a yard sale, they just had a box of drum parts. I managed to rig the whole thing together for 7 bucks, which was very lucky as there's only one company that makes the snare that we need and it's $250 dollars. We only want limited drums in our songs and we didn't like the idea of a band member having to be silent for such long periods of time. So we figured if we could do it ourselves then why not. Justine is also a great piano player so we’re looking to get that involved at some point. We like to experiment with the sounds.
TP: Would you consider adding musicians to your lineup?
KA: I think so, if they gelled. Before I started officially we had to make sure if it was going to be cohesive, will it work with the sound that they've been building the past two years, will it add to it. Luckily for me it worked out, cos i really wanted to play, but I knew it was going to.
TP: Where do you see your music going in the future?
KA: We’ve just done random gigs that come our way so far, so getting something organised together would be great. I would love to go on tour, we’re trying to keep the momentum going at the moment, and we want something recorded before we open at Higher Grounds, which is happening in the spring.
TP: What are your day jobs currently.
KA: Bartender. We’ve got the service industry covered. We could run a restaurant together if it all fails. (Laughs)
Updates and Youtube links can be found on The Canteen’s Facebook page, and will be opening a Higher Ground gig in the spring, so keep your peepers peeled.