Red Deer Advocate - Band Aims for Physical Connection to Music

For some bands, going retro-authentic means ditching the synthesizers and slapping on some fringed leather vests.

For Calgary-based folk/pop group, Locomotive Ghost, it means going deeper.

The four musicians, who write melodies “for lovers and nerds” with hip hop elements and spoken-word poetry, hand knit and stamp their own merchandise. They hand paint album sleeves, and now putting out a season-themed series of 7-inch vinyl records.

Yep, we’re talking 45s.

Those diminutive discs, popular when Elvis was a hip-shaking teen idol, can only hold about seven minutes of tunes per side. This means they have to be constantly flipped by listeners.

But Locomotive Ghost’s ukelele player/bassist Ben Nixon sees this as a good thing.

“Part of what we’re going for is creating a more physical connection to our music,” said the 23-year-old musician, who performs with the band on Friday, June 21, at The Hideout, south of Red Deer.

“If people have to flip our discs, they have to be paying attention to what they’re listening to and not just treating it as background music.”

Putting out a series of four season-themed 45s instead of one CD was a concept that occurred to band members during a bleak period last winter when a bright idea was needed. Nixon said he and other musicians — lead vocalist/ guitarist Mike Buckley, drummer Cortney Osness and guitarist/keyboardist Paul Orton — were in the creative doldrums and required a new challenge to kick-start creativity.

“CD sales have been dropping, while vinyl sales have gone up . . . we thought it would affect our creative process to work within different constraints.”

The band members, who mostly met at music college in Nelson, B.C., decided to craft four 45s. They are inspired by spring, summer, autumn and winter — seasons that Vancouver native Nixon was only fully able to experience since relocating to Alberta a few years ago.

Besides the creative constraints of producing tunes for a 45 rotations per minute disc (two 3 1/2 minute songs were written for each side, amounting to a total of four tunes per disc), there were also logistical problems.

Nixon discovered only two companies exist in North America that can press that size of vinyl. For this reason, the first disc, Spring, came out in April in a round-about way — from California, via Ottawa, to Alberta.

“It cost quite a bit more (than a CD). It was about twice as expensive,” said Nixon, but he believes it was worth it. Supportive fans who buy the 45s will automatically have a stronger buy-in to the group’s music, because they “get” the unusual concept, as well as the album’s themes, Nixon added.

Spring is selling so well, so far, that the band is falling behind on hand painting the album’s sleeves.

The disc contains The Sun Will Shine, a happy-sounding melody with sobering lyrics about a couple whose love fell apart in the winter. “There’s a hip-hop-heavy rock beat to it,” said Nixon.

The tune All I Need, about the search for love and battling self-doubt, is the first single off Spring. It’s getting radio play at about a dozen college and alternative radio stations around Alberta and British Columbia, including CKUA.

Summer will be out in July, while the group is presently working on Autumn.

Nixon said the latter will contain some of his most personal tunes, including More than I Could Ever Tell, about a failed relationship. In a spoken word section of the song, Nixon (a former slam poet) accepts a lot of the blame for the breakup.

“When I express my feelings, I am brutally honest, and it’s not always flattering to me,” said Nixon, who admitted that performing this kind of material is difficult — especially at first.

But it helps that he needs to focus on the technical demands of his playing — such as how he can speak the words, play a ukelele, and work a foot-operated bass piano-keyboard type instrument at the same time.

“The technical stuff can be hard to handle,” but it can also distract from the “very raw feeling” of recounting painful emotions to a roomful of strangers, Nixon said.

As part of their authentic focus, band members make their own merchandise, including hand knit mitts and toques. “It’s pretty much slave labour,” admitted Nixon, who gets some help from his girlfriend, a visual artist.

There’s no profit from the venture, but “there’s a real joy in doing it for me . . . and I think people feel more connected to it if (merchandise) is one-of-a-kind.”

For more information about the show, please call The Hideout at 403-348-5309.

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