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Royal Canoe now a full band ready for next journey

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Royal Canoe is poised to release its sophomore album, Today We’re Believers.

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Royal Canoe is poised to release its sophomore album, Today We’re Believers.

Royal Canoe is making noise -- and it's being heard far beyond the Perimeter.

Over the past couple of months, the local indie-pop outfit completed a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Montreal, performing everywhere from the Consulate General of Canada in L.A. to Danny Masterson's -- a.k.a. Hyde from That '70s Show's -- backyard. The band had an Alek.Fin remix of its single Bathtubs premi®re on the Jay Z-curated blog Life & Times and has received advance press from everyone from CBS News to Vice.

All this buzz about an album that isn't even out yet.

Royal Canoe's sophomore album, Today We're Believers, will be released Sept. 3 via Nevado Records and supported by a three-month tour that will see them open for U.K. indie rock act Alt-J for a string of West Coast gigs. That will be followed up by dates in the Midwest and along the East Coast, with stops at Pop Montreal and Halifax Pop Explosion, before heading off to Reykjavik for the Iceland Airwaves Festival.

It feels like a momentous, turning-point time for the band -- a point not lost on frontman/founder Matt Peters.

"I feel like everything up until now has been deliberate," Peters says. His bandmates -- Bucky Driedger, Matt Schellenberg, Derek Allard, Brendan Berg and Michael Jordan -- are all holed up in Dreidger's West End garage where Allard and Jordan are spray-painting keyboard stands for Royal Canoe's pair of hometown CD release shows, Aug. 22 at the Park Theatre and Aug. 23 at Union Sound Hall.

"We've made mistakes and figured out how to do things correctly. We have the tools now. We've taken all the steps so that (this album) can have the biggest impact it could have."

"We've gone as far as to say it's our debut album," Schellenberg adds.

And, in a lot of ways, it is. The Royal Canoe featured on the band's first album, 2010's Co-op Mode, was not the same Royal Canoe it is today. The band started as a lark recording project, and Co-op Mode was a musical collage created by an assemblage of local musicians and friends.

"Royal Canoe was the novelty of co-writing at first," Peters says. But it was two collaborators in particular -- Driedger and Schellenberg -- with whom Peters felt a spark.

"From the first song we wrote, I felt like we were onto something," he says.

These days, Royal Canoe is a bona-fide band, and the evidence is all over Today We're Believers. The layered arrangements are agile and dynamic, governed by propulsive, kinetic rhythms and fat-bottomed beats (makes sense: RC has two drummers). Off-kilter experimentalism is bound by pure pop production.

"We approached it like hip-hop producers, as opposed to sitting around with acoustics and rattling around with picks," Peters explains. That process is a far cry from their respective rock-band backgrounds: Peters was in the Waking Eyes, Driedger and Schellenberg were in the Liptonians and Allard and Berg come from Tele.

"We'd get a tone or a feel and that would define the song," Schellenberg adds. "Rhythm is such a huge part of what we do. We'll end up making the melody gibberish, but we'll have the perfect vowel sound that fits. It's like a puzzle. Justin Timberlake's lyrics are awful, but he always has the right vowel sound. The rhythm of the melody is the most important thing." (The Timberlake reference is appropriate: Peters, with his pop-perfect falsetto, could easily have had a boy-band past.)

Musically, theirs is a sound that skews more Williamsburg than Winnipeg; Hold on to the Metal and Just Enough recall oddball Brooklyn art-pop outfit Yeasayer while others, like Button Fumbula, have shades of TV on the Radio -- bands Royal Canoe could count among their peers.

Lyrically, however, Today We're Believers is firmly rooted in the Prairies.

"There's a healthy amount of nostalgia," Peters says. "A lot of these songs were written two summers ago and, I don't know if you remember that summer, but every day was perfect. It was hard not to feed off of that time. You think, 'Winnipeg's great' -- and then it's January. That contrast is really difficult not to comment on."

As Schellenberg adds, this record is also about growing up, making the decision to stay in Winnipeg and the decision to commit to the life of being a musician. It's been a slow build for Royal Canoe, but its members wouldn't have it any other way.

"I feel like we've all learned to appreciate the opportunity to do what were doing," Peters says. "I've learned to appreciate the moments as they come. Always existing in the future -- 'this will happen when this happens' or 'everything will change when that happens' -- I've made that mistake before. You have to appreciate and to the process as it is right now.

"To come back full circle to those three months we have coming up, we're excited," Peters says. "But we're also ready."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2013 C1

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