This article was published 31/5/2018 (600 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Every band needs a good origin story, and for local group Middle of Nowhere it begins about 150 kilometres east of Winnipeg.
Band members JP Hoe, Rusty Matyas and Alexa Dirks (Begonia) were at the Falcon Trails Resort, acting as mentors for a songwriting retreat, and on the last night the three musicians decided to write a song, just for fun.
That song written in that place sparked the idea for what would become Middle of Nowhere — the trio approached fellow veteran musicians Keri Latimer and Grant Davidson (Slow Leaves) as well, who promptly hopped on board, and the five-piece was born.
A plan was hatched to return to Falcon Lake in the dead of winter to hide themselves away for a week to write and record in a satellite studio they had rigged up in a cabin.
The quintet ended up with enough songs for an album, which they got close to completion in just eight days. There was no re-recording when they got back to the city, no touch-ups, no edits; what’s on the record is what was laid down that week, warts and all.
"We went from nothing to a full album in eight days," Matyas says of the band’s self-titled debut, released earlier this month, adding some vocals were done in a single take and harmonies were captured with two or three people singing into the same mic.
"It was an organic way of recording that a lot of people don’t do anymore."
That live-to-tape sound has been on the endangered species list for decades.
"Any nicks or scratches that happened the day of recording are still there, which is more or less unusual now with music," Hoe says.
The potential for personality clashes is high when established artists get together, and the five members of Middle of Nowhere all enjoyed previous success.
Opinions and ideas were not in short supply, but Hoe and Matyas say because they were all friends first, and very familiar with each others’ work, it made highlighting distinctive personal strengths in a group setting that much easier.
"It was nice, everybody brought very different things to the table… and I think that experiment was super interesting," says Hoe.
"Luckily everyone is a grown-up... I think there were some growing pains, but overall it worked out, everyone found their spot."
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What resulted is a sound that picks up pieces of all the band members’ individual influences — ’60s pop, ’70s folk, ’90s and ’00s indie-rock — and there’s a balance in both the songwriting and vocal performances from each artist, and in the overall tone of the album.
It’s a deep and emotional collection of songs, and one track in particular even led to a few tears during the recording process.
"The very last song, When You Get In (written by Hoe and Davidson), is sort of an ode to our respective partners and it’s kind of written from their point of view of what it’s like to be with schmucks like us who really try to make a career in music work, and it’s hard to do and it’s hard to do for your home life. I kind of look at it like a thank-you and an acknowledgement of how hard it must be to be with me," Matyas says with a laugh.
"This was a beautiful experience... I’m very proud of the record, it turned out so much better than I expected... It’s one of my prouder records I’ve ever been a part of."
The full interview with Hoe and Matyas is available on Bury the Lede, the Winnipeg Free Press weekly arts and culture podcast. Bury the Lede is available on iTunes, SoundCloud, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher and BluBrry. You can also subscribe to its RSS feed with your favourite podcasting app or visit winnipegfreepress.com/bury-the-lede.
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Erin Lebar Multimedia producer
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Rusty Matyas: Formerly a member of the Weakerthans, the Waking Eyes, Imaginary Cities (who were longlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize), Matyas was also a touring instrumentalist with the Sheepdogs and, in addition to his work in Middle Of Nowhere, currently works as a producer. He has made records with JP Hoe, the Sheepdogs, Slow Leaves, Sweet Alibi and Federal Lights, among others.
JP Hoe: Hoe largely performs as a solo artist and has three full-length records as well as a holiday album, from which he performs some tracks every year at his immensely popular Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday show. He’s a six-time Western Canadian Music Award nominee and has long been considered one of Winnipeg’s best and brightest when it comes to music.
Alexa Dirks: Formerly of the Juno Award-winning group Chic Gamine, Dirks now performs under her solo moniker Begonia and is stirring up some major buzz after the release of her debut EP, Lady in Mind, as well as a few high-profile tour dates opening for Serena Ryder.
Keri Latimer: A mainstay of the Winnipeg music scene, Latimer first got attention as part of the Juno Award-winning alt-country band Nathan in the ‘90s and maintained a solid career as a solo artist and as part of the duo Leaf Rapids.
Grant Davidson: Davidson, better known for his stage name, Slow Leaves, has three albums under his own name, two albums using his Slow Leaves moniker, and was one of three winning musical acts chosen nationwide for the inaugural edition of the Allan Slaight Juno Master Class.