Necessity may be the mother of invention, but self-imposed boundaries are the key to creativity for Royal Canoe.

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Necessity may be the mother of invention, but self-imposed boundaries are the key to creativity for Royal Canoe.

Album preview

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Royal Canoe — Sidelining
Available July 9 on all major streaming services.
• Visit royalcanoe.com/porch to sign up for release-date porch party listening event

The Winnipeg indie pop group — made up of Matt Peters, Michael Jordan, Matt Schellenberg, Bucky Driedger and Brendan Berg — has been making music for more than a decade, all the while consciously dodging the pitfalls of routine and expectation.

Unlike the band’s frosty performance at The Forks in January 2020, there were no ice instruments used in the creation of its fourth full-length album, Sidelining, set to release July 9. But there was a rule: everything, from the lyrics to the music, had to be brand new. Old ideas and worn riffs were not welcome in the studio, where songs had to be conceived and recorded the same day.

"We’re just kind of gluttons for punishment in some ways," Peters says. "You go through this sort of cyclical process of: you write and record an album, then you go out on tour and promote it and then you go back to the creative stage and do it all over again. For me, if there isn’t some sense of newness or an aspect of the process that’s exciting… I have a hard time even activating that original part of my brain where I can have new ideas."

Supplied</p><p>From left: Royal Canoe’s Michael Jordan, Matt Schellenberg, Matt Peters, Bucky Driedger and Brendan Berg are releasing their fourth full-length album, Sidelining, on July 9. </p>

Supplied

From left: Royal Canoe’s Michael Jordan, Matt Schellenberg, Matt Peters, Bucky Driedger and Brendan Berg are releasing their fourth full-length album, Sidelining, on July 9.

The rule turned the project into an extended improv session. The bandmates were forced to put their ideas on the line, provide honest critiques, follow through on decisions and say yes more often. The experiment worked, according to Peters, because of Royal Canoe’s solid working relationship.

"You’re not in your comfort zone and so I think when you’re in that place you can sometimes do your worst work," he says. "But I think if you trust yourself and have people around who you respect… you can really often do your best work there."

Sidelining was laid down over three different sessions at Private Ear Recording before and during the pandemic. By virtue of the process, the track list is a snapshot of a moment in time — sometimes eerily so. The song Butterfalls, a plodding, soulful tune about being on the precipice of something big, was written before the first wave.

"It’s interesting to go back… because it seems like we were talking about this thing that hadn’t happened yet," Peters says.

Feels Good, on the other hand, touches on the monotony of life in lockdown and the anticipation of being able to hug loved ones and crack a beer with friends once again.

But the album isn’t fixated on what’s to come; the song Scratching Static is the realization of an idea that was languishing in obscurity until artist NNAMDÏ entered the picture. While Royal Canoe technically broke its own rule by asking the Chicago musician to collaborate on an unfinished existing song, the result was so far beyond expectations it felt like new material.

"He built this amazing Freddie Mercury-esque series of vocals that totally changed the song and took it from something we weren’t really sure we’d ever finish to, like, just tying it up in a bow," Peters says. "That’s why I love working with other people."

In-person collaboration has been sporadic over the last year, making it difficult to produce the kind of cinematic music videos Royal Canoe has become known for. The band got creative with post-production and keyboardist Schellenberg pulled together a music video for Scratching Static made entirely of GIFs (an animated image file) and movie clips.

"It’s constantly forcing your hand to make different decisions, but I don’t resent that at all," Peters says of the public health restrictions. "There’s no infinite series of options here: we have to make a video where we can’t all be in the same room and that’s just the way it is."

In lieu of a live concert, Royal Canoe is inviting fans to celebrate the release of Sidelining at home with a co-ordinated "porch party." Participants are encouraged to sign up at royalcanoe.com/porch and head out to their front porch/stoop/window with a speaker to blast the band’s new single Surrender at exactly 5:45 p.m. on July 9.

"Hopefully, there’s a bunch of people who do it and we can all listen to the song together," Peters says.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

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Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.