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The big Z is for zeal: Local indie rockers follow up with full-length CD

Winnipeg quartet Hey Pilgrim took a democratic approach to writing their new album.

Winnipeg quartet Hey Pilgrim took a democratic approach to writing their new album.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/3/2014 (2214 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In 2012, local indie rock act Hey Pilgrim quietly released a self-titled EP. It was a promising introduction; a hyper-melodic ode to the late-'80s/early '90s indie rock — Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. — that the guys had clearly grown up with. (It even had a potential single in When We Were Young.)

Now, Tom Hurlburt (guitar/vocals) and Paul Webster (guitar/vocals) — along with newer recruits Justin Forfar (bass) and Scott Riddell (drums/percussion) — are back with their debut full-length, The Big Z, which will be celebrated with a CD release show at Union Sound Hall on March 6. Tickets are $10.

The record's release date has been anxiously anticipated by the band. "We kind of did it all on our own," Webster says. "We all have jobs. It took a lot longer than we hoped."

The foursome started work on The Big Z in 2012 — with the famous last words "we'll be in and out" — and completed recording in early 2013. For a band, Hey Pilgrim is incredibly democratic; a lot of care is taken to make sure that everyone is on the same page. "Doing everything by committee can be challenging but everyone feels like they contributed their two cents."

While the EP consisted of "songs that our friends really liked or that we were comfortable playing," Webster says, the band took a more considered approach to writing The Big Z, which tackles everything from your first crush to finding yourself.

"I wanted to write something that was catchy and relatable to real life," Webster says. He's a big subscriber to the old pop music technique of making darker themes more palatable by serving them up in a catchy coating. "But I also really like upbeat music that makes you feel good about yourself." On The Big Z, that manifested itself in "short, kinda punk songs" with a surf rock bent.

Of course, the band has already grown in the inevitable months that pass between an album's completion and its release. Still, Webster says there's something to be said for growing up on record.

"For me, and probably the other guys, I look back and I already feel like we've gotten better. That said, it's a document of a time and sound. It's cool to have that to look back on. If I thought about my favourite artists, I look back at their catalogues hear their growth."

Webster and Hurlburt — childhood friends — formed Hey Pilgrim in earnest in 2009. "Tom started playing (guitar) when he was young and he ended up teaching me a lot," Webster says. The duo started gigging around town in 2010, its sound fleshed out with a synth and a drum machine. "We'd show up to places like the Red Cactus. People were like, 'What the hell?' because we didn't play covers.'" By October 2012, Hey Pilgrim was a four-piece with a focused sound, with Forfar and Riddell joining the ranks.

Webster has grounded goals for his band. He wants to keep making music and record another record.

"For me, it was a bucket-list thing: learn how to play guitar and make a record," he says. "I feel really good about (the album). I didn't feel good about it all the time going through it. But we had a lot of support from friends and family."

And sometimes, that's a lot. It's enough.

"If you want to take music seriously, there's a lot of support systems out there for the people who want to make music and are really passionate about it," Webster says. "But I'm not sure if we wanted to go all in like that — at least, how it was described."

At 32, Webster is not a young upstart with stars in his eyes. He's pragmatically balancing being in a band with being able to pay his bills. And there's no place he'd rather be.

"We want to keep our expectations in check and we want to be on the same page. For me, knowing what music means to me, I'm OK making records and sharing them with folks around Winnipeg. If an opportunity came for something more, I'd have to really think about it.

"None of us do this because we want to be famous. We do this because we love music."

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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Updated on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 3:54 PM CST: Corrects spelling of name.

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