One of the biggest bands coming out of the west coast of Canada these days is Towers & Trees. Bringing rambling anthems to the mainstream, frontman Adrian Chalifour and friends are planning on releasing their debut full-length album later this year. Earlier in May, before their CMW show, I got to sit down with Adrian and talk about influences and what this year looks like for the band.
How are you enjoying CMW and Toronto?
Haven’t seen much, but it’s one of the larger cities I’ve been in, so I need to give myself longer to form an impression, right? But yeah, it’s been fun.
What would be your major musical influences, either for yourself or for the band?
I think for myself, there are kinda lke three c things that I see as being fundamental to the music I want to create. One big thing is song writing and particularly the lyrical side of it. I really admire artists who, like a lot of us who sing about the same universal themes about finding and losing love and trying to change the world, growing up, whatever. I’ve always appreciated artists who find new and fresh ways of painting a similar picture.
So for myself, I’ve been a big fan of Leonard Cohen, and also for song-writing, Hawksley Workman is a very influential person, on sort of my musical journey. For him, it’s sort of that song-writing piece, and also the second piece which is around performance and live experience.
Because there is only so much a recorded performance can hold, and a live experience adds that much more to it.
Yeah. I think what I strive for is the gold standard in sharing music with people in person, there’s something very authentic in doing that, to create this art and wanting to share it. So I really like artists who seems to find that line between being incredibly authentic and genuine and present and vunerable, and in a way also similar to how you plug a guitar into an amplifier and amplify it on stage, the ability on stage to amplify what your projecting. So I remember, it was probably 2004, I think, when I went and saw Hawksley Workman live for the first time, in Victoria, and didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard “Striptease” on the radio, and was like “ahh, this guy’s alright, sure I’ll go”, it was like 12 bucks to see him. And he just melted my face off, with his charisma and his presence and his authentisity in the midst of that charisma. I think Patrick Watson has the same thing.
And then this third piece that is a major part of my musical identity, and you sort of see it in Towers & Trees; it’s this ability in creating music that resonates, a music that casts a net and it’s about bringing people together, and just creating a shared experience. There’s something, like our music is fairly accessible, it appeals to a broad range of people and that often people can relate to and creating sounds that are pleasant or just feel good, make you happy. And honestly, when it comes to that, these groups that I think, a lot of artists shy away from citing as influences, but artists who have this ability to take, in the grand scheme of things, they can take an arena full of people and make them just feel like they’re hanging out in a room together. I think of artists like Coldplay and U2, U2 was a big one growing up for me. I went a saw U2 once and you’re in this arena, maybe it’s them getting 20,000 people to sing out a “woah” refain but you’re like “wow, we are all doing this together, this is something we can all feel together and we can plug into that shared energy.”
So you guys have just finished recording The West Coast, which is your second album. How was the recording process compared to the first album? Was it different, or a lot of the same methods?
It was a vast, a pretty major departure. The Broken Record short album, or EP, however you want to call it, was a no budget, home recording. “Montreal”, we recorded in Ben Lubberts’ living room, with the gear that we owned between the two of us, rented a couple of amps of $40, so the entire cost of that album was the 40 plus $240 for mastering, so it was like a $300 album. This album that we just made, The West Coast, we took the Broken Record, the players that were on it, saying, “man, this sounded pretty good, we should have some electrics on this album”, “Ok, cool, who do we know.”, “Oh, Dave (Arter), yeah we used to play in a band with Dave, let’s call Dave and see if he wants to come in.” Dave comes in, hasn’t heard a single song, we hang out for four hours and when he leaves, he’s tracked six guitars for the six songs. That was like the Broken Record.
The moment that it changed, when the shift happened, was when we said, “oh, we should play this live, let’s call these same guys and get them on stage and see what happens” and the first time we played it live, it was like we can take this nice, simple, organic record and make it into this. And then we fell in love with that, and that’s the sound we’ve been exploring with new material and our live show, and so when it was time to make another record, we knew that I wanted to work with a producer and an engineer who could take our live sound and capture it as best as possible. And working in a world-class recording studio, I want to have a real budget, let’s make this thing right.
So that is The West Coast, with Alex Aligizakis, who is an incredible engineer, that’s sort of how he cut his teeth, he’s done engineering on some pretty big records, helping Nickleback, but he is an ear guy, you know, which was a great fit and I sort of had a pretty cohesive vision artistically of what I wanted to create, and if I don’t have that technical and ear side of things,ugh. But for the studio, we made it in, we recorded it in Electric City Sound , in Victoria, which is a gorgous studio, and also out at Alex’s place, he has a home studio right on the ocean, up at his place in Nanoose Bay. We did pretty extensive pre-production sessions, cause I had sort of written the entire album and I could play it on my acoustic guitar, but it’s now “Right, now we’ve got to arrange this thing into a Towers & Trees sound”. This six or eight of us that got together for a few long weekends at our guitarist’s house, on Shawnigan Lake in Victoria, and just did these twelve-hour long days, just arranging the songs, building them one layer at a time, until we could play them live and then you take that into the studio and start tracking . It was very much more extensive and intricate and complex and grandiose and also we were much more precise with everything. It is the most personal record I will, well no, it is the most personal material I have made to date and so I just wanted to make the equivalent to painting the Sistine Chapel, “let’s make something magnificent”, that was sort of the goal.
You guys are in a middle of a tour now. How’s it going so far?
Oh, it’s been great, we’ve done a far amount of touring this spring and we’ve done it all with another artist from Victoria, named Mike Edel, and he’s just put out a new album. He’s performing right before us (back during CMW) which worked out perfectly. So we’ve got this massive tour and broke it up into three chunks. We went out to Calgary and back the end of March, and then mid-April, we did this six-show tour around Vancouver Island and now we’ve been doing 18 shows not quite across Canada, to here and Montreal and back. So we’re right in the middle of that, going up to Ottawa tommorow (May 6), then back and showcase here (May 7), then Guelph and then start a return trip through Winnipeg, Regina, Lethbridge, Nelson BC. So it’s been going really great.
And taking the songs from The West Coast and bringing them out live has been good?
Oh yeah. We’re not quite ready, there’s still a few new songs we’re sitting on that we are just kinda, I’d love people to hear them for the first time when they listen to the record, but a lot of the new material we are already playing and incorporating into the live show, it feels really great honestly. There’s one new song in particular that we’ve started playing, while on tour, it’s unreleased, it’s a song called “Bad Heart” and it was one that I was like, I felt a fair amount of trepidation about, like “ah man, I don’t know how you’d adapt that to the stage”, and we played these really great shows in Victoria, these two sold out nights at the Roxy Theatre in Victoria, there was about 500 tickets sold in all, it seats about 250 a night, it’s an awesome venue; sit-down show, big stage, big reverberant space. So we played it for the first time live there, and it just felt so good the first time we performed it, and now it’s our favourite song to play live and it seems to really land which is exciting. I think because you’re always thinking about when we release these new songs, you’re kind of wanting to eclipse your previous whatever, right, so I just remember that show in particular, because people in Victoria are pretty familiar with our music, we play a lot of shows there, I just remember the feeling, both nights too, the second night that song was kinda in the middle of our set and we finished it and we got a standing ovation in the middle of the set. It was like big smile on Adrian’s face “Oh, good!!!! That’s good! We’ve got a song people are more stoked about than ‘Montreal’” or “Yes! New chapter!” I think it was a big moment for all of us, like we could feel the sigh of relief, “ah, this new records gonna be really good, people are gonna really like it!” and it just made us more excited to kinda push forward and hopefully get it out sometime soon.
So up to now, you’ve released “Free”.
Yeah, we’ve released “Free” and “West Coast”. We’re sorta picking, stab at the dark on how to release new music, so we released “West Coast”, that was a big important milestone for us, to really like “this is where we’re going”, cause if you take “West Coast” and “Montreal” and play them side by side, they’re pretty different; they feel different, they’re about opposite ends of the country. laughs
You get that feeling, definitely.
Yeah, and it was like, again there was “oh man, I really want to share THIS, because I think THIS song embodies the overall energy and direction of whatever, the album. I just want people to know that this is where we are going.” And it was so well received by our fanbase and music people as well and it was “Aww, nice!”
And then “Free”, we were like “Ah, Canadian tour, we should put out a new song .” “Free” is kind of a single, an anthem, high energy, positive, “Let’s put it out there and see what happens, good or bad.” Now we are chasing a grant to make a music video for “Free” and what’s exciting is that I think, anyways, it seems we’ve got a pretty good frontrunner for the next single, with “Bad Heart” cause it really landed live, and we’re super excited about the recording we did.
Has anything odd happened on tour?
Lots of odd, awkward things have happened. What to choose, I’m worried about choosing something that might come back to someone who has been really nice to you on tour. Like you meet odd people but I don’t want to call them odd.
Most people say that they’ve gone to weird places, it’s probably a safe thing to do.
I guess so. Even that is like, I don’t want to anger some locals. A good safe one was we did this 27 hour drive straight from Regina to London, Ontario, and we went through the States, so we crossed through 6 or 5 states. We crossed through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, I knew it was six! We were coming through Fargo, North Dakota right around dinner and so we stopped there and I don’t know, I feel a little bit priviledged to be able to say that I’ve eaten dinner at the only all you can eat sushi buffet in North Dakota. I ate salmon in Fargo, North Dakota, and I feel like I should probably feel guilty about that because the fish travel a long way to get there.
That’s cool! What does the next year look like for the band?
Well, releasing the album, and then for me, it’s like I know what I want to do in a broad sense. And when I think about the pieces that have to come together, and me as an artist I can get pretty overwhelmed. So I think a big theme for this upcoming year in releasing the album and then wanting to scale this project up once again, as we’ve been scaling it up as it makes sense, is we want to build a team around this project and we want to meet people in the industry and work with us and help us reach people. Basically, help us cast our line further than we can as fully self-managed DIY artists. So I think that’s why we try to announce our prescence with festivals like CMW, saying “hey, we exsits, we’re a band from Victoria BC and we’ve been able to build this out of a $300 home recording, to making a fully produced album, and we’ve created this seemingly viable small business and we’ve been able to go on tours and still stay in the black and not starve ourselves and not quit our day jobs.” So yeah, I think with this record, really the goal is to share it as far as we can get it, I would love to be playing more shows throughout Canada, I would love to play shows in the States, I would love to play shows in Europe, stuff on my bucket list. I want to make at least 3 to 5 music video projects around this album and get the album out, and start thinking about the next record. I think that would be an important thing for myself as well, like I’m looking forward to making an album and music that goes back to being a little more declarative and universal, rather than reflective and personal, cause this record is quite personal , autobiographical, reflective. I’m looking forward to writing, well I’m already writing songs that are more about “hey, let’s find some things that we can all appreciate and understand, through music.” When I think about the next record, I think it will be even more so, I’m writing these songs on tour, so I think we will record them with our live show in mind, like they are created with the eye to share these things.