Showing off their acoustic side, The History Of Gunpowder made good use of their seven-day residency at the Weird Church in Cumberland BC doing a set of live recordings that shows The History Of Gunpowder’s character and sound experimentation. And today we’re gonna have a chat and get to know them better.
1st of all we’re happy to have you with us on Rock Era Magazine.
- Let’s start with a little introduction, how did you guys meet? And what influenced each one of you to pick your first instrument?
In the history of this band there have been around 38 members. We have had line ups in Montreal and in Vancouver. Currently in our Vancouver lineup, we have some OG members that were there on our first albums before I moved to Montreal, namely Nik Focht, the drummer. Nik and myself – Alex Morison (vocals) – have been playing together since we were young. I have been playing with him for more than half my life. I can’t speak to the reasons the others picked up instruments and I think the time is better spent talking about what keeps us together. It is difficult to keep an 8-10 piece band together, especially in Vancouver, Canada. The fact of the matter is, is that the music and the love we share between us is unique. During the pandemic, this band saved a lot of us from mental health spirals or worse. We were our ‘bubble’ and we would get together to produce and write. Many of the songs on this album, ‘Swallows’, came from this refuge we sought during this difficult time. This group tours in Europe and across Canada, we have long recording sessions, tiring travels, and frustrating situations and through all of these moments there has never been anything but love between us. It is a strange type of family. I met each member in a different way and evaluated them, brought them in, in different ways, but we all stay for the same reason.
- I believe this might be one of the FAQs but, what’s the story behind the name The History of Gunpowder?
Yes, frequently asked question for sure. The short answer is I don’t remember. I could make up something poetic about the impact of gunpowder on global history and cultural trajectory, etc. but the real answer is probably that the aesthetics of the words evoked an urgency, intensity and tone that I thought would represent this music properly. I am a student of history myself so perhaps that has something to do with my affinity to those words. The great thing about band names is that they really don’t matter as the music they are associated with changes their colour, not the other way around.
- You guys have an interesting diverse sound, how usually does your writing process go?
I am the primary writer for the group but I try to bring songs 70 or 80% finished. I have the privilege of surrounding myself with genius musicians, each of them more talented than the next and much more adept than myself. For this, I make it a policy of including everyone in the writing process, trying to incorporate their sound and fingerprint as instrumentalists. We have late night conversations around the question: “What have you always wanted to do musically, but never had the chance to?” I want The History to be the vessel for each musician to explore themselves artistically and we arrange sections around that. This may be why many songs have a mid section that is somewhat unique for whatever style we are representing at the moment.
- What kickstarted the idea of the Weird Church recordings?
This album is a strange one. Each song was live off the floor in a church we converted into a studio. We have videos of each song. We also have interval video and it became a feature-length film that premiered at the Rio Theatre on Sept 1st in Vancouver. The idea for that concept came during the production process but the initial idea of converting a church into a studio came during the pandemic. In Canada, we can receive grants for projects. Everyone during COVID was hurting financially, especially musicians, and I thought, well maybe I can write a project grant that can help support everyone for a bit. So I conceptualized a big project and crossed my fingers. The church itself also sponsored the project and offered us a residency around using its 19th century pipe organ on diverse music styles. All our funding came through and we were there for a week, everyone got paid extremely well, and we came out with this beautiful album. A very rare thing indeed.
- Moonshiner has an extremely fluid writing style that sounds natural and organic. What changes have you made to your writing and the whole band’s dynamics to embark on this acoustic adventure?
In fact, this is the style that I write in most often. ‘Swallows’ sticks out in The History of Gunpowder’s catalogue, but I most often write in a more nuanced, acoustic style. Only when there is a highly charged, aggressive, and intimidating song that comes through onto the page do I bring it to The History. This album is a window into my more common writing style.
- Would you tell us the concept behind Moonshiner? And is there a main concept uniting the songs played at the Weird Church recordings?
Moonshiner is actually a traditional folk standard. I did not write most of the lyrics, except for the 4th verse which I wrote – so I rearranged it in that way as well as the string mid section. I have been playing that song for many years mainly because it feels close to home as I also have struggled with addiction through the years. The main concept uniting the songs played at the Weird Church is honesty. Singing these songs is difficult because of their vulnerability. Especially the song Untitled 751. It is a privilege to be able to write songs that mean something to you and have a community cradle them into something elevated, but that comes with its own challenge of representing the song’s central theme in an honest way. An intimidating and humbling practice for sure.
- With two records up your sleeve and such an exciting new experience on the way, how do you describe your sound so far?
Well, The History of Gunpowder has probably 6 records out. We had a few in the early years there that are hard to find, but we have had quite a bit of material out. The sound changes a lot – with the risk of sounding pretentious, it is difficult to describe. I have had times where I want everything heavy and string heavy (see the album “Stained Glass, Rye and Wax”) and then had project where the arrangements verged on orchestral (see “The Epileptic Volume 1”) and then we have a live album out (“Live History”). This album is something completely different and I tell ya, we are currently in the studio for the next album and we have never sounded anything like these new tracks either. We evolve quickly and seem to draw from an inexhaustible well of musical ideas. Feel blessed in that way for sure.
- If you could pick a song from your catalog so far to introduce someone to your music which one would it be?
Either ‘Bliss’ from “Live History” or ‘Gasoline Tree’ from the same album. One of my favourites is ‘First come for Peace’ off “Stained Glass, Rye and Wax”. If you want something heavier, go to ‘Crustaceans’ from Stained Glass or ‘Early Riser’ from ‘The Epileptic Vol. 1’.
- Do you have any future gigs/tours planned in 2023/2024?
Yes, we have a tour in mid november in the interior of British Columbia, some dates in Vancouver including a date in January with a circus joining us on stage. But most importantly, next summer we will be playing the festival circuit, watch out for us!
- Thanks for your time, wishing you the best of luck. Cheers!