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Strange Q & A: The Backstays

If you haven’t heard about The Backstays, it’s just a matter of time.

The Saint John-based band is made up of Pete Johnston on Guitar; Keith Whipple on Bass; Serenna Chapman slaying the piano and violin; Derek Hilchie on the organ and synthesizer and Lorne Kirkpatrick kicking it on the drums.

The group just released their new single “Dreams” and have an EP in the works, so we decided to chat with them about that. And of course, we gave them the Strange Grooves treatment, with questions about musical influences, bucket list concerts and what album they would save from a fire…

Can you tell us a bit about how the band got together?

Pete: I moved back home to Saint John last summer from BC and had a fair bit of songs written while I was playing open mics and stuff out west. I met Keith and found we had real similar influences. I sent him a few rough tracks and so we started hashing them out. It wasn’t long before Derek, Serenna and Lorne joined once we put word out and had an idea of the sound we were after. Derek has played with Keith for years and we all knew Lorne from either school or other bands. We got lucky when Serenna replied to an ad we put out looking for piano and violin players– she happened to play both.

Keith: I think Pete saw my tweet about my top 5 albums of 2017. Then he slid into my DM’s.

Some of you guys knew each other in middle school and played music back then? What is it like playing with each other now?

Keith: Derek and I have played music together since we were around 13. At this point, it feels weird not playing with him.

Derek: It’s nice to have someone that you can openly bounce ideas off of constantly. When we are playing something new we typically have the same sounds in mind even though our musical taste are very different. We both have the mindset of only adding what the song needs, which may have stemmed from growing up together and writing together.

The band is described as having a “fog-steeped, roots-infused indie rock” sound. What bands/artists would you say are your biggest influences?

Keith: I think we all have different influences, which push and pull the music in different directions. There’s a love of Bruce Springsteen and Joel Plaskett in the band that seems to just slightly dust everything with a bit of that Heartland Rock. But we are also very into Alvvays, War on Drugs, Arcade Fire, Bleachers, The Smiths, so I think that’s where that synthier indie rock sound comes from. I really liked the fact that we didn’t all enter this project with only one certain genre or sound in mind. It is a true collection of what everyone is influenced by. Sort of letting the songs evolve on their own with traces of everyone’s tastes.

You guys recently released a single called “Dreams” can you tell us a little about it?

Pete: For this one I had two chord progressions kicking around and by chance happened to work well together. I showed the band the guitar part and we all started to build upon it with each one of us trying to add some kind of different layer. Lyrically the song is about a kind of lull juxtaposed with a more upbeat melody. It’s about kind of thinking what you might have grown up expecting life to be like with job security and pensions but coming to grips that maybe that kind of security isn’t attainable for most. But we can still get together with a beer and rag on about it with buds. We recorded it, along with the rest of the EP, with Adam Dincorn at Undertone in Saint John.

Your debut EP is being released August 2, what was it like putting it together?

Serenna: We’ve been working on the songs for months now. It has really been a ton of fun trying to include different ideas and deciding where we want to go with our sound. Now that we have the music and lyrics solidified into something we can listen to ourselves and be proud of, and now share- we are pretty pumped.

Lorne: It has been one of the most prolific and exciting musical processes that I have ever been a part of. The chemistry is just there. When you know, you know.

Pete: It’s cool seeing it come together. We’ve basically been locked up at our rehearsal space on Union Street since January writing and rehearsing so it’s pretty wicked to finally be ready to take it all public.

Derek: I am typically a guitar player, so it’s my first time exclusively playing synth & organ for a band. It’s exciting to be able to write and create music on a new instrument. It’s taking me out of my comfort zone which helps to inspire new ideas.

Keith: Watching the songs evolve from a few chords, or a hummed melody, into what they are now is always the best part. This band has really given me the platform to work on my creativity as a bass player. Having that extra layer of a room full of people who have great musical ears to bounce things off of is such a luxury.

Do you guys have any gigs planned for this summer?

Pete: We’ll be playing with Joyful Noise at the Capital in Fredericton June 29. Then June 30 on the Market Square Boardwalk for the Canada Day Countdown and the July 1st boardwalk show too. We will be officially releasing the EP at Five and Dime on Aug 2nd- we’ll have more details on that soon.

After you EP release, what do you guys got planned next ?

Pete: We’re in the middle of planning a fall Maritime tour. We have a lot of songs we’ll be playing live that aren’t on the EP. We are still writing a lot so the next thing we are looking to will be an LP at some point in the next year or two.

Ok, now for the questions we ask all Strange Grooves interviewees: If you could only pick one album to save from a fire, what would it be?

Keith: Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker

Derek: Queens of the Stone Age- Era Vulgaris

Pete: Joel Plaskett- Three

Lorne: The Doors- Strange Days

Serenna: Fleetwood Mac- Rumours

Who is on your concert bucket list and why?

Serenna: Tallest Man on Earth

Keith: Springsteen. I didn’t go see him in Moncton because I was young and dumb.

Derek: Them Crooked Vultures, who consist of John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme. They are supposed to be putting out a second album and I missed the first tour. I WILL NOT miss the second.

Pete: The Waterboys

Lorne: It doesn’t have to be an active group, right? The Smiths. Specifically, The Smiths in 1985

Finally, where can people find more from you guys and stay up-to-date?

Serenna: We’re on all the major social media sites. @thebackstays for all of ‘em!

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Cherise is the co-host of the Strange Grooves podcast. She started collecting vinyl back in high school, but her love of classic rock and AM Radio hits goes back long before that. When she’s not listening to music, Cherise is the Associate Editor of Huddle Today, an online business publication that covers Atlantic Canada. She’s previously worked for CBC New Brunswick, The Canadian Press and the Telegraph-Journal, among other great publications.

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