Finding Refuge In A Record:
An Interview with Kestrels
Words and Photo by Ken Grand-Pierre
Continuing the trend of great Canadian music comes Kestrels, a three-piece group from Halifax, Nova Scotia that combines observational lyrics with highly expressive sounds that paint a vivid landscape of passion for listeners. Though they might be unknown to some out there, the group has already released two albums as well as a wide-array of singles/EPs. Most recently they were on tour to support their latest EP, The Moon Is Shining Our Way. While in NYC I got to sit down with the men who make up Kestrels: Chad Peck (vocals/guitars/synth), Devin Peck (bass), and Paul Brown (drums) and find out what’s changed over their journey as a band.
Be honest, did you guys have epic Canadian beards while you were in the studio?
Chad: I did actually (laughs). It started out pretty tame but these two guys (points to Devin and Paul) consistently have their beards superior to whatever ends up being on my face.
Paul: Devin is the beard boss by far though.
Devin: (laughs) thank you so much.
What would you say made the recording experience for this EP different from previous experiences in the studio?
Chad: Before this EP we would self-produce everything in much smaller studios but this time around we recorded our songs in a much more well-made studio. It wasn’t super fancy but it was a big change for us.
Paul: We recorded all the songs for our upcoming full-length during this time as well and the EP is really a compact idea of what people can expect. It’s a pretty good precursor to what the LP will be.
Chad: Yeah totally, it’s like a bridge in a way. The LP will be mastered differently and that’ll be a great thing to hear. The production, song writing, and everything is just so much better and it luckily feels like a good mix of new sounds and what we’ve done before in terms of a sonic mood.
That’s very interesting. And yeah in the past you guys have released loads of singles and EPs in between albums. Do you feel like those previous releases have accumulated to being a bridge to this album?
Chad: Yeah I think so. We had about fifteen songs recorded for this album and the question arose: do we really want to release an album with fifteen songs in this day and age? And the answer was simply no, especially with the iPod generation. So we decided on an EP because it’d also allow for us to tour again and try out the new tracks.
Paul: So we luckily have the standard eleven…or wait, it might be ten.
Chad: I’m glad, I hate when bands release albums with only nine songs.
Chad: Yeah just something about it feels cheap, ten songs feels just right. Double digits!
That’s understandable. There’s definitely something more complete about a ten-track album. You can usually pinpoint the rising moments and such with that kind of structure. Do you feel your upcoming album has that?
Chad: Mmm that’s interesting. To be honest I don’t know because it hasn’t been mixed yet. But I will say that it’s way more…the EP has this monolithic feel to it and the LP branches away from what people would expect. It sounds like us but it just….I guess ‘meandering’ is the right word I’m looking for.
Paul: Yeah, and apart from more songs than an EP, obviously the new album will sound much more expansive as well.
Chad: The album will also have our longest song ever on it.
What’s it called?
Chad: It’s called ‘Slow Jazz’ right now. I don’t know if that’ll be the final title for it but it’s this slow song that’s very long, definitely the longest song we’ve ever done. After the last tour we felt that a lot of the songs on tour were…
Chad: Yeah, like upbeat songs, so with this album we really wanted to explore other options and ‘Slow Jazz’ is just an example of that. And Devon is new to the band as well. He’s toured with us a lot but this is his first time recording with us.
So Devin, is there a bassline on the album or EP that you’ve fallen in love with?
Devin: Yeah actually! The last song on the EP, ‘The Double’, has a bassline that I really love playing. Especially, because the song itself relies on the bass more than I’m used to.
Nice one. It’s interesting because a lot of people tend to consider Canada in a bit of a majestic way, because the country seems to produce such great music consistently. With that said, would you say that some of the songs on the EP/album that were inspired by being in your environment?
Paul: To be perfectly honest, I don’t think most of the new songs were at all influenced by our environment. I’d say our influences definitely played more of a role over that for sure. I mean environment probably comes into play lyrically over anything else but I think that we’re much more conscious over what propels our songs.
Chad: I think this time around we sound exactly how we really sound as a band. In the past we definitely did things the way we thought was best but I think this album is definitely as ‘Kestrels’ as it can get. I was really stoked about recording in downtown Toronto where so many great albums have been made. It was really exciting and inspiring. I did most of my guitar parts in the woods.
Wait…why the woods?
Chad: It’s just where my studio is (laughs).
There’s going to be an alarming amount of people who’ll find that to be very typical of a Canadian musician…
Chad: It’s inescapable I guess.
Did you feel comfortable while you were there?
Chad: Yeah, the isolation is just very refreshing. I ended up sending the guys a lot of stuff because I re-tracked songs a lot after listening to them over and over again. Recording in a nice studio in a city would be very expensive but it was great getting to do all that in an inexpensive way.
The tour you guys are on now is quite an extensive one, especially for an EP. What’s been your favorite part about getting to do that so far?
Chad: I love touring the states. Any chance to come back here and play music is a chance that I consider worth taking.
Paul: It’s just being able to play to people that’s amazing. I mean it’s just a lot more viable as well since the cities here are somewhat close together. Back in Canada everything is far apart so if you want to tour there you have to drive a lot.
Chad: I also think that our sound fits a bit better here. We do have good shows in Canada and fans but I feel like the vibe is better here.
Do you feel that it’s easier for a newcomer to come across you guys here as opposed to back in Canada?
Chad: Yeah and I think it’s just with how people take in music here, I think Americans are always searching for something new to like. Like, people here will come up to us and say ‘wow I loved that song, it reminds me of this band’ or that band.
That reminds me how the guys at Grimygoods Blog compared ‘The Double’ to My Bloody Valentine. How does it make you feel to hear something like that?
Chad: It’s an incredible thing to hear for sure. I love that band and so does Paul…I don’t know if Devin does though…
Devin: Eh, I can do without ’em (laughs). I just haven’t really delved into them enough.
Chad: I can get that. For me they opened up my eyes a lot to how versatile a bands sonic spectrum can be. Especially after seeing them live. I think they influenced us with how they play live as well because when I saw them live I noticed that they do something that we also do and that’s allowing the bass to carry a lot of their songs. They do that even when the bass might be too loud.
I’ve heard that from other people before. Like, how the bass can be insanely loud during their shows and how you can literally feel it within your body.
Chad: Yeah. Their set up is ridiculous as well. It’s expansive and the most important part is that you totally get that their set up of amps and various equipment is tailored made to fit each one of their songs.
Do you feel that there were any influences or important changes that you guys kept in mind while recording the new songs?
Paul: Looking back I think the drumming reminds me of…
Paul: Yeah Rush! I wore a beanie during the entire time we were in the studio for sure (laughs). No, not Rush, haha. There’s a band called Lily’s that we all listen to and looking back on it, the way their drummer plays definitely played a big part in how I approached these new songs. Especially the way they use the hi-hat, it’s just a very different way than what I’m normally used to.
Chad: Yeah I feel that your influences are something that you don’t see until after a song is finished. Someone said that we sounded a bit like Smashing Pumpkins on this new record, which confused me a lot until I went back and listened to it. I don’t think I ever had Smashing Pumpkins in mind when recording but now looking back on it I can totally get how they influenced the way I played. Big guitars, you know.
With this current tour, do you feel the band dynamic has changed, especially after looking back to how the band was a year ago?
Chad: Well it’s interesting you say that, because before this tour we kind of took a year off from touring to write and record. We did play some shows here and there but I think that taking the time off really solidified something in us that wasn’t there before. Having Paul and Devin record on this song made Kestrels feel much more complete to me. I feel that we’re now solidified as a band after all this time.
Paul: Yeah I totally agree with that. Touring with a band, as well as recording, just brings you closer together over everything else. It’ll sound cliché but it really is a sort of a brotherhood type of thing. Without touring you don’t have that bond that’s critical to sounding tight as a band so being back on the road means a lot.
Chad: And we have separate lives as well, like apart from being in the band so whenever we are together there is a form of…
Chad: Yeah definitely. It means a lot being able to do this.
Lastly, how do you feel that the new songs translate in a live setting and do you feel that the songs have taken a new shape after playing them on the road?
Chad: Absolutely. For example there’s our song ‘The Double’. We’ve been opening our shows with that song that’s a bit of a slow burner but it’s also a very engulfing kind of song. I remember back when we rehearsed it for the first time and it was difficult to figure out, but now it’s grown to being my favorite song to record live. It’s funny because I was talking to our engineer a couple days ago (Claudius Mittendorfer) and he was really pushing for me to add more to the song, just utilizing a lot of confidence in the track which meant a lot.
Paul: I think that’s the best thing about playing so many different venues a night. You bring a song to a venue, and when you’re there you have to figure out what the best way to play will be for that song. What ends up happening is that you take those experiences when you go back to the studio and it just allows for a better understanding of what it is you want to do with an album.
Chad: I think that adds a little bit more magic to recording really.
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