Sunday, 25 March 2012

Expect the Unexpected in Canada’s Northwest

            Fifty years ago, a pilgrimage of sorts made its way beyond the large settlements of the border-lying cities in Alberta and British Columba and into the ‘bush’ that was Northwestern Canada. It was a ‘back-to-the-land’ movement that sparked many young urbanites to completely change their way of life. The idea was to find open land, stake a claim and live from your immediate environment. In those days, any unmarked land owned by the government (or ‘crown land’) was free for the taking at a very minimal one-time payment. Dozens of ‘hippies’ from all over North America found their way to places like Watson Lake and Stewart Crossing, settling on the outskirts of a small town and gathering in groups to celebrate a new connection with earth.

           Many of the young adventurers followed in the footsteps of those who had frantically made their way along the dangerous route to Dawson City during the infamous ‘Gold Rush’ of 1889. The challenges of subsisting on land that experienced eight months of frigid winter with only two hours of sunlight in peak cold season would have pushed these squatters to their limits, testing their ability to survive in such extreme environments. The North is a stunningly beautiful place, but it can also be your worst enemy if you aren’t prepared.

            Today, not a lot of physical evidence from this brief era of nomads is left behind. Many grew tired of the isolation that was inherent to living in such conditions and moved to Whitehorse or Dawson Creek to find a steady income and permanent residence. But the legend of these areas continues to inspire many a traveller to stray from the beaten path and experience the awesome landscapes and cultures of Canada’s Northwest. I have been fortunate enough to have had a taste of the true North while I was living in Whitehorse during summer 2010. I travelled to the Alaskan Peninsula, Dawson City, tripped up the Dempster Highway through Tombstone Territorial Park and into the Arctic Tundra, and visited many incredible places in Northern British Columbia. But I left feeling a sense of wanderlust; I had seen so much, yet not nearly enough. 

Dawson City at midnight.
           So I’m going back. But I’m raising the stakes: Instead of existing in the comforts of a tourist capitol with a Wal Mart and Starbucks, I’m living in a cabin with my amazing partner Nikki Satira, inside the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park Campground, where I’ll also be working and using as a sort of ‘home base’. The park is located four hours from the closest major city (Fort Nelson) and has no cell phone access or grocery store (go ahead, Google Map it!). Lucky for us, our cabin is complete with internet, so I’ll be blogging during the entire trip here and on a new blog I’m launching in about a week with Nikki! Stay tuned for more details over the course of the next month. Our official departure date from Toronto is April 27th, returning in early September for a final year at university. It’s time to make some big changes, people!

Safe travels,

Aaron Turpin

Sunday, 11 March 2012

15 Bands to Listen to 
With Tea, Blankets, Candles and Christmas Lights

            ...Or at least some kind of introspective atmosphere.

We all need time to ourselves every once and a while, and it’s just not ‘me’ night without the proper playlist. Now I’m not one to brag very much, but one thing I am explicitly proud of my musical library. I have spent many an hour endlessly searching and accumulating discographies and underground sounds; a worthwhile endeavour when at long last the musical goose bumps run down my back once again. It’s a hobby fueled by my obsession with that exact moment of euphoria. You know, when the perfect combination of instruments and a dash of musical genius can change your perspective and crawl under your skin to a place you’ve probably forgotten about. That connection is universal and has the power transcend language, politics, culture.....

            We already know of the medicinal value of music and how including your favorite bands into what you do can help relieve stress and maintain emotional balance. Sometimes, though, all you need is to recoil into that personal space for some you time. And nothing works better than some mellow tunes and an evening barricaded in your room with excessive amounts of pillows, green tea, a good book, and whatever else your personal recipe for happiness is. For your referencing pleasures, here’s a list of my top 15 personal favourite artists (in no particular order) who will help you unwind while you tell your life to calm the hell down. Enjoy.

1) James Vincent McMorrow

            JVM is an Irish singer-songwriter who wrote and produced his debut album early last year during a self-imposed seclusion in a beach house. If that doesn’t scream ‘perfect for solitude’, give his material a listen and you’ll begin to understand why Irish singer-songwriters are well known for being charged creatures of raw human emotion. Maybe it’s ‘something in the water’, but it sure works for them. And us. And probably most straight women in America. 

2) The Album Leaf

            Contemporary instrumental music arguably tends to work harder to evict any sort of response from its listeners, and it usually entails more imaginative work from its producer. Jimmy LaValle began his solo (mainly) instrumental project The Album Leaf in full knowledge of these challenges, and has been successfully creating music for over a decade in spite of them. After five full-length studio albums, eight singles and four compilation appearances, you might say LaValle is bringing a new, more personal style of instrumentalism into the 21st Century. You be the judge. 

3) The Antlers

            The three-piece Brooklyn-based alt-rock band The Antlers first gained notoriety after writing and releasing their first full length album Hospice in March 2009, a themed record dedicated to a story of a hospital worker who falls in love with a terminally ill patient. As you can clearly figure out from that last sentence, many of the songs originating from this set of work are downbeat and melodic with punches of electricity and the humming of background machines, not the mention the lyrics are downright haunting when given attention. That’s right...Hit the replay button.

4) The National

            Another music-engine to burst out of Brooklyn is the indie rock band The National. I chose this band for a specific reason: lead singer Matt Berninger’s unconventional yet soothing low-toned voice. The success of this band’s work, spanning over a decade, proves that you don’t have to be flashy to be good. In this band’s case, you can also add amazing, original, majestic and sublime as appropriate adjectives. 

5) Fionn Regan

            Let’s go back to Ireland as homage to the soon approaching Saint Patrick’s Day. If you find yourself a little tipsy and pining for company on the 17th, allow Mr. Fionn Regan to accompany you into jubilation. He won’t judge - instead the new-age folk inspired pieces he bashfully strums may just leave dreaming of a grassy moor somewhere along the Cliffs of Moher.  

6) Bon Iver

            Once upon a bitter 2007 winter in northwestern Wisconsin, a gentleman by the name of Justin Vernon spent three months in a remote cabin recording a masterpiece now known as For Emma, Forever Ago (the theme of complete seclusion is evident here). Vernon has since accepted a growing fame in the indie music scene, a phenomenon that has all but changed the integrity of his music. His second self-titled album proved a significant maturation of his creative capabilities, all the while staying true to the emotional lumberjack we’ve come to know and love. 

7) The Wooden Sky

            As the first Toronto-based band to appear on the list, The Wooden Sky is a perfect excuse to be taken away by lead singer Gavin Gardiner’s incredible voice. This band is currently standing on two full length albums and a tour history with bands the like of Elliott Brood, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Yukon Blonde. And that, my friends, is about as Canadian as one can get.

8) Goldmund

            My eighth installment is a little unconventional by comparison – Goldmund is another instrumental project by American composer Keith Kenniff. The ambient, almost transcendental quality of Goldmund captures the most intense and the most subtle of human conditions, all without speaking a single word. His music is left for interpretation, allowing to listener to engage with each piece on a very personal level – an incomparable experience. 

9) Iron & Wine

            It’s hard to create a list the likes of this and leave ourt Iron and Wine, the all-American symbol for southern country meeting popular folk. Samuel Beam writes music that is accessible, easily relatable, simple yet extremely poignant in its untamed form. Not to mention, the calm whisper of Beam’s voice keeps you listening and almost transfixed in a lullaby he has been creating over four separate albums since 2002. Congrats, Sam, on becoming a household name in the world of 21st century folk. 

10) Noah Gundersen

            Noah Gundersen of ‘Noah Gundersen and The Courage’ (now known as just ‘The Courage’) began playing music like many other popular artists – at the age of 10 and to the forceful decisions of his parents, who made him take piano lessons. Fast forward to 2010 and the band, headlined by Gundersen, releases their first EP with incredible reception. Gundersen writes and plays with his sister, Abby, who are together a powerhouse on and off stage. The clever lyrics and guitar riffs tell all, leaving the listener wanting more. 

11) Sufjan Stevens

            If ever a MacGyver of musicians existed, Sufjan Stevens would indisputably take the title. On an album to album basis (and there’s nine of ‘em), it’s hard to tell you’re still listening to the same person. That’s because (thanks to a multitude of instrumental talent) Stevens has consistently recreated his act, touching on themes of love, faith, sorrow, childhood wonder, and, oh yeah, a now dwindled desire to create an album for each of the 50 states of America. Hey, if anyone’s going to accomplish that ridiculous feat, it’s this guy. 

12) Explosions in the Sky

            Try and think of this selection as not specifically for Explosions in the Sky, but the entire post-rock movement, most of which would be fairly appropriate for the list. The guitar work and imagery created by this instrumental band evicts a certain epic climax of passion unrivaled by many. All six of their studio albums theme a sort of passing wave that can be found in each song, from the silent melodies of a single clean electric guitar to the screaming of an entire band in unity. My advice is to close your eyes, lay back and enjoy the show.

13) Nick Drake

            As the only deceased member of this list, it’s important to note that Nick Drake has been credited by many as single-handedly starting the new-age folk singer-songwriter style of music we have come to know today. What is even more interesting is the fact that Drake was never widely known while he was alive, and only became popularized after his early death at 26 years of age, proving that he was actually way ahead of his time. Drake’s failure to reach fame was also attributed to his unwillingness to appear in public, do interviews or sign on to show bills – a product of intense depression and a theme he touches on in many songs.

14) Regina Spektor

            Although Spektor achieved popularity from her upbeat tunes such as Fidelity and On The Radio, she appears on this list for the more sombre tunes. Spektor seems to find her homestead behind an electric piano, creatively using her vocal range to find tones of content and devastation – often in the same song. Although born in Moscow, Regina Spektor found her musical niche in a place many others have – New York City. Her work shows influences of rock, jazz and classical combined with a certain original playfulness in song writing and lyricism. 

15) The Middle East

            Last and definitely not least is The Middle East, a native Australian ‘musical collective’ that formed in 2005 and played their last show in July 2011. As unfortunate as the break-up was, the band left behind an assortment of whimsical works that have been hard to define. The wide array of musical instruments used ingeniously within each song is captivating, as is the content and substance of their writing. As a final selection on the list, I bid farewell to a band that was well beyond their time.


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Nikki Satira on Coming to Terms 
with your Inner Creative Superpowers

If there’s one thing being in university has exposed me to, it’s the world of creative thought and action. I am proud to be a part of a faculty that is attempting to re-establish a relationship between creativity and academia. Some key individuals within the system are now reinventing university space to make way for a new merging group of students who combine music, art, poetry, story-telling, physical activity, dance, and many other realms of creative movement inside the classroom. By doing so, they are weaving inclusivity and accessibility into our hardened web of books and lectures, finding a new learning that focuses on expression, free thought and personal analysis instead of theory and formula. This is a change that is slow but deeply rooted on the energy of a new and brighter future for post-secondary education.

Classic Nikki Satira
Enter Nikki Satira, a 22 year old Toronto native born activist, musician, poet and writer. At the present, Nikki is one half of the hit folk band Houses for Birds, a witty and intelligent ukulele-based duo that sings about everything from obsessions for beards to experiences travelling Canada’s diverse landscapes. Her early interest in animal rights and vegetarianism has led to a lifelong crusade that has successfully catalysed sustainable changes in the name of preserving and caring for the non-human world. Nikki has also found her niche as an accomplished and published writer and poet, taking her uncanny ability to use language and personal prose to evict emotion and thought from any of her readers.

There is no contesting this girl’s in touch with her creative side, but Nikki is usually the first to admit that it isn’t always easy. In an interview I conducted on getting in touch with your creative capabilities, Nikki discusses the big challenges and even bigger rewards of finding that part of you that intrinsically wants to be creative.

1) Briefly describe yourself and what is most important to you. What makes Nikki tick? What are you passionate about?

I’m loud, bubbly, a tad eccentric and definitely offbeat – and my passions and beliefs have moulded me this way. The most important thing in the world to me is being a kind-hearted, well-balanced person who sees the intricately beautiful characteristics of everything on this planet - and I’m passionate about using those skills and traits to connect with people and make the world a brighter and more colourful place to live. I live and act as though strangers don’t exist and I try to embrace the idea that people do bad things but there is no such thing as a bad person. To me, the world is full of magic - and I know that sounds a bit na├»ve and juvenile, but it’s a way for me to reconnect with the wonder, imagination and excitement of being a child that we all unlearn as we grow older. We’re too much in our heads and not enough in our bodies and in our hearts!
I also love to explore and I find that through exploration, I face my own fears and overcome challenges that allow me to learn something new about myself… and through this process of learning about myself, I am able to embrace the differences that surround me in a positive way and get a little bit closer to finding my path in life. 

Katelyn Plant (L) and Nikki Satira (R) aka Houses for Birds performing at the House of Energy in December 2011

2) How do your creative interests factor in to who you are and what you believe in?

I love words. Before I was a musician, I was a poet… which is one of the hardest endeavours I’ve ever undertaken. It’s not easy to say something unique and profound in only a few words, and I guess I fell in love with the rush of accomplishing exactly that. With that being said, I use words and lyrics as a form of mental satisfaction, and this satisfaction comes from writing a sick rhyme, a well-thought limerick, or a melodic string of puns. On top of that, the lyrics I create are always reminiscent of my beliefs and wishes - sometimes happy with a silly twist, sometimes serious with dark undertones and sometimes a mixture of the two. That way, after all is said and done, I can have a piece of work that will make people think about things they’ve never really understood before, in a way that makes them laugh, cry or even silence them. I love people, and to open up a dialogue in that way is what it truly means to be an artist to me! 

3) How do you find the time and effort to dedicate to your endeavours as a musician, a poet, a writer, and creative mastermind?

I don’t, hahahaha. I kind of just wait for ideas to hit me and then I take the time to see them through. When that happens, I pretty much just drop everything I’m doing and it usually only takes about an hour for me to write something when I’m hit with an idea. If I force myself to write something, it usually takes weeks and kind of sucks anyway so I just end up abandoning it. I used to think that this was just me being lazy, but now I understand that it’s simply how I work. It is important for me to be able to drop everything I’m doing and work on an idea, otherwise nothing would get done.

4) Why do you think it is important to be creative in life? What are the benefits of this?

There are both benefits and serious implications! Being creative allows you to accomplish something you can be proud of; it gives you satisfaction, boosts your confidence and forces you to interpret things through an entirely new lens – all the while making the world a bit more of an interesting place to live. The benefits definitely outnumber the implications, but you have to be careful. Sometimes what you create may never be good enough to you, and you’ll either give up because of that, or try so hard that you end up making things worse and sacrifice a lot of time and sanity to do so. 

Relaxing on a beach at the Wawa Music Festival 2011
 5) Imagine I am a person who has never once tried to do something organic and imaginative. How can I learn to ‘flex my creative muscle’ and establish my own creative foundation?

Think of it as being shy. I’ve never been a shy person but a few years ago I was too timid to start conversations with random strangers. I forced myself (and it scared the hell out of me) to start saying hello to people on the subway and people around me that I didn’t know because I believed to my very core that the world lacked a sense of community. I ended up meeting some amazing people that way and learning so much that I didn’t know, just by pushing myself out of my own comfort zone. It’s like that with a creative endeavour. You just have to do it, you can’t think about it too much or you’ll disappoint yourself – and once you’ve accomplished something, this amazing feeling overcomes you, like you’re so incredibly proud of yourself that you just want to keep going.
The first time I ever wrote a poem I gave it to my favourite teacher to read. Even though it wasn’t a great poem, he still said it was awesome and did everything he could to help me progress into a full blown poet. He recently told me that it didn’t matter that the poem was good or bad – what mattered was that it was the first time I had attempted something creative, and that incredible moment is something to celebrate regardless of whether or not it’s “good”.
It doesn’t just happen instantaneously though; you have to kind of make your own toolkit before you start any creative endeavour. When I first started, my toolkit included my passion for animal rights and my desire for world peace - even though it has changed so much over the years, it’s what worked for me then and it’s why I’m here now.

6) If you could sing one song for the world to hear, what would you sing and why?

In a tree at Stanley Park, Vancouver!
That’s a freaking hard question. If I’m going to sing a song for the whole world to hear, I want everyone to love it as much as I do, understand the lyrics in the way that I do and be moved by it like I am moved.  Everyone has so many different musical tastes and interests it would be impossible to sing a song for the world that would do that. With that being said, I’m just going to give you a copout answer and say that everyone needs to hear (I wouldn’t sing this, it just wouldn’t be the same) Tally Hall’s song, Bananaman – because I feel as though the world needs to loosen up a bit with some laugher, a lot of weirdness and a bit of insanity. – Enjoy!

7) What does the creative future look like for Nikki Satira? Folk-rock stardom perhaps? Or maybe beat poet of the decade?

I’ll let you know when I’m finished my degree. For now, I’m just going to worry about school and fixing the fret board of my ukulele!

*Check out more of Nikki Satira here:

On her blog ‘Words from the Woods’ -

On the Houses for Birds Soundcloud -