By Via Reyes
Racoon Bandit is nearing the end of their tour with one of their final shows being right here in Charlottetown. I had the privilege of chatting with band member Fraser McCallum over the phone after one of their rehearsals, about their tour, their latest album, the band’s creative process, and more.
The Cadre: How would you describe your music to new listeners or people who haven’t heard it before?
McCallum: We often say folk rock or indie rock. I think it’s pretty accessible music. A lot of the writing is sort of anchored in story-telling and it’s folk music but it’s got a driving rhythm section behind it and some nice guitar flashes here and there. It’s a pretty established sound, I’d say.
The Cadre: For your latest album titled Close Your Eyes, which you guys released back in August, does it have a certain collective theme?
McCallum: I don’t think there’s one true line. It’s not a concept album but we thought the title Close Your Eyes encapsulated some of the themes well. Close Your Eyes is a lyric from the 6th track which is called Believe Me. A lot of people have described our music as wishful and nostalgic so we thought Close Your Eyes, both as a lyric from one of the songs and as a theme, that expression kind of suggests maybe wishfulness and far-off thinking or closing your eyes and imagining yourself somewhere else or on an adventure. And I think a lot of the songs have that within them.
And I guess further into that, it’s important to us that everyone gets featured in the album. It’s not just one writer. It’s three, probably four, writers this time around so everyone contributes, everyone writes songs. And at least on this album, everyone sings lead vocals at one point.
The Cadre: Following up on that, were there any changes made to your sound or production process for this album?
McCallum: We worked for a producer for the first time. That was a big difference. A guy named Colin Buchanan. A lot of people on PEI know him and throughout the Maritimes because he plays with Paper Lions. He’s the guitar player for them and he produces their records and he’s produced a bunch of other island music. But for us, it’s the first time to have a collaborator. We’ve normally been self-produced, so that was a big difference. We had someone really hands on adjusting our songs. We were trying to sound maybe a little less rough around the edges this time, a little tighter. There was more time spent on pre-production. Before you record all the songs you really workshop all the songs and talk through it and put some demo tracks together. And I think we wanted to have less minor chords. In our last album, there were a number of songs in minor keys and that set a tone, which was fine, but I think we wanted to go somewhere sunnier.
The Cadre: Can you talk about your production process behind creating your music?
McCallum: With so many writers in the band it happens one of two ways: either someone brought a song in that was pretty much done and it was shared with the band on acoustic guitar and everyone listened to it and gave ideas, then it was extrapolated into a full song, or with a couple of songs like Searcher Song which is the opening track and the second to the last song which is called Second Chance, those were songs that had an idea to them, and the group kind of sat around a whiteboard and helped write some lyrics and ideas and that was more collaborative. Normally, we would just use one or the other but this time we used both.
The Cadre: I know you guys are nearing the end of your tour with Dylan Menzie. Could you talk about your experience so far being on tour?
McCallum: It’s been great. We did six shows in Ontario and then came back and did one in Hunter River, PEI last week. There was a Quebec date and a New Brunswick date in there as well. They were great shows. It was a lot of fun to catch up with Islanders everywhere. Everywhere we went there would be Islanders, whether we knew them or not, who were coming out. I’d say it was a lot of fun to do it wiht another band. We previously just toured as a solo band and you meet a lot of bands along the way, in that case. This go around, we were with Dylan Menzie’s trio the whole time. Seven guys hanging out all the time. And then we further had Upstreet Brewery from Charlottetown, they were presenting the tour, so a guy from the brewery came with us and that meant a lot of fun and it was a real sort of ensemble everywhere we went and that created a real atmosphere, I think.
The Cadre: Can you talk about your upcoming show? What can people expect?
McCallum: This is actually our last show ever with Scott Gallant, who has been our bass player for about five years. That’s one big part of the night, celebrating that. We’ve got Whaleskin, a local DJ opening up the night. Really great DJ. He’s going to open the night and then Dylan Menzie‘s trio, and then Whaleskin is going to do another set and then ourself. The Sportsman’s Club is where we’ll be playing and it’s actually where we released the record so it’s a nice full circle. It’s the end of the year and it’s the end of the tour and that’s where we released the record so it makes good sense to go back there.
The Cadre: Do you have any plans on what’s next?
McCallum: We’ve been playing a lot and touring a lot. We’re going to need to decide on a new bass player and we’ll probably look ahead to spring and summer festivals. The East Coast Music Awards are coming up as well and we’ve applied for those. So you know, hopefully we just become rich millionaires and get flown around the world!
Be sure to catch Racoon Bandit along with other local artists tonight at 10PM at the Sportsman’s Club along University Avenue. It’s sure to be one special night.