Definitively West Coast: The Martlet’s chat with Carmanah

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From songwriting on Denman Island to advocating for environmental sustainability, Victoria’s Carmanah embrace the ruggedness of their music. Their name comes from the ancient rainforest on Vancouver Island, and their sound is true to that —  an effortless fusion of folk, rock, reggae, and funk, coming together to produce raw sonority that celebrates West Coast living and culture.

I interviewed lead singer (and former UVic varsity track member) Laura Mina Mitc and guitarist and vocalist Pat Ferguson to discuss their music, charity work, and Laura’s time at UVic, ahead of their show at Rifflandia on Thursday, Sept. 14.

Carmanah, headed by UVic alumna Laura Mina Mitic. Photo by Hélène Cyr

The Martlet: You guys have been coined as “West Coast soul”. Can you tell us what this means to you?

Laura Mina Mitic: “West Coast” was originally coined by Gus Van Gogh, who was our producer on our last album. When he said it, it immediately clicked for us. It’s hard to come up with a genre; there are just so many options. You don’t really fall between the lines if you have multiple influences. For us it was always, ‘maybe we’re roots or maybe we’re rock or maybe we’re folk.’ We started to get more into those vintage sounds and then the soul started to come through. We stayed true to our West Coast roots and where we live, so West Coast soul was the perfect combination of words and it really fits us right now.

What are some of your greatest musical influences?

L: Vocally, I’m inspired by a lot of the older singers now and the tones they play around with including vibrato and stuff like that, sort of smooth singing. Feist is a super inspiring performer in many different ways. I would pull from Roy Orbison, from him, the idea of singing with your soul and just [belting] it out . . . also just someone who influenced me a lot growing up was K.D. Lang — [the importance of  singing] with your entire self.

Pat Ferguson: For guitar — J.J. Cale ‘cause he’s very very honest and raw. He’s in the privacy of his own home making the demos and just having fun and finding the best sound — it’s just very honest music.

L: I think we’ve both been very inspired by Paul Simon’s work too, and the concept of the whole band making the sounds that you want . . . I feel like he let so many other musicians shine in his work too.

What goes into the arranging process?

P: Honesty must be present. And patience, musically.

L: Most of the time, we work as a collaborative effort and when it comes down to it, we’re all friends, too. Just in the jam room there’s usually room for discussion and multiple opinions.

P: I think we’re always getting better at listening to each other.

Tell us about your involvement in the Jellyfish Project — a charity that asks bands to talk about issues of environmental sustainability at their shows and also present about the topic at schools.

L: It started up about three years ago and I think we tallied up — we did about 70 shows with it? We were invited by the founders to take over the reigns of doing the presentations. We work with Art Starts Now, and they help to make it financially feasible for a band to go on tour. It’s just such an awesome way to use music for something else. It opens the door for us to satisfy another aspect of who we are.

P: What I like best about it is bridging the gap between adults and teenagers . You don’t see that much blending — generations seem to [be isolated] from one another.

L: It’s given us a lot of respect for teachers too, and we’ve definitely observed a lot about how a really good school can function . . . It’s made us pretty reflective about just how important schools are— I think we’re so fortunate to have had these opportunities to go to these schools and connect with kids and teachers and principals, and talk about something that means so much to us: environmental stewardship and our oceans here. Living at the tip of the island, we’re surrounded by it.

It sounds like a good opportunity for so many people.

P: Including us! They keep us on our toes. They force us to have integrity in our lives and ask us questions that challenge us.

Laura, tell us about your time at UVic and how you think sports and music applies to one another.

L: My time at UVic was awesome. I went to UVic first and foremost to be on the track and country team — the head coach Brent Fougner was just an inspiring guy that I was just excited to train with. I had an awesome time there too with my academics. I didn’t study music while I was there — I did history and environmental studies. The whole time I was studying there, I started to realize music was what I wanted to do. Carmanah kind of started when I was in my third year. Those years I was just doing three things that I really loved: running, studying and [playing] music. The more I worked with Carmanah, [the more] I realized what I wanted to do with my life. But I realized that the other two aspects could contribute to that too.

What is the direction has Carmanah been going in since your 2015 EP?

L: 2015’s “Roots” was a good little launchpad . . . it started to open us to our eyes to studios as a place of learning and professionalism . . .

Since then, we’ve added a drummer and a keys player too and I think we’ve all been honing our skills too to contribute to one final, professional project. We used to do the DIY technique but since that last EP, we started working with management and learning a little more about the industry and working with a team and focusing on the next level in a way.

We dream of having a really well running team [with] everyone contributing.

P: While keeping it real.

You can catch Carmanah at Rifflandia 2017. The band perform on Thursday night / Friday morning at the Capital Ballroom (formerly Sugar). Carmanah’s set starts at 12:30 a.m. For more information, check out  http://lineup.rifflandia.com/band/carmanah

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