Drawn Ship – Low Domestic

Scratch Records

Accessible minimal rock bands can be difficult to find. Although the overarching point of the effort is to make something beautiful and contemplative out of next to nothing a majority of minimalist bands tend to produce boring repetitive and esoteric music in which only the most artsy of us can find something to appreciate.

Drawn Ship a two-piece Vancouver group have managed to not only defy that norm but blow the whole thing out of the water with their debut album Low Domestic. Releasing on Tuesday September 6 the record pieces together raw and melancholic lyrics about death the Downtown Eastside and breakups with cleverly composed guitar and steady drums. Although such a description may inspire the thought that it’s all been heard before — which isn’t entirely untrue for those into the stripped-down genre — Drawn Ship has created an expertly layered album that will appeal to most with a couple of careful listens.

The musical expertise of both members is as obvious as the depressed emotions that inspired the writing of Low Domestic . Lyn Heinemann the pensive lyricist and intricate guitarist who previously served as frontwoman for the alternative rock group Portico sings horrific yet captivating lines such as “Oh kid don’t cry. I’m gonna buy you a glass eye. And if that glass eye falls out I’ll cut out your tongue so it fits in your mouth” with bizarre calmness and hushed tones. Gregg Steffensen the gritty drummer who played in the same role in the New Wave band Hinterland provides precise percussion according to the band’s apparent philosophy that less is more. In collaboration the two musicians have achieved a bruised excellence.

James Wilt

Fast Forward Weekly: How long have you and Gregg known each other for?

Lyn Heinemann: Oh man. His old band Hinterland and my old band Portico used to play shows together quite a bit. We’ve probably known each other for maybe five or six years. But we haven’t really been friends for that long. We were more like acquaintances.

What inspired you to approach him to start Drawn Ship?

He was a drummer (laughs). I liked his drumming and we live in the same neighbourhood so I always saw him around. I kind of like the guy.

When did you contact him about starting a band?

It was February or March of 2010. I just called him up and said “Let’s start a band. We should meet and talk about it.”

I read that a lot of the material was stuff that you had written in the past and had wanted to play at some point. Was it predominantly written before you started playing with Gregg?

Low Domestic is kind of half and half. We recorded way more tracks than made it on to the album. I think we did 15 in total and we cut four of them. The majority of what we had recorded was stuff I had written in the past but for Low Domestic I think it was about 50/50 for songs that we wrote together. The rest were from a year or two before.

It sounds like a lot of it was inspired by a break-up. Is that fairly accurate?

Yeah totally. It was a pretty gnarly and shitty break-up. Are there good break-ups? Maybe. Yeah actually I have had good-break ups. But this was not one of them. Apparently I needed to write some songs about it.

It seems like it inspired quite a few.

Totally. I was listening to a podcast recently and it was all about break-up songs. I realized how most pop songs are about breaking up and how so many of them are so over the top. That’s not what I was going for. I hope that I didn’t achieve it.

Obviously the sound of Drawn Ship is quite a lot more minimalist than Portico and Hinterland. Was that intentional?

The low-key instrumentation was definitely intentional. We both really wanted to do a project that was with just two people. We talked about getting a bassist but it seems to work as is. Part of the reason for both of us because it’s easier for inter-band politics. We’ll just make decisions and get things done so in that sense it’s really easy.

For me one of the reasons that I wanted to do it was I wanted to avoid starting up a band that just wound up sounding like Portico. I’m still writing all the songs so it’s the same voice and same guitar style. We could either go way more or way less and I don’t think I had it in me to go way more. So we went the other way.

Have you found that your guitar style has changed at all in Drawn Ship?

I’ve definitely become a way better player. I feel way more confident because it’s just me. If I fuck up there’s no bass note that’s going to cover that up. It’s very glaring. I had to spend more time being more of a perfectionist. My style’s pretty similar. It hasn’t changed that much.

How would you describe your style?

I don’t know. I’m self-taught. Let’s just go with that.

How has working as an addictions counsellor in the Downtown Eastside influenced your writing?

There’s two songs on the record that are directly about my work in a really obvious way: “The Best Ones Go” and “Glass Eye.” Your work influences you in general and I think because my work at times is pretty heavy and pretty intimate. It’s definitely shaped my experiences as a human. In some ways it’s made me way more open-minded. But in some ways it’s made me way more jaded and cynical.

What’s “Glass Eye” about?

“Glass Eye” isn’t really about any of the specific youth that I work with. It’s about child abuse obviously and it’s really the general experience of a lot of clients that I work with. It’s also about my own role too. The narrator of the story is definitely me. It’s me recognizing my role as being part of the system that is there to help but ultimately falls way short of being able to provide what these kids need. It’s expressing regret about that I guess.

How do you think people will respond to the heaviness of the album once it’s released?

I don’t know. People seem to like it so far. We’re coming up into fall. Maybe it’ll fit with the mood (laughs).

Is there a reason that Drawn Ship is only going as far as Winnipeg on this upcoming tour?

The main reason is that I’m going to be seven-and-a-half months pregnant while we’re touring. Driving that stretch between Winnipeg and Toronto would be a little bit too much. I didn’t want to go that far when I’m that close. Delivering the baby in Flin Flon is not happening.

Is there a story behind the motor on the cover of the album?

Gregg’s a visual artist too. He’s in charge of all that stuff. He’s minorly obsessed with old manuals that include schematics and mechanical diagrams and stuff. That’s just one of his favs. There’s no symbolism behind it. I could make something up but we just thought it looked cool.

Where did the name of the band come from?

The name “Drawn Ship” is taken from a June of 44 album. In the art work for that album there was a series of stamps that are based on tattoos and one of them was called “Drawn Ship.” Mostly the name came out of total desperation. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to name a band before but it’s really fucking hard. It’s so hard. It’s so personal and everything you say sounds awesome at the time and sounds like shit two days later. It was the only name that we both liked and after a week we still kind of liked. I just remember one day in the van we were talking about it and we decided that on the count of three we would both say the name we liked the best. If it was the same we would pick that one and that’s what happened.

When did you go into studio to record?

We did the bulk of it in May of 2010. The engineers were busy finishing up the Mother Mother record and 3 Inches of Blood so we had to wait for a bit to finish. We finished tracking at the end of August and then it was mastered in late November. It always seems to take the longest once it’s mastered to get a release date and figure all that stuff out. It’s been finished for a little while.

How long have you been playing tracks off of the album live?

Since the start. We were pretty aggressive at the beginning. We wanted to get a record done really quick but before we did that we really prioritized playing live so we could flush out the songs out and get some responses. I think we started practising in March and played our first show in April of last year. It was pretty quick.

Were there any collaborators on the album?

Hannah Georgas sang back-ups. She’s a friend of mine and she’s so gifted. I’m useless at coming up with harmonies. I can’t do it. If someone tells me what to sing I can do it but harmonies are tough for me. She came in listened to the songs once and nailed these really perfect harmonies. She was really easy to work with.

The song that Ryan Guldemond from Mother Mother worked on us with is called “Break-up Math.” It’s not on the record but we will release it because it’s a great song. It’s a duet between he and I and it’s really over the top cheesy. It’s a really poppy happy little diddy. It just didn’t fit on the record at all. It was the one song that was so different so we decided not to go with it. We will put it out at some point.

Which songs did Hannah sing on?

I don’t know off the top of my head but she did most of them.

You mentioned before that you and Gregg made the decision not to bring a bassist on board but do you think that you’d ever add to the line-up? Or are you content with the two-person line-up?

When we play live in Vancouver we ask Trent — who used to be the guitarist in Portico — to play with us when he can. He’s got a really amazing super high falsetto so he can sing way higher than I can. It sounds pretty awesome. He’s a great guitarist and he’ll come in and play the guitar lines that I can’t play from the record. So live we occasionally play as a three-piece which is nice.

For now we’re happy with a two-piece but we’re open to it. I think we both agree that whatever we think the songs call for we’ll respond to. It’s definitely a possibility. I just changed my amp to a bass amp and having that extra low frequency in there with my guitar really helps. You miss it when you don’t have a bass. On the record I think we did a job of filling up those frequencies.

Did you have challenges filling up all that space with only two instruments in the studio?

No. I think we were really conscious of it right from the start. We wanted to make sure the album sounded really full. Gregg as a drummer really stepped up and used his bassier sounding drums. The studios that we recorded in were such a great live room for drums. We were lucky to be able to use the drums that way. We didn’t want the album to sound empty so we paid attention.