Bonding over broken hearts.
To make music for the broken hearted.
That’s not how Calgary indie rock act The Northern Coast entered into the process for recording what would be their debut full-length The Great Divide.
But through what frontman Arron Crook and guitarist Hunter Hansen call “cosmic timing,” the three core people responsible for the album — they, as songwriters, along with producer Josh Rob Gwilliam — all found themselves in the midst of devastating breakups of their longterm relationships.
Their losses, our gain.
“It was weird how it lined up …,” Crook says sitting at a table, fittingly, on the stage of the Ship & Anchor on a sunny afternoon. “The first day that came in to record with him I was week three of a brutal breakup. I don’t think I had been really sleeping, drinking all the time, and Josh just seemed totally not there, it seemed like he hated our music …
“It was a bit of an angsty, emotional few days and it just happened when we were in the midst of trying to get the ball rolling for recording,” Hansen says.
“I remember there was a couple of times we went into the studio, and Josh had trouble doing it because of his thing, and you and I,” he says, pointing to his writing partner beside him, “we weren’t communicating well.
“It took a toll on the band, but at the same time it really left a mark on the music and the sound that we made, the songs.”
Of those eight tracks recorded at OCL Studios that make up The Great Divide, the majority are about love, relationships and attempting to navigate your way through it in these times — something the title also refers to.
That’s not to say it’s an album completely for the lovelorn, though, with both bandmates pointing to the breezy White Mass and the cool Soul Asylum-esque roadtripper Sun Chaser as ones approaching the idea and mood of fun.
“There are windows of light,” Crook says and laughs, “and then we go right back into it.”
And just as the lyrical content of the record isn’t entirely an emotional downer, the musical pulse of the record is far from a straight line.
It’s actually one of the brashest, slickest, stylistically and sonically emphatically assured rock records to come out of this city in some time, and one that could and should travel far and wide over the airwaves.
Marrying ’90s North American swagger with some melodic U.K. pop and sheen, there’s a soaring and anthemic singalong quality to some of the tunes that would translate beautifully in a small sweaty club — such as Broken City, where The Great Divide will be released Friday, March 22 — or a much, much bigger room.
They admit that’s something of an aspiration and something they had a taste of when they opened for Rural Alberta Advantage in this city and on the west coast a couple of years ago after releasing their 2017 EP Revelry. As good as it is, that six-song offering only hinted at where they’d take their sound — one that Crook and Hansen were on the same page of since they first teamed up about four years ago, bonding over similar tastes in music.
“And it evolved the same way, too,” Crook says, noting they initially shared a love of acts such as Deer Tick, Shakey Graves and Cage the Elephant. “We liked the same influences at the same time we met four years ago and now, when I find a new band that I’m into, I show it to him and he loves it the exact same.
“So the sound evolves the same as well, which is interesting.”
And it will be interesting to see where The Northern Coast take it, how far they can take it.
For now, though, they have not only a stellar record, but a souvenir of what they went through and how they made it through — together.
“That is a nice thing to look back and say, ‘I don’t know if I would have gotten through that as quick without the therapeutic outlook of making those songs,” Crook says.
“I think it would have been a much longer process for me.”
As to whether or not they’re gun shy on love, Hansen admits his relationship status, happily, is not in the “taken” category.
“Yeah, it’s good,” Hansen says. “Things are great.”
And how has that affected the songwriting between the two?
“It’s different,” says Crook. “It’s higher energy, the themes are a bit different, they’re—”
Hansen interjects with a laugh. “They’re happier.”
(Photo courtesy Unfolding Creative Photo.)
The Northern Coast release their new album The Great Divide with a show Friday, March 22 at Broken City.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.