I used to wonder what would happen to folk rock once the pantless, towheaded children of hippies grew up and decided to create their own music. What would they have to rail against? When the bulk of the children of hippies did come of age there was still plenty to rail against, and they had the advantage of being cheered on by parents who were often more nonconformist than they were. Library Voices are a case in point.
Library Voices formed in Regina in 2008 and has been performing, recording, and touring steadily ever since their third week together. Library Voices do not sing in library voices. They sing like drunks at an Irish wake (albeit drunks with perfect pitch). They sound like the punk offspring of The Incredible String Band, and they make the kind of music that gets you through a depression by reminding you not to take life so seriously.
I remember getting through one such episode in university with the help of The Nice, Godley and Creme, and They Might Be Giants. Their lyrics and arrangements were delightfully brilliant and exhibited an attitude of comic defiance of the oppression of industry and institutions, a defiance I really needed to hear.
I thought of them as my day-at-the-circus bands. Every generation of culture makers needs its day-at-the-circus bands, and I’m so glad this one hasn’t been let down.
Michael Dawson’s lyrics are not designed to lull and suppress. These are danceable tunes for bookish sorts, especially those bookish sorts with an affinity for science fiction and ‘60s authors.
The music is upbeat, packed with space sounds, straight-ahead rock-and-roll riffs and rhythms, and Motown energy. The melodies are incredibly listenable and yet a perfect fit for the sometimes convoluted rhythms of the lyrics.
The following are notes from a 2008 conversation with the band’s vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and lyricist, Michael Dawson.
Carl, the singer, had this tiny little basement where if you stood up you hit your head on the ceiling. He painted it a hideous yellow colour. We loaded all our gear down there and in just a few days came up with all this stuff. That’s where we wrote that EP in its entirety and since then we’ve been moving around. When we can get enough people together for a real rehearsal we just try to find a place with enough microphones.
About the Band
We all live within a few blocks of each other here in Regina and we’ve been involved in bands here for years. Carl and I have been making music off and on for close to a decade. We blended so well creatively that we were able to do things at a ridiculous pace.
We don’t really have musical backgrounds. A couple of us have taken piano lessons.
Karla and I run a non-profit arts organization and concert venue here in Regina. Amanda and Carl both bartend at this place. Eoin works at another venue in the city.
Amanda is an artist-in-residence at a community organization for Aboriginal youth and youth in transition. She does art therapy, or art as therapy, to get them engaged in something besides self-destructive acts. On the other end of the spectrum, Brett has done a lot of work for sustainability in the community.
What’s in a Name?
After a lot of hubbub and debate we came up with a list and Library Voices was the best one. It was one of those childhood things, remembering back to elementary school when the teacher tells you to use your indoor voice, or your library voice.
Tell Me About Your Childhood . . .
I grew up in a redneck, oil-field, coal-mining community and I was always wearing these ridiculous bright plaid pants and hair past my shoulders.
My parents used to drag me off on camping trips literally every weekend and I was so not interested in being there.
One time we were on this trip and my parents wanted me to decide whether I was going to skateboard or play hockey because they couldn’t afford both. So they took me to this skateboard shop under this convenience store. It took most of the day to find it. It’s great just remembering the kind of music they were playing down there, and the personalities and how helpful they were.
A couple of years later we had this friend who moved to North Dakota and got a job at a radio station there. He’d mail back all the records that didn’t make it on the air. Then on these camping trips my dad would say I should really read Helter Skelter or some other bizarre book you don’t normally recommend to 12-year-olds.
It wasn’t a dysfunctional family or anything, but my dad was this guy with lots of tattoos and this huge record collection, telling stories about how he’d set up his own pirated radio station.
All of our records are released by a local collective call Young Soul Records. The music industry has become a little too competitive; there’s only so many shows and so many bands so it becomes an issue of bands trying to get ahead of each other.
That’s not really the case here. A bunch of people are having records coming out in the collective and we appear on a bunch of those records and those musicians will be appearing on our full-length CD when it comes out here in the fall.
Occasionally there are conflicts, but that’s all part of the creative process, I think. You have to be ready to be fairly vulnerable, to voice your opinion when you think it’s necessary and to suck it up when it’s not. There’s been nothing we haven’t been able to sit down and resolve.
Lyrics: Kundera, Vonnegut, et al.
I think the lyrics add a degree of substance to the music. Sometimes I think if I can drop an obvious reference from some author or book it sort of solidifies what I’m saying in the song. Rather than spelling out what I’m trying to say I can sneak a reference in there.
I try to double up what I’m actually saying with some sort of underlying hidden messages. We all have a love of boisterous, fun pop songs. At the same time we don’t want to be bubble gum.
The Creative Inspiration of a Long, Depressing Winter
There’s a tight-knit little community here. There’s a lot of great bands around the city right now that all forge together. Most of us grew up either in Regina or the towns nearby. One member came from Ireland originally. We’ve all kept in touch,lived around the country, and ended up back here.
I think one of the biggest motivators for creativity here in Saskatchewan is that we have the longest, most depressing winter on earth.