Strong Roots (Profiles in Roots Music): West My Friend

by Krlmagi

I talk to some of the members of West My Friend about creativity, writing songs with meaning and the business of surviving the music industry.

Jeff Poynter and Alex Rempel* have been friends since they were children. They both went to the same high school and they both enrolled in the school of music at the University of Victoria. They met up with Eden Oliver there as well. After their first bass player left for Toronto, they added Nick Mintenko to the lineup and West My Friend was born. Poynter says, “We mostly studied different instruments than we play in the band.”

He adds jokingly, “Nick studied bass at the Victoria Conservatory. It’s cool that we have someone who actually knows how to play his instrument.”

West My Friend (from L to R) Alex Rempel, Nick Mintenko, Eden Oliver, Jeff Poynter
West My Friend (from L to R) Alex Rempel, Nick Mintenko, Eden Oliver, Jeff Poynter
Jeff Poynter

The sound of the band is evolving. Oliver explains, “With this album in particular, we aimed to have an album that was a little more representative of our live sound. We do sometimes perform with orchestras and choirs but on this album we wanted the challenge of filling out the arrangements just with the instruments we have in the band and with our voices. I think there’s even more vocal harmony on this album which is a cool plus that came out of it.“

When it comes to the creative process, Mintenko says, “We all come to a project with mostly finished pieces and then we arrange them in a group. Each composer has specific ideas for particular instruments and that sort of thing.”

He adds, “For this album, Eden actually went to the Banff Centre and did the artist in residence program there. She just hung out in a cabin and wrote songs all day for two or three weeks and collaborated with some pretty amazing artists as well.”

The songs on the band’s latest album explore a variety of topics. Oliver explains, “On this album, there’s a song about learning to speak a second language, there is a love song that’s actually a poem by Christina Rossetti, we have also have songs about colonialism, about the role of musicians in society and the responsibilities we have in being given this platform. There’s even a song about not wanting to write songs.”

The evolving nature of the music industry is one of the major challenges faced by bands from Poynter’s perspective. He says, “The benefit is that we’re not tied to doing whatever a record label wants us to do which is freeing. The downside is the lack of a larger support network there that has money to put behind promotion and making albums so we have to raise all the money ourselves. We have to hire a publicist ourselves or figure out how to promote ourselves. It’s a lot more D.I.Y. which is both freeing creatively and restricting financially.”

The nature of folk music has changed according to Oliver. She points out, “I see a lot more cross pollination between genres and more exploration of those boundaries and that’s a direction that I’m really excited about. With us, we have this classical and jazz background that we bring to instruments that are typically associated with folk music.”

Mintenko says, “It seems that maybe the only thing that really remains true to folk is the way the music is delivered. Song ideas and song formats from folk band to folk band can be completely different.”

Poynter adds, “One other thing that’s staying true to folk music is that the music is about storytelling. That’s what folk has always been about and we’re still telling stories.”

As for the band’s future direction, Poynter says, “We’re just trying to reach more audiences and keep making better music. I feel that we’re still improving and we’re always pushing ourselves to make music that is as interesting and high quality as possible.”

The band is also looking at doing an EP that contrasts with the album that has just been released. Oliver says, “With the current album, we wanted to do something really pared down.  We also want to do something that’s the exact opposite but a bit shorter with more arrangements on it. Right now we’re still in the CD release phase.”

Motivation and inspiration come from many sources for the band. Oliver explains, “If there’s that creativity inside you, it’s hard to stop yourself from sitting down with a guitar or the piano and working something out."

She also says, “There’s a song on the album called Polish & Keep. It's about the idea of  taking little moments and little ideas, messing them around and polishing them over until you come up with something else which I see as being the process of art.”

Poynter continues, “The last song on the new album is by Alex and it’s called How Could I Not Sing? It’s about the fact that there’s so much going on in the world that's inspiring.”

Mintenko adds, “It can be a tool for self-medication. It helps you make it through things.”

For more information on West My Friend, please visit their website here.

This profile is based on an interview conducted via telephone and recorded on May 25, 2016.

 *Alex Rempel was unavailable to be a part of this interview due to a previous issue.



Updated: 05/28/2016, Krlmagi
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