I’ve been running in a certain circle lately, and as a result I’ve been listening to loads of killer Canadian psych. From Alberta’s KRANG to Shooting Guns in Saskatoon, Canada is pumping out some of my favorite bands of late, and whenever I would ask who I should be listening to, who I hadn’t heard of, one name kept coming up; that name was ‘Powder Blue’. I found them deep in the bowels of the near artic country side, for the first time, unleashing their own unique blend of chilled psychedelic rock and shoegazing grunge on the public in the form of their debut EP Dream In Black. Weaving twisted, droning psychedelic dirges with guitars, delightfully doused in fuzz and distortion, a throbbing underbelly of simplistically destructive drum and bass drives the music like an icepick into your brain with just enough catchy pop riffage to prevent them from getting too slow or repetitive, these gals don’t mess around, Powder Blue, seemingly without effort, keeps up with Canada’s biggest live psych powerhouses. The female quartet took some time to talk about everything from the Dream In Black EP to the Canadian rock scene and everything in between. So sit back, relax, and follow this Bandcamp link to some amazing music to listen to while you read about one of the Great White North’s national treasures and best kept secrets, I give you Powder Blue!
What is the band’s lineup? Is this your original lineup?
Shelby: The bands lineup is Amber Kraft on drums, Sonia Dicken on bass/backing vocals, Elsa Gebremichael on keys/backing vocals, and myself, Shelby Gaudet on guitar and lead vocals. Sonia is the only non-original member; she joined just before our EP release. Sarah Krawec played bass and some backup vocals on our EP Dream In Black. Janice Weber was in our band for a short period playing guitar. She plays some guitar and vocals for Go On Forever on the album.
Are any of you in any other bands? Have you released anything with any other bands?
Shelby: I'll let the other girls tell you about their other endeavors. I'm too busy writing for Powder Blue so I'll probably keep this my only band for now. Between the four of us we've released a lot of music with a lot of different bands over the years, some that don't need to be mentioned ha-ha!
Amber: Yes, currently three of us play in other bands. Elsa plays with an electro-pop duo We Were Lovers, Sonia plays with The Moas and Pearson, and I play with a demolition rock band Ultimate Power Duo. Shelby also dabbles in other projects. We’ve all released albums with other projects.
When and how did you all meet? What led you to start Powder Blue?
Shelby: I met Elsa in like grade 7 or 8. We played soccer together. Half way through high school I switched schools where I reconnected with Elsa and also met Amber. We immediately started a band and we're playing gigs by grade 12, Elsa was the singer and we basically played Hole's Live Through This album. It was years later I met Sonia. I'm not sure exactly how we met but we were always at the same shows and knew a lot of the same people. I'm sure we probably met drunk in the bathroom of Amigos?! Elsa had been pushing me to start my own project. I always wanted to sing but never thought I could write lyrics and I was also so afraid of my own voice. We had a few drunk talks about me singing and her drumming one day. I was kinda forced into playing bass for many years because everyone needed a bass player and then when I wanted to start playing guitar again no one needed me, so I just started writing my own songs. One night Amber, Elsa and I jammed together on one song and it was awesome! From there we decided to start Powder Blue.
Amber: I have known Elsa and Shelby since high school. We started playing music from the very beginning. We played together in a rock band called Surface for quite a few years. After that we all moved on and ventured out to other projects before coming back together to form Powder Blue. Shelby had always wanted to front a band and had been working on her own material for years. Elsa and I joining the band was just kind of a natural thing to do. Sonia was a well-known, talented musician in Saskatoon and Shelby had played with her in the past. She was the perfect addition to the band!
Where is the band located?
Shelby: We all live in Saskatoon, pretty sure we all grew up here and I imagine we'll stay for a while.
How would you describe the local scene there? Are you very involved with the local music scene? Has it played a large role in the history or evolution of Powder Blue?
Shelby: Our music scene used to be mostly singer-songwriter/folk stuff, and I'm not sure why but there was lots of funk too. There were always rock and punk bands, but lately it's growing and getting more diverse. There's a lot more psych, surf and experimental music, there’s more variety now and lots of great musicians! I'd say I'm somewhat involved. I go to see a band every weekend. You'll usually see us at Amigos every Friday and Saturday. A lot of great touring bands come through and play there. Style wise our music scene here hasn't played a role in Powder Blue but we've all played with different people in different types of bands so that’s made us better musicians. Personally it's helped me realize what kind of music I wanna make and enjoy playing.
Amber: The local scene is rich with talented musicians and bands. We are pretty involved in the scene here and it has played a major role in the history of Powder Blue. People really support us here, it’s awesome!
Has anyone there in particular played a large role in Powder Blue?
Shelby: We all play a large role in Powder Blue. Amber and Elsa are more experienced with writing grants and booking tours so they do a lot of the boring stuff as well as being creative which I really appreciate! I do most of the writing and I'm not the greatest guitar player so I spend a lot of time making up loops and samples to add to our songs to fill them out more. Sonia has been such a great addition, she too knows a lot about the business side of things and has been adding a lot more to our music, she's full of ideas. I also see the same faces out at our shows and so as cheesy as it sounds, our friends play a huge role! Barrett Ross, who’s Amber's fiancé, recorded our EP Dream In Black and always lets us borrow lights for our shows and he's came out to mix us a few times at shows which is so awesome! Chris Jaques from Winnipeg helped us out and made us some tapes under his Dub Ditch Picnic label, so he was a huge help too! And you may not have heard of us if it weren't for Shooting Guns, am I right?* So huge thanks to them as well for the support.
[*Author’s note: Shelby is indeed correct]
Amber: Barrett Ross who owns PR Productions and plays in the local band Foam Lake has played a pretty big role. He engineered and mixed our debut album, helps us out with lights at shows and also frequently mixes us live at shows. Shooting Guns have also been a huge help!
A lot of people internationally don’t realize that there’s a vibrant, thriving and luscious Canadian psych scene. For readers outside of Canada can you talk about what is going on musically there?
Shelby: Oh man, I actually don't know much about our psych scene here in Canada! I'd say 90% of my music collection is American. I'd really love to hear more Canadian psych bands come through here. It's really hard for bands to tour Canada, especially Saskatoon because there's not much around us; we have so much land to travel. The few that have come through and I've seen and liked are: Beasnard Lakes (Montreal?), they go back and forth between slow dreamy parts and heavy psych riff stuff. Dead Meadow are just awesome! I saw them at Sled Island in Calgary a couple years ago, Black Mountain have come though Saskatoon a few times, they're from Vancouver. I saw them this year at Austin Psych Fest as well but much prefer them in a small club because they're pretty loud. Dead Horse from Calgary have a weird sound going on, I imagine that's the sound you hear when you're tripping on acid and Tops from Montreal are kinda like Ariel Pink but with female vocals.
Amber: Musically there’s a lot going on in Saskatoon. It’s so cold here eight months of the year that people don't have much else to do ha-ha! It actually makes for a great environment to make music.
What does the name Powder Blue mean or refer to?
Shelby: I went to the ATP festival a few years ago in Monticello New York and we stayed in this old abandoned 1950's hotel. The place was so untouched, all original décor. It was beautiful but also very eerie. I decided I needed to make music that felt like that place. It was called the Raleigh, not sure if you can look it up or find any information on it... Anyway we were joking about wearing powdered blue wigs to match the decor and so powder blue just kinda stuck, I realize those wigs were not from the 50's, but hey, we were drinking a lot! Anyway when I mentioned it to the girls they liked the name.
Amber: It came up as a possible band name and we all seemed to be really drawn to it. It’s feminine and a bit mysterious, a nice combination.
Can you talk about some of your personal musical influences? What about the band as a whole?
Shelby: I love nostalgia so everything my dad listened to when I was a kid is really my favorite. I love ELO, Roxy Music, Bowie, Steve Miller, Led Zeppelin, T Rex, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, I could go on but you probably get it. Even though that’s what I enjoy listening to I try not to let that influence my song writing. I think they're so great that I don't even wanna try to be on the same level. I'm definitely influenced by music with a lot of guitar, not that wanky fast solo stuff, but the melodic, moody stuff. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a Guns N Roses solo but for a whole other reason! As for the rest of the band, I think a common thread between us all is Moon Duo.
Amber: My personal drumming influences include Danny Carey of Tool and Buddy Rich. Other influences of mine include The Dandy Warhols, Depeche Mode and The Strokes. Band influences include The Black Angels, Kurt Vile, Moon Duo and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Sonia: I can’t say specifically what influences me as a bass player, but the things I listen to definitely anchor me thematically as a musician. I listen to a wide variety of music but the bands that top my list are Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Broadcast, The Breeders, Kid Congo Powers, Nick Cave, Crocodiles, Swervedriver, Stereolab, The Stone Roses, The Rolling Stones and The Gun Club but I could go on. Basically I like noisy, fuzzy, swirly, melodic stuff.
Elsa: I feel that, as a band, there's a wide variety of influences that span many different styles and genres, but that we still all have connecting and similar tastes in music. I'm a big fan of this variety as it's not only a great way to hear new music from artists you may not have otherwise heard of, but it works its way into our music and creates a unique combination of parts and sounds. Personally, I can truly appreciate almost any kind of music, so my influences are all over the place, ranging from bands like Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney and Wings to Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Blondie, Little Dragon, Doves, Tame Impala, Phoenix, Dungen, Santigold and Daft Punk. Pop music has a special place in my heart. Specifically, in terms of playing keys in Powder Blue, I try to channel Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Ha. But seriously.
I don’t like to classify music; can you describe Powder Blue’s music to our readers in your own words?
Shelby: I'd like to think that it’s both beautiful and dark sounding. Shoegazy. Someone once told me our songs were powerful but shy sounding, which actually makes sense to me. Just listen to our EP and send us your description, ‘cause we need a bio ha-ha!
Amber: Powder Blue is a slow burning, psychedelic haze, that implodes with melodic guitar and dreamy vocals.
Shelby: At first I'd come to jam with a tape recorded version of just me and everyone would add their parts to it. With our new songs, we've been writing together, it's a lot more challenging but the outcome is much more rewarding. Our next album will be a little different because we have way more ideas flowing.
Amber: Shelby takes the lead in songwriting. When we started, she had a handful of songs ready to go which we wrote our own parts to. Most of the new material we structure as a group. Shelby will come to jam with a riff and melody and we all expand on it together.
© Devon Kerney Hanofski
You released your debut EP Dream In Black, in January of this year (2013). Can you tell our readers about recording the album? Who recorded it? Where was it recorded at? What kind of equipment was used? Who put it out?
Shelby: The recording process was really fast. Barrett Ross recorded us at the church, which is also where we jam. I'm sure Amber will tell you about it since it’s also where she lives. What you hear on the album is basically what we do live. There’s a couple extra guitar tracks and tambourine added. We were lucky to have had Dub Ditch Picnic, outta Winnipeg, release it on tape. We released the vinyl ourselves; it was extremely hard to find someone who pressed vinyl in Canada at a reasonable cost.
Amber: Barrett Ross engineered and mixed the album. It was recorded in a small renovated church on the west side of Saskatoon where Barrett and I live. For drums, a 1960's Rogers kit was used.
Can you talk a little bit about your recording process?
Shelby: My guitar was recorded live off the floor with the drums and we overdubbed keys, bass and more guitar. I like keeping the bed tracks for guitar, mistakes and all, because then you hear the energy. My vocals aren't perfect by any means but they won't be live anyway so as long as I'm in tune, I don’t get too picky and do a bunch of takes. Waiting for the physical copy of the album is the hardest. I think we were done recording in early summer; the mixing, mastering and pressing seems to be the longest wait in the whole process.
Amber: The church has amazing acoustics, so all the instruments were recorded separately in the main room. No isolation was used in the recording. Drums were recorded first to a click track. The first single Go On Forever was recorded within the first two months of the band, the rest of Dream In Black was recorded a few months later.
What does the title Dream In Black mean?
Shelby: Dream In Black is my favorite song on the album and we just liked that title the best. The song is about depression, when you're in a place that even your dreams aren't in color anymore. So I feel it sums up the mood/sound of the album, ‘cause it's kinda dark sounding.
Are there any plans for a full-length album or any other follow up recordings this year?
Shelby: We were talking about recording again in the fall/winter. Sonia and Amber are both getting married this year so it really depends on when we'll all be around. We do have a few new songs though and I'd like to do another EP. I like doing EP's rather than full length albums because it's good to keep putting things out rather than waiting so long between releases. You can also narrow it down and just take the best songs and really focus on them instead of some "filler" to make a full length. That's just my personal opinion though... So yeah I imagine we'll have another album for 2014!
Amber: We’re continually writing new material and are excited for the follow up record.
Do you all enjoy recording in the studio?
Shelby: I definitely do. I do get impatient sometimes though because I just wanna hear the finished songs. It's cool though ‘cause you hear your songs differently listening back than when you're playing them, you can isolate each instrument and hear things you sometimes miss live.
Amber: I love the recording process. Taking your ideas, laying them down, and hearing them back for the first time is like candy to me. The creativity that happens in the recording studio is amazing, there’s nothing quite like it.
Does Powder Blue have any other music available anywhere?
Shelby: Nope. Dream In Black is it! Ash Lamothe, Elsa's boyfriend and bandmate in We Were Lovers, did a remix for Go On Forever you can hear it at https://soundcloud.com/ashlamothe/go-on-forever-remix and we have a few other people working on more, which is super exciting and flattering!
Where is the best place for our readers to get a copy of Dream In Black?
Shelby: You can get tapes and vinyl at our live show or you can order vinyl or download at http://powderbluemusic.bandcamp.com/. Our tape is available at http://dubditchpicnic.tictail.com/ along with a lot of other great bands too!
Sonia: It’s also available at Beaumont Film & Record and The Vinyl Diner in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan or we will even mail you a record!
What do you have planned as far as touring goes for 2013 so far?
Shelby: We're playing Edmonton, Calgary a couple times this summer as well as Regina, Winnipeg. We're also going out to Vancouver and back. We're playing some music festivals, Sled Island in Calgary and Moso Fest in Saskatoon. All our tour dates will be on our Facebook and website! We're so excited to play to new people!
© Brendan Flaherty
Amber: So far we are just planning for Canada but soon we hope to venture out to other music markets.
You’ve played with some of my favorite acts in Canada right now, including my top two Shooting Guns and KRANG, both of whom I recently completed interviews with. Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve had the opportunity to play with?
Shelby: Yeah Shooting Guns are always a favorite to play with and I'm sure we'll play more shows with them! We've been so lucky to play with so many great bands! Foggy Notions, Foam Lake and the Wizards from Saskatoon, The Florals from Regina. We've played a couple times with This Hisses from Winnipeg, great band and great people! My favorite and most memorable show is when we opened for Sleepy Sun in Saskatoon. I really enjoy them and we are so grateful for that one!
Amber: We were privileged to play with Sleepy Sun last year, which was a highlight for us. They are right up our alley musically. We have also played a handful of shows with Shooting Guns whom we love. They are a great bunch of guys and a stellar band.
Sonia: We just recently played with two of my favorite Canadian bands, The Foggy Notions from Saskatoon and This Hisses from Winnipeg.
Elsa: Shooting Guns are definitely at the top of our list of awesome bands and one that we're proud to have played with. Not only are they a stellar band but they're some of the raddest guys we know and good pals of ours. They have also really championed Powder Blue since the beginning and we have the utmost respect and appreciation for them. Other sweet bands we've played with are Winnipeg's This Hisses and Saskatoon's The Wizards, check them out!
Do you have a funny or interesting story from a live show you’d like to share with our readers?
Shelby: Hmm not really.... I'm sure interesting and/or funny things happen but I don't really look up from my guitar to know what else is really going on.
Amber: I wish I had something really funny to write here! Unfortunately I don’t have anything too interesting. We try to incorporate cool lights into our shows and are big fans of fog machines. I can't remember whose responsibility it was to rent a fog machine this one time but they forgot. Luckily in Saskatoon there are a lot of music venues in close proximity so Elsa and I ran to another venue and borrowed their fog machine right in time for the show and then forgot to take it back the next day, oops!
Elsa: We played an in-store performance at Beaumont Record Shop in Saskatoon a couple months ago and when we got to the song in the set that needed a capo, Shelby realized she had forgotten to bring one. Instead of cutting the song, Shelby and our friend/sound guy at the show, Barrett Ross who also recorded our EP, MacGyver'd a capo with tape and a sharpie I believe?!? Anyway, we played the song and the makeshift capo worked like a charm!
Where is the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news from Powder Blue like album releases and upcoming shows at?
Shelby: Our website http://www.powder-blue.ca, or become our friend on Facebook for more info, personal posts, news, etc. https://www.facebook.com/PowderBlueMusic.
Traditionally rock has been considered a bit of a boy’s club, but more and more I see that changing. Have you ever had any problems in regards to your gender? Do you even feel like gender is still an issue?
Shelby: I don't feel like gender is an issue anymore. It definitely used to be and it'd bother me when we were younger in my first band always being called a "chick band", or guys yelling "take yer shirt off". We've even been accused of sleeping with people to win a battle of the bands which is insane! But, it hasn't happened ever with Powder Blue, I think it may have to do with our genre of music. There's always those bands that are "party" bands and I think maybe that's where you'll get thrown into stereotypes. There are more and more female musicians every day, which is so awesome, and more of them are kicking ass so those assholes are just left with their minds blown! I think you can hear when a band is real and playing music that means something to them and they’re playing hard, it's just about the music then.
Amber: Yep, I feel like gender is still an issue. Sure, people are intrigued by an all-female band but we just want to be treated like everyone else. We didn't start the band thinking "girls only", we just wanted the best musicians to fill the slots and everyone happened to be female. Personally the whole boy's club thing drove me to really do my homework. I was taught by some of the best drummers in Saskatoon and have been teaching now myself for over five years. I have always strived to be as good as the boys. I actually kind of like surprising people who underestimate me ha-ha. The gender thing works for and against us.
Sonia: You wouldn't point out gender when talking about an all-male band, but once there’s a female in a band, it can often become a defining attribute of that bands existence. In Powder Blue’s case, I would like for our music to be the talking point, however, being in an all-female band does give us the opportunity to represent the kinds of things women can do in a positive light, and this is definitely worth mentioning. The music scene in Saskatoon is a pretty amazing place. We can play side by side with our male counter parts and not think twice about our gender in relation to talent or ability; we can let our music speak for itself. On the other hand, I have gone to a music store and had the salesperson act as if I must have walked in off the street by accident. He began trying to sell me guitars by playing blues riffs at me, and I just said, “Hey can you show me where I can find a Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive”? He looked a little sheepish. Ha-ha.
I ask everyone I talk to this question so please feel free to list as many or as few as you would like; who should our readers be listening to from your local scene or area that they might not have heard of?
Shelby: These are just my favorites from Saskatoon; Shooting Guns, Foggy Notions, Ride Till Dawn, The Moa's, Wasted Cathedral, Surely I Come Quickly, Caves, the Switching Yard and the Wizards!
Amber: One of my favorite bands from Saskatoon right now is a band of brothers called Foam Lake.
Sonia: The Foggy Notions (swirly, psychadelic pop-rock), Dumb Angel (slow, dreamy folk/pop), Shooting Guns (slow burning, loud guitars), Haunted Souls (punk, garage-rock), Adolyne (Melodic/not your average hard core band), Ride Till Dawn (60’s garage rock).
What about nationally and internationally?
Shelby: Acid Baby Jesus, Dungen, Black Angels, Kurt Vile, The Band In Heaven, Girls, BLACK LIPS, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Widowspeak, The Vivian Girls, The Orange Revival, Dead Skeletons, The Liminanas, Frankie Rose, Uncle Acid And The Dead Beats, Ducktails...