Whether it’s a mere ramble down the sylvan path or a sentimental journey back to the turn of the century, any dalliance involving the The Deep Dark Woods is bound to find you stumbling over some gnarly roots. Emerging from the golden hues of a Saskatchewan sunset to weave their latest album, guitarist-vocalist Burke Barlow, bassist Chris Mason, organist-pianist Geoff Hilhorst, drummer Lucas Goetz and guitarist-vocalist Ryan Boldt retool old-fashioned techniques to express timeless themes. The newest material from The Deep Dark Woods is not only a declaration of the lads’ artistic independence, but constituted a musical experiment of global proportions.
“We recorded The Place I Left Behind out in Halifax,” Boldt says. “It was our first self-produced album and shopping around for label representation took way longer than we imagined it would. So, while we were waiting for the right label to come along, we went out and toured a lot in the U.S and hit some really well-attended Canadian dates. We’ve been over to Europe twice now and both trips were equally great. It’s incredibly fortunate that we eventually wound up signing with both Sugar Hill and Six Shooter Records, but it also means so much to us as a band to have had that experience, of playing festivals everywhere from Halifax to Vancouver, under our belts.”
Over-running the borders that inevitably spring up between folk, roots and rock music factions, Boldt and his fellow strummers have gained a humble appreciation for the attention they’ve received from foreign fans.
“The average North American crowd is a heck of a lot more rowdy than the ones you see in the U.K. and Holland. It’s way different. The audiences over there are more into close listening, as opposed to just being there to socialize and only checking out the band as a secondary consideration. It’s interesting to see everyone sitting down, focusing and actually ‘Ssssh’-ing the other people.”
Quietly crafted with the help of recording engineer Darren Van Niekerk, who worked with the band on the winning single “Charlie’s (is Coming Down)” for CBC’s Songquest, The Place I Left Behind speaks volumes when it comes to The Deep Dark Woods’ growth, if you’ll forgive the pun. Using vintage amps that could restart the coldest heart, the Saskatoon quintet brings a rustic raucousness to their simple yet stirringly beautiful songs. A catalogue of floorboard-shaking ditties, including “West Side Street,” “Sugar Mama” and, of course, “The Place I Left Behind,” grants the band plenty of room to shake off their denim blues and show off their moves.
“We’ve had a bit of a break and now we’re ready to let loose and bring it down a bit. You can expect a dynamic set that will have everybody moving,” Boldt says. “The longer we play together, the more we try to put into our performances. The things people are noticing in the recordings are the things that evolved in our live show; those are the key elements that led us to want to self-produce. It’s a really important step for us. Playing live and working the music out the way we do onstage keeps our songwriting process fresh. When we’re performing we never play a song the same way twice.”
Westward-bound and set to perform by special request at the Bragg Creek Centre, The Deep Dark Woods’ salt-of-the-earth sound strikes a psychological chord with a wide spectrum of followers. Tin-type memories and Mellotron-stained dreams emerge when the gritty group lays out its soulful songbook. Flickering with emotional intelligence, their creative spark continues to shine through the darkness like a match thrown down a mineshaft.
“It’s about seeking a different perspective and finding a new way to present old songs so you don’t end up repeating yourself. I’m impartial when it comes to choosing between playing heartbreaking ballads or jamming out rock tunes. All five of us bring our own musical sensibilities to our sound and I’m all about textures and layers and playing a supporting role by staying under the vocal melodies. I think our combined sound is reminiscent of certain features people are used to hearing, and have always enjoyed, out of folk bands. For example, people have drawn similarities between us and other iconic Canadian folk acts; The Band in particular. We may possess some common attributes, but I don’t think we’d call them a direct influence. For me, a song doesn’t necessarily have to be recognizable to sound familiar.”