John Mann calls me from his home. He sounds comfortable and relaxed.
Early in our conversation he states, "Spirit of the West is a very
family-oriented band." This becomes obvious as he begins to talk about his
children, who I can hear munching on cereal and watching cartoons in the
Surely this is the life he must long for when on extensive tours with the band. We chat about Saskatchewan weather, to which any traveling musician is no stranger. Mann knows quite well the intensity of weather in Canada's flattest province.
He's been checking the weather channel to see the latest Regina temperatures which his wife must currently endure. He proudly states, "My wife is performing in Regina at The Globe Theatre in the production of Mom's The Word." Mann's strong family ties and pride also relate directly to his band situation.
When asked about the production chores that the band have taken on during the recording of their latest album, Open Heart Symphony, Mann talks about the family situation of SOTW. He knows that in order to keep things running smoothly in a band "there is lots of work and communication required." He says that without the input of an outside producer, the band has "five people with very different ideas and no referee." Openness and communication are key factors in a band as they are with any good family.
With Open Heart Symphony, a live album, the music was already present and the production was easier to decide upon. The band took this chance to test the waters of sole production because they had already developed a sound by playing together live.
Contrarily in the studio, Mann states that "there is an empty slate and you are given so much choice." Too much choice at this point. For their next studio album, Michael Phillip Wojewoda (who produced their Faithlift album) will be brought on board to referee the band. Mann states, "he is a great guy, musician, amazing drummer, singer and we value his input." With the help of Wojewoda (Rheostatics, The Waltons) fans should expect SOTW to be exploring "the quirkier side of music."
The next album will be recorded in Britain. This will be the first time SOTW have recorded outside their own country and will give them a chance to focus on the music without all the interruption of friends and family in Vancouver.
They will be recording in a residential studio in Devon, England
owned by Martin Barre (Jethro Tull). It has a lounge that overlooks the
countryside and the band can be "lords of the manor, strutting around in tweed
with a pint or two." The band will also be near who they call "the creme de la
creme of musicians," including The Chieftains and The Wonder Stuff.|
The band plans to experiment with space on the next album. Working with an orchestra taught the band the importance of leaving space in their music. Space was something they also explored on the Joni Mitchell tribute album Back to the Garden. The band covered Mitchell's song "Coyote" and Mann calls it "the best song we ever did, straight ahead with tons of space." Learning is a perpetual and never-ending act for the band.
SOTW is always adapting to their touring settings. The venues they play range from a decent size setting in Buffalo to a "pukey bar in Toledo."
Mann looks forward to playing the stage at The "new" Owl. A veteran of university rooms, Mann knows that there will always be the "atmospheric chit chat and drinking" in these rooms, so don't expect them to slow the music down at all and give the audience a chance to get off the dance floor. They know the university crowds are primarily interested in "drinking and dancing."
When asked about the current popularity of Celtic rock, Mann shrugs off the idea of it being a novelty or trend. "In fourteen years, we have heard about the revival of Celtic folk four or five times. It has never gone away."
Although SOTW have "slipped out of the Celtic thing," Mann notes that it will always be inherent in their music. They have played as a Celtic act in the past and are now looking ahead to experimentation with their sound. Mann suggests that The Pogues "defined the Celtic rock pop attitude band. Shane McGowan is an amazing songwriter. To try and mimic that type of band...what's the point?" That is not to say that SOTW don't still sound Celtic.
"The Celtic elements in SOTW are there, but in a different way. Take 'Sadness Grows' from the Faithlift album. It has Celtic elements by the nature of the instrumentation: the accordion and flute." Mann suggests that it is hard to find Celtic pop done well.
When Ashley MacIsaac's name enters the conversation, Mann is quick to
point out that MacIsaac is "a wonderful entertainer, but has yet to find himself.
He has to grow and experiment. He is very exciting to watch, but he's probably
even thinking that he must grow beyond what he is currently doing." Growing is
something SOTW have done a lot of. |
When asked about what he finds exciting in the new music that he has been exposed to recently, Mann mentions a song that has currently been catapulted into his personal top ten of all time, "Stares" by the Booming Aeroplanes. Mann states that "it is a minimalist song...you wouldn't know listening to it that an 18 year old is singing it. It has a great tone. If The Beautiful South were performing it, it would have been a big hit in Britain." Mann also mentions Zumpano as a recent release that inspires him.
As far as alternative rock? "I remember when it was all considered just rock and roll, varied, but just rock and roll." Mann thinks too much of the current alternative music is "noisy without a creative element."
He notes that for a while it was important to show that music was not just for the "musos," BUT that we must not forget that the music is as important as what you are creating. He states that Nirvana were "brilliant for combining the creative and the noisy."
Until SOTW hits the road, Mann will continue to relax and fulfill his role as dad within his own family. What does he do to relax? Mann suggests that "reading has a lying in bed function...for winding down." When asked about his current reading list, Mann gets excited and scrambles to get his thoughts together. "I always remember books after the interview is over." Mann feels that a by Bernice Morgan is one of the great Canadian novels "...it's a movie waiting to happen."
The SOTW song "Home For a Rest" describes this stark contrast between the peace he finds at home (lying in bed reading perhaps?) and the love of creating music in the madness called touring. Mann and the rest of SOTW have found a comfortable balance between these worlds. On January 24 at The Owl, the books will be set aside, and no-one will rest until the last note is played and the last pint is emptied as SOTW bring their unique brand of music to warm up a cold Regina night.