Portland, Oregon is a great place for musicians. There is a creative culture here that seems to sprout bands like the ubiquitous blackberry vines that crop up in every yard in town. And we’re just far enough left of Utah to attract a lot of really talented LDS musicians.
At the very top of that heap is the amazing acoustic, folk-rock band, Canoe. Recently Matt Hoiland, the creative force behind Canoe, and lead guitarist Cameron Steineckert, were kind enough to answer a few questions about the band, their music, their faith and aliens.
Thanks you for taking time for this interview. I know you are both ridiculously busy with work and school and family, not to mention the time it takes to make your awesome music. Matt, you’ve been writing and performing for most of your life. When and how did Canoe come about? And Cameron, how did you and the band find each other? Give your Linescratchers audience a little Canoe history lesson.
Matt: Canoe began in the spring of 2006 when Sofie and I performed an acoustic show at The Funky Church in SE Portland. We had kayaks on our car to drive to the San Juans directly after the show, so the name Canoe seemed to evolve from that setting. We had just dissolved a previous group named “If Bears Were Bees,” as our drummer Brett Pedersen and his wife started a group named Johan the Angel. Two bands seemed to make more sense, as both Brett and I are avid songwriters.
Cameron: Originally I joined Canoe as a body double for Carl (the bassist). They were doing a photo shoot and Carl was off at school, so I stood in for him and Matt photo-shopped his head over mine. After we released the photo, people started telling Carl he looked like he had really bulked up, ha ha ha. So I started as a fill-in for Carl in photos and on bass, and when he came back I sort of just switched to doing other things- guitar, shakers, keyboards, vocals, whatever could add something to the songs.
Your now defunct MySpace page labels your music as “Indie / Folk / Acoustic.” ITunes lists you as “Alternative.” How do you describe your music – or – do you transcend mere labels?
Cameron: It’s so hard to categorize our own music. My favorite descriptions are the ones that other people tell us after they first hear us. “James Taylor plus Death Cab For Cutie” is one we’ve gotten several times.
Matt: I tend to tell people that we’re a modernized James Taylor sound. People instantly connect with him, and I think of my songwriting style to be similar to his. The difference is in how we arrange the songs in Canoe. If people don’t know who James Taylor is, we tell them that we sound like Justin Bieber.
You recorded your most recent album, The Ship, in both Provo and Portland. Is that because you have band members living both places?
Matt: Exactly. We’ve found Provo to be an incredibly supportive community for artists. Carl, our bassist, and Adam from Adam and Darcie (who joined us on drums) both live in Provo, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to divide up the recording session in both Provo and Portland. Bringing our recording equipment on location gives us a unique sound that the studio can’t offer as well as create a sense of immediacy in the performances that lent well to The Ship. Back home in Portland, Cameron, Sofie and I laid down the guitars and vocals at our studio. The combination of the dry studio sound and the live location sound turned out well in my opinion.
I’ve seen the two of you perform several times as a duo with Matt playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet, while simultaneously singing and playing guitar. Aside from the chance to show off how crazy talented Matt is, what other factors helped you to arrive at this configuration?
Matt: Simple scheduling and distance conflicts. With no permanent drummer, Carl in Provo, and Sofie primarily doing studio work only these days, we found that if we wanted to still play shows consistently, and year-round, we’d have to create a live set that we can perform as a duo. We performed at the college in Eugene last winter as a duo and it went well, but after the show we decided that a simple kick would add a nice back beat to the performance, so that’s what we’ve been doing since.
Cameron: Playing with the whole 5-piece is the best, but it just wasn’t feasible all the time with all of us getting married and starting families and going to school. Figuring out how to play these 5-part songs with just two of us has been a lot of fun. Matt and I together can make a surprisingly “full” sound, and can be quite dynamic, which works well for some songs. Other songs are like completely different versions from what’s on the albums. We just try to feel it out, and as we’ve played more shows as a duo the songs have evolved to what they want to be. That’s a cool process to be a part of, because once in a while on stage something totally spontaneous will happen that works really well, so we keep it for the next shows. After a while the songs are quite different from how they started.
Also, the fact that Matt is actually a robot and can play so many instruments at once really helps with the 2-person shows.
You’re both married and very active in your respective wards. How would you say your faith impacts your music?
Cameron: That’s tough to say for me because both my faith and my music are rooted so deeply my soul. I’m not sure I could isolate the two enough to say how they influence each other. It’s probably more apparent in Matt because as the singer and songwriter, he has to put that music-soul connection in to words.
And as you mentioned being married- my wife (Jen) has had a big impact musically in my life. We play music together which helps me explore new ideas. Seeing her at shows helps me step it up. She even laid down a few cello parts on The Goldminer.
Matt: The prospect of being labeled an LDS band kind of scares me, even though we’re all active members and return missionaries. It’s not being known as LDS that frightens me, it’s being attached to the other LDS musicians, and I’ve sure you know what I mean. Lyrically our songs have told stories and many have guessed that we’re LDS, so it’s not hidden in our music. Our last album The Goldminer has heavy spiritual underlinings, and isn’t very subtle at times – especially in the songs “The Planet” and “The Sea of Glass”.
What was your inspiration for the song “Friends” from your latest album? I got really excited when I heard the word “Mormon” in your lyrics. That always gets my attention…
Cameron: Matt wrote that song long before I came around, but this recording of it was instantly popular. We don’t want to be a band just for Mormons, because we want our music to go to a broader audience. But we’re also open about our faith.
Matt: I wrote the song back in 2004 almost as a joke, but it was catchy and fun so it re-emerged on our new album. The song is a response to the kids of born-again Christians who say they’re atheist simply because they hate their parents. It’s almost as if anti-religion is popular among the hipsters, hence why I added the quote from Nietzsche.
Tell us about Village Ten Collective. Your site says, “We are not a record label, but neither are we independent artists – we fit somewhere in between…”
Matt: When we first formed Canoe we decided that the industry was changing too rapidly to consider getting signed to a label, so we decided to stay independent. Although, independent bands can only do so much before a business makes more sense, so we formed an LLC to open a checking account and to create a publishing company with ASCAP. Since we had the infrastructure all together it was easy to invite other like-minded artists to join us under our “legal umbrella”. Aside from the business stuff, we’re more of a collective – we can call on each other to help whenever, we all support and promote each other, and we’re all great friends.
Cameron: I love Village Ten because as a group of artists we can share shows, resources, instruments, connections, even band members. It’s inspiring to be around so many super-talented musicians.
Okay – so where can interested listeners hear more Canoe music?
Matt: We stream a lot of our music on the Village Ten site, and you can buy the music directly from us as well. Our official online home is our Facebook page which has a few songs too.
Cameron: Make a Canoe station on Pandora!
One last question… and this is very important and relevant… Would you rather be abducted by aliens, or not?
Cameron: Ha ha ha ha, its funny that Matt told you about that. We’ve done a fair amount of western-states touring, which has meant lots of time driving down empty highways at night. It’s tradition for us to talk about aliens, which sometimes gets pretty creepy because there are a lot of things out there that are tough to explain. When Matt asked me that question, it cracked me up because it was so unexpected. But I realized that there are two types of people in the world: those who would rather be abducted by aliens, and those who wouldn’t. I know which type of person I am (I’m running onto that UFO!), but that’s a question each of us has to answer for ourselves.