A&E » Music

A tale of the Squamish Valley Music Festival told in three bands

Vancouver's Dear Rouge, Little India and The River and the Road perform at SVMF 2015



Before the campground fencing went up in preparation for this weekend's Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF), Drew McTaggart of Vancouver band Dear Rouge was in the wilds of Ontario with his bandmate and wife Danielle.

"We're in the studio writing, out in a little town called Bridgeway, near Niagara Falls. We're at a festival this weekend and we played one last weekend, and we trying to keep ourselves busy and writing music," he says.

"We don't have a plan and that's why we like to be aggressively writing. Sometimes a plan can distract you and make you think you need to write a song a certain way — an upbeat song or a slow one. When you're writing without any destination you're in a more creative mindset."

This approach — radio-friendly indie — has worked well; Dear Rouge won the 2015 Socan Songwriting Prize for "I Heard I Had," the band's second single and breakout hit which climbed to No. 3 on the Canadian alternative rock chart. McTaggart says they wrote it in one evening.

"I had an idea for the song that was a fictional character who has all these problems and drama around him in life. Fires everywhere, including fires they've set," he says.

"I know people like this. They like it; they know they can't continue on in behaving and living the way they live, but they like that drama. They know they're going to get caught, or they know they can't keep living that way but they have trouble doing the right thing."

The song comes from their album Back to Gold, released in March. McTaggert says he describes the album as a "very sincere bunch of songs" that he and Danielle wrote.

"It's one of the highest compliments you can have, when someone likes your songwriting. And that is something Danielle and I love. We view ourselves as songwriters before we are performers," McTaggart says.

"I probably don't practice as relentlessly as I could because I always think, 'I could be writing a song right now!'"

Their 2012 EPs Kids Wanna Know and Heads Up! Watch Out! helped hone their alternative dance-rock sound and also led to the duo winning the Peak Performance Project that year, their first as a band. In fact, the Peak Performance Project was their first live show.

Winning the competition gave them the money they needed to make Back to Gold. The best part of making it as an independent band is that no one was breathing down their necks; they made it with friends in Vancouver.

Lately, there has been growing interest in Dear Rouge south of the border.

"It's so amazing. Now that we've become more popular in Canada, we're spending more time in Ontario, but I would never do something like this as a kid. I would go down to Seattle or Portland, and all the music I was listening to was American. When you're in Toronto, the hub of Canada, you get more in tune with the Canadian industry," McTaggart says.

"When we get noticed in the States that makes me really happy because we are a proudly Canadian band, but we really hope we get noticed beyond Canada."

The band performs on the Stawamus Stage at SVMF on Friday, Aug. 7 at 3:35 p.m. The festival runs from Thursday, Aug. 6 to Sunday, Aug. 9.

Along with international headliners Sam Smith, Drake and Mumford and Sons, SVMF has also become a showcase of regional talent on big stages.

Vancouver acts include rapper Son Real, indie rockers Mother Mother and electronic act The Funk Hunters. And Victoria's Current Swell are coming to Squamish, too.

Conan Karpinksi, the lead singer of four-piece Vancouver indie band Little India, says they are working on a new EP in the run-up to Squamish. They are also working on a second EP, an acoustic album they are going to sell as a fundraiser for the charity Mealshare, a challenge they took on as part of the Peak Performance Project.

"We're friends of the guys that do this and we love what they do," Karpinksi says of Mealshare.

Little India was also the winner of the Vancouver's CFOX Seeds contest and The Shore FMs Best of BC contest in 2014.

The band is made up of vocalist-guitarist and transplanted South African Karpinksi, along with bassist Andrew Dixon, drummer Dallyn Hunt, and guitar and keyboardist Tim Morrison.

All four met at Walnut Grove High School, and came together as a band two years after they graduated.

"We met in gym class," says Hunt.

Karpinkski chimes in.

"It was the first day of school, and I saw Andrew and Dallyn and thought those guys look cool! And here we are."

Writing music as a group is a collaborative process, Karpinksi says.

"Everyone has their 25-per-cent input at the end of the day... but it starts with a demo in my room," he says.

Musically, they are influenced by many things. Karpinksi is heavily into electronic music but they all love indie. Karpinksi tries to bring in African flare, while they all follow British alternative bands.

"We say that we love the fact we all grew up with different musical tastes," says Hunt.

"It is what Little India is, at the end of the day."

Little India's single "Oola" and its accompanying video have just been released.

The band performs on the Garibaldi Stage at Saturday, Aug. 8 at 2:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Vancouver's The River and the Road will be bringing their folk rock to SVMF.

The band started out as two friends — Australian Andrew Phelan and Vancouver Island native Keenan Lawlor — busking in Vancouver.

They recorded their first album as a two-man group in order to sell it as they went along. Drummer Cole George and bassist John Hayes joined in 2012.

"In the first two years together the four of us did a ton of busking," Hayes says.

"We really developed our chemistry as a band busking in the streets of Vancouver and of Sydney."

They've been to Squamish before, including an unforgettable moment shooting guns off at the Howe Sound Brew Pub — kind of.

"The bridge that holds the strings onto the banjo kept falling the first time we played there and the sound of the bridge and the strings snapping against the bridge of the banjo sound like a gunshot. It was extremely jarring and snapped everyone out of their trance," Hayes says.

The River and the Road performs on the Stawamus Stage on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 6:35 p.m.

For more information on the festival, visit www.squamishfestival.com.