Last week when Laura Mitic travelled to Toronto from her home in Victoria for Canadian Music Week (CMW), there was a question she had to field more than once: "How are you not living in Toronto yet?"
"I say to them, 'I can come here and we can tour from the island and, thanks to the internet, now we can still be really present in people's lives with social media and new material," Mitic says, over the phone before leaving Ucluelet after a short trip. "We're happy here. I love Toronto and I love other big cities—Vancouver too—but I'm the type of person, and my bandmates are too, we're ready to head back to the island."
That line of questioning should come as no surprise; Carmanah the band that Mitic fronts, has risen to up-and-comer status since releasing their debut full-length album, Speak in Rhythms, in February.
For one, their single "Roots" rocketed to No. 1 on CBC music's chart last month. "I have family all across the country—as far as the East Coast—and I've been getting texts from family members saying, 'I just heard 'Roots' on CBC! Way to go!' It's really awesome to know it's being broadcast locally."
While Carmanah has released three EPs—which the band mostly recorded and produced on their own—the new album marks a turning point. "All those were ... super DIY," Mitic says. "It was a huge learning experience. They're songs we still love to play from time to time, but a couple years ago we decided to turn up the professionalism in our musicianship and who's on our team and how far we want our music to go."
To that end, they applied for and received grants from Creative BC and Factor that helped them secure New York producer Gus Van Go (The Arkells, Sam Roberts, Wintersleep) and co-producer Werner F. "It was totally incredible in so many different ways," Mitic says. "My partner (Pat Ferguson) who plays electric guitar in the band said it really well in the middle of recording the album, 'This is like going to school every single day.' We learned so much about arrangements, layering that goes into these albums ... Then to work with horn players and back-up singers, to have space for that kind of musicianship was really incredible too."
Aside from the fact that the band are happy island dwellers, their sound is also steeped in their home. Perfectly dubbed "West Coast Soul," it combines an earthy, earnest vibe with robust soul stylings.
Then there's their deep love of the ocean. "We're really passionate about this coast, in terms of lifestyle and protecting it," Mitic says. "To be advocates for the ocean you have to live along the ocean and be part of the conversations happening—whether it's pipelines or tankers or fish farms."
But the group also practices what they preach: Ferguson, adapted his Dodge Ram van to run on vegetable oil (along with diesel as a back up) meaning they can use the fuel almost exclusively when touring near their home. Currently, it runs on about 85 per cent veggie oil and 15 per cent diesel.
"The tank in the back is 200L, so we take 200L and jerry cans with more vegetable oil on the road to keep going as long as possible. It's good for regional touring," Mitic says. "Even if this isn't something that's feasible for everyone, there are changes everyone can make. Hopefully this inspires them."
With an Ontario tour behind them, the band will be sticking closer to home for much of the summer. First up, they're bringing their new songs to Whistler to perform as part of GO Fest on Saturday, May 19 in Village Square at 3 p.m.
"In Whistler we'll have the core band—a five piece—and we'll be playing mostly all new songs off the album, with a couple of oldies," Mitic says. "(It will be) a lot of fun. This is the first time we've come to Whistler with the full band."