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INTERVIEW: Ptarmigan

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thanks! We’re great – very excited to release this new album. It’s been a long time coming. A year and a half since we were in the studio and three years since our last release.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “O Zephyr”?

For sure. O Zephyr is about the best example of what Ptarmigan is as a band. In this track acoustic instruments are layered with synthesized and electronic textures. This rich layering is what we are constantly trying to achieve as a band. Lyrically, the song is my attempt to come to terms with the source of my musical inspirations.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

No particular event inspired this song, but I think the inspiration came after thinking about the songs I had written for our first album. A lot of them were inspired by dreams I had or stories I made up, and I wanted to interpret this philosophically or metaphysically.

I think of art and our music as a sort of palimpsest. It’s a funny old word, but it means a manuscript that is constantly written, wiped of its contents, re-written, but with traces of whatever was there before. I don’t think of any music as purely original, but interesting re-imaginations of previous creations. I also like to toy with the idea that I’m tapping into the ‘collective unconscious’, which was Carl Jung’s idea.

I think we’ve sort of learned to embrace our nerdiness as a band, which is pretty critical to understanding our music. We all play D&D, and are really inspired by fantasy and mythology and this definitely comes out in our music. There is a certain epicness to it, though we really try to maintain a level of good aesthetic taste.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

There might be a video for this song down the road, but we’re just about to release a video for the first track from the album, ‘A Magician of Sorts’. Our bass player Sam and our friend Rosamunde (who actually made the artwork for the record) had a film project after high school that was never finished. It was an interpretation of the Greek myth ‘Artemis and Actaeon’ and had a bunch of our friends dressed up in costumes romping around some caves near our hometown in Peterborough, Ontario. We decided the footage was a perfect fit for this song, as the story arc is eerily similar.

Why naming the record after the band?

It comes with the general feeling that this record is the statement of the band. We love our first record, but in the end we felt it was a sort of demo for what we really wanted to do with the project. It was mostly home recorded and done on a pretty tight budget. We were able to get some good grants to record Ptarmigan and we’re all super happy with the end result. One song from our last record (‘Stilts’) that we recorded acoustically is actually on the new one with a full band arrangement.

How was the recording and writing process?

I wrote the lyrics and musical shells for each song over the course of 2014. I bring the songs to the band and then we flesh them out, work out the arrangements and think about each instrument’s role in the song.

The best decision we made for this record was hiring James Bunton as our producer. He’s worked with a lot of our peers, and has some great experience when he was the drummer with the Canadian band Ohbijou. He had us demo the songs multiple times and really hone in on our intent with all the parts and arrangements. The high level of production and detail on this record has a lot to do with his insight and ideas. We spent two weeks in the studio getting beds and major parts, and then another couple months on and off over-dubbing vocals and some instruments.

What cultural creations did you get to re-imagine with this album?

I come from a strong folk background. I grew up singing folk songs around campfires and studied old time and bluegrass banjo for quite a while (still do). This album is definitely about taking these traditions, using a lot of folk instruments, and turning the whole music on its head. A lot of the songs follow strong story arcs, just like traditional folk songs, but the music is more intense and dynamic, to highlight this narrative. Each song is a sort of epic journey.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Some of the songs are based on dreams, made-up stories, and myths. Others are based on experiences I’ve had but made larger than life. Our song ‘Limbs’ is about a moment on a cycling trip I did two years ago, where I was alone camping in a forest and feeling really isolated, but I was trying to avoid all contact with the park staff, as I was camping illegally post-season. The symbolism of this moment was very striking to me.

Any plans to hit the road?

We’re playing a few album release shows in Ontario and then heading out to Quebec and the east coast in October for a couple weeks of touring.

What else is happening next in Ptarmigan’s world?

Well we’re releasing the new video soon after the album drops, which I am super excited for. We have a showcase slot at a folk music conference in Ottawa in October. We’re hoping that will lead to some festival dates next summer and really open up our audience. Other than that we’re just trying to get the word out about the project and the new record!

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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