Behind the Music: Interview with Strange Tides

‘In the earlier days we were inspired by melancholic folk music, but now we’ve come to realise we prefer a heavier sound.’ 

Describe the music of Strange Tides in no more than 5 words: A quirky folk-rock fusion.

Who is involved in Strange Tides and what do each of you bring to the sound? Strange Tides is comprised of Kirsten Bale and Victoria Carbol. By day, Kirsten presses buttons at an MRI facility, and originally from the UK, she brings the folk aspect to our duo with the Celtic influence of her youth. She also plays more instruments than she has fingers. Victoria was born and raised in Vancouver and, as such, likes her music like she likes her weather: dark and gloomy. She has a side gig composing theme songs for book characters on her YouTube channel, Inquillery, and offers feisty vocals and haunting hooks to the Strange Tides collaboration. 

How did the band name come about? It’s a tad embarrassing! Our band was formed many months before we landed on a name. We were still searching for one when our first gig was fast approaching, so we carelessly threw the results of an online word generator into pairs and selected our top five combinations. That gave us three names we both liked and of those we felt “Strange Tides” best evoked the sometimes-quirky, sometimes-haunting facets of our music. We’d like to say it has some deeper meaning, but really the name was the result of auto-generated malarkey and a deadline.

What are your biggest music/non-music influences when creating tracks? As songwriters, our music is primarily a reflection of our lives and existential musings. In the earliest days of our band, we were inspired by the melancholy folk stylings of duos like The Civil Wars and First Aid Kit. More recently, however, we’ve been able to explore a variety of sounds and genres with the help of our producer (Dan Ponich at Park Sound Studios) and have come to realise that we prefer a heavier sound. For our debut single “Criminal”, in particular, the guitar work was inspired by some of NeedToBreathe’s more grungy riffs. We also admire the cinematic vocals of Joseph and look forward to incorporating a similar sound into future recordings.

“Since we’ve been unable to perform, we’ve been able to dedicate our time to writing and recording.”

What does your songwriting process normally involve? A little bit of solo work followed by a band writing session! We’re always jotting down ideas independently from each other as they arise. When we feel a concept might resonate with us both, either lyrically or musically, we send it to the other to add a verse, a bridge, a hook – whatever is needed to turn the concept into a full song. From there we have a proper writing session, playing through the track and tossing ideas back and forth until it’s polished. Victoria has a knack for writing catchy hooks and Kirsten is a natural poet. Even though we’re very different people, we often find ourselves thinking similar thoughts, so writing together has been surprisingly easy. It was actually that ease of collaboration that solidified our decision to become a band.

In both live performances and recordings there are beautifully natural sounding vocal harmonies. Do you go with what feels right at the time or are these rehearsed? Thank you! Our harmonies always start as spontaneous vocal play during practice, but we work to polish them before a gig or before heading into the studio. Victoria has a tendency to improvise during performances – a trait Kirsten was both delighted and thrown to discover in front of a live audience! Some wonderfully unsubtle facial expressions were exchanged.

And on the theme of performing, what have been the positive/negatives of not being able to gig at the moment? Let’s start with the negatives, because they’re easiest. We miss the connection. We love writing and sharing music online or with each other, but performing is where we can see in real time how our music is impacting people. More than that, it is also how we fund our studio time. And of course, it’s fun!

That said, there have been a few surprising positives. When we started, we were gigging almost weekly. It was amazing – it allowed us to learn each other’s performing styles faster than we might have otherwise. But it also took up most of our focus. Since we’ve been unable to perform, we’ve been able to dedicate our time to writing and recording without the pressure of polishing sets for shows.

I read recently that you both spent time living in the UK. What prompted the move to Vancouver and how did this impact your music? Victoria is a Vancouver native who spent three years in the UK studying medieval history. Living just down the street from a local pub, she fell in love with Celtic folk during its Monday live music nights. She likes to think there is a little flavour of those haunting harmonies and that penchant for storytelling in the music she’s written since.

Kirsten is a Brit by blood and birth. She was raised on the grungy British rock of The Vaccines, Razorlight, and The Beatles long after her family moved to Canada for her father’s work. Inspired by Vancouver’s more indie folk and alt rock scenes, she developed a quirky fusion sound that has worked its way primarily into the percussion of Strange Tides. 

Turning to your phenomenal debut release ‘Criminal’, there is a very different sound to what people may have heard from you previously. What led to you writing such a powerful track both instrumentally and lyrically? ‘Phenomenal debut’ – we are touched! We had this kind of sound in the backs of our minds since our inception as an indie folk duo rounding the local pub circuit, but we weren’t really able to explore it until we had the help of studio musicians and producers. We both have histories as acoustic singer-songwriters, so that, coupled with the practicalities of performing in pubs with barely enough room for the two of us, led to us both assuming that we’d carry on in that genre. It took a few months of writing together for us to vocalise that our hearts were in a heavier sound than we’d previously discussed.  

Lyrically, ‘Criminal’ is also more raw than anything we’ve done before. In the past, we’ve had a tendency to filter negative emotions through poetry – this song was composed in the anger of a moment and we think you can really hear that in the sound.

“Emphasise your uniqueness, but in such a way that your track maintains widespread appeal.”

Congratulations on recently receiving a grant from FACTOR Canada! What is the biggest thing that this will enable you to do that may not have been possible without it? Thanks so much! We are currently working on an EP as a result of the grant. We are most excited about the freedom it’s given us to explore different sounds with the help of musicians we may not have been able to hire otherwise. Stay tuned for a fiddle in one of our future tracks!

What would be your advice to any other artists thinking of applying to a music grant scheme? Hmm… Good question! We’d recommend a grant administrator. Our one was Meg Emanuel and she was a genuine lifesaver. An expert on the grant process, she was able to guide us in how to present ourselves as the best candidate possible. It seems obvious, but we’d also recommend having a strong song. Be aware of the market – which of your songs sets you apart? Even if your submission diverges somewhat from your usual sound, standing out is essential. Emphasise your uniqueness, but in such a way that your track maintains widespread appeal. It’s a tricky balance, and we are grateful Meg was able to help us find it.

And finally, what has been Strange Tides’ biggest learning curve to date? As we mentioned above, we are very different people. This means we often have divergent methods of communicating. We’d only known each other a few months before we began playing together, so our early practices were definitely a learning curve. Victoria favours a casual approach and tends to assume no news is good news. Kirsten likes structure and prefers a steady flow of feedback. Our differences are what make us great as a duo, but they certainly sparked a lot of confusion early on! Songwriting can be quite vulnerable, so learning to communicate well for each other was huge in creating safe space for that. It’s taken a while, but we’ve definitely found that place.

Thanks Strange Tides for chatting with Listen to Discover

Find out more about Strange Tides at:
Track Review: Strange Tides: Criminal

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