Features Interviews Country Grammar with Library Voices

Country Grammar with Library Voices

Library Voices
Library Voices
Interview by: Sara Harowitz

As Library Voices’ singer/guitarist Carl Johnson and I sit down to begin our conversation, the other seven band members are talking loudly and excitedly a few feet away. Johnson looks over at his friends and laughs.

They went shopping earlier in the day and got some new outfits, he tells me.

“From H&M?” I ask, spotting the store’s bag that sits beside him. He nods.

“We shop when we’re on the road,” Johnson tells me. There are no good places to shop back home in Regina, he says.

“Actually there’s this one place, Jean & Top, it’s the only place you can actually buy Levis,” he continues. “And it’s [run by] these really nice Korean people and they will alter it for you right when you buy it and do it in like, a minute and a half. And it’s the only place you can buy pants in Regina. Well, pants that you can wear...”

He trails off.

“In public?” I ask.

He laughs. “Yeah,” he says.

Coming from a city full of blue collar trade jobs and a lack of fashion awareness, Library Voices put Regina on the musical map. Formed in 2008 and quickly gaining momentum thanks to their EP, Hunting Ghosts & Other Collected Shorts, and full-length, Denim on Denim, the band has had to work extra hard to get to where they are today.

“You definitely have to work harder to get yourself known and get people to pay attention to you, being from Saskatchewan,” Johnson says. “It’s not a usual occurrence. Bands don’t really come out of Saskatchewan. Certainly there’s no bias against it, you just have to work harder to spread yourself out more and get the word known.”

And their word is already getting known. Johnson, along with other members Eoin Hickey-Cameron, Karla Miller, Michael Dawson, Amanda Scandrett, Mike Thievin, Paul Gutheil, and Brennan Ross have been featured in The New Yorker. SPIN magazine also took notice, calling them an “undiscovered band you need to hear now.”

“That was definitely like, ‘Okay well, we might have a chance at being a serious band here,’” Johnson says of the SPIN attention. “Where with SPIN it was like, ‘Okay, maybe we can be a real band,’ then with The New Yorker we could say to our parents, ‘Hey, maybe we’ll be a real band,’ and they’re like, ‘Maybe you might, actually! This might not be a waste of your time.’”

Still, Johnson is quick to make clear that he is in the music business for the music.

“I’m in a band to make good music and to have fun and get to play live and rock out, and your Grade 10 self would be so jealous if he saw what you got to do,” he says. “We want to make good music that lasts and that people enjoy. It’s pretty basic; we’re not out for the glory.”

With a big smile and a child-like sense of wonder, he is equal parts small-town-boy and big-city-musician. And while he loves touring the country and playing bigger cities, Johnson is pretty sure the band will stay based in Regina.

“I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know... I don’t know how that would change the band, either,” he says of moving to a bigger arts city like Toronto. “There’s a really small, supportive scene in Regina.”

Currently, all eight members of the band live within a three-block radius of each other. Still, the logistics of getting an eight-person band together in the same room and making music that is pleasing to the ear can be a difficult feat.

“Musically it’s a little hard getting everyone together,” says Johnson. “It’s like twice the size of a regular band, twice the logistics. But we make it work.”

The sound of Library Voices is a unique strain of pop that is neither quite mainstream nor underground. They produce dance-inspired melodies and fun themes while still keeping musical integrity.

Considering the band is currently writing new music with plans to record in December, a follow-up to Denim on Denim does not seem too far away. The CD name is their way of poking fun at staple country attire: a jean jacket paired with jeans. But apparently the joke is on them, because denim on denim is slowly becoming more and more fashionable.

“It’s slightly more acceptable, which is really confusing in Regina especially because you have people who just got off their blue collar jobs driving trucks somewhere, and then you have slightly hipster people beside them wearing the same outfit,” Johnson says. “I’ve definitely noticed that at our neighbourhood pub before.”

But regardless of the future of jean fashion, Johnson is excited for the future of Library Voices.

“Some of my strongest memories of music are air drumming as hard as I can and screaming along the lyrics going to parties with my friends at high school bush parties,” says Johnson. “If there’s some kid air-drumming and screaming the lyrics going to a bush party to one of our songs, maybe not even yet but eventually, that gets me really excited.”