Features Interviews The Path to the Summit: An Interview with Bravestation's Derek Wilson

The Path to the Summit: An Interview with Bravestation's Derek Wilson



Article by: Chad Hutchings

Sticky has a sprawling discussion with the Bravestation guitarist about their newest work and shifting focus.


Since their 2010 breakout EP, Toronto's own Bravestation has been surfing with plenty of attention at the front of the city's flourishing new wave scene. With the indie music push surging with electronic innovation, the act's earthy tribal twist has found a solid and expanding niche, boasting a sound that's clever and intelligent without sacrificing accessibility in the name of the art.

Their latest release, Giants And Dreamers, retains the sound that their growing mass of fans have been quick to love, but it offers up something undeniably more mature than their previous recording. Recently, Sticky touched base with guitarist and creative force Derek Wilson, and he was glad to sound off on just what makes the new release different from the last.

“We didn't really have any preconceived notions about how we wanted [the first EP] to sound, and we weren't sure how it would be received,” Wilson said of their self-titled debut. “It was more of a darker, post-punk sort of brooding sound – a lot more direct and a lot more forward. It was a little more generic in some respects, like the beats are pretty straight-forward. They still had a personality to them, but I think it was a lot more direct as far as the sound really goes.”

The new album would serve to draw on the style that the band had been growing, without betraying what makes their music lovable. “We were really proud of the EP but, with the newest record, we wanted to be a lot more expansive, almost experimental in a certain respect... but we did wanna retain that catchiness so that we could appeal to different demographics; we wanted to appeal to students, but we also wanted to appeal to our parents, ya know? So we were trying to find a middle ground with respect to creating a more expansive, experimental sound without sacrificing that pop element that people can connect with on a wider level.”

Luckily, nothing wonderful is lost in that struggle for a middle ground, neither instrumentally nor lyrically. And, with a name like Bravestation (a nod to both "Brave New World" and "The Station") it shouldn't be surprising that there's a certain love of the language carrying over into their music.

“The meaning and the message in our songs are really important to us. When we write lyrics, my brother and I, we take a lot of time with the word choices and with trying to create music that not only makes you feel, but makes you think think, too. We want the lyrics to be thought-provoking and give you something to dig deeper into, if you want to. On the surface there are still elements that can relate to your average folk, but also wanted to be on a certain cerebral level. We still want people to be able to find their own meanings and I think the lyrics are obscure enough that you are able to create your own pictures and make it relate to your life. “

Listening to the successfully palatable Giants and Dreamers with all these components plotted and put together as they are, it's not hard to pick up on a certain grace to the flow of the tracks – a continuity to the sound that begs questions about the creation of the songs and how they came together so cleanly. Wilson explains: “There are a lot of similar characteristics as far as the instrumentation and distinct reverbs and effects... between guitars and the tribal drums, the organic base, and some of the more electronic elements. I think those sonic qualities sort of run through each of the songs, and I think that's sort of what gives the album its cohesiveness.”

The band also spent plenty of time structuring the recording and finding a balance from track to track, maintaining thematic links through the lyrics, for a result that they are hesitant to sum up in popular buzz words. “We don't like the term concept album because it means certain things to certain people, but the vibe and the undertones of the lyrics and the sounds all give it that kind of conceptual flow.”

That vibe is clearest on the album's arguable highlight, “Tides Of The Summit”. Written well over a year before the album was released, Wilson describes the creation as “A layered, spacey, experimental pop track... [it] captures the essence of what we were after on a whole for that album, so that was kind of the song that was like a big projection for us as far as the vibe we were after.”

This song and the other eight of the album were left to gather a lot of dust before the record actually became whole, though. Nearly two years earlier, the band began piecing the puzzle together slowly through scattered free evening and weekend sessions at a studio where one of the members was working. Sitting on the album for nearly another year, they muddled through the complications of launching an album without the support of a label while juggling day jobs and the realities of life outside of their music. All of this passing time inevitably took its toll on a band slowly growing tired of music that the public hadn't heard outside of their live shows.

“It was really hard. It's years later and you finally release an album and the listener is just like, 'Oh, yeah, a fresh new record,' when for us, we're so tired and we can hardly stomach playing this anymore live [laughs]. We're really looking forward to moving forward and we're already working on new songs.”

Of course, with all of the frustrations and the time that's passed between the last songs written and the new, it makes you wonder: Will the upcoming work have the same feel?

“I think there are certain elements we definitely want to retain. On Giants and Dreamers we created a sound that we felt was our own finally, so we definitely wanna retain some of the elements that we used. We've all been working on these songs completely individually - we're basically working on real time, recording files from our homes, simultaneously but separately. There's a lot of hip-hop influence as far as the beats go. There are the slower tempos from the 70-95 bpm tempo range, but we also wanted to have some dance elements too. We want, on a basic level, for the music to move people a little more live. It's going to be a lot more electronic and I don't think it'll be as organic as the last album.

Once this new music is ready for recording, the band's earlier gameplan will definitely be revised. In the long span between conception and commercial release of Giants and Dreamers, the truths of an independent music release really made their mark on Bravestation.

“Not having a label changed our plans, because we didn't have the capital to go on tour and it changed our perspective on how to release music for the future. The economics of touring across Canada for us is just not realistic... not viable from a financial perspective. We all have full-time jobs that we'd like to keep and, at a certain point, you have to draw a line in the sand. Do you go and tour the world and hope you come home with an audience big enough to support your band, or do wait until your music is just so undeniable that you don't even need that tour? There's a lot of opportunity here [in Toronto] and in using the internet to grow our audience and to keep growing on that level. For us, this is really satisfying. What happened with this album, it was sobering for us, because we saw the realities of it. We'd seen our friends' bands from Toronto doing so well touring, but they come home and have to live with their parents. We don't really have that option, because our parents don't live in Toronto [laughs].

Wilson admits that Bravestation is fortunate to be based in Toronto, with its infinite venues and its position as a touring hub for the country. Adding a new agent to the mix has brought them broad opportunities varying from opening for commercially successful acts like Imagine Dragons to supporting more alternatively-focused bands like Tanlines. This has all contributed to a situation that has the group perfectly happy to be pursuing their music outside of a contract.

“The success stories are the ones you always hear about on the major label deals, but the major percentage of bands signed end up fading into obscurity two years later. It's like 'Great, we toured the world and sold X amount of records, and now what?' For us, it just makes sense to jcontrol it and get back to playing music for the reasons we all started playing. You just played it because it was fun, you know? So that's why we're really excited now; we're just going to release music at a more casual pace.”

If you'd like to catch Bravestation on-stage for yourself and hear the old work as well as the new, they'll be visiting The Horseshoe on October 22 supporting 2:54 for a show that you should find no reason to miss.