Emotional and harmonic, New Brunswick’s The Olympic Symphonium talk mixing voices and crafting music that matters in our latest Q&A
The Olympic Symphonium out of New Brunswick are one of Canada’s best kept secrets, but undeniably a group of artists that demand attention. The foursome of Kyle Cunjak, Dennis Goodwin, Graeme Walker, and Nick Cobham return to St. John’s on July 22nd in the wake of their album, Beauty In The Tension. Cunjak caught up with The Herald for an interview on bending the songwriting process and the politics of music.
You guys squirreled yourselves away at the Old Confidence Lodge in Riverport to hammer out this new album in relatively short order. Take me through that process?
This is our fifth record, so we have a pretty good flow with the way we like to do things now. We have four songwriters in the band. We’re a democracy in the band, with four people who write and sing lead and we’re always rotating instruments and vocals. It makes it really easy to write a record when you have four people writing songs, which is nice. Usually, the way we’ve done the last four is that instead of going into a studio we take the studio into a separate place to kind of get away from our busy lives and take three or four days. We do it in a really condensed, short amount of time and kind of commit to something 13-15 hours a day for a few days, immerse ourselves in it and come out. The results are usually better than when you space it out over the course of six months. We like to do it in a small chunk of time and dedicate ourselves fully to the project.
Many groups tend to have one main songwriter, but in your case there are four. What’s your take on that dynamic and how it impacts an album like Beauty In The Tension?
Now that we’ve been a band for over a decade we have a great working relationship and know each other quite well musically. I think that the four voices in this band are quite distinct from one another. The way that it kind of comes together makes it a cohesive group of songs somehow. It does work out. The way it usually works is we write in isolation. Someone will come to the table having the chord changes, lyrics and vocal melody, but it won’t be completely arranged, and we’ll arrange it as a group together. The songs themselves take on a quality that is unique to the band.
In the past you guys have brought a great deal of the personal into your songwriting. Does anything stand out as major themes for this record?
I think each person writes about different things and there’s not one sole theme we explore overall. The songs are quite personal and sometimes a bit heavy. We like to write about things that are happening in our lives, whether they be mental health issues or family life or bigger schemed things like world politics, environmentalism.
The music is itself emotional and sometimes a bit heavy. It’s not shiny and pretty necessarily, and sometimes it takes a little while to dive into it, but I think that’s a good thing in that it takes time to digest. The themes aren’t so apparent or in your face. Someone might interpret the lyrics in a different way and I think that’s important when you’re a songwriter, especially nowadays. I think it’s real important to challenge people and make them think and not just abide by the status quo musically and lyrically.
More and more artists are reflecting real world issues in their work. What’s your take on that and whether or not it’s the artists responsibility to address the here and now?
I think you have a responsibility when there are challenges and when things are at a boiling point. I think you have a responsibility as someone who presents art in public to challenge people a little and make them think. I really believe that it is yours to do that, that if you’re just maintaining the status quo then that doesn’t advance art or change things. It’s not like we’re coming out and being negative or confrontational to people. It’s about presenting something and you might make someone think about your ideology or make them a little more emphatic going forward. I think, even if you do that for one person, that’s a win.
For new fans and old here in St. John’s, what’s the major takeaways from an Olympic Symphonium live performance?
We try to balance out the heavy themes and music. We like to have a good time together and we’re pretty positive and happy and people who like to joke around.
Between the songs we balance that with a bit of humour. We don’t want to isolate our audience and we try to make people understand that we’re just four normal guys doing what we love. If you come to see a show, when we’re doing the songs you can easily get lost in it. There’s a lot of atmosphere and varied musical genres we try to explore. It’s not a really heavy experience, but not a light one either. It’s a bit of both and I think that’s what sets us apart from others. We all switch instruments and vocal abilities and there’s a lot of harmony. There’s a lot of lush, atmospheric instrumentation.
For more information on the band or their July 22nd showcase at The Ship Pub visit theolympicsymphonium.com