Royal Canoe and its ‘pocket full of codeine’ world

Royal Canoe // Sam Katz
Royal Canoe w/ special guests nêhiyawak & Upper Lakes
Mar. 25 (7:30 pm)
Starlite Room

While writing some of the tracks for Royal Canoe’s latest album, Waver, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Matt Peters stumbled upon a weird musical moment that seemed to fit with a nursery rhyme from the 1800s.

“The whole thing started with a drum loop in 7/8 and I had this little keyboard-vocal part that sounded like humming. I remember sitting there with a mic for like an hour and not knowing how this would turn into a song and then that “Ring Around the Rosie” nursery rhyme popped in my head. I had the idea to incorporate that in a song for a while and it just sort of came to me,” Peters says.

The idea eventually turned in the song “Ashes, Ashes (feat. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya)”—a tune that sounds like a drug-fuelled fever dream, jumping between a series of bleak, but playful images.  And the updated drone of the nursery rhyme verse that ends with “Ring around the Rosie, Rosie/ Pocket full of codeine” is just gold.

“From that musical bit, I had the idea of a post-apocalyptic, greyed-out world and there’s this person trying to figure out how to live in that,” Peters says. “And you’re not sure if they’re just high or the world is ending, or maybe both.”

The song sounds a bit like an acoustic interlude in a Radiohead song, but—with its background clapping effect—walks a fine line between indie rock and droney pop. Either way, the amount of layering and complexity in the song is enough to make a music theorist or occasional listener’s head bob and spin.

Listen to Ashes, Ashes and the whole album please.

“We always want our stuff to feel a little obtuse, but not too obtuse. Listeners will think it’s a little off-kilter and we want them to think that there is something weird about it,” Peters says.

On the recording, the track also features a few trigger-happy rap verses from Chicago multi-instrumentalist Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, adding another curious element to the song.

“We asked him about his creative process and it still blows my mind,” Peters says. “It’s this amazing verse that I still can’t really figure out what it is. It was so wacky and just fit. We only had a few verses and right from the beginning everyone was into the idea of having a feature rap verse and it happened. We really had no idea what he was going to do with it, but he nailed it.”

The track and many others on the album such as “What’s Left in the River,” “May 17” and “Spin Cycle” are indicators that the band will never fall into a concrete genre. No, Royal Canoe will continue doing whatever the hell they want, and good luck to anyone who tells them otherwise.

“In a way, we’ve always had a pop sensibility that we can’t ignore, but we never want to write something that we will hate to play,” Peters says. “We want stuff that is challenging, exploratory and has lots of energy. That is the goal.”

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