Zoo Legacy is undeniable an anomaly. Part hip-hop, a little bit of indie, a sprinkle of rock, all mixed together to form a sound that can only be described as collaborative, but certainly not disjointed.
“When we began, it was really a rock group with a rapper,” lead singer Nick Pouponneau wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune. “Over time we’ve worked so hard together to make what is our sound. It’s not a mix between two genres, it’s our sound.”
The group, formed in 2011, hails from Ottawa. One member, keyboardist Samuel Goss, is a McGill alumnus who “still rocks the Redmen hoodie.” Having been together for five years, the group maintains an eclectic mix of musical influences—ranging from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Notorious B.I.G.—that allows for diversity and adaptability in their sound.
“Lyrically, I think we fall somewhere in between the party, easy-going, get turnt style and handling more heavy themes,” wrote Pouponneau. “Putting together the two styles hasn’t been too difficult because we build from the ground up. We’re not an indie band with a rapper or a rapper with a backing band; we’re true to our process and our sound.”
That process reflects the palpable joy that Zoo Legacy has for their music. Reflecting on the songwriting process, Pouponneau creates a beat to match the instrumentation before formalizing the lyrics, tuning, and then, “voila, you have a banger!”
Their on-stage presence is equally as positive and electric. OAP veterans, Zoo Legacy closed the first week with all the fanfare you would expect of a band that has opened for Lauryn Hill at Ottawa’s Bluesfest. When preparing for the performance, Pouponneau spoke of the opportunity with graciousness and excitement.
“It’s always such a great vibe, there’s always so much love,” Pouponneau mused. “I feel like this show is going to be that same feeling but on a bigger scale, more people to jam with, more energy which we definitely feed off of. It’s going to be an experience!”
Their performance was exactly that; high energy, fun vibes, and heavy on pumping up the crowd. This type of performance is typical of Zoo Legacy, who likes to stay close to the album sound while still focusing on building a connection with the audience.
“The one thing we always try to emphasize is giving the crowd as much energy and feeling as possible; whether it be a sexy, slow jam or a party record, we want people to walk away with a connection,” Pouponneau wrote. “We make sure everyone is having a good time because we don’t ever take for granted how blessed we are to be able to rock a crowd.”
Zoo Legacy released their third EP, Departures in June. You can check it out on spotify.
Springing from the experimental art pop and shoegaze scenes of the ’80s and ’90s, dream pop has become a major influence for young artists on campuses across the country. One of these disciples is Cult Classic. The McGill band—who started from humble beginnings in the basement of Gardner Hall—took to the stage at OAP last week.
“All of our members only got back four days before [OAP],” Chris Steward, singer and lead guitarist, said. “So it was like, five hours of practice a day for four days.”
Singer Rosie Long Decter said, “I came back to Montreal, and it was like ‘Okay, Rosie, we’re going to play three new songs at OAP; we need to write the lyrics and melodies for all of them.’”
This is the life of a band that also has to live with the stress of being students. Coordinating practice time can be next to impossible; musical passion comes into direct conflict with academic obligations, and members are separated from each other for most of the summer. Balance can be hard to achieve.
“Rosie does it well,” Steward said. “I think I’m far more reckless, to be absolutely honest. It’s a lot of three-day no sleep binges. I just have to try to push myself to every limit possible and pray it works out in the end.”
The outcome of this struggle is a sound that is blissfully unconstrained, as though it could meander anywhere. The music manages to feel collaborative, even when the band members have to work together with an ocean of distance between them. Due to this bond, the end product winds up feeling greater than the sum of its parts.
“I find that different parts [of the music] kind of take their own life,” said bassist-guitarist Tom Gould.
Steward echoed this sentiment; “That’s the thing, each of our members brings something completely different to the table,” he added. “Like Austin—our drummer, for example—is a fantastic jazz drummer. I’ll give him a part that I have an idea for, and he’ll transform it into his own groovy sort of thing. That’s how the songs become really unique.”
As the band members get to know each other’s musical quirks and preferences, they get a better grasp on how they should sound as a unit.
“We’ve always been really into our textures,” said Steward. “So recently, it’s been [about] reconciling that shoegaze-y textureness [sic] with this groove and oomph we hear in Tame Impala. But at the same time we have to sound kind of ethereal and dreamy.”
This production-heavy focus in their recorded content can be hard to recreate onstage, but the band views the spontaneous nature of live performance as an opportunity rather than a constraint.
“We were trying to write lyrics and remember them the day of OAP,” Gould said. “It was great, we all kind of came together—I think we pulled it off.”
You can listen to Cult Classic on Soundcloud.
Café Racer is no stranger to the whims of the OAP crowd. The headliners are preparing to close the event in true veteran status, drawing people by putting their twist on covers of songs that everyone loves, then keeping the crowd interested with their own brand of indie rock.
The group, now entering their third year of performing, is in tune with what the people want, and they’re dedicated to making a place for themselves in the rock world.
“We’ve stuck to a pretty solid sound,” said Myles Hildebrand, guitarist and lead singer of Café Racer. “We never mess around with synths at all; we’ve kept it guitar, bass, vocals, and drums. I think we’ve always just naturally played this kind of revivalist rock with a new spin on it.”
The emphasis is on keeping the sound fresh, not letting it get bogged down by past invocations of “classic rock” a term which drummer Josh Grant says he hates, opting to describe his band’s sound as “classically inspired.” In the studio, they keep their sound focused, using a rhythm track to maintain the structure of the song. But on stage, the energy of the crowd tends to take over.
“We try to keep [our live shows] as close as possible to the record,” says Hildebrand. “I’m fully willing to sacrifice some musicality for the stage show.”
Café Racer is all about stage persona. Hildebrand has developed a personal aesthetic revolving around his long, blonde hair, which is used to the fullest to invoke that traditional head-banging rock n’ roll-feel on stage. It helps pump up the crowd, and it motivates the other members of the band too.
“When you’re playing in front of people and you feed off the crowd and you have someone in front of you leading the band, it helps you,” Grant explained. “We’re all fired up and we all love playing music for people. It’s a very cathartic feeling to be on stage performing your own songs for people.”
Out of the studio and off the stage, Café Racer has kept that energy going through their music videos. Their latest, Circus Girl, was produced by Cannes-nominated director, Chris Rob, and premiered alongside Burlesque dancers to a packed audience at Le Belmont.
“We released the “Circus Girl” video at a show that we also called Circus Girl,” said Hildebrand. “There were burlesque dances and live circus performers; that was definitely our biggest show. It meant a lot.”
The band has their sights set on bigger venues, first Metropolis, then Osheaga. For now, they’re ready to return to OAP as veterans and perform their hearts out.
“We’ve played OAP too many times,” said Hildebrand, laughing. “We know what the crowd wants.”
Café Racer will be playing at Open Air Pub on Friday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.
Whereas most bands strive for immediate recognition and commercial success, the London, Ontario-based band Ivory Hours has quite the opposite take on fame.
“I think we had the luxury of not that many people knowing about [us],” admitted lead singer, Luke Roes. “We were allowed to evolve in a bit of a bubble with people that really supported us [….] There was no expectations at all.”
In 2012, Roes was just finishing his degree at Queen’s University when he decided to dive into the music industry. After an unsatisfactory stint in Vancouver, Roes came back to Ontario where he got to know his two current bandmates, Tom Perquin and Chris Levesque.
“I think [the band] has definitely evolved. When I was hiring Chris and Tom, I definitely had a stronger idea than I originally had,” Roes explained. “I had an idea of who I wanted to be playing with.”
The band has since released two studio albums, Mary (2014) and Morning Light (2015). The band admits that their sound generally reflects “indie-pop,” specifying The Strokes, Mother Mother, and MGMT as inspirations for actually writing songs and making a record. While Roes said the original album was a lot of “finger-picking” and “folk stuff,” there was a much more “high-energy pop tune” goal for the second record.
The band has also released a stream of highly-produced music videos, some featuring conceptual stop-motion production and friends who are more than willing to be a part of the often lengthy process.
“We’re lucky we’ve got a great group of friends to support what we do,” Roes said. “They are such good campers too when it comes to not having a […] fully-fledged idea. That’s when some of the most magical moments too when people just get on set and go wild.”
The trio has since won recognition and awards, and their music has played on numerous radio stations. They started touring in Ontario and Quebec to promote their second LP, Morning Light.
“There is going to be more touring in Ontario the rest of the year and into 2016; then we are planning on doing a full North American tour next spring which we’re really excited about,” Roes said. “We’ve won a bunch of studio time too, which is just sitting there, so we’re going to do a lot of writing in the fall.”
The band later performed a fantastic set at OAP; their light and energetic music was perfect for the end of summer vibe the night reflected.
Ivory Hours will be performing as a part of Pop Montreal on Sept. 17.