Kestrels, “The Moon is Shining Our Way”

Sjimon Gompers

Kestrels

The Northern independent communities of the Canadian landscape continue their grind of proliferation on the premiere of “The Moon is Shining Our Way” from Halifax, Nova Scotia's Kestrels. The trio of Chad Peck, Devin Peck, and Paul Brown follow up 2012's A Ghost History with their upcoming EP, The Moon Is Shining our Way, available July 1 from Sonic Unyon. Recorded at Dreamhouse Studios in Toronto, Kestrels' wide eyed sound is given an extra lift and push, courtesy of vets like Alex Bonenfant and Claudius Mittendorfer.

On the title track “The Moon Is Shining Our Way”, loud then quiet chorus to verse structures keep the sun reflections at night beaming bright. Devin and Paul supply Kestrels' core foundations, while Chad describes a world where “the moon is on your side,” and applies generous brush stroke chords of glorious, melodic dissonance. Kestrels take on the code of the solar spheres, invoking the valor and wonder of space's orbiting environments that exist and spin according to each's path and planetary position. It's a lunar presence that translates to the track's video directed by Rob Feulner of Blue Nuit Video.

Guitarist and vocalist Chad Peck joins us for an inside look at everything from and in between Halifax and Toronto, after the following premiere.

Give us the low down on both the title track and the EP, The Moon is Shining Our Way.

The EP is a teaser for the full length that we're putting out next year. We've spent the past year recording, but we wanted to get back in the van and start playing shows again. We don't quite have the songs finished for a full length, so I called our label Sonic Unyon and asked if they could put out the EP. They, being the excellent and agreeable people they are, said sure. As for this EP, it's a self-contained bookend. The A-side has the two oldest songs from this new era, and the B-side has the two newest. There wasn't any dead weight in the 16 or songs we've recorded so far, so I felt they all warranted official release.

“The Moon is Shining Our Way” started as a very quick demo I recorded in late fall. We assembled a full band version over email and Paul spent a day at the Dreamhouse in Toronto recording the drums. Devin recorded his bass in my home studio on Christmas Day and I tracked the guitars in January. The guitars sounded a little tame, so I decided to re-track them with a guitar I'd just bought—a really sweet early 60s Jazzmaster with an early 70s Tele Deluxe neck. I'd had it set up in a drone-y tuning, and all of the strange chords and unison strings moving gave the song what it needed. I liked the solo from the demo which was a one-take placeholder, so I spent an hour relearning it and then played it through a Roger Mayer octave pedal I bought from someone in Alaska.

Lyrically, it has a bunch of different talking points. I'm an English teacher, and last year in one of my classes we had spent a bit of time talking about the moon landing after the movie Room 237 came out. I had also read “Moon Palace” by Paul Auster before writing the lyrics, and the moon just seemed to be everywhere. I don't filter myself very much when writing lyrics, so the words have some impressionistic qualities. In retrospect, I hear myself channeling Neko Case and Andy Cohen from Silkworm.

What is the Halifax report? We're an interested party.

In every interview about Halifax music, I mention the same guy: Doug Mason. Doug Mason is the pseudonym for Micheal Jackson, probably best known for his role as Trevor on Trailer Park Boys. He's since distanced himself from that show for very good reasons, but I met him after becoming interested in his music. He writes and records perfect power-pop records in his house in Dartmouth, which is just across the bridge from Halifax. He's also helped me immensely with the finer points of setting up home studios. I recorded a bunch of my solo record at his place. He's not a big part of the scene per se, but he rules and more people should listen to him.

As for the active music scene, the city is always buzzing with bands. Halifax is in the middle of its psych-rock renaissance at the moment. The local label Divorce Records just finished up their annual festival called the Obey Convention, which brings in the best avant-garde artists from all over the world. Cousins, who released a few things on my label (Noyes Records), just put out a new record and are touring non-stop and getting a ton of exposure.

How did you all first strike up a bond, and then a band?

The band has had a few incarnations, but the current lineup is the definitive version, to be sure. Devin and I are brothers, so our bond is innate. He actually briefly played in Kestrels back in 2009, but our drummer at the time convinced me that we should try out someone else. Devin ended up being a legendary Halifax guy and playing in a bunch of bands before he moved to Montreal for school. He's since moved back to Halifax, but I think he's going to be taking it easy on the utility man approach, He slays the bass, though, so I can see why everyone wants him. I met Paul when I recorded a demo for a band he was playing in at the time. We ran into each other at a few parties and shows, and I was really impressed with his drumming. I asked him if he wanted to join, and that was that. He is a monster drummer, and he and Devin are the perfect rhythm section. We've handled our ups and downs (the lowest of which was a stolen van after SXSW) with relative ease and class. These new songs are the first time we've ever all recorded together, and the cohesion is self-evident.

What was the impact do you all feel of working with Alex Bonenfant and Claudius Mittendorfer?

Alex is a world-class engineer and Claudius is a world-class mixer. They both work out of great studios and have amazing gear, but more importantly they both have the ears to do the job properly. It was definitely a big leap for us tracking with Alex—he was super friendly, but also not afraid to ask one of us to do something again. He was hands-on and took at great interest in what we were doing—he had the critical ears we desperately needed when making our previous records. It was a big difference from the fairly lackadaisical approach we had taken in recording our previous records, and we owe him a lot. I’ve booked a session with him for my next solo record later this summer.

I’ve known Claudius for a few years through my friends in Ash. I’d wanted to work with him for a while and had stopped in their studio every time I’d been on tour in NYC. He definitely coached me on some recording techniques and was supportive throughout the whole process. His mixes were incredible—we asked for zero revisions because we were just so happy with how they turned out. He’ll make our LP sound amazing. He’s just had a big hit in the UK with Temples, so his calendar is filling up quickly.

Having recorded at Toronto's Dreamhouse Studios, we constantly hear nothing but incredible things about the Toronto scene. Was wondering what Kestrel's relationship was to all those phenomenons?

We’ve been tied to Southern Ontario since we signed to Sonic Unyon (their office is in Hamilton, next door to Toronto). From there, we met up with label mates WTCHS and the SIANspheric guys. I love Hamilton—the Sonic Unyon guys have been integral to changing the culture of the city and it’s always a good time when we play in Hamilton. Paul is also playing drums in a new Hamilton band called Sensei, who are scary good.

Just up the road in Toronto, we’ve played a lot with Beliefs and their associated bands. I talk gear with Beliefs frontman Josh Korody fairly regularly and we have similar views on making records. I'm really excited for their new one. Our friends in Veneers are also Toronto based, and I’m really into a band called Elsa who put out an EP last year.

Parting words, summer plans, kernels of wisdom?

Parting words: It’s good to be back.
Summer: Four weeks of shows, new van, new songs.
Wisdom: 'It is not every day that we are needed.'

Kestrels' The Moon is Shining Our Way EP will be available July 1 from Sonic Unyon.

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