Interview with Eden Oliver of West My Friend
By now we can assume if you’ve been following our work here from sleepingbagstudios, that you’re well-familiar with the name West My Friend and the sounds of their beautiful indie-folk music. We’ve had the extreme pleasure of getting to know this incredibly talented band of four from Vancouver Island over these past two years and you can find all kinds of West My Friend goodies all throughout our site…we’ve interviewed the full band on our show SBS Live This Week…we’ve seen them perform live…we’ve reviewed their enormously creative & latest album, When The Ink Dries – and I like to think we all remain tremendous friends to this day.
And in doing my duty to all of you out there, cleverly disguising my own insatiable needs to harass the incredibly talented indie-music scene…it seemed about time to talk to West My Friend again and see what the experience of recording that pressurized second album was like for them! I mean…there HAS to be some stories to tell right?
In an awesome twist – we’ve managed to single out vocalist, flutist, guitarist, hand-clappist & whisilist of WMF – the insanely talented Eden Oliver. Her beautiful & melodic vocals have been a massive part of the recipe for the success that West My Friend are continually seeing come their way. It is my extreme pleasure to welcome back Eden to our corner of the internet to discuss the latest album When The Ink Dries, the surrounding & upcoming tour details and anything else that comes to her randomly! Enjoy! – Jer @ SBS
Interview with Eden Oliver of West My Friend
SBS: Tell us what the reaction has been to the release of When The Ink Dries…did anything surprise you about how it was received?
Eden Oliver: Mostly we have been super pleased with the reaction to When The Ink Dries. It’s selling well and people have been giving us a lot of good feedback. One thing that we’ve noticed (which is surprising only in that it hadn’t occurred to us—it makes sense when you think about it) is that it seems to be one of those albums that might take a listen or two to get into, and then you’re really into it. We’ve been noticing more and more that the people who tend to like our music seem to really like it, and this album seems to one of those slow to warm, love it forever kind of albums for our fans.
SBS: How about memories from the recent spring tour – share some highlights with us!
Eden Oliver: Venturing away from our temperate coastal climate in March led to a lot of coldness-focused highlights! On the Columbia ice fields we found out that the tour van had holes in it when the sideways snow came swirling in. In Minitonas, Manitoba (population 522) we went out for a late night walk in the snow, got to see ridiculously clear stars, and got to watch Alex frolic in the snow like a puppy. And just a bit out of Flin Flon, Manitoba our van’s heater broke and we’re pretty sure Jeff’s toes were dangerously close being lost to frost bite.
SBS: What did you feel that you had learned from the previous recording experience making the Place album that helped you along the recording of the latest album When The Ink Dries? And what did you learn from this current record that you feel will help you in recording the next album in the future?
Eden Oliver: We learned so much from Place that helped us out on this album. I think the main thing was preparedness. When doing Place we were really delighted by the pre-production process. Having the opportunity to look at your songs with a critical eye and in particular to think about the arrangements is a geekily enjoyable process. It gets you really thinking about the core features of a song and about what you were trying to get across as a song writer, and it challenges you to pull out the most important aspects of the writing and highlight them.
We learned a few things from recording When The Ink Dries, but the main one I think is that everything takes longer than you think it will. Particularly when you’re collaborating with others and pulling in session players to add specific parts. Another thing we learned is how important it is to have good quality instruments, and about what makes an instrument good for recording (as opposed to a live show). For example, for the way we record and the type of sound we want tuning needs to be really precise. Alex tried out a few different mandolins as we started the recording process (I think there might even be more than one mandolin actually in the finished album) and there was one old beauty of a mandolin that he tried that we pretty quickly had to stop using because it just couldn’t stay in tune like we needed it to.
SBS: My experience with WMF has certainly shown me a side of you that seems to be very close-knit…how easily is the friendship maintained over the years as a group? What would you say the largest challenge you’ve had in coming to a ‘group-consensus’ on something was and how did you eventually reach the outcome?
Eden Oliver: The friendship is very close-knit: the level of puns and inside jokes can attest to this. We all go through our grouchy periods (as is to be expected with any time intensive artistic project that has you trapped in a metal box together for hours on end in the middle of Manitoba’s “spring” with a broken heater) but in general there hasn’t been anything that can’t be addressed. I can’t think of any one thing that has been the biggest challenge we’ve had to overcome, but I guess one thing we come up against with some regularity is disagreements about little nit-picky things about arrangements and song-writing. We all have diverse musical influences and we’re all pretty driven to create music that we can be proud of, so sometimes we all start disagreeing on exactly when we should start that arpeggio lick or whether or not it’s okay if this or that doesn’t resolve to the tonic.
SBS: How about memorable moments along the way of recording the latest album? Again from my own experience, there are parts that go slowly, but most fly by so very quickly, and the next thing you know, it’s done! Did you have a chance to really take your time in creating this album and enjoy yourselves along the way?
Eden Oliver: Man, what a hard question. I think the recording experience was different for all of us, so it’s hard to speak for everyone, but for me there was a general sense of lacking time—not so much in the studio as in my life and schedule outside of the studio. The recording process happened at the beginning of the school year (I was teaching 4 days a week at the time) after a busy summer, so I was pretty burnt out going into the recording process. But even though it was a struggle to balance spending time in the studio with actually going to work and prepping and all that stuff teachers need to do, once I got into the studio it was a bit like a different world. I could actually relax once I got there, because when you’re in the studio the only expectation of you is to make music.
A memorable part of the experience had to be the level of collaboration we had with the album. We had a number of talented people working with us to make the album great, whether they were working on pre-production, production and engineering, mastering, or playing as one of our guest musicians. It was pretty amazing seeing Miguelito Valdez play not just because he has serious chops (which, lucky for us, was a trait all of our guest musicians shared), but also because we’d never met him before and he kept apologizing for not doing well and we were like “What?! What’s wrong with you?!” Having played a lot in the Buena Vista Social Club and projects like that, more orchestral tunes like The Cat Lady Song on our album were apparently out of his element. Not that we could tell at all—we were too busy pulling our jaws up off the floor.
SBS: Upcoming tour plans! You remain to this day, by far, one of the most active independent bands I know of…so there must be more live music coming up!
Eden Oliver: Active you bet! Not only are there tour plans coming up, there are BIKING tour plans. In the second half of August we’ll be departing on the Bikes, Barns and Beers tour with our friend Brett Wildeman to do a bicycling tour of the Gulf Islands and southern Vancouver Island (bass and other instruments in tow). Then we’ll be hopping in a vehicle to head down to Washington and Oregon for a bit at the end of August. In November we’re doing a BC—Alberta—Washington—Idaho—Oregon tour, in February 2015 we’re trying to line something up, and in April 2015 we’ve been booking things too. This past year was my last year full time teaching, so now that the school year has been mostly freed up, the touring possibilities are endless!
SBS: Did you feel that, in having made and now put out When The Ink Dries, that West My Friend has achieved another milestone in their career? How so?
Eden Oliver: It’s pretty hard to tell what your milestones are as you’re going past them, but if we had to try to pick them out, When the Ink Dries would probably be one of them. The When The Ink Dries Tour we did in March right after we released the album was our first time heading east in Canada (we got as far as Winnipeg and turned back) and the reception we had along the way was pretty stellar. With the release of When The Ink Dries it feels like we’ve settled into our sound a lot more and along with that I think we have a better idea of who we’re playing for.
SBS: What was the most important thing to consider while making this new record?
Eden Oliver: There’s an automatic pressure with coming out with a second album for any project, because people expect it to be better than your first album. And it’s hard to balance how ready you are with how good you want to album to be, because if you just keep waiting until you’ve got the perfect album all prepped with a plethora of songs to choose from, you might never end up making an album. So trying to figure out the timing in advance and then trying to get everything done in the timeline we set up was definitely forefront on our minds.
SBS: Indie journalists like myself make comparisons to this band and that band all day every day – but from YOUR perspective – is there anyone else out there making similar sounds to those of West My Friend in either the independent or mainstream scenes?
Eden Oliver: Oh man, let me check our bio…
“A love for the songs of Beirut, Joanna Newsom, Owen Pallett, Punch Brothers, The Milk Carton Kids, The Avvett Brothers, and The Decemberists adds to [West My Friend’s] diverse musical palette.
Honestly it’s hard to compare ourselves to others because we’re all such lovers of music that any comparison would have to be backed up with a “We’re not worthy!” grovelling moment a la Wayne’s World if we ever MET any of those musicians we compared ourselves to.
SBS: If a person was to put your music on a random playlist close their eyes and listen, what would you say the defining qualities would be that would let them know they’ve got a track from West My Friend on?
Eden Oliver: If you find yourself thinking “Wait, what’s going on here? Was that a random bar of 3?” or “Is that an accordion? And am I actually liking it?” or “Did she just say ‘…when two cat ladies fall in love’?” then you’re probably listening to West My Friend. Other defining features are: quick shifts in mood, intricate arrangements, gorgeous vocals (if I do say so myself), intriguing lyrics, and four part harmonies. And of course the mix of instruments (guitar, mandolin, accordion, and upright bass) isn’t what you’d normally hear when you pop on a random playlist. Unless you’re listening to the zydeco bluegrass fusion playlist that weird cousin of yours made you.
SBS: Vocals have always been an important aspect of West My Friend, always beautiful & always melodic – how do you all, as a group, practice those? Are there times where you leave the instruments behind and simply practice the vocals and harmonies?
Eden Oliver: For sure there are! Particularly when we’re practicing harmony parts in band practice, getting away from the instruments and focusing on the vocals can really help us hear the blend and work towards the sound we want. We also make an effort to warm up vocally as a group before a show when we can.
SBS: WMF is also pretty infamous already for their storytelling abilities, both on-stage live and through the recorded songs…would you say there was an underlying story to the entire album of When The Ink Dries? I found each song to tell its own story for sure, but they also seemed to be linked somewhat…or at the very least the album came out incredibly cohesively! But if there was an overall tale to tell in behind it all…lay it out for me! I’m not always the brightest crayon in the box….
Eden Oliver: When we were making lists of songs we might want to put on the album and trying to think about lyrical and musical themes, the thing we kept coming back to was the process of coming to terms with the world as it currently is, and the direction it seems to be heading. Art can be a way to grapple with things we are thinking about or wanting to think about; and in general our album is the result of that process (it’s what’s left “when the ink dries”).
SBS: How do you relax and make yourselves as comfortable as possible for a recording session?
Eden Oliver: None of us have a particular routine (except for warming up my vocals well for me), but recording a Baker Studios with Joby is pretty much as comfortable as you can get. Joby is brilliantly informal, while still pushing you to create a great product, so we all felt at ease around him. The space is all wood and carpet and there are at least two couches for crashing on. And making sure we had enough snacks and stayed hydrated were other essentials to keep the comfort level high, because it’s easy to forget that time is a thing in the studio.
SBS: You also have the excellent new video for the lead-single “Missing You!” Tell us all about how much fun that must have been! With so many ‘single-worthy’ tracks on When The Ink Dries – was it easy to choose this particular song to be the lead single? What other tracks were possibilities?
Eden Oliver: I think we were thinking about a few different tracks, including “Thin Hope” and also “My Lover” for a more live-video sort of thing (that one’s still on the back burner, I think). It was a bit hard to pick, but I think in the end I thought of a good video concept for Missing You and so we settled on that. While the prep for the music video was way more work than I thought it would be, the actual making of the music video was definitely fun. My favourite part was probably the mountain climbing scene, not only because I got to see my huge-Everest-shaped-cardboard-mountain-duct-taped-to-a-ladder idea actually work, but also because we got to use a leaf blower and a giant bag of white styrofoam to create the snowfall from off stage. If you’ve never made it snow with a leaf blower and a giant bag of white styrofoam before, I challenge you to try it. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
SBS: Thank you so much for your time West My Friend! Can’t wait to see you all again! No pressure – but leave us with something random! You’re awesome at the random! Anything you want to say!
Eden Oliver: Pressure! Well, one thing is that gosh darn it Jeremy, you’re good at writing interview questions. They’re just such a pleasure to answer. I don’t know if we’re allowed to compliment you as part of the interview, but there you have it.
Something else random? I think I’ll tell you a story. During our first tour with one of our previous and much loved bass players Brian (who still plays with us from time to time), we were driving out to Ucluelet and discussing what we might do the next day in our free time.
Brian: Oh, we should go whale watching. I’ve always wanted to go whale watching.
Rest of band: *awkward silence*
Eden: Okay, I’m just going to say it. Not that I’d veto you going or anything, but I don’t think I’d be interested because I’m kind of ethically opposed to whale watching.
Brian: Ethically opposed to whale watching?!
Alex: Yeah, it’s actually not really good for the whales.
Jeff: Some people call it whale stalking.
Brian: Okay, seriously. You can’t just be ethically opposed to random things like whale watching. If you’re ethically opposed to everything you’ll just end up alone having no fun eating a bowl of lentils.
Rest of band: *awkward silence*
Eden: …I actually really like lentils.
Alex: Me too.
Jeff: I eat lentils all the time.
At our last show with Brian, we gave him a parting gift of dried lentils. I’m still not sure if he’s eaten them to this day.
Find them at their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/westmyfriend