When The Canaries called David James of Mudshark Recording Studios, they initially wanted to record a few songs and then call it quits. With Olivia Both heading to New York and Mackenzie Felbab having moved to Hawaii, The Canaries felt the band was only a temporary grind, a fun thing to do for a few months and then move on to separate lives. But the vastly different New York lifestyle and hefty student loan debt had felt like too much for Both, and she came back to Flagstaff.
“When the band first started it had an expiration date,” says Sean Golightly. “When [Both] came back in to town it was like lightning in a bottle. Like, this thing that had this expiration date can go on in perpetuity, and it’s really exciting to see what that future holds.”
From the The Canaries EP release show Nov. 10 to being the first featured band on Mudshark’s new Sovereign States label, the future holds much for The Canaries.
But the past holds equal weight for the band members, with their history buried in rich memories of friendship and love.
“When listening to us you probably wouldn’t immediately characterize us as a garage band,” laughs Golightly.
But that’s where The Canaries first started. One day, after picking up an out-of-tune piano from Craigslist, Both and Emma Zimmer immediately began sharing songs.
“[Both] showed me a song that she wrote and we started singing it together and we realized that we could do something with this,” says Zimmer.
Both and Zimmer share songwriting duties for most of the songs on The Canaries EP, and their songs touch tenderly on youth and love and life, seen through the eyes of people who feel the complexities of existence, people who feel no other way to clean up that clutter than by putting those feelings into a song.
In “The Stranger,” Both sings about a high school love who had moved to New York after graduation. After a few years, when Both decided to attend Columbia University in New York, she finally saw him again, but it was like seeing him for the first time.
“[The Stranger is] about the realization that, even after having such a close relationship, time and distance can basically turn you into strangers,” said Both. “We were really young when we were together, and these past five years have turned us into very different people and it was interesting to see him again and see who he has become after all these years.”
Songs like “Washington” touch on the unpredictable circumstances which lead to the end of one relationship and the start of another, with layers of harmonies by Both, Zimmer and Golightly, each as pleasant and as desperate as wind, singing, “Seven feet I was down, and I didn’t even know how long you’d be around/and the queen of hearts don’t matter if I see you again.”
“[‘Washington’ is a] reflection of how people can be pretty selfish in relationships, and even when we know that we're not in the right place to be in a committed relationship, we try anyway because being in a relationship is comfortable,” explains Both.
Other songs such as “No Bad Days” and “1979” speak more of earnest moments, of happiness in love and how, despite its complications, love breaks, shapes and defines us as individuals.
“These songs are about moments in our lives, things we've experienced,” says Zimmer. “And it's crazy to be able to look back and see the completely different spot we are at now and the songs that have come after.”
With the added aura of a band with an unsure future, The Canaries EP is delicate and desperate, a somber meditation on experience, with songs like the mountain air—calm and gentle, cold and harsh.
And as James and The Canaries began the three-day process of tracking, editing and mixing The Canaries EP, his idea for starting a label once again surfaced.
“[The recording] was kind of a sad thing,” says James. “It was under the pretense that, ‘we just want to record this thing. It’s more like a class-ring type of idea.’ Something to remember it by. But then they came in and I heard the songs and I thought, ‘These deserve more attention.’”
Sovereign States has been an idea that had been floating around since a conversation he had with Eli Katz during a Tiny Bird recording session, but with The Canaries, the label finally seems to be taking flight. It has plans to record the band’s next album in the legendary Tony Visconti studio in London in February. There the band will hook up with other local musicians and producers for focused sessions as well as shows, all while experiencing the culture of London, another experience to write and sing about.
“I had totally thought this project was done. Then all of a sudden it just took off with this momentum,” says Golightly. “But it’s also really humbling to feel that fortunate. It makes us want to work very hard. These opportunities don’t just happen, and to give the respect that is deserved of the kind of opportunity we’ve been offered is tantamount and will determine how much we can get out of our experience.”
The Canaries will release its The Canaries EP during the Mudshark Anniversary Party at Firecreek Coffee Company Friday, Nov. 10, with Proud Mother and Four Cornered Room. For more information, visit The Canaries’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thecanariesflagstaff/