Purveyors of: the soundtrack to the meditative idleness of life during pandemic
File next to: Air, Balthazar, Destroyer, The Weather Station
Playing: Saturday, February 27 at Wavelength Winter Festival, 7PM EST on our YouTube channel. Tune in here.
Philadelphia, the debut album from Shabason, Krgovich & Harris was born out of mutual love for new age music among other things. After passing demos back and forth for about a year, the trio decided that to finish the record they have to get together in the same room. And so, over a few days in Toronto in fall of 2019 Philadelphia was made. Wavelength’s Nick Maniutin was supposed to interview the band but it ended up being mostly a chat among the three via a video call discussing everything from CN Tower to mindfulness to Dan Bejar to the extended state of idleness and deep cleaning.
With the music industry being basically on halt, what are you guys up to these days?
Chris Harris: My schedule is pretty busy so I guess a day job.
Nick Krgovich: My life is similar to Chris’ because we are not professional musicians. I put out albums and toured but sometimes I participate in that wheel and sometimes I don’t.
Joseph Shabason: Nick also just finished a record that I had a pleasure of mixing and playing on. I don’t wanna give away too much but it’s really really good.
Nick: I recorded 16 songs of this Canadian songwriter, Veda Hille, whom I was a fan of since I was 15 years old. It’s coming out in May, I hope.
Joseph: I always had a friend of mine mix all the records but when we made Philadelphia, COVID happened shortly after and he had to move out of the city. Chris and Nick encouraged me to give it a try and it was the first album that I mixed myself. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of mixing work. I also just finished an album of my own with the first single [that came out on February 2nd]. I’ve been doing a lot of scoring work and working on a public art project. COVID has been the busiest time of my life. Also taking care of a toddler.
Nick: I’ve always done well with lots of idle time. I love not having anything to do. And I’m really good at it!
Joseph: (laughs) Can you elaborate on that?
Nick: I feel that when life slows down to a pace when I get to call the shots, I just intuitively know how to move through the day. I think I’m good at curating the day for others too. I’ve had people call me when they are in a new town and I’m like: “What corner are you at? Okay, go to this place, and there is this thing there and so on.” I just pay attention to dumb shit all the time and when you pay attention to dumb shit all the time you kinda become your own resource for dumb shit.
Joseph: I think it’s interesting that you’re equally happy doing nothing. I’m kinda the same as you when it comes to managing my time but with extended periods of nothing I go insane.
Chris: I’m more like Nick. I can spend two hours walking around a grocery store looking at food. COVID hasn’t had that much of an impact on me except for that we used to swim in an outdoor pool which we can’t do anymore.
Nick: I feel like I haven’t done all the things I was planning to accomplish with all this free time. I haven’t even done my yearly deep cleaning that I love to do.
Chris: It’s almost February!
Nick: I allow room for distractions. I might put on a record and get obsessed with it and start reading liner notes and Wikipedia.
Somehow Philadelphia feels like a reflection of life that we are now forced to have even though it was recorded before the pandemic. It almost seems like you were mentally ready or even anticipating this.
Nick: (nods and smiles).
Chris: I would prefer not to be under lockdown although there seems to be a connection to the mundane that I’ve always enjoyed. Like ambient music, focusing on the space around you. Going deeper. I also like the mask fashion. I wanted to wear a mask for years.
Nick: I also like boring stuff. It’s a fertile territory for me to think about. White screen.
Joseph: But we can all agree the CN tower is the most exciting.
Chris: Here we go.
Nick: What do you do up there?
Joseph: This is a sidebar, because what you guys said was actually interesting. There is this restaurant that revolves 360 degrees during the course of your meal. It is amazing. (Everybody laughs). You can see your house, you can see the lake. It is beautiful! It’s boring but exciting.
Chris: So do you get jazzed up when eating on a flight?
Joseph: No, because on a flight you’re above god knows what.
Nick: Sometimes I look out the window on a flight and it looks terrifying. Like Greenland. It’s crazy but there’s something about it too. I don’t feel like I’m in danger but if I did a brain switch I’m like: “What am I doing here?”
Chris: There is never a moment on a flight when I’m not blown away by what is happening. Like a newborn.
Nick: Sometimes I do this witchy thing and circle the plane with protective gold light.
Joseph: That’s my mom’s jam too!
The album was influenced by new age music and its overall sound is quite meditative. Was that the ultimate goal?
Joseph: The first iteration of this was me, Nick and Chris saying okay, we all like this kind of music. Then we started sharing demos that were in that idiom. I think that the songs feel evocative and emotional. They’re not shying away from the impulse to feel loving or peaceful. I think sometimes it goes into new age territory but sometimes goes into darker territories as well. It’s a willingness for the music to feel overtly emotional. Why be dogmatic about what you can or cannot do? Why not use a flute or an ocarina?
Nick: With this album I don’t think that we tried to confine it to any genre. I guess mindfulness of some sort came out because it was there somewhere, it wasn’t on purpose.
Joseph: It was quite free. Nick wrote all the lyrics on the spot as we were building up the songs. If you think about mindfulness as a practice of being in the moment, the sessions felt very much like that. We knew we had a finite amount of time and had to work hard but we didn’t force anything.
Nick: I personally was in a nice place there. I wasn’t consciously or unconsciously wrestling with anything in my mind at the time which was a nice relief.
I think the record has a really organic flow to it and the kind of cohesiveness that is often difficult to achieve.
Joseph: One thing that might’ve helped with that was watching Dan [Bejar from Destroyer] work. As a bandleader he lets people do their thing and then edits it into something more concise. All three of us are picky editors and we had very specific thoughts about what was or wasn’t working. So the spirit of playing was very spontaneous but there was significant editing afterwards. Nick remembered exactly what bar and what note he would like to change. He was the pickiest, the editing mastermind.
Chris: I still remember that one note on “Tuesday Afternoon” that just rubbed me the wrong way. And it almost made it onto the record! I still anticipate it when I listen to the album.
Nick: It may sound that initially we were just throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck but the editing was actually just this little note here, this sound there. Very nuanced.
Wavelength festival is going to be your first “live” performance. How did you approach that with everything going on and you living on opposite coasts?
Joseph: (sighs) It’s weird. I’m used to playing in the same room with people. We’re approaching it as half live performance, half something a bit more artistic. We are trying to reinterpret the songs so there is nothing edited down.
Chris: I’m enjoying it as kind of an exercise. Having pieces and trying to construct something instead of just playing a show. I’m excited to see what Derek [Janzen] does with the video.
What would you like to happen with this project?
Nick: I don’t know. (Laughs)
Joseph: We are going to make another album. We just have to wait until it’s possible for us to get in the same room together again.
Nick: Now we made this thing so we can respond to it and see what comes next. And I want an award!
Joseph: No one expected anything, we could just be in the studio focusing on whatever made us feel happy. That’s the part of the process that I would like to recreate. I miss just lying on the ground, listening, experimenting. I’m certain that will happen again.
Nick: Oh, I’d be so surprised if we felt any tension.
Don’t miss Shabason, Krgovich & Harris at Wavelength Winter Fest on Saturday, February 27th for this year’s finale at 7pm, to be followed by Witch Prophet and Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Tune in here.