The Acorn: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Vivid stories and airy melodies. All the space in the world, and none.
File next to: Ohbijou, Plants and Animals, The Wooden Sky
Playing: #WL15 Night Two (Sat. Feb. 14) at Polish Combatants Hall.

I remember 2004 in a blur. It was a year of transition, early into my bachelor’s degree at Carleton University and my life was a mess of books, parties, essays, concerts, and ramen noodles. I had rented my first apartment with some friends and was still exploring Ottawa life off-campus while making a home for myself. I found much of my community at live shows and explored all the venues my new town had to offer.

2004 was also the year The Acorn released their first record, The Pink Ghosts. From the first time I heard it, I felt an instant connection with the record. In a way it felt like the city itself. It was bright, airy, folky, and even had a few samples of French songs thrown in. The Pink Ghosts and their subsequent Glory Hope Mountain (2007) bridged a gap for me on my hunt for community. In the following years of my Ottawa residency, The Acorn kept me company; walking through ByWard Market, commutes to my many jobs, shivering under the heat lamps in transit stations waiting for the bus. The Acorn and the city became synonymous.

2011 was another year of transition. For me it was a year of new relationships and new responsibilities. For The Acorn, it was the year they quietly slipped into hiatus, and its architect Rolf Klausener began to explore a different musical realm with Silkken Laumann. Only a few years later, the project has been picked up again and with The Acorn’s new life comes new music! A new album, Vieux Loup, is expected in the spring. I had a chat with Klausener about letting go, the pressures of success, and the journey back to The Acorn. Come be witness to a beautiful return! The Acorn play the Polish Combatant’s Hall Saturday, February 14 as part of Wavelength Music Festival 15.

What was the catalyst for you to decide that now was the time for the project to come back together again?

The Acorn was always just a passion project. It did obviously have some periods of larger commercial opportunity to tour and do lots of big things, but overall it’s always been something that I’ve done when I feel inspired. After coming back from touring on No Ghost in 2011, I just didn’t really feel like I knew what the project was anymore. I just needed to take a break. I didn’t announce a hiatus but just stepped away. I decided it was time to focus on other things. I turned attention to working on Silkken Laumann and then I started the Arboretum Festival. The work with those two projects to get them where I wanted them to be took two or three years. Now they are moving and doing their own thing. I was inspired by all the music I’d been listening to, and some time at the beginning of this year, an idea I had for a record just began to take shape. It happened really organically.

What kind of music had you been listening to? Anything in particular you found really inspiring?

A mix of things, like anyone. Around spring 2010, I started listening to a lot of classic R&B like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. I ended up playing the same stage as Badu at Bluesfest and got to see her side stage, which was really amazing. Shortly after that, The Weeknd album came out and then there was this whole wave of indie R&B. It was interesting to kind of feel like there was a larger consciousness around that kind of music. At one point in 2013, I really thought that The Acorn could go in that direction, the indie/R&B thing, but I was just reacting to what I was really into.

I was also listening to a lot of dance music, because Silkken Laumann was kind of learning how to write dance music. We got an education; a lot of classic dance music, Detroit techno, underground dance, and watching documentaries so all of that was feeding into things as well.

In the spring, I went away to a cottage just to take a break and do some recording and writing on my own. It wasn’t until then that all of these influences coalesced. What I kept coming back to was The Pink Ghosts, The Acorn’s first record. I still had this great love for American primitivism, finger-picked guitar, and very spacious music on top of the soul and R&B stuff I was listening to, and I realized that they could all really live together. It was a long, organic process.

This new album is a bit more back to basics for you then?

Oh, huge! It was hard to let go of what The Acorn was in the spring of 2011. We’d been touring so much and we had such a great fan base, we could have kept doing that! It was really amazing, I felt so fortunate, you know? It was really, really hard to let go and have to say, “I just don’t feel inspired to write.” I couldn’t just go out and tour and rehash Glory Hope Mountain and No Ghost. It’s all kind of meaningless if it’s not fun and interesting.

So it is back to basics for me. The new record really parallels everything I was going through in the summer of 2003 when I was learning home recording and spent the whole summer biking in Gatineau; making field recording and working with people I thought were really great to help play on the record. That’s what’s happened here too. I’ve been playing with Pat (Johnson) and Adam (Saikaley) from Silkken Laumann so much that they have become great foils for writing. Pat was integral to writing No Ghost too. He laid down so many of the drumbeats for the main songs of the record. It’s been great to write on my own and reach out to people that I need.

In terms of admitting that you weren’t inspired to write, how did you deal with the unknowns surrounding that? I think a lot of people would panic.

There was sort of a sense of panic at one point because The Acorn went from a hobby to our livelihood. The band was paying the rent for my friends and me, and we had a lot of people working with us, so there was a lot of pressure for sure. I never thought I would be someone who would succumb to that kind of pressure but when you’re sitting there writing and you’re thinking “okay, well how will this song pay Pat’s hydro bill?”… The second you even consider an emotion like that, it means you need to stop.

It’s a lot of weight to put on your shoulders.

Well, I’m realizing that’s kind of just me, though. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I like to do good things and I like to have fun, and originally The Acorn was a side project. I was playing in a lot of other bands and The Acorn was a way for me to fuck around and do whatever I wanted. When I realized that I was succumbing to certain self-imposed pressures, I said, “Well, this is stupid! Why am I doing that?!”

Silkken was a great distraction — like a post-break-up dating rampage — and it was so fun! I remember thinking at one point I was so sad because I lost The Acorn band and I just felt like, “Fuck, I don’t have a band, I don’t have anyone! This sucks!” And then, one practice I remember looking up and it just hit me, “Holy shit, you guys are my band!” I just blinked and all of a sudden I realized that I had this amazing new group of friends I liked to collaborate with. So Silkken ended up being a great vessel for returning me to The Acorn. I expressed so much on that Silkken record, and we just gave it away. That silken record is as important to me as any Acorn record. It really just brought me back.

It sounds like you found a new home for it.


One thing you’ve always been really good at is telling rich stories with your music. Is the new album going to be structured similarly? Does it have an underlying theme at all?

It does! There ended up being a theme to No Ghost too. Years later I realized it was about the band falling apart and it was about all of us trying to get together and do something beautiful and it was all kind of bittersweet. I realized that was the swan song of The Acorn band. With this one I wanted to get away from really overly self-reflexive writing.

I’ve started to become really politically aware over the past few years, and I’ve never been political, never given a shit, I’ve voted out of boredom. Part of it might be that you’re getting older and realizing your place in the world, but I suddenly found myself really caring about things that had been going on: injustices, the economy, and so many other things. I had this title Vieux Loup in my head for a long time. Old Wolf. It was a nickname someone had given me.

There’s a weird aside; I am a huge whale fan, and I was watching this documentary about the evolution of whales. Whales evolved from prehistoric wolves and I thought it was so crazy! So there was a connection for me and I started thinking about evolution, birth, destruction, and started thinking about old wolves as the old guard and the gatekeepers of the world. I started seeing this record as an exploration of that idea, the end of the old guard. The old wolf in the pack whose still leading, but is on his last legs. It’s an exploration of being honourable, letting go of leadership and the old ways and looking to new things. It has a darker side to it musically. It bridges this gap between exploratory electronic stuff, and straight up acoustic-based music. It’s also going to be paralleled with another album in the fall, which will be lighter and have a more up beat side to this whole theme.

So the follow up is like the light at the end of the tunnel?

Yeah, exactly! So Vieux Loup is like the destruction, and the one in the fall is like the rebirth.

This Wavelength Festival will be celebrating 15 years! Do you have any memories from when you first got involved with wavelength?

Absolutely! I started hearing whispers about Wavelength around their first or second year. I was playing in a band called the Recoilers and I remember hearing about this cool series from John Bartlett, who ran Kelp records. He had worked at Exclaim! for a while and knew Jonny Dovercourt, and mentioned Wavelength to me. It sounded really cool! I loved the zine; the design work, the articles, the irreverence, the curation. I immediately felt a kinship even though I didn’t know the people behind it.

Eventually Recoilers ended up playing one in summer 2001 at Ted’s Wrecking Yard, which is long gone now. I remember playing and feeling like a total fish out of water. Intimidated, but the atmosphere seemed really cool! I kept in touch and whenever I’d go to Toronto I’d pick up the zine. When The Acorn started to get going, I reached out to Jonny and he put us on a bill with Elliott Brood who was just starting out then too. We played a Sunday night at Sneaky Dee’s and it was great! We became really good friends with those guys and ended up touring with them a lot.

I think overall what I loved about Wavelength from when it was weekly was the ambitiousness. The interviews were always so left-field and didn’t take themselves too seriously. At the same time, the output, the attention to detail, and the curation every Sunday spoke volumes as to how passionate the people were behind it. It was a huge inspiration for me and as I developed Arboretum in Ottawa. I’d be totally remiss to say Wavelength wasn’t a huge influence, and Jonny and the crew remain mentors and close friends. It’s really nice to know that there are people like that out there who just care about the city and want to see interesting and different things happen, and highlight good art. It’s just so in line with my philosophy.

— Interview by Raina Hersh