Andrew MacGregor's been loving the last year he's spent in Truemanville, a small community in Cumberland county that's a short drive from the New Brunswick border. Chances are he's the only experimental guitar slinger living there---let alone one to have recorded with a member of Sonic Youth and release a boatload of CD-Rs, LPs, CDs and cassettes. But the undoubtedly sleepy nature of the area seems to suit MacGregor's creative needs just fine.
"I think this part of the world is really beautiful and serene," says MacGregor, who records albums under the name Gown. "I've always been better at being creative when I'm somewhere calm and surrounded by nature. If I lived in a city I think I'd have a lot of problems making music or art in any way, shape or form because I could easily get caught up in whatever else is going on around me. I think I need that calmness to get things done."
The serene and quiet vibe of Truemanville contrasts sharply with MacGregor's last place to call home, the hip and wildly happening artistic mecca of Northampton, Massachusetts. A town of 30,000 that's located close to a number of colleges, MacGregor says Northampton is a remarkable community. "On a weekly basis you can get exposed to a lot of things that aren't necessarily happening anywhere else."
Having a famous husband and wife pair such as Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore as a part of your arts scene probably doesn't hurt, either. Northampton's two hippest residents have helped spearhead an anything-goes music scene, which supports several popular venues, and the Ecstatic Yod Collective, a store that specializes in vinyl albums and alternative publications.
MacGregor---who hails from Nanaimo, BC---was on familiar terms with Moore through Ecstatic Peace, the Sonic Youth guitarist's record label with music writer Byron Coley. For more than five years, MacGregor ran a record store in Nanaimo that carried some Ecstatic Peace recordings, which led to him helping with the label's manufacturing.
There'd already been a number of Gown recordings released by then, highlighting MacGregor's taste for dissonance, drone and ambiance. But he was also hindered by feeling too comfortable within the supportive Nanaimo scene. "I could float by on a less committed, more mediocre level than I would've liked," he reflects.
The eventual move to Northampton in 2005 forced MacGregor to fully commit to his music, resulting in the release of Gown recordings on the Ecstatic Peace label. He's also collaborated with Moore in the improv duo Bark Haze, a project that has released several albums and also performed at an All Tomorrow's Parties event in the UK.
MacGregor had a hunger for improv from the start, even as a kid playing in punk bands. "I really thought that most bands would be improvising a lot of the stuff they did. To me it's unimaginable that a band would tour and play the same set every night. I think I'm incapable of doing that."
When describing his own music to those unfamiliar with his style, MacGregor admits to occasionally taking a lazy route by calling it noise music, but he doesn't like the tag.
"Sometimes I think that people don't want to listen hard to music, they just want to hear something that's obvious, whether it's a song they know or a song they think they know. I think more difficult music, be it free jazz, modern classical or music of an ethnic variety, there's an inherent melody and rhythm which may not sound obvious. It may not be there if you're not willing to put some effort into it."
So far, MacGregor has laid low in Nova Scotia, but he'll reverse that trend with his first Halifax show on Saturday---only his second performance this year. There will also be a new Gown release on Halifax's indie Divorce Records next year.
"I should come down to Halifax and see more things, but it's hard when you get comfortable and somewhat isolated," he says. "You start to think, 'Gee, I don't want to leave home this week.'"
With his parents, sister and girlfriend living close by, MacGregor figures he'll remain comfortable here for years to come.