Halifax's Reels might have to steal some wheels—as the band's track record for cross-country touring isn't so promising. Last time the trio of tested musicians packed up and headed west, they returned home with a new automobile in tow. Their well mapped-out route begins with a CD release show for their sophomore album Autumn Country on March 1 at Gus' Pub.
"On the last tour we went through three vehicles," says singer-guitarist Craig Buckley at a Spring Garden Road java joint. "We ended up with the silver and blue Suburban on the way home."
Cuddled into the cozy booth next to him is songbird Ruth Minnikin (The Heavy Blinkers), who chimes in, "Reggie is our Suburban, she's going to get us there and back, no problem. We've had a little talk; she's going to get us there."
On a hectic post-ECMA Monday afternoon, the casually dressed musicians are nestled in from the February cold. Minnikin and Buckley arrived together, while their statuesque folksy counterpart Andrew Stretch joins us with a round of herbal tea mid-interview. Minnikin's old Guthries mate and fourth Reel, Brian Murray, is absent.
"Andrew writes some lyrics too," says Buckley, as Stretch takes his seat. "Most of mine are autobiographical, though it might not have been written at the time the actual situation happened. I find myself writing ideas of situations that I can find myself falling victim to. My lyrics will be "try and solve the solution'—if I'm singing that to people I should be following what I'm saying. I should be able to back up what I'm saying, it's like I'm making a pact with myself when I'm writing songs, I have to follow through on these positive words."
The seemingly optimistic yet tired trio have just returned from a gig in Charlottetown. Minnikin, decked out in a black hooded sweatshirt, complains she hasn't even had time to wash her hair. The exhausting portrait of touring indie-rock musicians is evident by the hectic schedules Reels keeps, but in light of the time constraints, the band are packed and ready to hit the road. They are westbound as of Friday morning, post-CD release show.
"We're pretty excited about the tour. Andrew and I have been playing in a band together since we were 13," says Buckley. "We were really inspired by what was going on in Moncton with Rick White and Eric's Trip. We had a band together called Aeon Flux, like the cartoon show."
Little did the duo know their Eric Trip's-inspired, cartoon-based band would lead them down this path. A far cry from doodles and comics, Autumn Country, produced and recorded by Charles Austin over the summer, is a collection of finely crafted folk tunes. Local art/music collective Just Friends let their hero Dave Ewenson (The Sweet Tenders, Laura Peek and the Winning Hearts) out on loan to assist Austin with the recording process.
"Charles has been around this town forever playing and bands," says Minnikin. "He's run a studio for nearly 10 years or something. This is like old hat for him. He actually plays slide guitar on "Stereotypical' and we forgot to give him credit on the artwork, but we will pen it in on the next printing with a big asterisk."
The thick layers of intricate sound are levelled by simple, sweet, three-part harmonies, shared by all members. Buckley's honeyed tracks sound as though he has evoked the spirit of a young Tom Petty, or could be the long-lost collaborator of the Traveling Wilburys. Anna Plaskett fills in on horn duties, Dave Christensen picks up the bass clarinet, David Myles sits in on trumpet, Kinlee Dowlin plays violin and Lukas Pearse fattens everything up on the double bass.
"Most of the guest musicians are going to be playing," says Buckley of the release show. "Unfortunately David Myles can't make it, but we will have a horn and string sections on certain songs. Keys, some straight-up rock, it's going to be pretty huge. Ruth's going to play with her full band, which is a rarity."
Inspired by Buckley's keen photographic interest, Reels shares its name with a couple of bands from California to Wales.
"We were first," insists Minnikin.
Reels CD release w/Ruth Minnikin and J.Ball, March 1 at Gus’ Pub, 2605 Agricola, 10pm, $5.