Five Questions With… Elk Run & Riot
The roots-inflected alt-rock band from Alberta releases its third album, Animalia, this week. Two members explain that the natural wonders of their Bow Valley home provided creative inspiration.
By Jason Schneider
Since forming in 2013, Elk Run & Riot have made it their priority to write songs that reflect who they are and where they live. For the alternative folk outfit, that environment is Alberta’s Bow Valley in the Rocky Mountains, whose natural wonders greatly inspired the group’s third full-length album, Animalia, officially released March 2.
On the eight new tracks, Elk Run & Riot continue to refine their songwriting with AOR-ready arrangements—ringing guitars, soaring harmonies and heartfelt melodies. Using a live-in-the-studio recording approach, the creative core of Ryan Schepens (vocals/guitar), Andrew Cotter (vocals/bass/guitar), and Brian Bailey (mandolin/bass) struck the perfect balance between their finely honed musicianship and dynamic live performances.
The songs on Animalia are a mix of old and new. The band experienced a fertile writing period during summer 2017, while other songs date back to Elk Run & Riot’s beginnings, dusted off and given a facelift. It all came together during two intense days in September 2017 at Calgary’s Studio D, overseen by co-producer/engineer Steve Dierkens, who also provided drums along with Kent McRae. Lyrically, the songs tell stories of love, addiction, and everything in between that goes on in the trenches of the Bow Valley.
From house shows to the Canmore Folk Festival and the Banff Centre’s Shaw Amphitheatre, Elk Run & Riot have followed the examples of such artists as Joel Plaskett, The Lumineers, Wintersleep and The Band in developing a distinctive sound, based in large part on vocal chemistry. On their first two records they took full advantage of multi-tracking capabilities to craft three-and-four-part Beach Boy-esque harmonies, but on Animalia their vocal blend comes across intimately and vividly in the simplified setting.
Elk Run & Riot are on tour throughout B.C. and Alberta in March. You can get more info at elkrunriot.com
What makes Animalia stand apart from your previous work?
Ryan Schepens: Our first two albums were folk influenced with a bit of rock thrown in, whereas Animalia is more alt-rock with a splash of folk.
Andrew Cotter: Animalia is as close as we can get to our live sound. It’s clean and not over-produced. We wanted this record to sound like it was four guys in a room playing live, and represent how far we have come as a band.
What songs on the album do you feel best illustrate your current musical vision?
Ryan Schepens: “Wandering.” I think it captures that balance between rock and folk we set out to do.
Andrew Cotter: I believe the whole album has a flow, much like our other two records, where, even though the songs may not have been written at the same time, they tell an underlying story of our life experiences. We are always trying to represent all of our influences on our records, and I feel these eight songs can paint that picture for a listener.
You draw a lot of inspiration from where you live. What makes it so special?
Ryan Schepens: We live in a melting pot of ethnicity and culture here in the Bow Valley. The Valley speaks for itself as far as nature is concerned, but it also gives people who come here a certain energy to let loose and discover themselves. This is where our songwriting has evolved from.
Andrew Cotter: There is a vibe about this place that screams adventure and discovery. Someone seems to be constantly over your shoulder inviting you on a mission into the wilderness and nature. It’s all about living outside and off the grid.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
Ryan Schepens: “Highwaylines” from our first album Both Sides Of The Valley. It was the first song we ever got on the radio.
Andrew Cotter: “Something To Prove” from Animalia. It has so much to do with personal struggle, and I hope that others can relate to the song. It helped me get a lot off my mind and shoulders throughout the recording process.
What’s your best touring story?
Ryan Schepens: We decided to stay an extra night after Huckleberry Festival 2017 [in Pincher Creek AB] at Castle Mountain Resort. We ended up having a great time with the staff and fishing for cutthroat trout in the moonlight.
Andrew Cotter: This year we played New Year’s Eve at Castle Mountain Resort, and it snowed 87 centimetres in three days. We threw an amazing lodge party and had the best skiing of our lives. It is shows like these that make up for all the not-so-great ones.