Five Questions With… Villages’ Travis Ellis
The Cape Breton quartet has just released a new EP, Upon The Horizon, a dazzling combination of indie folk and experimental pop. Here a group member discusses the record, the experience of working with US indie rock titan Phil Ek, and future plans.
By Jason Schneider
With their new EP Upon the Horizon out now on Sonic Records and a taste of more new music slated to come in 2021, Villages have produced their most dynamic and exploratory work yet, a dazzling combination of indie-folk and experimental pop, topped with dashes of sun-bleached psychedelia.
For the Cape Breton, Nova Scotia quartet, it also fulfilled a goal to work with American indie rock legend Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, The Shins, Father John Misty, Band Of Horses), whose mix helped Villages get closer than ever before to the sound they had envisioned since forming in 2016.
The band’s intention to create original music rooted in the traditional sounds of their home region was successfully captured on Villages’ acclaimed 2019 self-titled debut album. But as Upon the Horizon boldly demonstrates, their evolution remains ongoing, and is now light-years from their earlier incarnation as the indie rock outfit Mardeen.
By embracing the unique aspects of Cape Breton music and combining them with highly personalized songwriting and innovative production techniques, Villages are proving that striking the right balance between the past and present often yields stunning results.
Having achieved that with Upon the Horizon, Villages have also secured a place among Canada’s most soul-stirring bands. We caught up with Travis Ellis of Villages to find out more, and you can stay up to date at thebandvillages.com.
What makes this EP stand apart musically from your past work?
I think this project is really a logical continuation of our last record. We’ve started incorporating more modern elements like synths, samples and drum machines to accompany the more traditional instruments we typically employ. Having Phil Ek contribute also helped to push our sound forward.
So what was it like to have Phil Ek on board?
We’ve been big fans of Phil’s work for a long time. He’s had a hand in some of our favourite albums, so having him contribute to this project was incredible. He was such a great guy to work with and he really took the songs to another level.
Would you describe these songs as a preview of more new music you have in the works?
Yes! The EP definitely sets the mood for what we want to accomplish with our next record. We’ve been lucky enough to play some big stages since the first release and the new songs are definitely written for that setting. Hopefully we’re virus free in 2021 and can bring that energy live again. We’re all incredibly excited about the direction and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
How have you adapted to engaging with your audience during the lockdown?
We’re lucky to have an attentive social media following that we interact with every step of the way. As I’m sure it was the case with most bands, this was basically the only medium to reach people during the height of lockdown. We actually filmed a music video while we were all separately isolating at home! That was a new, but fun logistical challenge—we did all the filming and recording individually and then had the footage put together by our multi-talented friend, Glen Nicholson. It turned out great, and it was an excellent way to be productive, stay connected and share something with our audience while everything was locked down.
What's your mindset looking ahead to next year and the prospect of hopefully playing live?
We actually had a little taste of playing live a few weeks ago. We live in Atlantic Canada, and since there were no Covid cases out here, we got the chance to play some shows. Unfortunately, the virus has caught up to us again, we’re on lockdown and had to cancel our shows for the rest of the year. The prospect of touring again is super exciting, but until we can our focus is on staying safe and healthy and continuing to write and record music for our next album.