“We wanted to do something different than what we normally do,” says The Body’s Lee Buford.
The Body and BIG|BRAVE are two bands that continue to alter the definition of what it means to be a heavy band. Their debut collaborative album, Leaving None But Small Birds, distills the two bands’ pioneering approach to heavy music into poems for the forgotten, requiems of lost love, and elegies to revenge.
“Both of us are always trying to push ourselves and experiment, so it made sense,” Buford continues. “Also, both of our bands have no real ego, and that’s what makes a good collaboration work. If someone is insistent on doing something their way it stifles things really quickly. We’re both open to going wherever the music is heading.”
“On our own, both bands are heavy and loud, but the main thing is that we all listen to so many different kinds of music,” BIG|BRAVE guitarist Mathieu Ball confirms. “Everyone in this crew is so open minded, which resulted in wanting to do something very different than what would have been expected of a collab.”
Buford set up the initial challenge to make an album that evoked the country and folk roots of The Band. “Wthought it would be cool to shoot for a record that was very influenced by The Band, since Levon Helm was from Arkansas and the rest of them were from Canada,” Buford says. “Me and Chip [King] are from Arkansas and BIG|BRAVE are from Canada, so it seemed fitting.”
“It was nice to make something that reflected the region [me and Chip] grew up in,” Buford continues. “We’ve always been a big fan of certain country music and blues. The themes are very similar to what I think me and Chip try to get across, basically the hardships of life.”
“I am personally so disheartened and more and more scared, I want to be hopeful, and hold on to the positive stories and elements with dear life, but it is so hard,” BIG|BRAVE’s Robin Wattie adds. “The accessibility and nature of these songs (with tales of heartache, loss, faith, love and death) isolate no one, except those who may not speak the language. However, due to the style of melodies and easy to follow rhythms, one may still glean a sort of essence of what the song is about. Easy to listen to, easy to understand, and thus, sing along to and feel.”
Wattie compiled lyrics and melodic lines from across Appalachian, Canadian, and English hymns and folk songs. Select phrases were then reworked and precisely arranged to center the experiences of marginalized characters, victims of hardship, and those yearning for love within each story. “I pored over hours and hours of sound recordings, videos, and archives of lyrics” Wattie says. “I studied melodies while compiling a set of themes based on the lyrical content. I chose the themes that were most common as an ode. However, due to a lot of misogyny, racist elements, I altered them to change the narrative and give the power back to the victims.”
Leaving None But Small Birds takes its name from the track “Polly Gosford,” whose lyrics evoke the alienation and isolation of the persecuted.: “He covered her grave / and hastened home / Leaving none but small birds / her fate to bemoan.”
“I picked out a few phrases from the entire album that would best represent its essence in its entirety,” Wattie recalls. “Leaving None But Small Birds was favoured because of the poetic, visual. and melancholic nature of the phrase. Death is a recurring theme throughout the entire album, and the victims are often isolated and alone when left to die, leaving only the flora and fauna to bemoan their tragedy. It’s a terribly beautiful phrase.”
Typical to The Body’s creative process, Leaving None But Small Birds was composed almost entirely in the studio at Machine With Magnets with engineer/producer Seth Manchester.
“As it was written during the recording process, it made for some very long days,” Ball remembers. “Each night when Seth went home, some of us worked well into the early morning hours trying to come up with ideas for the next day. As for the recording process, it was great to see people pick whatever instrument and had made contributions. No instrument was off limits during the session.”
“Seth is basically a member of both our bands at this point I think,” Buford says. “Seth’s great to work with because he’s a real and very deep music fan, so communicating with him is super easy. A lot of the stuff we do on our own and on this collab references so much music, so it’s helpful to work with someone who gets it and knows what we’re all shooting for.”
“Seth had a very crucial role in the making of this record,” Ball adds. “Not only did he produce it, he played all over it! The record easily could have been branded as a Body/BB/Seth Manchester collaboration.”
The Body and BIG|BRAVE aimed to challenge themselves to craft a fully realized and cohesive work that strayed outside the boundaries of the music they make individually.
“I love that this is the record that two loud and heavy bands made,” Ball continues. “As I said, the easiest route to have taken would have been to set up two drum kits, plug in all the amps and make a heavy record. But we took a chance and I believe we are all very proud of what we accomplished together.”
BIG|BRAVE’s roots as a minimalist folk band and The Body’s love of old-time, country blues, and folk music enable the quintet to strike a formidable balance between sorrowful lamentation and uplifting resolve, to weighty effect. Leaving None But Small Birds bonds together two monumental, innovative forces that render the emotionally profound with lucid, devastating vitality.
Photo courtesy of Mathieu Ball.