INTERVIEW – Boy With An Atlas
It’s an exciting time for Boy With An Atlas. The local band, comprised of Riley Ducharme, Spencer Jones, Annette Amenta, and Stewart Crocker, are getting set to release a new EP and reintroduce fans to the band with a new sound. They also recently won McMaster’s annual Battle of the Bands. In good company, past winners of the competition include Arkells, The Dirty Nil, and Of Gentlemen and Cowards.
I spoke with the band after their Battle of the Bands win to learn more about them and what we can expect from their new EP!
I Heart Hamilton: I see that you first came together in 2011 (same year that I Heart Hamilton began!). Can you give a recap of how you all met and formed the band?
Riley: Spencer and I met in Brandon Hall as first years, and began jamming with an old acoustic guitar and the out-of-tune piano in the residence music room. We were soon joined by ex-members Simon and Jill, who played bass and trumpet respectively, and were both upper year students in my program, Arts & Science. When we moved out of residence, we started looking for a drummer, and finally found Stewart in our third year. Through him, we met our new bassist, Annette.
What’s the story behind your band name? I always thought it was a great name and calls to mind imagery of exploration. It reminds me of my “Be a tourist in your own city” mantra – that idea of exploring and seeking out your surroundings.
Spencer: When the band first started we had a very difficult time finding a name that represented what we wanted to portray. We first started as an unnamed band for our first show, but after some discussion settled briefly on the name ‘Lost in London’ for one show. However, we were never fully happy with that choice. Riley decided to make the change by picking a number of words he liked and putting them in various combinations. The band then put their initials around the combinations they liked best. ‘Boy With An Atlas’ happened to be the only combination that had all four of our initials by the end of the selection process. While this seems to be a rather random selection I think it actually represents us quite well in a number of ways. Riley has been well-travelled throughout his life living in places ranging from Cuba to Sweden. Additionally, I think our music represents an atlas quite well, taking musical influences from bands from various places around the world.
Congratulations on your win at MSU Campus Events’ Battle of the Bands! Have you found McMaster to be a supportive community when starting out as a band? Have you had the opportunity to play gigs on campus and connect with other musicians?
Spencer: Thanks! I think McMaster has been an amazing place for us to develop as a band and has really helped us connect with others. I think it really says something for the McMaster music community that so many great bands have started here including The Arkells, The Dirty Nil, Inlet Sound and one of my favourites, Peter and the Crimson Horse. It really feels that McMaster students get behind their bands. They were the ones behind the creation of so many coffeehouse and fundraiser shows throughout the city that really helped get our name out into the larger community and help us build a fan-base. Also, as you mentioned, the Battle of the Bands organized by MSU Campus Events has done so much for the bands at McMaster in terms of promotion on a larger scale. In my opinion the Battle of the Bands finals was the best, most well organized show we have ever played (great job Lucas + team!).
As part of the prize for Battle the Bands, you had the opportunity to record at legendary Catherine North Studios with producer and engineer moon:and:6 (Michael Chambers). What was that experience like?
Riley: I am currently writing this from the basement at Catherine North Studios as our rhythm section records the bed for our new track ‘Work It Out’ upstairs. The studio is an ex-church, with gorgeous stained-glass windows and high ceilings—we love it here! But this is actually our second time at Catherine North this semester; we recorded four songs with Mike Monson here during February Break. We were so pleased to get the opportunity to come back again, and we’re having a great time working with Michael Chambers (moon:and:6)!
When I first saw you, you had a folk sound and released previous material in that genre (the EP Doors of Dublin in 2013, recorded with Michael Keire at Threshold). Now you have switched up your sound for a more indie rock style – what brought about that change?
Riley: Our original instruments, as well as the limited space we used them in, gave rise to our initial folk singer-songwriter sound. By the end of second year, however, we had started to accumulate more equipment and began experimenting with different sounds, especially with keyboards and electric guitars. The addition of Stewart as a (loud) drummer also challenged us to match his volume and love for high tempo songs. We found this electrifying (pun intended), and both Spencer and I invested in electric guitars, and I began writing songs using a DAW rather than an acoustic guitar. Altogether, the change was quite gradual and very natural. But I don’t expect it to stop here. We want to keep exploring exciting sounds and grow as musicians. Currently, we are working to incorporate more synths into our music and are looking for a permanent fifth member to help us do this.
What can we expect from your next EP?
Spencer: I think from the first few seconds of our EP it will become apparent that this is not the same band that started four years ago. I would say the songs that comprise the next EP really show the versatility of this band as each of the songs are very different in their own respects but still manage to fit nicely next to one another. I think the one thing that people should expect is melodies that will stick with you. I think this is one area we have improved dramatically since our first EP – making music that gets stuck in your head. Also, just like on the first EP, one thing I think that can also be expected is great, yet catchy lyrics.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Spencer: I would say as a band we are all very different in what influences us musically. Personally, I consider myself a music nerd and listen to many different artists that span various genres of music all which influence the way I think and write music. I would say my biggest influences are bands that have come from the Manchester music scene or were directly influenced by bands originating from that scene. That mentioned, some of these bands include The Smiths (Johnny Marr), Oasis (Noel G), The Stone Roses, New Order, The 1975, The Killers, Catfish + The Bottlemen, etc.
Other artists that have played a major role in influencing us during the song writing stage include David Bowie and Iggy Pop, but I also think we can also credit pop music as a whole (and its various artists). While some people correlate pop music to ‘selling out’, I think it says something to be able to write a song that has great musical and lyrical meaning but is still accessible to everyone. I think many of the aforementioned artists have been able to create great music for the masses without sacrificing artistic integrity and that is also what we aim to achieve.
How does songwriting work within the band? Does it start with one person bringing an idea to the table, or do songs come out of jamming together?
Riley: It depends. When we were a folk band, I would write full songs with my acoustic guitar, bring it to the band, and they would just sort of join in by jamming along. But as our music evolved, and continues to evolve, so does the songwriting. Writing with a DAW, for example, has been incredibly useful since it’s allowed me to map out rough drafts of each of the parts, resulting in a much more intricate sound. Of course, each band member fine-tunes their own parts and makes them their own during practices, and this is how all of our individual musical influences start to shine through. We have never really written songs by jamming, but we have certainly reworked songs as a band—for example, the bridge for our coming single was totally re-written in a practice as the four of us worked it through until it felt right. These types of sessions are essential parts of the songwriting process, since recorded ideas don’t always sound quite right in a live format, and sometimes things simply need re-working!
More recently, the songwriting has become more collaborative. Spencer has been coming out with some great instrumental ideas for songs (again, using a DAW), which he has passed onto me so that I can work on vocal melodies and lyrics. I’ve been really enjoying this, since it allows me place more focus on the lyrics and go a little bit deeper, which is something that often gets compromised if you’re too busy focusing on the overall sound.
We’ll see you this Friday, May 8th, during the first Raise the Roof concert of the year at Dr. Disc (presented by I Heart Hamilton and Hamilton Magazine)! Everyone who is checking out Art Crawl that evening will have to come by – music starts at 6pm! What else is next for the band?
Riley: We’re really looking forward to the show! This month, we will also release our new single and music video. Look out for that! We will be really pushing our coming EP and using it to land more gigs that allow us to make connections with bands of a similar genre. We’re also hoping to expand out of Hamilton a little bit, and represent our city at shows elsewhere in Ontario. But our main focus will still be local—we’re hoping to continue integrating ourselves into the Hamilton music scene.
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton: The Express Italian Eatery (Westdale)
Favourite breakfast food: Mini Wheats
If you were a drink, what would you be? A tall, cool glass of water
Your go-to karaoke song: “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – The Smiths
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be? Manchesterian
Favourite word: Aurora
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen: The Killers, Coldplay, The Dirty Nil
What is on your playlist right now: The Magic Whip – Blur, Glitterbug -The Wombats, Young Chasers – Circa Waves, Adventure – Madeon
If you could take a detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Iceland/England
Favourite mode of transportation: Hoverboard
What’s one thing on your bucket list: To be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton: Tatemono Sushi on King West
Favourite breakfast food: French toast
If you were a drink, what would you be? Rye and ginger
Your go-to karaoke song: “Stacey’s Mom”
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be? British accent
Favourite word: Complimentary
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen: Alexisonfire December 2010 in Thunder Bay
What is on your playlist right now: Arctic Monkeys, Alabama Shakes, illscarlett, UB40, the Arkells, Mos Def, Big Wreck, July Talk, Queens of the Stoneage
If you could take a detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Cuba, I need a vacation
Favourite mode of transportation: Driving
What’s one thing on your bucket list: Travel to England.
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton: Express Italian Eatery
Favourite breakfast food: Sausage
If you were a drink, what would you be? COFFEE
Your go-to karaoke song: “My Girl” – The Temptations
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be? Scottish
Favourite word: Eloquence
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen: Cheerleader, Life in Film, The Wombats
What is on your playlist right now: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (lols), Hozier, Arctic Monkeys, Amber Run, Tokyo Police Club, The Vaccines, Wildlife, Daughter
If you could take a detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? The Austrian National Library in Vienna
Favourite mode of transportation: Bicycle
What’s one thing on your bucket list: To master the art of polyglotism.
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton: NaRoma Pizza
Favourite breakfast food: Pancakes
If you were a drink, what would you be? An amber beer: a bit bitter at first, but I’ll soon be your favourite
Your go-to karaoke song: “Golden Slumbers” – The Beatles
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be? South African
Favourite word: Pulchritudinous
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen: Arcade Fire, 2010
What is on your playlist right now: Daughter, David Bowie, Future Islands, The Arkells, The Wombats, Ben Howard
If you could take a detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Lac Léman, Switzerland
Favourite mode of transportation: Train
What’s one thing on your bucket list: Fall in love
Thanks, guys! Looking forward to hearing what comes next!