Last September, I heard rumblings of a new act called Yeryard. Learning that this new band was a duo who sings in unison and recorded their album in a church, I got hear a tiny sample of a song courtesy of “Parkside” Mike Renaud at Hidden Pony, the band’s label. The minute or so I heard was enough to pique my interest and I was excited to hear more from Steve McKay (trivia – Steve’s band Bruce Peninsula was the second band I ever interviewed!) and Alex Samaras.
One of their earliest performances was an informal show at The Baltimore House in February. The event was a unique concept called Workshop that Steve put together, giving some already-established musicians a chance to debut new material they have been working on. Steve and Alex played a few songs, and I was absolutely floored. I see and hear a ton of music, but when something comes along that has this rare, magical quality, I just know it when I feel it. From there I chatted with Steve about the band on 93.3 CFMU before they played one of the official JUNOs showcases.
Before a name change to Twin Within, the duo played an intimate show in April at Church of St. John the Evangelist (otherwise known as The Rock on Locke). Joining forces with trio Vox Metropolis, they played their original material along with a mixture of classical pieces and other covers. The beautiful space was also the site of their Southern Souls video for “Tunnel to the Reservoir.”
Twin Within’s debut album Horizontal Lines was released July 10th on Hidden Pony and I caught them again at Mills Hardware for the album’s release party and again in Toronto at Horseshoe Tavern. For these shows, they recruited musicians Benjamin Theodore, David Appleyard, and Ryan Fisher (of local band Dizzy Spells) as their band, which turned out to be an awesome match.
That was a long preamble for this interview, but suffice to say I’m really stoked about Twin Within, and you should be too. I chatted with Steve and Alex to delve a little deeper into this beautiful musical pairing. Don’t miss them this weekend at Supercrawl!
I Heart Hamilton: Can you give a quick recap of how the two of you met? When did you first decide to team up to make music together?
Alex: Steve and I met on Bloor Street near the Royal Conservatory. I was walking with my friend Tavis and he knew Steve from Hamilton. When we parted ways with Steve, Tavis said “Steve writes amazing songs…”
Steve: I remember Alex came out to a show at the Tranzac in Toronto about a 6 or 7 years ago. My pal Tavis Weir (fellow Hamiltonian) was splitting the bill with me and he introduced us. I knew Alex was an INCREDIBLE talent and he seemed into my songs, so I asked him to sing with me. Lucky break – he said yes.
You have a very unique sound and are making music that you don’t hear in contemporary bands. Did the two of you bond over similar musical influences?
A: Sure do! We both love group singing. Hilliard ensemble, Bach’s Passions. We also love the old crooners and Scott Walker. I think our sound is influenced by those types of artists for sure.
S: Yeah – we both happen to come from the Jazz and Classical world. Some people come from Jazz. Some people come from Classical. Alex and I come at it from both.
Simon and Garfunkel is the easiest comparison to make with you guys, albeit a great one! Was it hard to find your own sound, and not be strictly a throwback to that older style, but incorporate a modern, new twist to it?
S: It’s funny because the S&G thing happened without any real influence of S&G. Basically, if you take two male voices and have them sing in unison, that’s how it sounds. As for the modern vibe, we didn’t make a conscious effort to do anything in particular. We just picked our favourite sounds and put them on the record.
A: It wasn’t hard to find our sound. We just sort of do our thing, and you get to hear the sound and relate to whoever it relates to for you.
How does songwriting work with the band? Does it begin with Steve and Alex adds layers to the songs from there?
A: Steve writes the songs and usually has an idea of how my vocals will be involved. Looking ahead I think we’re going to write a bit together and work out the arrangements in whatever way that happens.
S: I’ve always got a picture in my head of how a song is going to sound and then Alex comes in and takes it in a different direction. The improvised bits in songs like “Night Danger” or “As Always” are pure Alex. A lot of it came together in the recording process, to be honest.
Lyrically, you’ve said the songs on Horizontal Lines are about “adult life.” Is it difficult to find inspiration for songs?
A: I think Steve just has a knack for writing about life. And his lyrics seem to come last in most cases, which is interesting to me because they’re deeeeeeeep.
S: It’s actually liberating to write songs about my adult life, instead of writing love songs or protest songs or party anthems. It’s like, I’ve got a kid and a wife and a house and a bunch of debt and a full-time job and friends and family to think about. That’s what my life is and to write about anything else would be insincere. I don’t really party anymore and I’ve been in a relationship for 12 years. Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of anxiety about making a good life for my son, so I can write about that. I love the way that it feels to walk into a building and the way the architecture makes you feel, so I can write a song about that. Right now I’m writing about how you can ignore the people you love most to keep strangers happy.
I first saw you live during that Workshop you organized at Baltimore House back in February. You were joined by Dylan Hudecki and Dan Empringham for that set. Was that the first time you played your music for an audience? How did those early performances help shape the direction of your live performances?
S: Yeah – that was basically our first show. We’ve played as a duo a couple times over the last few years, but that doesn’t really count. If you think about it, we’ve only played live 5 times.
A: They were fun and we got to play around and take chances. I love playing with Steve ’cause he’s open to my improvisatory energy and sort of let’s me do my thing. So those first shows were good to see what sort of chances we could take and how far we could go with the songs.
Your collaboration with Vox Metropolis was really special. It has become a real trend (a good one!) for Hamilton musicians to do cross-genre collaborations with orchestras and classical musicians. Do you plan on doing more collaborations like that?
A: Y E S. Vox Metropolis is the best. And they work so well as an ensemble so Steve and I easily slip into the mix. And this will sound annoying, but it really is the best to play with nice people. If the vibe is right, the music part is easy.
S: We’ve got a couple shows lined up with Vox in November and I believe that includes something in Hamilton, TBA. I love that the crossover thing is happening more and more, although I’d love to see a little more collaboration happening. Right now, it’s like the classical peeps are giving up something by playing with the indie peeps. I’d love to see a Crossover collab where everybody is satisfied with their role.
Really excited to see that you are part of this year’s Supercrawl lineup! What can we expect from your performance?
S & A (in unison): CRAZINESS
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton:
A: Ummmmmm Steve’s house.
S: Memphis Fire BBQ (or my house)
Favourite breakfast food:
A: Home-made granola with banana.
S: Deep-fried peanut butter banana sandwiches
If you were a drink, what would you be?
A: SHIRLEY TEMPLE
S: Rusty Nail
Your go-to karaoke song:
A: Anything Prince
S: “Karate Man” by Super Friendz
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be?
A: Ummm I can’t remember the name of it but the accent-dialect that people from Barbados have.
S: Good question. Uhhh…Old Norse?
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen:
A: I just saw Jessie Mueller in the new Sarah Bareilles musical last week called “Waitress” and it was mind-blowing.
S: Ummm… tough question. I’m gonna go with Rage Against The Machine at Maple Leaf Gardens. I was 17… changed my life.
What is on your playlist right now:
A: My fave singer in Toronto right now: Sean Donald. And Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly
S: Mainly choral jams like Hilliard Ensemble. Just bought a 22-volume history of Rock N Roll from 1953 – 1959. Some real gems in there.
If you could take a detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
A: Camp Kandalore
Favourite mode of transportation:
A: Bicycle 4 Life
What’s one thing on your bucket list:
A: I want dogs.
S: Playing at half-time at a Ti-Cats game. Please make this happen for me.
My thanks to Steve and Alex for the chat! Make Twin Within part of your must-see list at Supercrawl this weekend.