The energetic Winnipeg-based indie rock band Boats take care of their own happiness first.
Reviews of A Fairway Full of Miners reference the unusually high voice of the singer for Winnipeg's Boats. Even the band bio on Kill Rock Stars' website mentions "Mat Klachefsky’s bizarre vocal chords" - a voice that doesn't seem unusually high to me, certainly not for pop music. Boats' poppy indie rock is certainly eccentric, as song titles such as "Advice on Bioluminescent Bears" and "O Jumbotron" might suggest. "The nurses will gather together and laugh at the animated gifs," voices sing, answered by a men's chorus who finish the thought: "and all your friends will turn to shit."
Despite the air of exuberance and whimsy, Klachefsky insists that all the songs are about something. "I know what I'm talking about," he says. "I think it ruins it if I tell anybody else."
Boats play the Circle Bar Sunday night with Montreal's Patrick Krief, and the band has toured North America regularly since 2007. While it's making inroads, the quality of venues Boats perform in vary radically. They played a beautiful venue in Portland, but "the night before we played an all-ages in what was essentially a dank, dark garage," Kalchefsky says. "There was no stage, just a corner, and none of the gear worked."
Klachefsky sings and writes the songs, working them out through a process of making demos. It's a process that goes back to his introduction to the Winnipeg music scene. From the start, he and friends would make tracks to show off to each other. They formed their own indie label to release compilations of their tracks with no real idea of what they were doing. Musically, he was influenced by Modest Mouse, Neutral Milk Hotel, Grandaddy and the bands on the Matador Records' 10th anniversary compilation. "I tell people I don't listen to music from before 1998," he says.
He still writes through the demo process, laying down a part or section to help him decide what goes with it. "Some of these songs have a hundred versions lying around somewhere," Klachefsky says. "In demos, you can hear cars driving by, and the metal band practicing next door comes through." Once he has finished them, he takes the demos to the band to cut, so even though A Fairway Full of Miners sounds like friends entertaining each other, he says that's what happens on tour more than in the studio. "I'm not good at most instruments, so they played all the hard parts," he says.
Despite Klachefsky's disparagement of his technical abilities, Boats works with an ambitious music palate. His and other voices sing together, in harmony, in answer, and to fill musical space with a little more melody. Horns work their way into "Great Skulls," while a low, not-found-in-nature synth squiggle introduces "Sad Legs." Perhaps because of Klachefsky's attitude toward his own musical abilities, he doesn't treat any of the sounds preciously or give them anymore respect than they deserve. They exist to move the songs forward. On A Fairway Full of Miners, the songs have "buddies" - "Advice on Bears" and "Advice on Bioluminescent Bears," "We Got Pillow And Blankets" and "We Got Tables And Chairs" for example - some of which are musically related, some of which aren't.
"It's a way to amuse myself," Katchefsky says. "It was happening naturally, and I decided to go all the way with it."
Boats' songs aren't funny, but they have a definite sense of humor that's in keeping with the band's enthusiastic catchiness. The songs' first job is to amuse him - "Why else would I be doing this?" Klachefsky says - and that reflects an attitude that borders on a mission statement. "I think it's very important. Nobody should be taking themselves too seriously."
My Spilt Milk presents Boats and Patrick Krief Sunday at the Circle Bar at 10 p.m. We're giving away a pair of tickets to the show. To register to win them, sign up here.