Growing up in Western Canada, you learn some regional stereotypes that, while mostly inoffensive, ring true. Your friends in British Columbia will have an affinity for the environment, the outdoors, organic foods and an aversion to nine-to-five jobs. Your pals in Alberta will work and play harder than anyone you’ve ever met and will put down 16 hour days as easy as 16 ounces of rye. Your besties in Saskatchewan are salt-of-the-earth folks who would gladly give you the shirt off their back — just hope its not when they’re wearing a Riders jersey. As for your buddies in Manitoba? They’re playing in some rad band outta Winnipeg.
Federal Lights is one of those aforementioned bands. The sweeping indie rock outfit was formed in 2011 after front man Jean-Guy Roy’s previous act, The Morning After, disbanded. “After that band fell apart,” says Roy, “I took a couple years off and had some kids then slowly started doing solo acoustic stuff. It grew from a bedroom project to myself and Rob (Mitchell), my bassist, and we just wrote all the parts.”
Following the addition of a couple more members, Federal Lights released the six-song EP, Carbon, which received notable critical acclaim for a first effort. More recently, the band recorded the full-length We Were Found in the Fog with engineer Cam Loeppky (Weakerthans, Imaginary Cities, Cannon Bros, Greg MacPherson) on Toronto’s Aporia Records. Two of the tracks from the album hit Number 1 on the CBC Radio 3 Top 30 and are still in steady rotation.
Given the intensely lyrically drive present in the band, Roy states that “these words come from a personal place. Conversations I hear on the bus or my view from a person saying a single word and it builds an idea. Just from the one word. Maybe that’s a process I’ve used for a long time but it’s different for every song, as is every first-hand experience.” When asked about the sombre tone of some of the songs, he responds, “I don’t find a song like, ‘This Would be A Great Job to Retire From,’ depressing per se. I am writing like I’m seeing beauty in tragedy. I always have a positive spin on the lyrics. I can see how people could see it as a downer. But it’s a realization that you come to, to overcome where you are. That song broke borders for me and allowed me to move on in my life. So I consider it a very strong and uplifting song for me.”
The near future holds a summer and fall tour coupled with another visit to Germany for Federal Lights. Along with another record and everything that comes with building a fan base. Roy credits Winnipeg for the band’s focus. “I think unfortunately the cliché answer about bands from here is that it’s the weather, the size of city and our landscape. That the elements that force us to hibernate or bundle up to face them. Our geography in that we’re eight hours to Regina or Saskatoon and Toronto is 24 hours east. As artists, we gain strength from the isolation. That strength allows us to focus on our writing.”
Federal Lights will play at the SAIT Gateway (Calgary) on January 23.
By Spencer Brown