When you’re starting out with a new band, fear is a useful survival skill. It makes sense to keep a low profile while you try your awkward first steps, so most groups take their time before they go public. If that’s the rule, then Vancouver indie band Proud Animal is brazenly ignoring it. They’re releasing their debut, self-titled EP a scant four months after forming. In that time, they’ve also booked tours through Northern BC and across Canada and started work on an interdisciplinary show that will premier this summer at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. Crazy? The band prefers “audacious.”
Don’t get them wrong: it’s still terrifying. Pouring your own money into a new project has a special kind of sting when you’re a full-time, independent artist, like band leaders Gavin Youngash and Barbara Adler. Luckily, there’s a rich history of musical risk-takers to look up to. Take organist Larry Young: in the late 70’s he played electric free jazz on the lawn of the White House in an attempt to make it levitate. Proud Animal loves that story, the same way it loves the gorgeous slop of a one-note Neil Young guitar solo, or Patti Smith screaming poetry over her rock band.
The material on Proud Animal fulfills this fascination with the unconventional. Its six songs make a constellation of sounds that defy easy genre labels: there’s the folk anthem (‘Leave the Radio On’), the grunge power ballad (‘Alice’), and an art rock mini-epic (‘Light was Young’). What unites these tracks is the band’s rejection of formulaic songwriting and production. Every song has its idiosyncrasies, like a rhythm track built out of de-tuned drum hits and autoharp strums (‘Little Hinge’). Engineering and co-production by Leo-winner Matthew Rogers helps explain why these choices sound as good as they do. The EP’s rich palate of over-driven guitars, glass-toned keyboards, and reverb-washed instrumentals make Proud Animal a self-assured opening salvo from a band that celebrates non-conformism.
If strutting confidence is an unspoken theme of this release, some listeners might be surprised by the lack of diva-style wailing or testosterone-dripping guitar solos. Instead, Adler and Youngash’s intimate, character-filled voices present lyrical content that blends poetic insight and storytelling. Likewise, the instrumental arrangements fall on the side of “pretty” as often as they wallow in fuzz pedals and distortion. The band members' own backgrounds are the raw material for this unconventional take on confidence. Guitarist Gavin Youngash is a highly sought-after session player for jazz, blues and rock projects, best known for his complex instrumental arrangements for Fusion septet The Star Captains. Keyboardist Barbara Adler honed her sharp ear for a lyric over years of touring as a solo storyteller, and as the accordion player for CFMA-nominated folk-poetry group, The Fugitives. It’s a strange pairing for an indie band--but again, there’s no need to name that “crazy.” It’s just another example of the happy audacity that’s driving this band forward.
Proud Animal is celebrating their debut by inviting fans to submit photographs of themselves which capture their own reckless confidence. Levitating a parliament building? Strutting? They want to see it. Photographs will be showcased alongside the band’s photos of great audacious acts on their website.