Artist Spotlight: Living Hour

    Hailing from Winnipeg, the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, Living Hour consists of Sam Sarty, Gil Carroll, and Adam Soloway, who’ve been making music together since 2014, and Brett Ticzon, who joined the group in 2018. After releasing their 2019 sophomore LP Softer Faces, a collection of evocative, emotionally incisive dream pop, the band 2020 writing demos and exchanging ideas remotely before convening to record its follow-up, Someday Is Today – out tomorrow – over seven straight days in the middle of winter. Placing a greater emphasis on collaboration, Living Hour enlisted three producers – Jay Som’s Melina Duterte, Jonathan Schenke, and Samur Khouja – to help flesh out the album’s already dynamic sound, and the result is at once their most playful and vulnerable effort yet, cohering together despite the variety of moods and songwriting perspectives. Sarty’s lyricism is complex without being alienating, a poetic assortment of memories and thoughts that need to be molded into shape before they inevitably fade. In the space between those poignant yet seemingly disconnected moments, between the void and everything, Living Hour capture glimpses of a shared feeling that often stays buried, or worse, forgotten.

    We caught up with Living Hour’s Sam Sarty for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about living in Winnipeg, the making of their third album, collaborating with Melina Duerte, and more.

    Could you share one thing that you love about Winnipeg that I wouldn’t be able to get from looking it up online?

    I try to explain it to people a lot, but for me, one thing that’s very specific that I realized there isn’t elsewhere when we’re touring is just the amount of space that there is. There’s so much space everywhere. Going to New York or busier cities, I’m always looking for the edge of the city. I’m like, “Okay, now where does it end?” Where I live it’s just a circle, there’s this road that’s called the Perimeter highway and it just goes around. And then you zoom out – I always go into Google Maps and start zooming out just to see. Our province is massive, and we’re the major city, and it’s a small town kind of vibe. But even though it’s over a million people, you still have that feeling that, if I wanted to drive like 45 minutes that way, I could get to nowhere. And that’s really comforting, knowing that.

    It’s also a really powerful place. It has the Forks, these two rivers that converge, and it’s a really sacred place for indigenous peoples as well. We have a massive indigenous population in Manitoba. There’s just a lot of energy happening in this place because there’s been people living there for thousands and thousands of years, meeting there at the Forks.  And that’s something I feel like in photos you would never really be like, “Oh yeah, that river…” Because the river, it doesn’t look great, it’s super muddy. But it’s a powerful current, so people would take that to travel and move around Canada back in the day. That’s a good piece of why Winnipeg exists, it’s built around that. I think people forget that sometimes.

    Do you think it’s easy to forget when you’re living there?

    I guess if you tune into it, then you’re kind of more into that wavelength. But a lot of Canada is obviously very colonial and it’s a huge settler base, there’s also a lot of new people coming into Winnipeg. So it’s like, people whose families have been there forever, indigenous people, and then there are settlers who are coming from – there’s a huge Ukrainian population, a huge Icelandic population. We have a massive Nigerian population, Indian population, Filipino population. Winnipeg’s really special for that too, and it’s constantly shifting and changing. I was born on the east coast of Canada and my family lineage comes from Newfoundland, another province way far, like the farthest edge of Canada. I’ve always wanted to go back, but it’s like $1,500 or something. It’s like, you can go to Europe instead. But I’ve lived here since I was like two years old. We moved here basically for jobs, it was easier to get jobs here.

    That’s why I’m here, and I just never left. [laughs] I just live here now. It’s a really interesting place, people are always coming and going. There’s another Winnipeg artist, The Weakerthans’ John K. Samson has a song, ‘Left and Leaving’, and I find that that does a really good job of encapsulating that feeling of space, it being kind of liminal. You’re in between the entire country, you’re right in the middle, and you’re just kind of floating. You’re living there, but then you’re like, “Should I move to Montreal? Should I move to Toronto? Should I move to Vancouver?” But I don’t know, it’s special in its own way, and there’s a really good community here.

    It’s something you also delve into on ‘Miss Miss Miss’, which is about exactly that; staying in the place where you grew up. What was your headspace like when you wrote it?

    Yeah, that song is a nod to growing up in a place, teenager to young adult, and now being an adult in the same place is something that feels really strange to me. And Winnipeg, I’ve left a whole bunch and always come back, so that feeling of being somewhere that you’ve already been but at another time in your life, and then you’re back again as a different version of yourself. I always kind of imagined maps of where I’ve been through the city, my path and which one I took the most. Kind of like a palimpsest, how you can write and then you keep writing and writing and writing on top of the same piece of paper, but all the writing still there – but where I’ve walked around, and I can see it from the bird’s eye view, everywhere that I’ve been.

    One of the biggest paths that I’ve taken – there’s just one road that goes through Winnipeg, and it’s called Portage Avenue. And there was this bar, the Palomino club, that would have the sign on the side of the road and I would always stare at the sign. Because when I’m driving that road, it’s like autopilot, I don’t have to think anymore; I know the lights, my body knows it more than my brain does. So my brain can just kind of take a vacation and just stare at the signs, and that was a big beacon for me as a child, as a teenager. I went there for one of my first bar nights, and they had like booty shake Monday, you could win $500. [laughs] Little memories sprinkled throughout all of Winnipeg, but that sign I guess for me was something that I would always hone in on. Because there’s nothing really to look at in Winnipeg, but the sky helps, so that horse would always help me to look up there.

    Are there any other things or memories that have a symbolic significance for you in relation to Winnipeg, that maybe now as an adult or growing up developed feelings of a bit of grief or nostalgia around? Because I know that sign was torn down, for example.

    Yeah, I mean, I feel like a lot of how I write my lyrics are through symbols. It’s hard for me to understand my own emotions sometimes or name them, so I feel like the whole record is kind of me trying to explain a memory or a feeling. [laughs] But ‘Lemons and Gin’, for example, that whole song is something I wrote down in my journal after going to the grocery store. It was like -47, and I was living at my mom’s house in the basement on an air mattress. And it gets pitch black here at like 5pm in the winter, and in the morning, it’s pitch black by 8am. So if you don’t wake up before then, you just don’t see the sun, really, unless you’re out and about during the day. So I went to the grocery store at night, and it was rough, it was a really hard time. I don’t know if that’s the memory that you’re you’re seeking there, but just little things like that, like going into a bright place and you’re bundled, you have so many layers on.

    There’s also ‘Hold Me in Your Mind’, that whole song, I’m just imagining walking back to my old apartment across this one specific bridge and it’s really calming and beautiful. I’m obsessed with Florist’s The Birds Outside Sang, I remember the year when it came out, I just listened to that record like every day and would walk across the same bridge and just meditate on the sun hitting the water, and that’s all I had to worry about. Just kind of focusing in on the tiny bits of nature that are sprinkled out throughout Winnipeg, which is this very flat, seemingly dire place.

    A lot of the songs on the album deal in some way with dissociation. But I feel like a lot of the time, when you’re in that kind of state, your mind hones in on certain things or connections that you wouldn’t be able to tune into otherwise. I don’t know if you feel like, in order to get in touch with that creative part of yourself, you almost have to detach a little bit.

    Yeah. I guess even just reflecting on it, because my surroundings are so familiar and so the same, and if change happens very slowly physically around me, I do feel in my imagination, my mind takes vacations and does other things to be like, “What about this? This is interesting.” [laughs] Like, “What if we changed the way today looks and feels?” Because the outside’s gonna be the same, so what if you do that instead. Thinking about it now, it’s definitely something I’ve done for my whole life, that kind of… playfulness? Even though sometimes it’s not my choice, and I’ll just head right in and I’m like, “Okay, this is the ride we’re taking today.” But I definitely think that it helps with creating and getting into those nooks and crannies of your head, thoughts and ideas and where you want to go and what you want to think about. But some days it sucks, because you’re like, “I didn’t want it, but it’s happening.” [laughs]

    I know the songs on Someday is Today were assembled piece by piece during the pandemic, but had you already written parts of them before 2020?

    Yeah, a lot of the ones that I was the lead on I had written either words or had a voice memo of me playing with my guitar or the Casio. And songs like ‘Exploding Rain’, Gil had that completely written and done, and we just helped add things. And [Adam] Solly’s song ‘Curve’, he just sent us a voice memo one day, and it was him and his guitar and he had all the words and everything done, and it was just so heartbreaking and great. I feel like it’s it’s interesting how they all come together, but there were definitely pieces from before. Constantly keeping an archive is something that helps, with the voice memos and videos and tiny things, both when we’re together and when we’re apart.

    I don’t know if this affected the songs in any way, but how did the isolation of the pandemic feel different from the seclusion that you were already used to?

    Honestly, I kind of was into it for the first maybe six or seven months. [laughs] I was like, “Oh, amazing, we can stop! Everyone has permission to stop. You can just not do anything anymore.” So I felt suddenly privileged with so much time, and it felt good knowing that the rest of the world was also stopping. Because Winnipeg is always going its own speed, and it always has and always will be going kind of the same speed. And it was nice knowing that the rest of the world had to stop too, and almost maybe come down to do this slower version of life that kind of exists where I am. Obviously, attitudes were shifting and changing a bit throughout. And I think the biggest positive thing that came from it was reaching out more to people online and having those collaborations happen over Zoom with Melina, with Jay Som. That was really great. I was like, “Oh, we’re friends, but through the computer, and now we just have to meet.” [laughs] It felt good to use that resource a bit more, because we hadn’t before, we were just touring really hard.

    How do you feel like working with three different producers ended up shaping the record?

    It was interesting to see what each producer did with the songs and hearing their different styles come through. Again, just really looking to get a lot of collaboration happening. Because we were writing the songs that way, we’re like, “Let’s just get people that get it and get them to come in too, and then we can get the song to be shaped even further.” But I like how the album is so dynamic, and those are my favourite albums, they just take you on a ride. It was a good experience, for sure.

    How did you reach out to Melina Duerte specifically?

    A long time ago, we played a show with Melina at this South By thing. We were just chatting there, and then Chastity Belt came to play Winnipeg at one of the bars that we have, and Melina was on tour with them. Living Hour was playing, and we hung out. And I just remember that backstage energy was so great. I was like, “Oh my gosh. [laughs] I love everyone here, this is so nice.” I just had such a great night, and then afterwards followed up, like, “Hey, would you ever want to produce songs for us?” So just kind of organically I guess, but very specifically moments when we touched base and connected and it felt good.

    You recorded the album in Winnipeg in the depths of winter. What are your memories of that time?

    We recorded at this new recording studio that opened in Winnipeg called No Fun Club. I remember every day, we bundled up and went. The person who made the studio said that he decorated it himself, and he said that it looks like a vampire steakhouse. [laughs] We were like, “Yes, it does.” It was very gothic, there’s chandeliers everywhere. He’s like, “I don’t even know why I bought this. I just bought it.” It was pretty funny to just be in this really dark vampire steakhouse every day, and then we were having a grand old time recording. We knew the songs at this point – we had to postpone the recording because of COVID, we were supposed to In October, so we did it in January. We were ready. We also had some amazing shashuka from Gil’s friend, he came and made us some incredible shashuka. And I ascended, my voice got better. [laughs] I’ll always remember that because I was so cold and tired, and then revived by the great breakfast.

    I wanted to single out this couplet from ‘Middle Name’: “I say a little, I say a lot/ Every speck of something means something to me.” That second line on its own is really resonant, but I love how it ties into the rest of the lyrics. The way I pieced it together, I feel like it’s about the struggle of trying to control how much space you take up, even if it’s never enough to hold everything that fills you with hope or meaning.

    Yeah, that’s a very good way of looking at the whole picture. Because that song is about so many things, but that’s a really nice way to look at it. Especially that song, a lot of the feeling is the space that you take, and how everything just exists on a micro and macro level all the time, constantly, forever. And it’s just very much like, where do you go in that? What do you do? As a person, you take up space – but also in your mind, how that space can exist is definitely how I was thinking, and every small thing is its own story that either I created or I’m interacting with. The first part is just doing dishes, where also I was thinking about my phone and washing a glass, because I’m always touching glass – a cell phone is a piece of glass, and you always have your thumbs on it and touching it and interacting with it, but the world that’s through it and within it is so fake, and you can’t actually touch any of that. I believe that it’s heartbreaking, feeling that you have to – I feel like a lot of people live with it, but they don’t think about it – like, Oh, this is the way life is, we’re now in the Metaverse. And it’s like, I don’t – wait, can we talk about it? [laughs]

    A lot of those themes, and then going into ‘Middle Name’, I was also thinking about who you are from a DNA perspective, like a physical, body perspective. I exist because two other people existed and my ancestors existed, and what does that mean? Where are they now? Would they ever think about this? That’d be kind of cool. And then thinking about, you never asked to live but you do now. You’re assigned a middle name, and I didn’t choose it, my mom did. And just feeling like those decisions and that world that happens before you happen, it just lives in you somewhere but I don’t know where – if it ever blooms or does what it needs to. There’s so much in that song that for me. It’s very emotional, for sure.

    How does doing this – writing music, living where you are, being in Living Hour – help you see yourself with more clarity?

    This record is definitely the most vulnerable and the closest to me on a page. And I think in putting this out, it’s giving me a bit of confidence to continue digging into me and into the band, to just make more, if it’s working. But even beyond that, it just feels good to express, to squeeze out whatever is happening – I was reading somewhere that the word “express” means “to squeeze out.” I’m really all about that now. You gotta squeeze out your emotions and let them out. Because energy won’t doesn’t care, it’s just going to do what it does.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Living Hour’s Someday Is Today is out September 2 via Kanine/Next Door Records.

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