As far as I'm concerned, pop music is the most exciting frontier for musical innovation. From the mainstream radio-friendly mash-ups of Beyonce, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber down to your favorite neighborhood indie pop band or danceable electronic act, pop music is encompassing of a wide world of sounds, full of ground-breaking firsts. Yet it's safe to say that in the current indie music climate, with its constant breaking and building of narrow-minded subgenres like dream pop, vaporwave, chillwave, and the like, oversaturation often leads to myriad bands which sound more or less identical. Of these, most lack a truly distinguishing spark that makes them stand out. Which is why I get really excited upon the discovery of pop bands who don't easily fit in anywhere, and are able to -- if not reinvent it -- at least give the wheel a furious and energetic spin. My latest and greatest finding lies in Royal Canoe, a group of musicians from the uncommon birthing ground of Winnipeg, Canada. While undoubtedly considered "indie pop" by any wide-casting use of the term, Royal Canoe aren't actually easy to define, especially with non-abstract terminologies. With two drummers, two keyboardists, and four vocalists, the six-member band is kind of all over the place stylistically -- yet somehow, it just works. Royal Canoe Band Interview After talking to Royal Canoe's vocalist and guitarist Matt Peters, I came to realize that what sets Royal Canoe apart from other indie pop bands is not exactly the genre tags they fall under -- of which there are many -- but their fascinating communal character. For a pop band, they are remarkably tenacious. They make a point of having extremely high standards for creation and performance, in service of being the best musicians they can be. Any self-imposed rules they have set for themselves are balanced by a willingness to share artistic duties, as well as an openness to inspiration and experimentation.
"I think everyone definitely has an appreciation for letting their voice be heard but also trying to reach a greater good..." -- Matt Peters

 

In Hinduism, there is a term called Shaktipat, in which a guru transmits enlightenment by their very presence. Considering the places that some of us here at REDEFINE Magazine have voyaged to while listening to the music of Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti, solo musicians who are also collectively known as Barn Owl, we decided to harangue the duo with a bunch of questions about meditation, to see how much they had seen in such altered spaces. Barn Owl's music seems custom-made for the sweat lodge or meditation hall. As you listen to an amalgam of tribal percussion, temple bells, cosmic synths, and rustic American transcendentalism, you can practically smell the sweet sage burning. Their music knows no bounds, and as such, is a ritual that everybody can take part in. As increasing amounts of people and culture make demands on our time and attention, the ability to find a quiet, sacred space becomes essential. Barn Owl's portable ashram is a precious resource -- you can strap on a pair of headphones and find some space on a crowded train or a busy street to reflect. They encourage us to slow down, and find a little peace. Barn Owl's latest full-length album, V, is out now on Thrill Jockey Records. PURCHASE BARN OWL's V ON AMAZON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY MASTERS; ABOVE ARTWORK BY EMILY FRASER

Jon Porras

"Into Midnight" from Black Mesa

Evan Caminiti

"Fading Dawn" from Dreamless Sleep

Barn Owl

"Void Redux" from V Barn Owl’s music has a way of slowing down attention, slowing down one's perception of time. Meditation produces a similar result. What are your intentions with putting music out into the world? Are they aligned with such qualities?
Jon Porras: Especially in the Bay Area, I feel myself trying to slow down in the wake of a fast paced, technology-based culture. Maybe this desire to slow down comes out subconsciously in our work. We’ve always gravitated toward music that builds slowly and thoughtfully, and I believe it can be powerful to feel big impact from subtle shifts in tone, volume and texture.   
Evan Caminiti: I approach music less conceptually than I once did and rely more on intuition and daily practice, embracing the strong moments of improvisation rather than trying over and over again to execute an idea based on concepts that don't resonate viscerally. Having a specific vision and knowing what we want to hear is crucial; I would say we always make the kind of music we would to listen to. I think slow music, deep music that taps into something beyond just entertainment, music that engages your body and mind in an all encompassing way -- that is really valuable and crucial. Personally, it is a major part of my well-being, and I hope through releasing music that it does the same for others. I find it to have a grounding effect, both energizing and calming.
 

Drawing from antiquated influences and software, directors Dawid Krepski and Jason Chiu translate the hazy pop sounds of New York musician Beca into a narrative about the understanding and acceptance of the self, whatever that may look like. Below, both directors and Beca answer a brief Q&A about the creative process and underlying message of the "Fall Into Light".

 

"The title 'Fall Into Light' is a bit of a paradox since I associate light with upward movement, and the concept of falling makes me think of darkness. So it's this juxtaposition of light and dark which can be taken literally or figuratively, and I like that it's left open for interpretation. Maybe it means opening opening up yourself enough to see your true self." - Beca

 

When Nicholas Bohac left behind the Midwest to pursue his artistic career in one of the most expensive cities in the country -- San Francisco -- the decision must have been both wise, for the connections and experience, and terrifying, for the potential financial burden. But thanks to a sympathetic landlord and a supportive wife with more gainful employment, Bohac lives in the SF's Outer Richmond neighborhood, within blocks of Golden Gate Park, and has a studio space that he shares with his landlord, free of charge. The garage studio is hardly one to lounge about comfortably in, but considering the skyrocketing housing rates of the city and its general shortage of space, Bohac is one lucky man. Bohac is one of a small percentage of artists who has the rare luxury of working on art at his leisure. His leisure, however, is not one to be taken lightly; he estimates that he created 15-18 mid-sized pieces, 165 small pieces, and participating in eight shows in 2011. 2012, though, is a new year -- and with it, comes a new approach. He has taken the time thus far in 2012 to step back and reassess his work and his direction. He is learning to be more choosy and to expect more from his work, at the same time that he is reconstructing what he wants his outwards-facing image to be.
Upon first glance, Bohac's works are complex and psychedelic in nature, full of unnatural colors and shapes. But despite how obscured, manipulated and tweaked they might be, their very cores are centered around landscapes -- one interest that is deeply-rooted and enduring in Bohac's life. After all, it is landscapes which drew Bohac from the Midwest, where he had lived his entire life, to the West Coast. "I came out here to visit a friend who had moved out here... [and] I just was like, 'Whoa, there's a lot of stuff out here happening that I've never seen before,'" he recalls. "I'd seen mountains and I'd seen oceans, but I think everything just coalesced together in this area, and it makes these really interesting landscapes." To pay homage to his new surroundings, Bohac began with painstakingly rendered tempera paintings based off of photographs he had taken of the ocean. Ultimately, though, it was attending art school and taking in critiques from others that refined Bohac's style from mere imitation to reimaginings of everyday scenery.
"I think one of the best things anyone -- any instructor -- ever said of me was when I was making two or three of these collage paintings at once, and they were all at night and you could see the blue sky and the stars. He said, 'Why don't you make the sky this pink?' and that's all he had to say, and all of a sudden everything opened up a little bit more."

 

Jeremy Mangan makes paintings of barns. Barns are not in and of themselves fascinating subjects, and it's hard to escape the cliché imagery associated with them -- of wheat fields and bucolic pastures. But Jeremy Mangan makes barns magical.
jeremy mangan Mangan grew up in rural Washington but spent a number of years living in New York while attending graduate school at Hunter College. His interest in shantytowns and weather-worn buildings began with observations of his surroundings, and was later informed by the urban layering of New York City. "I think what [my interest] comes from is a combination of growing up here and always being attracted to these dilapidated old structures," Mangan explains over coffee. "And then in New York, the overbuilt stacking, the literal hierarchy -- where the higher up you are, the higher up you are. You look up and you see the penthouses, and then you look down and you go into a subway." When Mangan first began his explorations into rural Americana, he was working with a very unorthodox medium. "I was painting fairly realistic, naturalistic subject matter at that point, and I was frustrated, so I decided I would just use the dumbest material I could find -- something that wasn't meant for art making and wasn't so precise," Mangan explains. "So I just bought a cup of coffee from the local bodega and started painting with it."
"Music does something kind of like poetry does. We can access music and listen to music and it doesn't have the expectations on it that visual art does, to be important or meaningful or to have direct social commentary... There's just something visceral and direct about it that I want to be in my paintings also." - Jeremy Mangan
Looking at his work, it's hard to believe that Mangan managed to achieve such an impressive array of depth and tones using coffee, but he has always been a technically skilled artist. He attributes much of his painting technique to his time spent as an ice carver. While finishing his graduate degree, Mangan's studio shared a building with Okamato Studio, the ice sculpting business of Takeo and Shintaro Okamoto. "They knocked on my studio one day and said, 'Hey, I need to deliver this ice sculpture; I could use a hand with it.'" At first Mangan only helped with the deliveries, but he was gradually entrusted with more responsibilities. Eventually they let Mangan try his hand at carving. "They gave me a 300 pound block of ice and a chainsaw and said, 'Go for it.'" Mangan's experience with carving fundamentally changed the way he approached painting. "As a painter, I could look at a face as a mug shot, and then in profile, and imagine how I would render it and how the line should be, but ice sculpture made me think in terms of volume, and that took a while to learn." This sojourn as an ice sculptor led Mangan to many interesting situations, including one assignment making a giant reindeer for Martha Stewart's holiday party. "She seemed very... uh... composed. Like she was working. Very smiley, almost robotic. What you might expect." Although it was a day job that involved creating and working with his hands, Mangan ultimately felt that he needed to leave New York and make more time for the work he wanted to pursue. "I was working 40, 50 hours a week carving ice, and I didn't go that far away to become an ice carver. It was just a job. I wasn't painting... I joke that I needed to leave New York and move to Fife for things to really start coming together." jeremy mangan