Currently split between Sackville and Halifax, Banded Stilts deliver comforting and astute folk that oscillates between contemporary pop, piano-heavy ballads, and lyrical narration that wouldn't be out of place in a Canadiana short story. Their sound has been said to "reach back to the grand old folk traditions within a contemporary alt-roots sound" (Toronto.com).
Earlier this week we sat down with our good friend Steve Haley to talk about his Sappy history, what he's had on repeat for the last while, the predatory habits of seagulls on the band's namesake bird, some influences on the latest album, and the effects of young children on Mad Men binge-watching.
Who are you most excited to watch at Sappy this year?
Ooooh… so hard to choose. Cool's bandcamp page is pretty killer, Dusted put on one of my favourite live shows of the past year, Michael Feuerstack is a treasure, The Constantines? All of the above?
What’s your best go-to insult?
I'm not great with insults. Unless you're that guy who wouldn't lower the price of his ridiculously over-priced comic books after I spent a lot of time digging through dusty boxes thinking I was going to get a sweet deal. He knows who he is. I might call him an idiot.
Best Sappy memory?
My first B.A Johnston show was at Uncle Larry's during a past Sappy and, no, I was not warned and, no, I was not prepared.
Have you ever cried during a set?
Does a set of Full House episodes count?
What's a good Sunday like for you?
Before Sam (my son): too much food and binge watching Mad Men. After Sam: lighter meals and actually going outside.
What have you been listening to lately?
Chad Van Gaalen's Shrink Dust, Feuerstack's Singer Songer, Jon McKiel's new record and I've been re-visiting some "oldies" in preparations for this year's Sappy.
What was on repeat when you were working on your last album? (i.e. did you have any particular influences in mind, whether musical, literary, or otherwise?)
I was definitely on a bit of a Jayhawks kick during the recording. The Band's live album Rock of Ages was also getting a lot of spins.
In terms of influences, the album is a bit of a mish-mash of influences. Fred's Record's in Newfoundland (my fav record store), likened it to CSNY, The Band and Fleet Foxes and that's pretty apt. But influences are all over the map. For instance, I wrote the last song on the album as soon as I got home from a Weather Station show.
As for literary influences, I sometimes get ideas for lyrics while reading novels and comic books. If I see a line or phrasing that really stands out to me, it can inspire a completely different narrative in my head. The ending of Ernest Buckler's The Mountain and the Valley, for instance, sparked the idea for the song Cold. I won't spoil the ending of that book, but if you know it, my song makes a little more sense.
How long have Banded Stilts been playing together? How has the Halifax/Sackville split affected you guys?
As crazy as it sounds to me, Banded Stilts has been playing together in some capacity for about 3 years, I think. Before I moved to Sackville, I spent a lot of time in Halifax just hanging with my buds and practicing some songs. We played a couple of shows as a three piece before moving to a 5 piece. For SappyFest this year, I think we're going to be a 7 piece. It's fun. The downside, of course, of having the rest of the band in Halifax is that practice time becomes a bit of an ordeal. We make the most of it and usually practice around shows or when we get together to hang. We're all close friends in the band. I am eager to start something new and fresh in Sackville though. Stay tuned.
This might be a bit of a throwback, but can you remember your first introduction to SappyFest?
When I first left Newfoundland and landed in Amherst, Nova Scotia, I knew nothing about Sackville or Sappyfest. I remember the fall of 2009 (I think) seeing a video of Wax Mannequin, who I'm a huge fan of, performing at SappyFest and realizing that this was literally just next door. We began to slowly trickle across the border for shows after that and haven't missed a Sappy since.
A lot of people are attracted to Sackville because it fosters so many different kinds of cultural communities; do you think the town’s inter-dependent nature is part of the draw for you as a musician? I suspect that this sense of community may have attracted you to live in Sackville in the first place: how has your relationship to the town changed over time?
Like I was saying above, I knew nothing about Sackville prior to visiting. When we started venturing across the border to see shows, I was blown away. That first Sappy with Wintersleep and Timber Timbre combined with my first time seeing Daniel, Fred, and Julie later that year solidified that Sackville was where we should be living. Since living here, I've come to love Sackville, for so many more reasons besides music. I love seeing the same people everyday, I love how the community supports art and culture and I just really want to raise Sam here. I think he will be his best possible self having grown up here.
You hold a unique position as both a performer and a board member for Sappy this year; why were you interested in being a part of the inner workings of the festival?
It's kind of surreal that I'm even part of the team, to be honest. I'm a huge fanboy and I'm still just an excited SappyFest fan. It was already super cool to move from fan to performer, but now board member? It's weird. I was late to the game and only became part of the board like a month ago, but I'm stoked to be helping organize and run the festival. Knowing that my family and I are going to be living here for the foreseeable future, it just made sense to want to be involved with something that I have a deep love and respect for. I'm probably most excited to be helping out with the Kids Corner Power Jam/John Cougar Bandcamp.
This might be a question you've gotten before, but I was curious about the band name. Any good stories about picking it out? Also, did you know that banded stilts were once categorized as a vulnerable species under the 1972 Australian Parks & Wildlife Act because of heavy predation from seagulls? I think they’re doing okay now.
The story is not that good. I literally just googled bird names and wrote down a few that I thought sounded like a cool band name. This was due to the fact that, after leaving Newfoundland, I was particularly fascinated with the different varieties of birds on the mainland. I spent a bit of time hiking around the area and visiting the Amherst Bird Sanctuary and the Waterfowl Park in town, just scoping out the birds. So I was into "birding" for awhile. I'm glad to hear the banded stilts are doing okay now, although I definitely feel like part of a vulnerable species sometimes.
Banded Stilts play the Mainstage on Sunday at 1:30 in the afternoon. We can't wait!