The Deep Dark Woods is a Canadian band from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. For those American readers out there, it’s in the middle of the summer dust and -40 degree winter chill. It seems unlikely that anything could survive out there, let alone a good group of artists emerge from those flat plains. Saskatoon, though, isn’t terribly unlike Winnipeg. The same words and the same sentences could be used to describe that small city – yet The Guess Who managed to eke out the great American classic – “American Woman.”
However, the style of music couldn’t be further from The Guess Who. Consistently throughout all the tracks are the vocals and the core group which consist of two guitars plus base and drums. On the CD, however, there are a number of additional musicians. The style has heavy roots in country and folk music. The ambience is somber, quietly desperate, with narrative lyrics which explore a darker side of humanity. The song “Farewell,” for instance, is a song about a man who murders his girlfriend and then goes to prison for it.
Some have said that they resemble Neil Young. However, I find a closer association with the Cowboy Junkies. The musicality of the two bands is similar. The vulnerable voice of Margo from the Cowboy Junkies as it laments hardship is often soft. Similarly, the lead vocalist from Deep Dark Woods is also subdued as he softly sings somber lyrics. Perhaps one of the major differences is that the Cowboy Junkies will sing about the hardship of miners or people who are living under the threat of war, Deep Dark Woods lyrics showcase the lonely criminal. Bob Dylan is one of the influential figures that they list. One of the things that distinguished Dylan from many others is that he took real stories and he turned them into songs. Largely, the lyrics from Deep Dark Woods, excepting “All My Money is Gone,” which is from an experience of going broke after paying income taxes, and “Nancy,” which is based on a traditional folk song, the lyrics are entirely fictional.
I don’t think the band will ever reach the plateau of someone like Neil Young or even the Cowboy Junkies in their best days with this album. However, I also get the feeling that there is going to be a strong niche for them somewhere, and that Winter Nights is not the last we will hear from them. That being said, the album is solid. Each song is worth listening to and it was difficult to choose which of the three were to be posted with this article.
Q: What is the hardest thing you had to give up by becoming a musician?
Ryan: Working full time – we had to give up our jobs. So that means we don’t make as much money as we could. But that’s what you gotta do to make music. Freedom to go and do whatever I want whenever I want. Traveling around means not getting to take off whenever I want. So that’s the thing I’ve given up. But it’s all worth it in the end.
Burke: I haven’t really given up a whole lot. A steady job. A steady paycheck. I’d say that’s probably the toughest thing. Going on the road. Don’t have time for a steady job. Just odd jobs here and there, between tours.
Q: How do you see yourselves evolving as a band?
Ryan: Trying to start adding different instruments. We want to keep going and make things different and more interesting. That’s how a band lasts. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again. I think we can last a long time. If you continue playing with two electric guitars, base, and drums, it might get a bit boring after awhile. We just have to continue to change to keep things interesting.
Q: How long did it take for you guys to ‘make it’?
Ryan: We started in 2005, so it’s been pretty quick. A lot of bands it takes a lot longer to get where we’ve gotten. We’ve gotten far in a short time; it’s awesome!
Q: What’s the main achievement of your new album?
Ryan: We’ve gotten so much better as a band. My voice has gotten a lot better. The main achievement is that we’ve become way better musicians since the last album, that’s for sure.
Burke: It’s a little bit of a departure from our last one. It’s folkier. It’s a lot of ballads. The best thing about it just the studio use and the producer we worked with brought a lot to the album. It was a real good time to record. Real low stress and kinda laid back, long days but pretty laid back. The guest musicians were all fantastic.
How did you guys all meet to form a band?
Burke: Chris and I, the base player, went to high school together. We’ve been playing guitar and writing songs since we were 16 or 17. I met Ryan at a summer camp when I was 12. We were friends long before the band. We just met Luke – worked with him briefly. Then Luke, Chris and I formed a different band. Kind of more of an Indie rock band: Radio Head, Queens of the Stone Age type stuff. That was kind of more of a hobby band. We didn’t take it seriously as far as trying to get a career going. And then when that band we went our separate ways. We started playing the three of us. Then Ryan came back and we started rehearsing in Luke’s parents’ basement.
How do your parents feel about your choice of becoming musicians rather than working stiffs?
Burke: They’re pretty supportive. All of our parents are. I actually went to school. I have a degree in chemistry. I might go back to that. Right now they’re pretty supportive of what we do, and they want us to make a go of it, make a living at it.
Q: What did the band do to become successful?
Ryan: We worked really hard. We have a guy like Chris who works day and night getting us shows. He works constantly – emailing people and calling people, different booking agents and labels. Practicing. When we first started out, it was like four nights a week we practiced. Constantly practicing. Now that we’ve gotten better, we don’t have to practice as much. We had to work hard to get the band tight as it is now.
Q: How does being a musician affect the relationships in your lives?
Ryan: You don’t see your girlfriend as much as you’d like. I know they get sad when you leave all the time. It definitely affects your relationships, but you just tell ‘em that’s the way it has to be. We’re doing what we wanna do. It’s difficult going on tour for a month at a time and you miss your family and your girlfriend and your friends. You don’t see your friends as much as you want. But that’s just what you gotta do if you want to play music.
Q: What do the lyrics from Winter Hours come from: your life, reading, movies, or something else?
Ryan: A lot of them are based on old folk songs. I’m a big fan of Irish, English and Scottish folk tunes. The song “Nancy” is kind of based on an old English ballad called “Farewell Nancy.” A lot of them are based on folk tunes. “All the Money I had is Gone” I just wrote it one day after I got my income tax and I had to pay $783. It comes from personal experience and traditional songs. Sometimes they come out, and you don’t know where they come from.
Q: What’s your favorite song on Winter Hours, and why?
Ryan: My favorite songs are “All the Money I had is Gone,” “Winter Hours,” or “When First Into the Country.” Those are probably my favorite. But I like them all a lot. It’s our best record. The last couple of records, after we recorded them, I was like, “Ahh I don’t know about this tune or that tune,” but I’m satisfied with this last one.
Q: Your lyrics are very often give the image of a cowboy a hundred years ago or so in the old wild west or the wild middle. Did you have a cowboy in your mind, or do you yourself feel a sense of loneliness inspires you from your adventures on the road? You mentioned before that it’s harder for you to keep a relationship because you’re often on the road, you’re often leaving them behind. Do you find that has any influence on you? Do you feel like a cowboy sometimes, wandering off alone?
Ryan: I don’t know if I feel like a cowboy. I feel more like roving gamblers, one of those ramblers, like a vagabond that never has a steady place to stay. It definitely affects my lyrics, being lonely on the road. Being missing people that I want to see. That definitely affects my lyrics being lonely on the road. Being missing people that I wanna see. That definitely affects the way I write for sure. When I write my songs, the best songs I write are when I’m lonelier.
Q: Farewell, Nancy, and Two Time Loser, are narratives about couples who don’t seem to be doing too well - they’re dysfunctional. Are the narrative lyrics a reflection of real people or are they entirely fictional?
Ryan: Well, definitely “Two Time Loser” is about me. “Nancy” is definitely a fictional song. Singing from the grave – a guy is about to die, he’ll see her in heaven. “Farewell” is a murder ballad I wrote on the ferry going from Victoria to BC. It’s definitely a fictional song. I’ve never murdered anybody. I don’t know anybody that’s been murdered. I like murder ballads. That’s one of my big influences: murder ballads.
Q: The one band that you guys really remind me of is the Cowboy Junkies. Most bands’ singers have a lot of energy. But with the cowboy junkies they’re almost lethargic, sadly lethargic. There seems to be this cross between country, blues – blues lyrics with country music with a touch of rock and roll. That seems to be the sense of the style that I get.
Ryan: To be honest, I’ve never listened much to the Cowboy Junkies. I’m definitely influenced by the Lonesome Dylan stuff, like “Time Out of Mind” and the band Lonesome Suzie and all that stuff – I never got into the later stuff. I’m into anything from the thirties to the mid. I never got into the 80s or 90s stuff.
Q: How old are you?
Q: Are your parents influential in your tastes? How did you gravitate to the older music?
Ryan: My parents never really influenced me in that stuff. They kind of influenced me in the gospel. I got into it from this one fella. I did a radio show back in high school. He was into that stuff.
Q: A lot of movies, not to mention the media, about music stars, paints a picture of sex, drugs, and the destruction of hotel rooms. Can musicians be role models?
Burke: I’d say for sure.
Q: Do you think those stereotypes are valid, or is it Hollywood puffing smoke?
Burke: It really happens. Canadians musicians do this or that because the promoter didn’t give them their full quote. They can be role models. That happens. But a lot of it gets blown up out of something that might not be such a big deal.
We’ve never destroyed a hotel room. It’s something to work towards.