Commonly known for its production of grain, potash, and NHL tough guys (including Mr Hockey Himself, Gordie Howe), Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has recently been making a name for itself as an exporter of psych music. One of the crown jewels of the Paris of the Prairie’s burgeoning scene is Powder Blue. The band’s 2013 debut Dream in Black was a six-track slab of dreamy shoegaze and fuzzed out psychedelia that quickly climbed campus radio charts. As a result, the quartet were soon logging kilometers in the back of the van back and forth across the desolate prairie, playing to blissed-out stoners and weirdos across the land.
Powder Blue recently took their act across the pond, completing a three-week tour of Europe, including sets at the Great Escape in Brighton, and Liverpool’s Sound City. The coming summer months see the band performing a number of prairie festivals, including Sled Island in Calgary and Bermudafest in Edmonton. “It’s nice to stick around close to home in the summer,” guitar player and vocalist Shelby Gaudet told us. “The summer’s so short and it’s so nice here.”
Nice or not (and prairie summers can be a beauty, let me tell ya), the summer of 2014 is set to be a busy one for Powder Blue, despite a more relaxed tour schedule. Gaudet told us that the band is hoping to finish work on a sophomore LP, half of which is in the can, while the other half remains yet to be completed.
“We’re going to be writing a lot,” she told us, with a laugh, as the band prepares for a homecoming show and an appearance at Saskatoon’s annual MoSo Fest opening for Atlas Sound, and the rest of their summer dates. Gaudet took some time out to shoot the breeze with us about international touring, recording, karaoke, and returning to Sled Island after last year’s event was cancelled due to torrential rains that saw all of downtown Calgary evacuated with massive flooding.
Noisey: You were just in Europe on tour. How did that come about? And how was the response?
Shelby Gaudet: We got invited to play The Great Escape, which is in Brighton, and also Sound City in Liverpool. So we played two shows for each festival, and figured since we’re going over there we might as well book a tour around it. So we did a week in the UK, then played Berlin, Hamburg and Copenhagen. We were gone for three weeks. It was awesome, much better than I thought considering we’ve never been there before. There were definitely shows where there weren’t a lot of people. But then we had shows that were packed, too. It’s like, if you play on a Monday or Tuesday you should probably expect to just play to the staff, you know? The festival shows were great though, and Germany was awesome. People were just so welcoming.
I heard you were in the studio. How far along are you with a new record?
We’d originally planned to have an album coming out this summer. But this whole European tour snuck up on us. We hadn’t been planning to do that. We’ve got about four songs recorded, but we’d like to do another four. We have enough for an EP but we’d like to do a full-length, though we still need to work on the writing of the songs.
How are the new songs compared to the tunes on Dream in Black? Has the songwriting or style changed at all?
They sound pretty similar, but heavier. There are still lots of softer vocals, lots of harmony. We’re writing more together, more collaboratively, which always takes longer when you have to try things differently. The first album came so fast. It was the first time I’d ever written, so everything just flowed really easily. It’ll be different, but it’ll still be that shoegazey, psych sound.
Within those genres, are there any groups that are, like, consistent influences on your writing? Or do you all come from different musical spaces?
We all kind of listen to different stuff. Like, me and Sonia [Dicken, bass & vocals] have similar tastes. Elsa [Gebremichael, keys & vocals], she likes a lot of different genres. It’s good to have her influence. Sometimes, when you only like one thing you tend to get stuck a lot of the time. That’s my problem. I really only like a couple genres. I need to be more open-minded. We all like Brian Jonestown, which I think is kind of obvious. We all like Black Angels. Those are probably our biggest influences.
What’s something you listen to that might surprise people? Like, almost a guilty pleasure or something?
80s pop, maybe. Like Madonna. Some people are like, “I can’t believe you like that!” But really, who doesn’t?
Do you have a go-to Madonna track? One you’d bust out at karaoke?
Sometimes I’ll karaoke “Material Girl.” [laughs]
There are a lot of great bands coming out of Saskatoon these days. What’s going on over there that there’s such a quality and diversity of music coming out of such a small, kind of isolated city?
Saskatoon’s always been known for its “folk” stuff, and metal. But now there’s way more different genres going on. Like Caves, who we’re playing with at Sled Island, they’re like a younger band, really good. I don’t even know how to describe them. They’re rock, but different. One of my favourites is Ride Til Dawn. I don’t want to say they’re classic rock, but they’re great. Wizards are great, they’re kind of surfy. Even since we got back from Europe there’s all these shows coming up with new bands. I think you’ll hear a lot of new bands this year out of Saskatoon, lots of younger people coming into the scene.
Last year, you were scheduled to play Sled Island last year. What happened to you gals when everything got cancelled due to the flooding?
The night before our show, we got to see Besnard Lakes, which turned out to be the only thing we got to see. We woke up [Friday] and we were told everything was cancelled. We got on the phone with Craig from the Wunderbar [in Edmonton]. He was just like, “Yep. Come down, come play.” So we went to Edmonton and had a show there. We played a couple house parties. People were so willing to help out. People just wanted to make it work. It was cool. So it turned out, we weren’t bummed at all. We came back with a really good experience. But I really wanted a Tubby Dog, so I’m glad we’re getting to play there this year.
Catch Powder Blue at the Tubby Dog during Sled Island, June 20 alongside Shooting Guns, Caves, and the Moas.
Sheldon Birnie is a writer living in Winnipeg. He's on Twitter.