Listen to this track by Vancouverite indie quintet Said The Whale. It’s “Emerald Lake AB”, a shining gem as taken from their 2009 record Islands Disappear, their second.
The band formed in Vancouver and very soon became recognized as being an important addition to the scene after their initial release Talking Abalonia in 2007. From there, they scored awards locally and eventually on a national scale, too. Being on that level in Canada, they had two agenda points to cover.
The first point was the business of selling to America. Every band in this country who is looking for a wider audience has to consider that goal; it’s an economy of scale thing. Their involvement in the 2011 documentary Winning America was a snapshot of their efforts on that front at SXSW. They subsequently made headway with their recent 2013 album Hawaii, and with the single “I Love You” charting in the States.
But, what about that second agenda point? Well, that’s the one this song seems to capture best.
Artists in this country, musical and otherwise, have something else to wrestle with besides the cultural whirlpool of the United States right underneath us; the geography of Canada itself in all of its diversity and grandiosity. For touring bands just starting out and otherwise, national tours can be tough and often not even financially possible. Canada’s big. Like really big, and with lots of empty space between gigs along a very long road.
But, if you’ve never been here, please believe the hype when it comes to the nearly indescribable beauty and sheer presence of the land here in Canada as you travel its length and bredth. There are plenty of drab landscapes in this country, too of course. But, after living here for most of my life, and here on the West Coast for almost a decade and a half, I personally am still awestruck by the beauty of the Canadian landscape. Canada in general, and the West Coast in particular, is uniquely beautiful.
That’s what this song captures. And it’s not simply about the landscape or geographical locale, of which there are many examples represented in song on Islands Disappear. It’s about what happens inside of you as you try to take those scenes and landscapes in as they stand as symbols for the enormity of existence itself. Without trying to pile the rhetoric too high, if I haven’t done that already of course, what this feels like when one really concentrates on it is something a lot like raw gratitude; what a fine life we are living, indeed! In some of the most sublime moments in nature and in awareness of one’s surroundings, it makes you feel like a child again. This song is just full of these sentiments:
We scratched our names all in a row
Into a tree, in hopes it would grow
Into the tallest tree the forest ever would know
We’d climb up to the top and shout to below
What a fine life we are living
This song contains the awareness of the adult world along with the dreamy and optimistic language of a child. That’s why it works so well. It also connects with that idea of gaining perspective on one’s place in the natural world in all its complexity. This is something that is an artistic and cultural tradition in Canada, whether we’re talking about Emily Carr’s ecstatic paintings of West Coast landscapes, or Susannah Moodie’s novelized pioneer account Roughing It In The Bush further east in the forests of Ontario. It’s part of a national narrative which has been going on before our country was even a country. It’s found here in this song.
I think this song is also about being in a band, and in a band one is incredibly proud of. Those lines quoted above about carving names into a tree that one hopes will grow also applies to the idea of creating an enduring engine for making art, and getting it out there to a bigger audience. That point about gratitude applies too. Being in a place in one’s life where one is doing the things one loves with the right people, and enjoying it as a group is certainly cause for gratitude. Because that’s a pretty fine life to live.
Said The Whale are an active band still gaining traction both here in Canada, and elsewhere. You can find more about them at saidthewhale.com.
And to see that aforementioned 2011 documentary about Said The Whale, Winning America, all you have to do is click here! If you want to get a feel for what it must be like to be an indie band from Canada at SXSW, this is a film for you.