In May 2012, Christopher Arruda, Cory Woodward and Ryan McMahon set out on a month-long western Canadian tour as three solo artists supporting their own respective albums. They had no idea this one tour would make such a difference in their lives – not because of the shows they played or how many CDs they sold, but because of the music they discovered they could make together.
McMahon and Woodward had been friends for a while, and McMahon and Arruda had known each other, but this was the first time Woodward and Arruda met. As they crossed the western provinces by van, the three men shared stories about the ups and downs they had experienced as musicians and also shared their hopes and dreams in the industry, and they formed a strong bond. On stage, they started joining in on each other’s songs after an impromptu show in Winnipeg where they performed together because they didn’t have enough time to each play a set.
After that tour, Arruda, Woodward and McMahon formed The Lion The Bear The Fox. Today, they are Top 20 finalists in the Peak Performance Project, they’ve just released their debut EP, and they just completed a western Canadian tour.
McMahon, who lives in Ladysmith, loves that he doesn’t have to be “the guy” all the time.
“All three of us gents have been at this for over 10 years apiece, and I think that for some reason the timing was right,” he says. “I believe that in many ways, we were all up in arms about our solo missions, and we all happened to join together at a very critical time. Instead of ‘I give up,’ it was like ‘Man, can you help me?’ I know that whether it’s performing, representing the band in an interview setting or running day-to-day business of the band, Chris and Cory are always going to work as hard as I do … or harder. That was something I was very unaccustomed to, and I think it gives us all cause to breathe a little better.”
McMahon thinks starting a band now, in his thirties, is “ideal.”
“Much of the egos have been burned away, and truth and honesty — whether it’s good or bad — now reside where passive-aggressive bullshit used to destroy bands we all have been in,” he says. “I know that any one of us can speak to each other about something that’s hard to discuss, and somebody’s not going to quit the band. Everyone is in their thirties and is very open to what the other person has to say. That respect has to be there, or the wheels come off. Chris said a great quote the other day, after driving back from the Peak Performance boot camp in Princeton: ‘I was looking at Ryan’s kids’ picture in the van, and it became clear to me that it’s my job to take care of those kids too.’ Who wouldn’t want to be in a band with that guy?”
By the time this magazine is printed, the Peak Performance Project will be in its final stage. The Top 5 will be revealed Nov. 5, and the first-, second- and third-place winners will be announced Nov. 21. Whether or not they make the Top 5, all three members of The Lion The Bear The Fox feel this experience has brought them closer and has taught them a lot.
“The Project gave us the opportunity to really spend time together defining what it is we want to do and how we’re going to represent ourselves working forward,” says Arruda, who lives in Vancouver. “It’s been both immensely challenging and rewarding. It certainly hasn’t been easy. Through some of the adversity, we’ve been forced to address our weaknesses as a group head on, which has only served to make us a more cohesive and effective unit.”
The Lion The Bear The Fox released its debut EP, We’d Be Good Men, in early October. Featuring six originals and a cover of Ray LaMontagne’s “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame),” the album was produced and mixed by Arruda and Woodward and mastered by Joby Baker of Victoria.
Woodward, who also lives in Vancouver, says producing the album themselves has taught him that you never know the outcome until you hear it.
“Recording a song is like making a soup; you keep trying different ingredients and flavours until it tastes just right,” he says. “I’m fairly adventurous when it comes to discovering sonic textures. Interesting sounds that you have no idea what they are excite me the most, especially the ones that fit into a song so effortlessly that you can’t tell they are there but when you do take them away, it changes the entire character of the song – those sounds are like the salt of the music world. I’ve also learned to not be so precious with everything overall, and having deadlines certainly helped that.”
Arruda says they didn’t have a vision when they set about recording the album.
“We knew we wanted to use the opportunity to mold the sound and aesthetic from scratch using the songs we’d decided to record,” he explains. “A decision was made very early on, much like with the rest of our process, to remove all ego from the production process. Nothing was taken off the table; we tried everything, no matter how silly, crazy or counterproductive it seemed. I think on some level, we’re aware that there are a lot of bands out there with guitars and voices playing ‘alt-folk’ these days and we really wanted to stand apart, sonically speaking. Experimenting the way we did certainly ended up taking a lot of time, but I truly believe it lends a beautiful and interesting texture to the record that we’re extremely proud of.”
Just over a year after starting this project, Woodward says he is most proud of solidifying lifelong friendships with men he admires and respects, “for our brightest and darkest qualities and our constant willingness to discover more about ourselves to enable us to grow more as men.”
“My time with the fellas inspires me to stay honest and connected, to face and share my fears and my joys,” he says.
And now, as a member of The Lion The Bear The Fox, Woodward feels he is facing those fears and joys with two equally inspired friends by his side.
Lindsay Chung is an island based music lover and avid cultural volunteer by night and editor of the Ladysmith Chronicle by day. She is available for myriad musical missions in 2012 as long as she can serve the beer, work the door, review the event and still grab a front row seat for the show.
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