Boats is a Winnipeg band with a taste for absurdist juxtaposition, childlike enthusiasm and a sound that brings to mind xylophones even when they aren’t there. Their latest album, Cannonballs, Cannonballs, is full of songs with titles like “Haircuts for Everybody!!” and “Summercamp Vs. The Fake Moustache Tree.” In fact, fake moustaches are something of a theme throughout Boats’ songs. The opening line of “500%” from 2007’s Intercontinental Champion is “and our kids / will draw fake moustaches / on the people on the pavement.” It’s an image that captures something about the spirit of Boats’ music, something playful and gently mocking.
Cannonballs, Cannonballs — long available in Canada, but released March 1 in the United States — is Boats’ first U.S. release through their new partner, Kill Rock Stars. Kill Rock Stars is a Portland, OR-based indie label responsible in the U.S. for Edwardian indie act the Decemberists, lo-fi legend Elliot Smith and European electro-camp stars Stereo Total. As part of their new partnership with Kill Rock Stars, Boats are soon embarking almost due south on a tour that will take them to SXSW in Austin, Texas and back up to Canada along the West Coast.
Boats leading man Mat Klachefsky, who writes and sings all of the group’s songs, is noted for his childlike singing voice, often to his own consternation. “I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘Oh, it’s so weird’ — that it’s unusual, but I don’t think it’s unusual at all,” he said. “You listen to Smashing Pumpkins — he’s got a weird voice.” It’s true that Klachefsky’s singing voice is far less outlandish than that of someone like Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile/Family, but it is distinctive.
Klachefsky does not give the impression of one eager to talk about his trade. He doesn’t hesitate to give one word answers, and when he talks at length, his speech is punctuated with qualifiers. But Klachefsky’s seeming hesitance to talk in depth is not due to a lack of conviction. It may in fact be the unusual nature of his opinions that causes him to voice them so sparingly.
He’s the first to admit that some of his views are not widely shared. “My opinions are not the most popular,” he said with characteristic verbal thrift. One of these potentially controversial opinions is Klachefsky’s taste for new music to the exclusion of the old. While he admits to enjoying, for example, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, he has little interest in the majority of music from the past. “I’m into evolution,” he explained. “I have a lot of trouble listening to old bands because that’s already happened.”
Just as Klachefsky has little time for music outside of his epoch, he is less interested in music outside his own genre, claiming he listens primarily to other indie artists like Modest Mouse and Neutral Milk Hotel. “I wish I could tell you that I listen to pulse, pop, fusion, jazz — you know — medieval,” he said, “but I don’t.” This and Klachefsky’s disinterest in old music are no doubt commonplace among music lovers, but it’s uncommon and perhaps a little refreshing to hear professional musicians downplay the significance of their industry’s past. With so many groups drawing their wardrobes if not always their music from some bygone era, it’s nice to see someone okay with the present, and Boats are okay with the present.
The music of Boats reflects Klachefsky’s very particular interests. It’s intensely modern and singularly indie. His boyish nasal voice, whimsical lyrics and buoyant melodies proxy today’s indie pop as a whole.
Boats will be playing their trademark music songs at Lo Pub on March 11. Fans of the genre are sure not to be disappointed.