Providence bands often like to play well within a genre of their particular preference, boiling and reducing the elements to their most brutal and efficient, sometimes seemingly trying to make their particular sound the most perfect example of whatever type of music they’re aiming for. This can be done to great success as in the airtight math-metal of Thrillhouse or the tone-perfect country blues of Joe Fletcher and The Wrong Reasons. But it is also quite refreshing when a band like Northern Lands comes along and doesn’t try too hard to play up the genre of their sound. Sure, the obvious elements are there such as Neil Young and Lucero, putting the band squarely and fairly in the roots-rock column; but these elements co-exist alongside a guitar-dense wall of Husker Du verses and the pathos of Jawbreaker’s sadder and drunker moments.
On the band’s “He Took a Dive,” dark and stormy chords chug brilliantly along with the brisk rhythm section of drummer Josh Wallace and bassist Aaron Jaehnig, while the twin guitars of Joshua Cournoyer and Peter Hayden wind around each other, with delicate little guitar leads shining through the cloudy murk. The sound is intense, and is definitely one of a band trying to figure out what works best for the individual players, each getting their own space to make some serious noise while giving the others a wide berth of breathing room. On “Manton,” prettier country flavors are pushed up front for the song’s beginning, showing off some nice flittering guitar wisps before a titanic build launches the song into the band’s comfort zone: big, epic choruses and really loud drums.
Northern Lands is not overly concerned with being hip or fitting in to whatever the local music polls wants to define as their genre. Rather, they prefer to tell their own story using the well-worn sound of ragged guitars and a raspy voice. I spoke with lead rasper Josh Cournoyer about Providence’s next great three-chord bar band.
“My first taste of rock and roll was listening to Creedence and CSNY with my dad as a kid, while driving around in his van and hearing stories of his friends who were all in bands in the ‘70s,” Cournoyer says. “I always loved that the music at that point had the last gasp of folk in the lyrical content while contrasting this soft-to-loud dynamic and giant guitar solos that just took the songs to a whole new level.”
The band doesn’t just absorb classic rock influences. Listening to them live and on their recordings, I hear bits and pieces of The Hold Steady, Mission of Burma, The National and Pavement, to name a few. There’s also a bit of a post- hardcore hangover threaded in the wiry guitar lines, snarly voice and world- (or at least Providence-) weary lyrics.
“Lyrically, the songs are all intensely personal,” Cournoyer says. “I’m not really good at telling stories from the third per- son, so all the songs are – for better or worse – experiences I’ve had.” On living and performing in Providence, he says, “It’s a really incredible time to be a part of this city. I remember years ago reading an article in Spin that talked about how Providence was destined to be the next Seattle, but I think it’s something more than that. I think there’s a resurgence of bands wanting to work hard. If anything, we aren’t becoming Seattle but creating something all our own.”
Regarding Northern Lands’ first record, Cournoyer says, “It documents what it’s like for us to be living here right now: being broke most of the time, stumbling out of bars, going to shows, dealing with the ups and downs of relationships, past mistakes, the whole gamut.” He pauses then continues: “Our songs are about our lives... The only thing that might set us apart [from other bands] is that we aren’t cool and we’re aware of that.” He’s more about having fun and just being happy with the music he and his band create.
Northern Lands just finished up writing and pre-production for their debut full-length album and have started tracking at the Parlour in Pawtucket. They’re looking forward to a fall release date. “As for touring,” Cournoyer says, “we just acquired an ‘89 camper van that we plan on putting as many miles on as possible this year.”
And if you like a little warm and fuzzy with your boozy bar bands, be sure to catch Northern Lands at Pints For Paws, a benefit for the Providence Animal Rescue League, hosted by WBRU at Nick-a-Nees along with Kid Mountain and The Throttles on Saturday, June 9.