An Interview With British Columbia’s West Coast Soul Band Carmanah & Look At Their Upcoming Album ‘Iris’

Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia, Carmanah mimics the smooth, jazzy tones found naturally in the rainforest from which their name derives, provoking a peaceful feeling among listeners, like taking a hike through paradise. Powerful female vocals allow for an added edginess, augmenting the music’s sleek undertones rather than deterring from the tranquil sonic backdrop.

Composed of lead vocalist Laura Mina Mitic, guitarist and vocalist Pat Ferguson, keyboardist Mike Baker, bassist Jamil Demers, drummer Graham Keehn and backup vocalist Lo Waight, the band’s harmony is obvious in their music. Complex instrumentation and booming rhythms layered with Carmanah’s poetic talent for lyricism create vivacious melodies in their upcoming album Iris.

Evolving from their debut album, Speak in Rhythms, Carmanah’s latest project carries their own unique blend of spunky rhythms, soulful blues and soft rock (maintaining the original and seamless blend of genres that gives the band their own niche style). Iris is set to be an album that not only re-establishes the band’s creative genre-blending, but also utilizes it to create a moody journey, a heartfelt musical offering.

The band’s ability to create such harmonious music is likely aided by their shared passion for the environment, a cause they comment on through their art. While on tour, Carmanah cruises in a retrofitted vegetable oil-fueled bus, limiting their impact on air pollution. As a collective, Carmanah made the eco-empowering decision to serve as ambassadors for The Jellyfish Project, a global coalition of musicians that defend the planet’s ecosystems through education and movement-building. The band hopes to use their music to inspire change. Mitic commented, “I get really excited when I think about music as a way to spark action.” It’s not only their impressive musicianship, but also their passion, that has an ability to seep through earbuds and into listeners’ hearts.   

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Here at Music Mecca, we got the chance to catch up with Mina Mitic about the band’s beginnings, the environment, their upcoming album, and much more.

So how did Carmanah come together?

Pat and I met at a music festival on Vancouver Island quite a few years ago, where we ended up jamming around a campfire with our friends in the woods. Shortly after that we decided to combine creative forces and start a band. We collected a few musicians and began writing and performing together. For a while it was a pretty casual project, but a few years ago we started taking it more seriously, added some new musicians to the project and recorded our album Speak in Rhythms with producers Gus Van Go/Werner F. at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver. Since then, we’ve been pushing Carmanah forward and touring as much as possible. It’s a labour of love, but I couldn’t imagine us doing anything else.

How would you describe Carmanah’s sound?

I’d say Carmanah is a mixture of good vibes and sultry rock and roll. We sing about love for self, for others, and for the planet.

You’ve described your music as “West Coast Soul,” and it seems that your environment plays a big part in the tone of your music. Even the band’s name, Carmanah, is derived from the rain forest. How do you feel like coming from Victoria has influenced your music?

Living on the west coast has definitely influenced me as a person, and therefore has also influenced the art I create. I love this coast, the ocean nearby, and the forests I wander through often. I have gained a real respect for the earth and enjoy observing how closely life on earth is all tied together. I’m constantly learning and evolving and music is the best way for me to work through some of my observations, emotions and passions for life as I know it.

Who are some of your musical inspirations?

While I’m often discovering new music that inspires me, I consistently draw from a few of my favourites including but not limited to: Feist, Dusty Springfield, Nancy Sinatra, Roy Orbison, The Chambers Brothers, The Beatles, Bahamas…

Do you have any favorite stories from your time performing or from the road?

One that comes to mind happened while performing last year at Hornby Island Music Festival. We were headlining the night, and by the time we were wrapping up our set it was nightfall. The lighting on the stage was a deep and dreamy purpley-blue. We wrapped up the set with our rendition of “Bang Bang”. About halfway through the song, a cat appeared and strutted its way slowly across the stage. Hundreds of people were enamored by this cat, watching it confidently own the stage. We wondered if maybe it was Sonny Bono back for another round of showmanship, and I still think about this cat every time we perform the tune live.

What’s the most rewarding (or most challenging) part of your songwriting process?

The most challenging thing about writing music is when you can’t push past writer’s block to create something you love. Lyrics can take a lot of emotional energy out of me, and when they don’t feel right it can be truly draining. The most rewarding thing about writing music is when lyrics and melody click together like a satisfying jigsaw puzzle. When I take the bones of a song to my bandmates for their magical touch it feels oh so good.

Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind your latest track “Mountain Woman”?

“Mountain Woman” is a dedication to anyone who steps outside of the norm to protect what they love. In particular, “Mountain Woman” is an ode to people who press on in their conquests for climate and social justice. The song in particular touches on the environmental movement which has oftentimes been labeled as “feminine” and has been belittled for that reason. The countless people that I admire speaking out on topics of how we treat each other and how we treat the planet are fierce and should continue to be unapologetic for their passion, regardless of their gender. It is their presence that this song depicts standing on a mountain top stewarding the land and keeping an keen eye on the perils of capitalism, destruction and short-sightedness.

I know that “Mountain Woman” is set to be featured on your upcoming album, Iris. Can you talk a little bit about the process behind the creation of the album?

Iris digs deeper into my songwriting psyche as I wondered and wrote about the world, about myself and about the future. I’d say this album is a little more daring when it comes to the variety in the songwriting as well as in the musicianship.

Who else was involved in the album’s production?

We again decided to team up with Gus Van Go and Werner F. to make Iris, after being really happy with their production work on Speak in Rhythms. Much of the songwriting and arranging was completed before going into the studio so we could dive right in once we got to NYC. With Gus behind the board steering the production ship and Werner keeping a keen ear out for every note and each tone, making Iris was all in all a very enjoyable experience.

Do you have any tracks that you’re especially excited about on Iris?

I think my favourite track on this album is “Stand Up”. This song was originally going to be recorded as a solo track (just me and my guitar). However, one late evening in the studio, we started messing around with additional instrumentation. Gus had a few quirky ideas that really added to the song and we all felt inspired to keep creating and adding layers. In the end, “Stand Up” took on a unique charm that I love. Other tracks that I’m excited to share with our audiences are “Something Else” (an eerie psych-rock tune), “Demon Host” (rhythmic with deep harmonies) and our cover of “Bang Bang” (a live-show crowd favourite that was really fun to make our own and record).

What might fans expect in the next year from Carmanah?

While the future is extra hard to predict right now, Carmanah is getting set to record a new album and continue creating new content. We are finishing up the construction of our tour bus, an old GMC Greyhound bus that runs on vegetable oil and can sleep all of us comfortably. Once we can tour again, we will have new tunes and our bus ready to take off and see what adventure awaits.

What’s one thing that new listeners should know about Carmanah?

We’re genuine about our love for music, people and the planet. Our songs are written to celebrate, protect and uphold the best things in life.

Photo by Dani Cyr Creative

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