A band named Hearing Trees doesn't just pencil in Prince George for a concert, it is practically compelled by the power of the forest. The Winnipeg rock crew has generated two EPs since 2013, and they've performed here on multiple occasions in support of that music, drawn by the audiences and community atmospheres that understand what it's like to be a city surrounded by vast expanses of natural power. Winnipeg has it; Prince George has it.
The process of making those two EPs, and the road trips to spread those songs, led to their debut full-length album which came out this month. Quiet Dreams is the third release by Hearing Trees but it also has the feel of something brand new.
If the small CDs were practice for the big album, those slim road trips were practice for the band's first full tour of Canada. They are hitting close to 30 dates from coast to coast this spring.
"This was our first full record so we felt it was time to put our cards on the table, time to get out there and go. You don't put all that work into it just to play a few shows, so let's go, all-in," said band founder and artistic director Graham Hnatiuk.
When you push play on Hearing Trees you get blown over a rock 'n' roll dune back to the garage days of 54-40, 13 Engines, or early REM from the mid/late '90s. It was a time of charged guitars that still delivered a clear melody, thwacking drums that sometimes thundered but often laid down a string of chippy-chippy breadcrumbs.
The bass was usually rich in colour, often as pronounced as a melody instrument. The vocals of that day were a gumbo of growls, shouts, and a heavy sauce of real singing.
The trademark lyrics of that form of music told little stories.
Sometimes they were too vague to make out a literal plot, but there were plenty of signs that the words were intentional and purposeful beyond hooks and rhymes. There was poetry to it.
And Canada was really good at it. Acts like Sandbox, Pure, The Pursuit of Happiness, Bootsauce, Sons of Freedom, The Gandharvas, Rheostatics, Odds, Holly McNarland, Rose Chronicles, Sloan, The Watchmen, The Grapes of Wrath, Copyright, Crash Vegas, Headstones and the like were some of the quintessentials.
Two of the biggest are on their way to Prince George later this month: Our Lady Peace and Matthew Good.
Hearing Trees has become a portal back to that halcyon eruption.
"I don't see a lot of bands doing that kind of thing today," Hnatiuk said. "And I don't think that it's out of style. I'm not trying to copy what any of those bands did, but I am doing my take on what I've absorbed from them."
He never felt like he was taking on a signature sound, or aspiring to a stylistic destination. He plays what feels right, and this is what's been coming out of the amps.
The finesse of the music is a major part of that rock. It was garage-y but it was also literate. Hnatiuk credits his reading habit with getting him into that lyrical headspace. He's into poetry, novels, nonfiction, newspapers, it just doesn't matter to him.
"You never know what you're going to find, even if you pick up a book at random," he said. "Words light your mind on fire. I'll get more ideas from books than from listening to other people's music, in general. That's my jam."
Great ideas - be they fragments of a chorus or a progression of chords - can come at the most inconvenient of times, though. When you're driving in thick traffic or hurrying up six flights of stairs, you can't halt and work it out into its best form. Hnatiuk carries his smartphone and often a mini-recorder to save those spontaneous thoughts, but his dominant tool is a little book where he writes things down with a pen, the old fashioned way. He's not the only one to go with the organic side of songwriting gizmos.
Country star Brett Kissel calls his "hook book."
"I like that Brett's got a word for it. Nice," said Hnatiuk.
"I've seen Brett play and he's on a different level. There's a lot of stuff he's doing that I have no idea about. Anytime I get a chance to talk to a guy like that, I want to pick their brains about it."
Hnatiuk might well be a how-to book waiting to be written on the ways of becoming exactly whom you wish to be. He was a young man going through mental health struggles, and a lot of life-struggle in the mid-2000s. He decided he was going to be a professional musician, the frontman of a rock band, despite the fact he knew next to nothing about how to play or perform music. Seeing the end goal across that gulf of ignorance was not a problem for him, because he had a simple plan: take the first step. Don't fixate on what the last steps are supposed to look like. So he put himself through the paces of becoming a musician, a performer, a recording artist, and now he is standing in the light of his vision.
He said there was nothing special about it. Many people do the same thing, only their goal is to open a coffee shop, or become an electrician. It's not an obsession, it is not a dream, it is the setup of the first step, followed by the subsequent steps, bringing anyone to the destination they wished for.
"I would go to shows, and the feeling that I got from going to see live music was the (inspirational, transformative) thing," he said. "It was like, this is the best thing in the world, and you only get it here. You can't get it from listening to music, you have to be where you can feel it in your body, and I just decided I needed to be the guy on stage delivering that feeling. I wanted to be on the other side of it. I wanted to give other people the feeling I was getting. I had no idea how to do that, but I was willing to start somewhere, take the steps. When you come at it from a perspective of wanting to learn, you're open to people teaching you, and growing, and I'm still doing that."
Hearing Trees bring their Quiet Dreams to the Omineca Arts Centre on Tuesday with special guests The Jack Somer Band, a Prince George unit that met up with Hearing Trees out on the road and they struck up a friendship.
Hnatiuk said he knew he wanted any P.G. date of his to include the JSB people, and it's another wish come true.
Tickets are $15 (plus tax) at the door. The door is at 1119 Third Avenue and it opens at 6:30 that night, with the music starting at 7 p.m.