Digging Roots

Digging Roots

By Lenny Stoute

Digging Roots is a Kama Sutra kind of band, one that can assume some very unique positions. There’s that genre defying sound in a class by itself, they’re a rock world rarity with dual frontpersons and while they can bang a gong for the sheer rawk’n’roll of it with the best of ‘em, they’re also capable of issue-inspired lyrics sharp as a steppin’ razor. Duality is in the marrow of this band as reflecting its nature as a collaboration between Shoshona Kish and Raven Kanatakta to cut holes in the far fences of roots music.

Reached at the couple’s woodsy central Ontario home on a mellow fall afternoon, Shoshona is pleased to talk about the collaborative process of creating Digging Roots music.

“ I’m a big fan of the process. We write everything together; sometimes one will have more of the finished product than the other but they are all true collaborations. Even when one of us has the bulk of the song, you leave room for the other person’s input. We share similar sensibilities regarding the process; we don’t stop with the first version of a song. That’s just the point at which we go digging for deeper themes, deeper possibilities. I think of it as mining for the song’s hidden gold”.

Digging Roots dropped a lot of jaws when they showed up seemingly out of nowhere in 2006 with their debut stash, Seeds. The blend of organic instruments and laptop, the rhythmic wallop of funkified rock and deconstructed electric blues jammed out dance floors, wowed the critics, garnered a Juno nomination and put the band on a three year tour of Canada, the US and Europe that only just ended a couple of weeks ago.

Which, to budding workaholic Raven, means it's time to drop the follow-up album and get back on the road again. We Are is it’s name and further genre busting is the game. In keeping with the collaborative spirit and with an eye for radio play, Albertan musician Kinnie Starr, herself no stranger to genre-bending, joined up to co-produce with Raven.

“ One great thing about the album was it was recorded over a period of a year”, he notes, “We deliberately didn’t rush and had lots of time to allow the ideas to grow. We had this cabin right on the water and we’d go there and kick around ideas, just have some fun with it. When we were ready to do something, the studio was just 10 minutes further down the lake. It was sweet and we could keep the process as organic as possible. Kinnie and I co produced most of the time but there were times when I stepped back and let her do her thing. What she brought was industry experience we didn’t have and a sense of what it takes to get radio airplay”.

The Berklee College of Music trained Raven is way buzzed on the particular songwriting technique the pair deployed for We Are. They started by creating song maps, based on an ancient traditional technique. It’s about using the skyline, the treeline or horizon as an indicator of where a melodic would rise and fall, where the rests and sustains would be, matched to that of the undulating treeline or skyline. “So with the song map in hand, we went into shaping each in the most organic way, the way it felt right”.

Safe to say that if you’re looking for traditional First Nations music, this isn’t your band. This pair walks a thin and razor sharp line between respect for tradition and pushing traditional boundaries; between community expectations and personal ambition. Shoshona is forthcoming about the stacked deck which comes with being a community spokesperson.

“ That’s very much part of our consciousness. Being artists coming out of our social and cultural background, it’s inevitable that we are in the spokespersons role. It’s not something we avoid; there are some very community specific songs on Seeds. People know we’re an activist band, that we speak out about First Nations issues but that doesn’t keep us from scrutiny”.

Choosing her words careful as a kitten crossing a minefield, Shoshona feels, if there such a thing, that the band has paid it’s cultural dues and should have no qualms about evolving to the point where they’re known as a really good band, bereft of cultural or genre qualifiers.

“ The ‘native band’ tag is something we have to put up with but it's also something we’re looking to get past. We’re very careful not to be disrespectful but we can’t let that hold us back as artists. We don’t deny our cultural traditions or obligations to the community but we shouldn’t be limited by them either. “ It’s a very different experience being a native band in Europe. I find Europeans very interested in the more political material, probably because they're further removed and juts aren’t that knowledgeable about native issues in Canada”.

Less politicized than Seeds, We Are is an album about stepping out, about cherry picking among the styled of music which inform Digging Roots tunes. Free of having to deal with “follow-up album" expectations, the songs came together in an atmosphere of fun and experimentation.

“ We wanted to please ourselves as artists while keeping the elements in our sound that connect with the audience" says Raven. “ We had all kinds of fun playing with sound, we did things like put rolls from Christmas wrapping paper under the drums, stuck a condenser mike on the end of the roll and recorded like that”.

Throughout the conversation, Kish and Kanatakta speak of musical experimentation and evolution with the confidence that comes with having a well-received debut album. Critics far and wide loved the sound of Seeds and wherever they played, the good looking, charismatic pair and their three piece backing band were well received. So they know they’ve hit a nerve and to whatever degree, there are now people eager to hear what Digging Roots come up with next.

We Are won’t disappoint those people and is sure to make the band new fans. The tightened up flow gives the overall album a more catchy rock appeal without lightening up on the atmospherics and more introspective numbers.

We Are drops Oct.13, with the album release throwdown set for Toronto’s Mod Club.