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Strange Tides Interview

Navigating the Waters of Change: An Intimate Dive into Strange Tides’ EP ‘Differentiation

In an evocative conversation with Strange Tides, the artist delves into the profound themes encapsulated in their latest EP, ‘Differentiation’. This collection of songs emerges from a decade of transformative experiences, reflecting on personal growth, familial roles, and spiritual introspection. With a candid exploration of breaking away from past influences to forge a unique identity, Strange Tides discusses the intricate process of songwriting that mirrors their journey towards self-definition. This interview not only reveals the artist’s struggle with faith and identity but also showcases their commitment to authentic expression through genre-fluid music.

Strange Tides, thank you for the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss your recent EP, Differentiation; the thematic undercurrents in the lyrical poetry are beyond compelling; can you tell us a little bit about the concept of the release and what inspired its creation?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you! I’m so grateful to have the chance to dig a little deeper into this little packet of songs.

“Differentiation” came out of a process of perpetual disorientation and reorientation that unfolded through my twenties. At the surface, this included a lot of adulthood firsts: first bereavement (Ides of March) and first experience of doubt as a person of faith (Out of Deep Waters, Father of my Father) being the clearest. More abstractly, I also found myself reassessing a lot of assumptions for the first time. In particular, this stage of life saw me examining my role in my family as an adult, my role as a person of faith, and God’s own attitude towards me and humanity at large. While examining these ideas, I spent a lot of time contrasting myself against those around me, or against my past self…. But I continually bumped up against the wonderful reality that, despite all our differences, we are unavoidably shaped by others. These tensions: connectedness in the presence of difference, and the new and old self, were soil from which this record grew.

There’s a strong lyrical emphasis on autonomously determining your own values and goals; how hard do you think it is to separate yourself from social and familial conditioning to know what you truly want and need? 

I suspect the answer to that is some combination of a person’s personality and the dynamic of their family or community of origin. I must admit, with some embarrassment, that I am easily influenced by others, so it is fortunate for me that my parents encouraged me to move away so that I could gain some autonomy and perspective. If not given that freedom externally, I think I would have found it exceptionally difficult to grasp. Even so, the experience of thinking differently from people I love or admire was still painful. There is a core group of people with whom I will always belong, even as my convictions and outlooks shift, but these changes still upset the existing balance of relationships. As I change, there’s a bit of effort required of my loved ones to stay curious about me, and also to stay rooted in their own values, while still being willing to be shaken up every now and again. And I owe them that same effort in return. Indeed, in Father of my Father, you see me in the midst of a battle between my own disappointment with other people’s changes in belief, and my desire to keep my mind and heart wholly open to those people.

Your advocacy for authenticity is made all the more convincing through your distinctive songwriting and genre-fluidity, was this intentional, or did it just happen naturally? 

Thank you! I pride myself on my intentionality in stepping out of my usual habits and matching musical to emotional tone, but there are certainly genres I gravitate to. Breaking out of those requires some effort. I’m not sure I can quite assert that I’ve succeeded in doing this, but I’m certainly taking steps in that direction in songs like “Out of Deep Waters”. This is an example of a song for which I put a great deal of thought into breaking my usual patterns: the verses and bridge employ different chord progressions than I usually go for, and I had to push myself toward a higher tempo than I ever naturally land on. However, the choruses in that song include a major key walk-down that is very instinctive for me (and which shows up again in full force in “Lighthouse”).

We love how your releases can meld grandiosity and intimacy simultaneously, how was this achieved with singles such as Out of Deep Waters? 

I think the answer here is simple: I have a lot of feelings. Conveying these many feelings in the context of a single song creates a lot of drama!

“Out of Deep Waters” specifically took me a long time to get around to writing. I wrote “Lighthouse” in 2018, which I knew would serve as a resolution to some kind of tension; this meant I needed to write a song that would lead into Lighthouse, and which would put across some heavier emotions. I had in mind the idea of using gritty instrumentation and fast pacing, as heard in the verses. But it wasn’t until I was properly writing the song in the summer of 2023 that the lighter choruses bubbled out of me. I felt that the switches between the heavy verses and the lighter choruses could effectively capture that which I had been struggling to convey: joy and despair were both living in my chest, and the frequency with which I bounced between them was dizzying! Even as I was totally dismayed in the face of my own intellectual unbelief, a sense of kinship with the divine, and a connection which seemed to remain through no effort of my own, was a source of joy.

Can we delve deeper into the emotional themes of Out of Deep Waters and the final single on the EP, Lighthouse, and how the instrumentals visualise metaphors for disorientation and resolution? 

“Out of Deep Waters” feels increasingly like the manic creation of somebody who has given up on trying to make sense of things, and perhaps that’s what it is.

This song is first and foremost about the loss (and rediscovery) of my faith, which is why it employs so much resurrection imagery. The experience of letting go of faith is different for different people – towards the end of the song you hear me refer to a friend who was relieved to find herself in a place of unbelief. But for me, it was a profound loss, and you can see me processing that loss in the song’s verses.

The verses describe everything from those early, defensive emotions (e.g. disgruntlement, denial of the situation) to later, deeper ones (grief and loneliness). Musically, they hit hard and fast, because that is how unbelief came to me. Both verses also contain a church organ moment: an obvious nod to the theme at hand and intended to sound a little unnerving. Furthermore, The predictability of the three-beat shots we hear in verse one is broken in verse two, where one beat is missing from each set of shots, creating a sense of confusion.

And yet, hope lies beneath the chaos: the choruses come in with major chords, clean guitar tones, and some charming pizzicato work on the cello to give voice to the uplifting moments that were peppered through an otherwise dark season. In the second chorus, a background voice enters (“Yoohoo! Where are you?”) with an absurd playfulness, as though all I am doing is playing “Hide and Seek” with the divine. Godself echoes this sentiment in the bridge, where a couple of phrases of steady but light baroque piano provides the backbone for a message of assurance in God’s voice.

However, the tension which characterises this song is not yet resolved. Instead, it reaches its apex during the transition into “Lighthouse”, where ever-changing chord progressions, an increasing tempo, and increasingly crowded instrumentation bring about a sense of urgency reflective of my own deepening desperation and confusion. In the climactic moment, a variety of loved ones pull me from the body of water in which I did not realise I was drowning. The baptism metaphor, which was opened with the line “[I] was laid in the sea as they lifted him up” is brought to a close with, “this baptism isn’t quite what I’d imagined \ I break through the surface, and see I’ve been drowning”, leaving the song to resolve with a peaceful bass melody, before flowing into “Lighthouse”.

Where “Out of Deep Waters” is jam-packed with different instrumentation, chord progressions, and emotional tone; “Lighthouse” is a picture of musical predictability, with warm, major chords carrying the listener gently to the end of the album. The voice of God shows up one last time, in the form of a call to rely on loved ones for wisdom and strength (and to provide the same in return, when the time comes). The steady rhythm thumped out on the floor tom and bass guitar during this section provides a sense of confidence and assurance that was conspicuously absent through most of “Out of Deep Waters”. The piano, cello, and lead guitar team up to build to an ending which I hope evokes similar emotions to the experience of receiving kindness from someone during a moment of need.

How did your artistic journey start, and where has it taken you so far? 

My musical journey started at the age of six, in the basement of my first piano teacher’s house. I began learning songs using the Suzuki Method (by ear), before learning to read music and moving through Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music for piano and theory. I expanded to other instruments around the age of ten when I first began to play the guitar and write songs. From there, I was lucky to be a part of a church where my musical gifts were intentionally fostered by leaders and fellow congregants; this is the context in which I first learned to drum and play the bass. I’ve since developed these skills further through lessons and by playing in bands in which I’m held to a high standard!

As I honed more instruments, my at-home recordings of the songs I was writing became more sophisticated, and I began to develop an instinct for production. To this day, creating a dialogue between many musical voices is my favourite part of songwriting.

During my undergraduate years, I picked up the occasional coffee house gig, but it wasn’t until I met my former bandmate, Victoria, that I began gigging on a regular basis. It was at a pub gig together that we met Sound Engineer and Producer, Dan Ponich, who has recorded all of Strange Tides’ songs but one. With Dan’s help, I was able to grow into a co-producer role for this most recent EP: an experience that has shaped my vision for future projects.

How has your songwriting style evolved for this EP? 

This EP marked quite a few shifts for Strange Tides. This is the first Strange Tides record since Victoria’s departure, and for me, it was a return to the practice of writing on my own. I took the opportunity to re-examine some old songs that I had written, but not recorded, and saw the “differentiation” theme tying them together. This motivated me to create a record whose sole purpose was to examine this theme and helped me to crystalise my vision for future EPs. Furthermore, having made a couple of meaningful connections in the music world over the last few years, I had access to musicians capable of doing things I could only dream of doing, so I was able to write with other people’s skill sets in mind. The presence of cello and upright bass on this record is a real treat!

Is it hard to find the balance between following your experimental muse and releasing music that will resonate with your new and existing fans? 

I think this is probably a problem that most musicians grapple with. I profess that the best art comes from whatever is truly within (cheesy, I know), but then I find myself wondering where I should bend to the tastes of the masses so that perhaps reveals a paradox within me. That being said, there is a Venn diagram of that which is marketable, and that in which I find joy and meaning in creating. So perhaps my goal is to find the area of overlap when that which naturally pours out of me can connect well with the listeners.

What’s next for Strange Tides? 

If only I had endless time and money to devote to this project; I have so many ideas I’d like to execute. For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue releasing 4-6 song EPs that each explore a single theme, and I have themes in mind for the next two or three of those EPs, with the themes informing their musical shape. My plan for the remainder of 2024 is to play some gigs (likely more intimate ones), write lots, and create a few demos so that I can record the next record in 2025.

Listen to Strange Tides’ EP Differentiation on Spotify.

Interview by Amelia Vandergast