Brookside Mall, unlike their namesake, are doing very, very well. With a six-song EP set to release on April 14 ahead of a five-province tour, the bandmates are excited.
Sitting around a table in the back of Read’s café, the conversation flows faster than the coffee being poured behind the counter. Traipsing through half-serious ideas of a show at Brookside Mall itself, nostalgia for the Zellers family restaurants and plans to survive off ham sandwiches for the entirety of their forthcoming tour, it’s hard to not let the conversation flow, just to see where it goes.
The Fredericton trio of Brendan MaGee, Josh Steeves and Dylan Ward are well known within the local music scene: MaGee and Steeves both having worked at Harvest Jazz and Blues, Ward a sound technician and member of David in the Dark.
All three have been making music since high school, but for MaGee and Steeves, Brookside Mall came after a period of musical drought.
“We were in a full year course together at STU … we started jamming together for something to do. We both used to play music a bit but neither of us had been, at least for a couple years,” said MaGee.
That spring, MaGee and Steeves began playing as a two-piece band.
Ward, who is also a member of David in the Dark, joined the band by less traditional means, said MaGee.
“We were playing this show in Parkindale, which is where Josh is from, with David in the Dark. Dylan lost a pool game that night at Josh’s parent’s house.”
“And then I became the bass player … [the game] was between the myself and the old bass player,” said Ward.
Ward jumped into his role and immediately started recording for the band’s debut EP, Young Champions in time for its March 2016 release.
In a music scene that punches well above its weight, Brookside Mall still stands out. While some might take a lead guitar as par for the course for a local indie group, what actually sets Brookside Mall apart is the lack of a six-string. Rather, MaGee’s keyboard and synths take the lead, giving Ward and Steeves more room to experiment with complex beats on bass and drums.
“The economy of a three-piece band is really interesting. It kind of forces you to try and be more dynamic,” said MaGee. Having fewer musicians means each member has to fill more space in each song, allowing the drums and bass to be more prominent than they would be in a guitar-dominated group.
“In a three piece, everyone has more roles. You can’t always depend on a guitar solo,” said Steeves.
This need to fill space is also where MaGee’s complex, staccato vocals come from. “Again, it’s an extension of each member having more space to fill,” said MaGee.
That’s not to say the band is insular – their latest EP, Preservation, features almost as many cameos as it does songs, including Cedric Noel, Jane Blanchard, Nick Cobham and Chris MacLean. Guests’ backing vocals flesh out the songs and give Preservation more depth than Brookside Mall’s previous works.
Despite guests and upbeat tempos, Preservation is above all else brooding and introspective. Song lyrics are marked by nostalgia, the constant thought of ‘what if?’ One would be forgiven for taking the EP as a breakup album. However, the songs are more inward-looking. They dig deep and are more about struggling to change rather than grieving a loss.
“Did my best to resurrect, then tried and failed hard to forget / Now I don’t know what happens next,” sings MaGee on Preservation’s “Garden.”
MaGee bares his soul in these six songs. Written while he was in a bad place after a breakup, he said performing the songs over a year removed from the events that inspired them can be difficult
“It’s strange to go back to those songs, I was having a rough time … the nostalgia element is where that comes from. That situation being impermanent and never being able to revisit it makes it weird thing to put forward and sing publicly.”
“I’m constantly listening to old voice memos and dwelling on the nostalgia before we perform those songs live to try and make sure they’re as genuine as possible.”
Preservation was written and recorded over six months – twice as long as Young Champion. While MaGee jokes about the process taking a month per song, he also found taking time away from the songs improved the EP as a whole.
“Just spending that much time removed from the songs was a really interesting experience to kinda go back to them. It was good for perspective, to come back with new ideas.”
The hustle isn’t easy, but for MaGee, Ward and Steeves, Brookside Mall will continue to be as long as it’s rewarding. They also recognize it’s often not possible to always be playing, touring and recording.
“We have a willingness to take time off when we have too many things going on which has been really good in terms of long term keeping things together,” said MaGee.
Wherever the road leads, Steeves sees no reason to slow down now.
“It’s a lot of fun and it hasn’t run out yet.”