Written by Ashton Istace
Edited by Chris Istace and Scott Roos
Photos by Ashton Istace
The North Portal, Sask. Duo of Lindsay Arnold and Mike Davis recently performed in the Saskatoon on Oct. 21, featuring tracks from their captivating new album, Endless Turn of Day into Night. Local favourite Aaron Karpinka opened the show with his authentic sound and vulnerable lyrics, giving the club a homey feel before the headliners took the stage. The regular patrons at the Black Rose Whiskey Club might not have expected the haunting chords produced by award-nominated Last Birds with only two acoustics and mesmerizing harmonies written by the couple.
Performing in a candle lit club on a simple stage, the emotion of the guitars filled the room. The couple rhythmically swayed their guitars as they strummed and sang songs of both sorrow and love. The solemn chords echoed, seizing the attention of the patrons sending them into a sense of nostalgia. Last Birds’ harmony melded into one alluring voice as they sang into their omni-mic.
“We wanted to come across as a sound of sincerity” Arnold explained before the performance. The show was more than just about the music. It was a deeply introspective narrative about the people that reside here in Saskatchewan.
The story of the Last Birds’ new album originates at their home in North Portal. Arnold is known to be the lyricist behind the music while Davis builds the melody and edits sound. “Endless Turn of Day into Night” captures the lesser publicized scenes of everyday life in rural Saskatchewan. The dynamic couple has produced a beautifully crafted, dusky album that illuminates the shadows that lurk in a small community. The songs dive into themes such as alcoholism, death, mental illness, escapism and passion; the secrets that lie behind stories that people tell.
“Some songs were directly about people we know and some are inspired by passed down rural legends,” said Arnold during the interview. “We based the songs of a small town, but not the romantic idea. Instead, we focused on the darker stories and the hardships. When you live in a small town, you know everybody’s stories and secrets. In some ways there’s not a lot of privacy.”
The album’s title track was inspired by the life of Arnold’s grandmother. She lived in North Portal with six children and a husband that spent his nights at the local bar. Through that time, she never learned how to drive and was stuck in town tending to the family. She loved television and romance novels which made Arnold often wonder if she lived a lonely life. Arnold wrote “Endless Turn of Day into Night” from her grandmother’s perspective, craving for escape. It's from this jumping off point that Davis and Arnold decided to write each song based on characters of the small village.
The first song of the album, “Give It to Me”, portrays a couple with a strong desire for each other that leads to self-sabotage. The willingness to give up your life for another just before everything falls apart. Later in the album, “After Dark” returns to this couple driving on the endless, dark road of their declining relationship. With no light and nowhere to go, the song describes how it feels to fall out of love while stuck in a relationship. “Back of my mind” is the story of another character in the village who suppresses their mental illness but needs help. They have a recurring loop of thoughts of regret while carrying the burden of despair. “One More” sets the scene in a bar where a man sits alone drinking to solve his internal loneliness as he feels the struggle of slowly losing his loved ones.
“The songs are like little scenes from a film but they're different people's perspectives interconnected to tell the story of the community,” said Davis.
Although most of the songs were based on real people, all but one of the stories are fictional except for the last, “Lucky Star”. This is an intimate piece created by Last Birds as a eulogy for a close friend who lost his life to ALS. Arnold decided to write “Lucky Star” as a love song in a way to not fear death. In this way, the album “Endless Turn of Day into Night” manages to turn life’s darkest concepts into intrigue and acceptance.
“We gravitate towards songs that would be described as bitter-sweet,” said Arnold. “I don’t want to know the happy surface, the face that we show the world. I want to know what lurks behind. The things we don’t bring up in casual conversation.” Arnold created specific artwork for the songs in Endless Turn of Day into Night. Before jumping into music production, Arnold was a visual artist for many years. To her, it was important to create graphics to fully capture the ambiance of the album for their listeners. “I like the idea of telling a story with pictures.” Arnold said.
As a young girl, Arnold admired vinyl covers and graphic novels. She was thrilled to finally get the opportunity to create something special with the album. After many designs, Arnold decided to settle on something simplistic and mysterious to reflect the songs. The artwork matches the music with a sense of depth, but bare-bones, similar to the acoustic sound.
“I wanted something that would be very recognizable, but yet very simply presented. I just wanted it to feel stark; like living out in the prairies,” the couple says. “There’s just this flat horizon. There’s the sky above you, and then you see an object. It could be an
abandoned house or a barbed wire fence with a bottle on it giving you the feeling that somebody has been here. It makes you question.”
For “Yellow Roses,” Arnold wanted the artwork to have a harsher tone, destroying the romanticism behind the colourful flowers. With a black silhouette of a house in the background and yellow circles with white stems, the image gives an ominous and somber feeling to reflect on the music. The yellow roses symbolize abandonment and unanswered questions of the house. Someone planted those roses for it just to be left behind.
Last Birds decided to produce something a little different compared to their earlier EPs. The instrumentals of “Endless Turn of Day into Night” have been stripped down to only focus on the two voices and acoustics as a way to create a lonesome sound.
“ It would give an opportunity for the stories and songs to be heard and it allowed Mike’s guitar to become another voice” Lindsay States. “The guitar’s melody tells a part of the story, setting the mood and tone taking us on a journey. It allowed us to convey more emotion.”
To create the musical atmosphere that Last Birds desired they produced their songs at Crushed Pickle Studios in Estevan with a close friend Jeff D. Michel. It was a chance for them to be vulnerable with their music and have the time to create the exact sound they’ve always wanted. This was the first time Last Birds became their own producer to have complete creative control.