8 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 | Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org | $7-$8
Small talk becomes a different beast when you reach a certain age, too old for adults to tousle your hair and encourage your meandering ambitions. Instead, it’s a sharp turn toward reality, obstructed at first by knowing smiles and proffered wisdom on how to begin that lauded process of settling down. But for Chandler Strang, lyricist for local dream-pop band Saskatchewan, like many in their mid-20s, it became a point of contention and rejection against societal norms. Like anything that gets your blood going in youth, it fueled a creative surge that grew up to become a new sound for his band’s debut album, Occasion, due out as a digital release April 30.
“When I turned 24, I felt like I’d departed from childhood and adolescence and being innocent,” Strang says. “I realized I was viewed as an adult, and people started asking me when I was getting married and having kids and when I’m going to fall in line with what society requires of you, kind of. … I grew up in a very Christian environment, and a lot of the songs are about my take on corruption and people taking advantage of power situations, whether it be religion or government.”
The band’s goal was to put out a more groove-focused album, one that went to dark but dance-y places, on the path that ’80s bands like Joy Division and Tears for Fears stamped out. To support this idea, they acquired new gear from that era, abandoning the MicroKorg in favor of Juno keyboards and utilizing a dated drum set Strang happened into as a young boy.
“I was 10, going to church, and somebody donated them to the church,” Strang says. “And the church was like, these are shitty, we don’t want these, let’s donate them to some kid. And so we jumped on them, because they don’t really sound good. They just sound like ’80s samples, but I was fortunate that I kept them.”
The ’80s sound doesn’t just come from the instruments, but also from the musicians, with bass lines inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” and each band member’s admitted influence by quintessential New Wave projects (as well as R&B). But perhaps, for some, that’s been detectable since day one.
“I always loved ’80s music,” sitar player Geramy Layug says. “I grew up with ’80s R&B, listening to Prince, Michael Jackson and things like that, so that’s always been an influence in my life. And when Chandler approached me to be in the band, I felt that, even from the early stuff that wasn’t so ’80s-influenced, that we always kind of had that same vibe.”
But to those who fell hard for “Dreamboat,” the band’s first far-reaching single that found praise in music blogs, the band says they’ve jumped ship on that initial direction. They’ve come to regret the song, removing it online where they could and vowing not to let it resurface live. What listeners can expect, however, is a more polished album recorded entirely in studio, with a much more intentional composition that departs from the trendy reverb in favor of clearly accenting specific sounds at specific moments.
“I actually spent time trying to make something that was meaningful,” Strang says. “As opposed to our earlier songs, which were about having fun, really, and what came to us in the moment. We spent a year and a half doing this album from start to finish. … This product is what I’m most proud of, from what I’ve ever made.”