Music Interview: Beneath These Idle Tides

By Peter Hemminger

I don’t think music is about technical expertise,” Myke Atkinson confides on a tour of his office. “Certain guitar players can play progressions that I could never pull off no matter what, that’s great. But they’re not doing anything to translate what they’re feeling, they’re just making things that sound polite and nice.”

The room is dark, the sole window blocked with tin foil so no natural light gets in. Above the window sits a blood red rose, dried and preserved behind glass. There are two separate collections of railroad spikes, gathered from the train tracks he wanders to ease his mind, and a comprehensive rhyming dictionary sits off to the side. A white board lists proposed articles for a magazine that never launched and a set of reminders: finalize artwork, contact booking agents across the country, and perhaps most important of all, clean your room.

The decor doesn’t much resemble a typical office. Neither, for that matter, does the office’s location in his parents’ suburban home in northwest Calgary. Nevertheless, this is the base of operations for both Beneath These Idle Tides and Down Records, the band and record label which have consumed Atkinson’s life.

The family garage is another casualty of these commitments. It now houses a box of raw materials to be handcrafted into packaging for This Night Is For You, Beneath These Idle Tides’ debut album. Magazine cutouts of Freemasons soon to form posters promoting the CD’s release also litter the floor. If it’s a little bizarre to see Atkinson phoning Toronto promoters while sitting on a bed piled with unwashed clothes, it is downright surreal to see a neighbor politely interrupt him from spray painting gunshot wounds onto pictures of Masonic figures to ask after his mom.

“Music is capturing emotion and putting it into a form other people can understand,” Atkinson continues after the interruption. “I’ve done the straightforward rock thing, trying to make music that was pretty typical verse chorus rock. I’ve done that, and I realize that you have to go through that point in your musical development where you think ‘I like these bands, I want to make music like these bands.’ And then there comes a point where you think ‘I just want to make music that’s mine’ instead.”

Personal as it is, Atkinson’s music is finding an audience despite its challenging nature. The music, influenced by Mogwai’s emotional intensity, Set Fire to Flames’ atmospheric noise, and the patient minimalism of Constellation Records’ roster, is alternately somber and bombastic. The album crafts soundscapes with the glacial beauty equally reminiscent of the isolation of Antarctica and the buzzing menace of a dystopian future. The presence of an audience for such aggressively non-pop music doesn’t surprise Atkinson.

“I think it’s genuine,” he ventures. “It’s my emotions put out on record. I personally believe if you’re making something from your heart that you’re putting out on record, it may not be for everyone, but there’s going to be a crowd out there that appreciates it, no matter what. Even if it’s not the most technically proficient thing ever, just the fact that you’re making the music of your heart will come across. As long as you’re not trying to emulate some sort of sound, if you stay behind that and just trust your gut feeling of where the song should go, you can’t really go wrong.”

However unique the sound, and however accepting people are of it, there is always a tendency to classify it. While words like ambient and experimental come up regularly when Idle Tides is discussed, Atkinson isn’t happy with the description.

“The whole thing with electronic and atmospheric is I really don’t like associating myself with those sorts of genres and terms,” he explains, choosing his words carefully. “There are certain things that accompany them that I don’t pull into my music at all. I’m not really that experimental, it’s totally rock based, in that I like rock music and I write them as rock songs. Sure, there’s two chords and I play them over and over for eight minutes, but it’s guitar based, it’s noisy, it’s angry, it’s everything that rock is supposed to be. I don’t see why I can’t associate myself with that term just because it sounds a bit different.”

Like any rock album, This Night Is For You is best experienced live. As the emotional connection becomes more immediate, the songs are easier to understand and appreciate.

“I don’t want to put out a record where I have to sell it as a record,” Atkinson says while blindfolding the recently shot Masons. “I want people to see it live. I don’t know how to sell an electronic record, I do know how to sell a rock record. That’s what it comes down to.”