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You can't stop a mammoth.
Especially a rock 'n' roll mammoth led by singer/guitarist Daniel Carriere and bassist Sandy MacKinnon.
Royal Tusk is the name of their beast — a shaggy, tenacious force with hints of Americana, soul, and a whole lotta heart. Their first six-song EP, Mountain, is due June 10 on Hidden Pony Records. You could say the title refers to the pair's immovable friendship, but it's also a cheeky nod to their persistence as musicians — not even a mountain can deter Royal Tusk.
“We've been pushing a cart uphill for years,” Carriere chuckles. “We just don't know how to stop,” MacKinnon admits.
You might recognize the two from Ten Second Epic, one of Edmonton's most beloved rock bands. After 12 years, three albums and two Juno nominations, Ten Second Epic is winding down, but Carriere and MacKinnon still want to make music together. “With the experience of Ten Second Epic, we learned how to do it right, so we know which tunes to put forward …,” says Carriere. “… And not to be so sensitive if something isn't as good as something else,” adds MacKinnon, who sports a tattoo of a bass-playing mammoth on is right arm. “Not to mention having spent the last 12 years in a van.”
“Some of these songs are really old. I feel there's a certain amount of climbing … and learning what you really wanna do. There's also a certain amount of catharsis, as if you're closing a chapter by writing these songs,” Carriere says. “Most of them, kind of cryptically, address certain people, relationships that I've had in my life.
During some downtime from Ten Second Epic, Carriere also briefly co-fronted DreamFace, a pop band. “I wanted to make sure Royal Tusk was very player-oriented, whereas in DreamFace, I pretty much wrote every part and recorded it,” says Carriere. Keyboardist Motorbike James, guitarist J. Eygenraam and drummer Calen Stuckel round off Royal Tusk. “With Royal Tusk, I get a rough idea of a song and say, 'OK, guys, let's go, write your parts!' I wanted to get excited again, hear what they bring to the table. Sometimes if you write every single note, you're like 'What is this?' It's the dynamic between people that makes music fun and inspires you.”
You can hear the fun and excitement on Mountain, produced by Gus Van Go (The Stills, Said The Whale, Hollerado). Even when Royal Tusk is tackling heartache, regret or indecision, their songs seem to burst with joy — thanks to bubbly organs, soulful grooves, elasticized riffs, and Carriere's warm, but defiant vocals on tracks such as the first single, Shadow of Love, and The Letter.
With a cross-Canada tour lined up, Carriere and MacKinnon will once again get in the van and continue pushing forward.
Nope, you really can't stop a mammoth.