Bernice on “Puff LP: In the air without a shape”

Curious Creators

Oct 30, 2018 Photography by Claire Harvie
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The music of Toronto band Bernice (whose current line-up is Robin Dann, Thom Gill, Dan Fortin, Felicity Williams, and Phil Melanson) is a melange of sounds and textures. Their sophomore album, Puff LP: In the air without a shape, is a playful recording that, moving in unexpected directions, incorporates pop, R&B, jazz, and electronic elements. But despite the busyness of Bernice's palette, their music is not overwhelming. It's minimalistic with a fixation on the minutia.

"I'm curious to find sounds that I like and I'm not a great instrumentalist so it's very much half-discovery and half-accidents," says Dann, the band's lead singer and songwriter, about Bernice's sonic textures. She joins me on a cafe's patio on a warm evening in Toronto alongside Williams and Gill.

"I think that Phil and Thom both have a nice healthy amount of wanting to mess with the smoothness," Dann adds. "I'm drawn to sounds that are very smooth and soft and don't have a lot of harshness to them but when you do introduce those sounds, like when Phil brings in a really harsh drum sound or if Thom choses a keyboard part that's a little more angular, it's really refreshing."

On the LP's opening track "Glue," a moment of upheaval happens almost immediately when a laid back bass line is interrupted by a jagged electronic outburst and cracks the song's foundation, leading the way for a sunny pop groove to roll in.

"Phil and I will create these events that break-up the space and provide these other kinds of markers. The song is not necessarily being marked by a chorus, it's being marked by the sonics that are happening," Gill explains. "It snaps your brain out of following eight bars to eight bars and makes it about something else."

In 2011, Bernice independently released their debut full-length What Was That. Following its release, the band, with varying lineups, played a lot of live shows and put out a handful of tracks and then last year, Bernice signed to the label Arts & Crafts and released an EP, Puff.

The EP and the LP are partners and even share some of the same tracks, albeit different versions. At an artist residency in Banff, Dann connected with producer Shawn Everett. The EP Puff, with its noticeably fuller beats, are Everett's take on Bernice's tracks while the Puff LP was co-produced by the band and Matt Smith.

The songs of Puff (both the EP and LP) have been around for about two years so the band is eager to record new material. Toronto, like other musically busy cities, has a familiar cast of characters who appear on stages all over the city. The members of Bernice are part of Toronto's cast and, as they reveal, it's this community that drives them.

"I think it gives my life meaning, the community, and being able to enjoy each other and celebrate each other and to see all of the different versions of bands that happen," Dann says.

"Sometimes if I get overwhelmed by the question, 'what am I doing?' or I lose sight of my immediate next steps and I find myself reminding myself that my musical friends and those relationships are my sources of inspiration," adds Williams. "That's all that matters."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 64 (August/September/October 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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