To promote their recently released debut album The Voyage, the six members of Ottawa’s talented indie/folk/rock group Sounds of Stories will be making a voyage of their own down the 401 and performing this Saturday at The Central in Toronto. I had the chance to sit down with founding member and lead vocalist Vanessa Luis and discuss the group’s journey so far.
What’s the inspiration behind the band’s name?
Well actually, we used to have a different band name whenever [our rhythm guitarist] Billy and I were just a duo, and we were called The New Standard. And then we realized it was a little bit pretentious to be called The New Standard, and also it was already taken when we tried to register with SOCAN, so we sat down with some of our old band members at the time and were brainstorming names, and I think Billy and I, who are like the founders of the band, were talking about how we literally make songs out of stories, and then it turned into Sounds of Stories. Yeah, the inspiration is basically that all the songs are drawn from things from our lives, like things that we’ve gone through, and we just kind of tell these stories of our past through music basically.
As you alluded to, you’ve grown a lot as a band since the early days. What made you decide to expand and how did you go about doing that?
There’s been a few rounds of different members. So at the beginning, whenever Billy and I would just jam, at first it was just with covers and then we started adding our own songs into there that we were writing, which we still play today and are on the new album. And we would kind of hear from other people that we’d play in front of that “Oh you guys would sound sweet with a piano” or “You guys would sound sweet with a drummer,” and we knew that our songs were good enough for other musicians to be able to put some input into and make the song that much better. We first added Billy’s brother into the band who plays mandolin on the album, Jason. So that was an easy bring in because he comes from a musical family. And then we found some other people that were friends. Our piano player and harmony vocalist is Emma and I found her in class. Our prof had brought us out for beers on the last class and we started chatting and I was like, “Yeah, I’m in a band and we really wanna add some piano and like, female vocals behind my voice” and she was like, “That is literally what I do, I love singing backup and I play piano.” So we got each other’s contact info and started jamming. Other people we kind of met online. Our current drummer I met on theottawamusician.com, it’s a site where you can just discuss things with other musicians. So a lot of them have been like online Kijiji ads that have gone well or sometimes peoples’ lives just go in other directions, but that’s basically it.
How do you generally go about writing new material?
It’s kind of all over the place. Mostly in terms of lyrics, Billy and I write the lyrics. Sam is our new lead guitarist and he’s been interested in writing. I think we’re going to try some of his new stuff for the new album. But generally what happens with the tracks that are on the current album is that Billy would write some lyrics and show me, but they wouldn’t be complete, and I’d come up with a melody, and we’d sit there and finish the song together. Other times it was the reverse where I would have lyrics ready and I knew how I wanted to sing it but I was like, “I don’t know what guitar part would go well with this.” So we would just kind of sit down and jam together. And right now we’re kind of doing the same thing because we wanna include everybody else in that writing process. We’re really open about communicating and figuring out what sounds good where and experimenting with different things.
Can you talk about a song on the record that really stood out for you thematically, and one that stuck out musically?
I’d say thematically, our two songs “The Voyage: Part I” and “The Voyage: Part II,” they are the most themed of songs on the album. They are actually about a book that I read as a little girl [called The Secret Journey by Peg Kehret] and I love this book, I still have it in my room. And I was looking back at it and I was like “This is a really good story.” In it, this little girl tries to save her mom who has been taken away on a ship and has got to get care—because I don’t even know what time this is set in, but it’s set quite a long time ago where you had to be shipped out on a boat to get care medically—so she tries to follow and gets stuck on this cargo ship where she has to like pretend she’s a boy and works on the ship, and then she gets stranded on an island and has to make it on the island. It also has a really good message about coming out on top after dealing with a lot of struggle and that’s something I could relate to at the time and I can still relate to that.
In terms of what the fans seem to like, “Hey You” is probably the most bubbly and happy song, musically. It’s very simple, it’s not like it’s blowing you away—it wouldn’t blow a classical musician away. But in terms of getting people dancing, I’d say “Hey You” is the best option. “Da Na” is actually going to be a bonus track on the album, it’s not on the current album but we’re printing some more right now that’ll be sold at our show on Saturday and that’s going to be on it. That song has a lot of musical solos, it really showcases all of our musicians and it’s a great song […] It’s called that because it goes “Da na, da na, da na na na.”
So it’s an onomatopoeia song.
What are you guys involved in outside of music?
Music is kind of taking over our lives right now, we’re practicing all the time. But we as a band are definitely involved in trying to stay in the community and support other musicians. It’s hard whenever you’re working [elsewhere professionally], everyone’s working at different times and we do try to make it out to shows together sometimes, but a couple of us [at least] will try to make it out to other musicians’ shows and support them. We just did a community event for a café called The Daily Grind that was affected by a fire, as were some other businesses and apartment buildings that were next to it, so we did a fundraiser event on Sunday and did a little three-person set for that.
Individually, everybody has different things going for them. Simon is a music teacher so he teaches drums to kids. Emma works with seniors—she loves her seniors!—and plays music for them. I’m a nanny, I work with a child and I’m often doing musical things with the child.
What’s a random fact about the band that you’d love for people to know?
One funny things is that we’ve been trying to GoPro a lot of our time together so that we can put together some videos, and the majority of our videos are of someone eating. It’s pretty clear that we like to eat food together and video tape it.
If you could open a show for anyone, who would it be?
This one’s really easy actually. We would definitely open for Of Monsters and Men. Of Monsters and Men are Billy and I’s favourite band and we know that the majority of our musicians also consider them one of their top bands.