One Giant Step for the Tourist Company

L to R: Swindells, Parry, Levey and Quezada.
All photos by Brian Chan photography. 

Vancouver’s own The Tourist Company formed in 2013 after camp friends Taylor Swindells (singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist), Jillian Levey (vocalist) and Brenon Parry (drummer) began playing folk music together. After recording the trio’s first album, Brother Wake Up, the group expanded to include bassist Josué Quezada. The group also expanded their sound, channeling an experimental pop-rock feel.

The Tourist Company has seen many successes in a short amount of time, such as representing Vancouver in CBC’S Searchlight competition, as well as placing third in British Columbia’s prestigious PEAK Performance Project.

The Tourist Company visited Ottawa Life’s office the day of their show at Raw Sugar. We sat down with the band and chatted about the Canadian music scene, social media and space.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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OLM: What has been your experience breaking into the Canadian music scene?
Jillian: Pretty good so far, I’d say. We’ve been lucky enough to take part in a few competitions, like CBC Searchlight. Soon after it we were able to take part in the Peak Performance Project, too. I feel like it all just came quite quickly but it’s been wonderful.

OLM: What was the Peak Performance Project like?
Brenon: Stressful. We didn’t expect to get in when we applied because we were really new. It really whipped us into shape in a lot of ways. It’s really intensive and throws you into the deep end.
Jill: It focuses a lot on the business end of things. We found out that being in the music industry is 90% business, and 10% artistry.
Brenon: It’s 90% business, 9% sitting in a van and 1% artistry.
Josué: It should’ve been called the Peak Business Project.
Brenon: Because the music industry has changed so much in the last five years, it’s really on the artist to do most of (the work) themselves. You can’t rely on anybody else anymore; you have to do the gritty work yourself.

OLM: Is that frustrating?
Brenon: It can be at times, but it can also be really rewarding when you put the hard work into something you’re so passionate about. Especially something as sensitive as an art form, it can be rewarding. On the flip side, it makes it hurt even more when something doesn’t work out.

OLM: Do you guys find that the Canadian music industry is really small?
Brenon: Oddly enough, yeah. I’m originally from Southern Arizona and I grew up playing music. The scene there is very small but it is also very competitive. You better watch out for yourself and there isn’t a lot of camaraderie among the bands. Coming to Vancouver, (I found that) there is a big community among artists that are very welcoming and accepting.
Jillian: It’s great. In the general field that we are in, we see a lot of the same people over and over again. You make friends with musicians that you keep meeting. You play shows with them, and tour with them.
Josué: For instance, we are playing with the same people tonight (Moonfruits) in the same place (Raw Sugar) (as we did last year).
Brenon: Even bands that are in the same genre of us will be going out for the same slots or interviews… normally I feel like there would be a sense of bitterness. But I feel because we are friends with a lot of bands, even when they get (a show or interview) over us, we are able to be happy for them.
Jillian: And we’re still gonna see that show.
Brenon: It’s vice versa, too.

OLM: Do you guys feel that social media is something that helps bands or do you feel that it can hurt bands or figures?
Jill: It depends on how you use it. If you are using it, first of all, that’s a big step. There’s a lot of bands that are of an older age that are not familiar with social media, so they are less keen on using it. A huge demographic of who is listening to our music is in that age group that is engaging in social media. It’s pretty fun; it’s a way of engaging with fans who aren’t a part of our local Vancouver circle. It’s cool to engage with the fans.
Josué: It’s up to you if you use it well or not.
Brenon: I think it can be abused really easily, though. I think there are a lot of  “social media bands” who know how to hack the social media networks to make it seem that they are really established because they have a lot of likes or a lot of followers, or a lot going on. But they don’t have any substance.
Jill: That’s true, though. If you have a lot of followers, then you’ll be looked at as a band that can pull more ticket sales.
Taylor: But you can’t fake fans.

OLM: I was listening to Space Race yesterday…
Jill: I saw your tweet!

OLM: I was completely jamming. What inspired it?
Taylor: Watching documentaries on repeat as a six year old. That obsession popped back into my head when we were looking to write more material. I loved the imagery from that time period and used it a lot to express things.
Brenon: I would just like to say that we were into space way before space became cool. Now Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan think space is so cool.
Jill: Space has been cool for a long time!

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OLM: If you could inhabit any planet besides earth, what would it be?
Brenon: I applied to colonize Mars. It was two years ago when they had open applications, so anybody could apply. I didn’t make it past the first cut. Even though I was in a very serious relationship, and so was my buddy, we were both like, “No, we’re still going to go to Mars. Our significant others will be proud of us!” I’m super curious about Pluto, now. It was kind of written off for a while but it’s making a comeback. I saw photos today that there was a discovery of frozen water on Pluto.
Josué: I wonder how long it took for it to get there. It’s amazing that they got there.
Brenon: I can’t imagine the amount of money and science to create that giant telescope and basically push it toward Pluto and hope that it gets there.
Josué: I bet they’re just like [crosses his fingers] come on science!!

OLM: You guys have been all over Canada at this point in the tour, what is your favorite province that you’ve been to?
Brenon: My favourite city from the last tour, and I’ve been looking forward to get back to it, was Ottawa. There’s something about the history of Ottawa and all of the Parliament buildings.
Jill: Green Door Restaurant!
Brenon: We’re going back there today. That’s the best place we ate in all of Canada. The show was super great because it was really small and intimate. Everybody wanted to come out and talk with us. I’m not just saying that.

OLM: Individually, what would you say your dream Canadian artist collaboration would be?
Brenon: I would say Death from Above. I think they have successfully combined heavier music with mainstream accessibility.
Taylor: I would say Royal Canoe and they are as nerdy with time signatures as I try to be.
Jill: I have recently gotten into Bombay Bicycle Club’s latest album…
Taylor: Are they Canadian? I think they’re from the UK.
Josué: I think Arcade Fire for me.
[We find out that Bombay Bicycle Club is from the UK]
Jill: Oh no. I’m gonna second Arcade Fire then.

OLM: Do you have any advice for young musicians?
Josué: Do you have any advice for young musicians? We’ll take it!
Taylor: Write good songs.
Jill: Work hard.
Brenon: Write good songs. Write, write. Once you think you have good songs, write some more.  A lot of people don’t realize how many songs can be written for an album and then just be scrapped. Also, sleep as much as you can.
Josué: Don’t be a jerk.
Jill: Be nice to everybody.
Brenon: Be nice to sound people, to door people, everybody. If you come back to that venue then you have to face that person you were mean to.
Taylor: Or they don’t take you back.
Brenon: If somebody is mean to you, you just have to kill them with kindness, as hard as it is.

OLM: What else are you guys setting your sights on?
Brenon: We finished a new album this fall. We just had it mastered… we’re putting on all of the final details. We’ve been playing a lot of the new songs this tour to get people acquainted to it. It’s a lot different from our other stuff. It is more of a departure from the folky routes we started with. We’re hoping to get it out in 2016. We’re also hoping to get down to SXSW, too.

You can find the Tourist Company on iTunes, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.