Something you might wonder while listening to Halifax-based hip-hop group The Caravan's eponymous album: who is that remarkable crooner singing throughout "The First Thing I Do"?
"Niven Miller," says MC Kyle McKenna, referencing an obscure Scottish-born gospel singer. "We went up to New Brunswick and we were trying to do a promo where if you bought one of our vinyl, we'd give you a mystery vinyl to go with it."
Vinyl-averse New Brunswickians shunned the idea, and McKenna and fellow musicians Mike Ritchie and Mark Bachynski found themselves going home with a treasure trove of Value Village finds, of which Miller's ended up getting sampled on The Caravan.
Like the world's mysterious ways, what seems at first glance like an odd choice for inclusion on a hip-hop album is all part of The Caravan's plan: from the brass fanfare of protest song "What Up Steve?" to the piano in The Caravan's untitled hidden track, the eclecticism is a marked departure from the group's acoustic-heavy previous album, Emerald City.
"You can write a nice acoustic song," McKenna says, "but if you want to turn it into more of an experience, you need to make it bigger and take it to the next level."
The Caravan is certainly bigger. Soulful pop singer Ria Mae guests on two tracks, while rapper Mike McGuire (AKA Hermitofthewoods) adds vocals to "Pros and Cons," a song McKenna says "took me out of the comfort zone of being friendly, positive and happy and let me dig in and get a little gritty."
The three-year gap between Emerald City and The Caravan consisted of a steady vetting process that Bachynski says resulted in "a whole b-sides album" that never saw the light of day. Ritchie explains: "With the last album, there were songs I really wanted that maybe these guys didn't and vice versa. With this album we had a rule that if even one person wasn't feeling the song, we'd just ditch it and move on. We ended up with songs we were all happy to have on there."
Bachysnki feels The Caravan's 10 tracks were sort of "plucked from the ether" because the process "wasn't a struggle, it all just kind of came to us." The album moves along at a clip, with each track averaging about three minutes in length. Any more and "the lyric sheet would be an essay," Bachysnki says. "It'd be a book."
The video for The Caravan's "Words That Make You Feel Good" has already received over 170,000 views on YouTube and was recently tweeted by none other than Spike Lee. The group credits director Gesar Mukpo for obtaining the MuchFACT grant necessary to make the video a reality as well as establishing a handy, viewcount-increasing link on popular website Reddit.
Speaking of YouTube, the video for "What Up Steve?" has been something of an educational experience for its writers. "If you look on the comments section on the video, there's these major socialist/capitalist debates going on," McKenna says. "Just from writing that song, we've learned a lot about that man's policies."
"Through internet trolls," says Bachynski.
While The Caravan's immediate goals are to get the album into people's hands and tour the country, they're frustratingly vague on how Niven Miller fits into all this.
"I don't think he's alive," says Bachynski. Ritchie agrees: "He'd be like 90 right now." McKenna is more optimistic: "He might be at the release."
w/ J-Bru, Acres and Acres
The Seahorse, 1663 Argyle Street
Friday, May 24, 9pm, $12
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