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The outsiders 

How the Most Serene Republic — a young band from Milton, Ontario — won the hearts and support of one of the most influential record labels in this country.

"I was up at 3am one morning and was really bored so I just decided to send some of our songs to Jeffery at Art & Crafts,” says Adam Nimmo, drummer for The Most Serene Republic. “He got back to me the next day and was really excited about what he heard. The rest, as they say, is history.”

The Most Serene Republic is currently completing sessions for an upcoming EP. With a stretch of tour dates looming in front of them—including a stop at Stage Nine on September 24—the band is trying to capture some new material before their schedule closes in on them.

“We have music-writing ADD,” says Nimmo. “We always want to be writing and recording.”

As a result of their unexpected signing with Toronto’s tastemaker label, Arts & Crafts, the band has stepped from obscurity into being one of the most talked-about new bands in the country. Now, having finished a series of indie-rock coming-out parties, they are preparing to start moving out on their own merit.

TMSR began as a humble studio project between longtime friends Adrian Jewett and Ryan Lennsen. As their collections of songs began to grow, the two began to search out new members to help give life to their music. Nick Greaves (guitar) and Andrew McArthur (bass) were soon added, with original drummer Sean Woolven and various other short-lived stopovers following soon after. Together, the rotating cast recorded an EP, began playing shows and started work on the tracks that would go on to make up Underwater Cinematographer.

“I knew them from promoting,” says Nimmo of the days before his admission into the band. “I put them on a show and we became friends.”

With Woolven living an hour-and-a-half away from the band’s home of Milton, ON, the chair soon became available to Nimmo, a native of nearby Brampton. “When they asked me to drum for them I had to go on a family vacation to Myrtle Beach. I took their EP and just thought it was so much fun, it was exactly where I wanted to be with my music.”

Following Nimmo’s formal entry into the band, the band put the final touches on Underwater Cinematographer. Soon afterward, they recruited their sixth member, Emma Ditchburn, to share vocal duties, play guitar and gaze at lovingly in all their press photos.

Little did they know that they were just one email away from being one of the most envied young bands in North America.

The importance of a record label is immeasurable for a group starting out in the rock scene. While majors often strip credibility, certain independents can offer it in spades. From Nova Scotia’s Dependent Music to Vancouver’s Mint Records, indie-labels have created movements bigger, and often more important, than the bands on their roster. It seems that whenever an act is signed into such a situation, there are heavy expectations, secretly envious journalists and angry bloggers waiting for them.

“I downloaded ‘Content Was Always My Favourite Colour’ and was intrigued from the first listen,” says Jeffery Remedios, president of Arts & Crafts. “When I got the album I started to realize I wanted to work with them as the first band outside our immediate family, so I gave the record to Kevin Drew”—of Broken Social Scene—“and Torq Campbell”—of Stars—“ and they freaked out.”

The family Remedios speaks of is the sprawling network of bands centred around Broken Social Scene. With each group having at least one member that regularly contributes to BSS, the Arts & Crafts roster ranges from the chamber folk of Feist to the thinking man’s make-out music of Stars.

“They’re always there for you, they’re like the best team to have on your side,” says Nimmo of Arts & Crafts. “They really have a love for the music over the business.”

The buzz around the signing was huge; Canada’s most exclusive label had taken on an act outside their social scene. For many bands it shattered the comforting thought that their emails had gone unreturned by the label because of dogmatic rules; for many critics it raised a giant bull’s eye to judge a band before they have time to prove themselves. Expectations were soaring and anxieties racing, all because of 11 songs recorded in a small room in Milton.

Because of this, listening to Underwater Cinematographer for the first time can be done from two very different mindsets. The record can either be heard as the debut from the newest act on the label that reinvented Canadian music, or as a self-recorded venture from a small group of early twentysomethings that cite both Moby’s Play and Radiohead’s Kid A as having huge influence on the direction of the music.

Either way, the album is difficult to make sense of the first time through. Its songs build with a feedback of shifting ideas, developing each other and disappearing before they can be registered. Putting an emphasis on massive sound scapes, primary songwriter Ryan Lennsen seems to create each track as an envelope to stuff as many ideas into as possible. This is the best quality about the band and the album; there is never a thought given to restraint. It both succeeds and confuses by its collision of childishness and sophistication. It sounds like a thousand different things at once. It sounds completely unique.

Response to the band’s sound has been mixed. While the reaction to the band’s initial outings in Toronto was overwhelmingly positive, as they travel further, reviews have been more diverse, and in turn, more telling. From glowing praise to shocked negativity, journalists seem to have had difficulty getting a handle on the group, which often resulted in Broken Social Scene comparisons being dropped in both positive and negative contexts.

“We kind of went in knowing that we would be compared to Broken Social Scene,” says Nimmo. “When you think about it, it’s flattering. We know we don’t sound like Broken Social Scene, that’s what’s cool about Arts & Crafts, every band has their own sound.”

These are the struggles of a young band that was expected to deliver brilliance on the first pass and ended up coming impressively close.

“No one makes an album and expects it to get big,” says Nimmo. “Sure, if we knew we would end up were we are now we would have put more work into the record, but we’re all still very proud of it.”

For better or worse, in the coming months interest in the band’s industry ties will begin to fade and it will be up to them to keep the wind in their sails. But listening to Underwater Cinematographer’s “You’re a Loose Cannon McArthur… But You Get the Job Done,” it’s difficult to believe that, in due time, The Most Serene Republic won’t be casting shadows the same size as the ones they now stand in.

The Most Serene Republic w/The Inflation Kills and Burdocks, September 24 at Stage Nine, Grafton at Blowers, 10pm, $8

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