The new Kit

Young Halifax-based band The First Aid Kit releases its first recording this week. Mike Landry enjoys the days of Rocket Summer.

Band aid The First Aid Kit help each other—and the music—out.
photo Rob Fournier

While you read, listen to a few tracks by The First Aid Kit off their new EP Rocket Summer.

The First Aid Kit should be careful on the small stage at Gus' Pub. There's little room to stand among the band's guitars, piano, bells, synthesizers, pedals and drums. One false move could put out an eye.

And yet, Darryl Smith twitches and bounces like a fly caught between a screen and window pane. He smashes his tambourine the only place he can, high above his head, belting out the lyrics to "Rocket Summer."

The First Aid Kit fills every corner of the stage and has aurally filled every corner of its first EP Rocket Summer. Each track is an indie-rock gobstopper, layered thick with rich pop sounds.

"If you have a good melody you've got enough to hook the listener, but it's when you saturate a song with other bits, that really builds it up," says Matt Davidson, who splits songwriting duties with Smith.

Those are big words for a band that's just eight months old. But the group's been winning fans through energetic performances and catchy songs.

Most of the band isn't from Halifax. Only Amy Bolliver, on keys, is from here. Conner Hancey, on guitar and vocals, has called Halifax home since he was 12. The rest are from Ontario and came to Halifax for school.

Together they form a mix of one part '70s Brit-punk energy (Buzzcocks/The Clash) and two parts Brian Wilson harmonies and handclap pop sensibility. The result is a drastic juxtaposition to the good-for-listening, not-for-dancing Halifax indie bands. The First Aid Kit has crowds dancing.

"Indie-rock is boring 60 percent of the time," says Smith. "We don't want to be boring. We care about doing everything with lots of emotion."

That same enthusiasm was in the studio as well, but in a more subtle way.

Smith says it would have been easy for them to make a record that sounded the same as First Aid Kit shows. Instead, the band devoted five months to fattening up every track with layers of sounds. The result is not only enjoyable, but something you can chew on and digest.

"A record makes or breaks perceptions," he says. "Some bands are great live, but when you take their album home you feel let down. We're trying not to let people down."

Fans will not be let down with Rocket Summer. The record's success comes from the band's self-awareness. After recording its first jam session, the band was shocked to hear that it sucked. So they started practicing vocals twice a week, and altogether three times a week.

"Some bands know what they're doing. We know we don't," says Smith. "We like that small bit of instability."

When they decided to record the EP they started with just the drum tracks. The rest came together in a series of checks and balances. Everyone contributed and the band members would second-guess every choice, sometimes arguing for days over just three seconds of organ.

"Whenever we did find something new to add to a song we would assign it an arbitrary percentage," says Smith. "Like, that synth line just made this song 16 percent better."

The band agrees it's better as the sum of its parts. Members bring out the best in each other, like with the small choir they've assembled. With four vocals they slide easily between raucous shouts and ballad harmonies.

Smith is "straight up proud" of the EP, but thinks of it as a line in the sand. "Rocket Summer is something people can have and take home," he says. "If they like it we'll be double pumped."

Never one to go easy on himself, Davidson says the best is still yet to come.

"It was fun because we're still so new. Making Rocket Summer allowed us to understand our sound more, but it's just a glimpse at a full-length," he says. "We've come a long way putting out this EP, and now we can get to where we want to go."

First Aid Kit CD release, July 26 at Gus’ Pub, 2605 Agricola, 10pm, $5.

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