The Bills : Trails of Tails
It’s been twenty years since Canadian quintet The Bills first formed, and the collective spirit of this wide-ranging, globally-inspired roots ensemble remains as vibrant as ever. Originating from a kitchen-jam exploration of traditional and modern styles, they’ve forged a sophisticated, down home blend of global rhythms that has been celebrated in dancehalls and festivals across the western world. If it’s not abundantly clear from the smiles of their devoted fans, take a look at the five beaming faces on stage when the full band joins together, and you can see how much The Bills love making music together.
With their new album, Trail of Tales, set for release in the United States on April 22, 2016 via Borealis Records, The Bills are poised to release their most compelling set of music yet. Coinciding with Earth Day, the group set out intentionally to make a sophisticated, earthy, masterful record that speaks of the complexity of human and environmental interaction in a pivotal moment in the planet’s history. To make the album, the band gathered together in the picturesque wooded splendor of tiny Mayne Island, an artists’ enclave just off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. With the wind in the trees, a view of the Salish sea, a wood fire for heat, and an old farm house wired up with vintage microphones, they set out to create a truly collaborative record. “There’s never been a Bills album with five songwriters, that’s a first in the history of the band” says singer/guitarist Chris Frye. “Hopefully it’s bringing out the best we have to offer because we’re truly together as a unit.”
Part of what makes the new album so cohesive comes from how well each of these musicians know each other. “The Bills have an almost chamber music vibe at times, especially instrumentally,” says fiddler Richard Moody. “It’s caused me to really really listen to the people I’m playing with.” You can hear this on the tracks — how they can turn on a dime as an ensemble, effortlessly weaving complex and beautiful melodies behind captivating vocal lines. Despite the closeness, it was still a healthy challenge for band member fiddler/accordionist Adrian Dolan to produce the album. A fixture in Ruth Moody’s touring band, and engineer for The Wailin’ Jennys, Dolan drew from years of experience recording contemporary roots music and an intimate knowledge of every band member’s strengths to shape the final product.
The new album highlights the band’s commitment to compelling lyrics and themes; often drawing inspiration from their regional geography and culture. A diversity of influences can be heard with each song — from Frye and mandolinist Marc Atkinson’s anthemic title track to the forward-motion funk of Moody’s “Jungle Doctor”. Bassist Scott White’s carefree vocal pop song “Happy Be” shows listeners a gentler side, while “Hittin’ the Do” uncorks a Western Swing dance party. Throughout Trail of Tales, the songs are tied together with remarkably detailed arrangements. It’s a testament to The Bills’ musicianship that the music always sounds so uplifting and effortless.
The Bills continue to hold court as one of Canada’s premiere roots acts. Two Juno award nominations (Canada’s Grammy) and countless tours haven’t changed The Bills’ basic formula: combine stunning vocal harmonies, poignant lyrics, sophisticated and captivating instrumental arrangements, and a healthy dose of good times, British Columbia style, and you have a band that proves there’s a surprising amount of power to be found in acoustic roots music today.