Deep Darks Woods is proving that young hipsters can groove to folk music just as well as ex-hippies.
The award-winning alternative band of five 20-something musicians from Saskatoon is continuing what was started by Seattle-based Fleet Foxes — making folk songs cool for a new generation of listeners.
The musical genre long associated with Birkenstock sandals, peasant skirts and Joan Baez still appeals in the technological age because of its simplicity, contends the group’s guitarist Burke Barlow.
“It seems like everything’s so over-the-top and complicated, so there’s something to be said for a song that is not an assault on your ears,” explained Burke, who will perform with Deep Dark Woods on Friday at the Grandview Stage Country Resort, south of Rocky Mountain House.
It’s not that the guitarist, who was raised on Radiohead as well as Bob Dylan, has a problem with non-acoustic music. In fact, his group only brings electric guitars on tour, leaving the acoustic ones at home to avoid over-packing the van, said Barlow.
The problem is that so much electronic music — especially rap — “has so much going on . . . a lot of groups try too hard to put too much into songs.”
The 28-year-old believes in straight-ahead melodies that don’t clutter your mind. “When we record something, we really listen to it and we’re not afraid to say, ‘Scrap it,’ if it sounds like it’s too much.”
The folk genre, known as new country or Americana in the U.S., is generating a lot of new bands, such as Mumford and Sons, but Barlow questions whether the music they produce will have the same staying power as tunes by Dylan, Woodie Guthrie or Pete Seeger. “I don’t know if the new stuff is as good as the old stuff.”
So far, critics are weighing in favour of Deep Dark Woods’ stuff.
The band’s 2009 Winter Hours album won the Saskatchewan musicians the Best New Group designation at the Western Canadian Music Awards as well as Ensemble of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. The group’s tune Charlie (is Coming Down) was also voted the runaway winner in CBC’s Great Canadian Songquest.
Barlow isn’t sure what to make of all the accolades, finally joking, “it’s not about the awards so much as people knowing you’ve got them.”
He contends he never had any expectations when he pulled his various friends together to form a band while he was earning a university degree in chemistry.
“For a while I was thinking the band needed to get better than we were, but those days are gone. I think we’re playing better and better all the time.”
Deep Dark Woods, which includes keyboardist Geoff Hilhorst and drummer Lucas Goetz, plays a combination of modernized folk and country standards and original songs with lyrics penned by singer/guitarist Ryan Boldt and bassist Chris Mason.
On the group’s newest album, The Place I Left Behind, Boldt wrote The Ballad of Frank Dupree about a murderer facing the gallows. It’s kind of a cautionary tale, in the vein of House of the Rising Sun.
West Side Street is an equally atmospheric tune about Saskatoon’s rougher side. But Barlow laughingly admitted that Saskatoon’s bad side isn’t all that bad; “I live there.”
He believes his group’s second album has more electric edge than the first. “The songs are still folk songs, but the instrumentation is a little more electric and creepy and experimental.”
For more information about the concert, call 403-845-6404. Tickets are $40 and include a dinner buffet. The Grandview Stage Country Resort is on Hwy 752, 24 km south of Rocky.