A Tale of Two Towns

Music has long impacted the migratory patterns of our species. In 1961, Bob Dylan travelled to New York from Minneapolis to sit at the bedside of his ailing muse, Woody Guthrie. Every year, countless musicians make pilgrimages to New Orleans to see, hear and participate in the sounds emanating from America’s Jazz Mecca. In 2010, Wand’s lead singer and principle songwriter, Derek Janzen set off on a comparable musical journey: Janzen’s long road began in Grande Prairie, and eventually brought him to Victoria where he has lived on and off for the past five years.

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Victoria’s rich musical bedrock was a significant gravitational pull for Janzen. Several years prior to relocating to our town, Janzen discovered Frog Eyes’ monumental debut, The Bloody Hand, in a tiny Grande Prairie used bookstore. The album, a sprawling and abrasively ambitious recording, has subsequently become the cornerstone of Janzen’s musical education. Janzen has since explored affiliated acts such as Blackout Beach, Moonface, and Sunset Rubdown, all of whom stand in stark contrast to the prevailing musical climate of Janzen’s hometown.

“Grande Prairie’s music scene is kind of funny,” Janzen says. “It has always been a heavy metal town. There are tons of really good metal acts, and lots of traditional straight-ahead rock and roll bands. I always found that unless you play “truck driving rock” or metal, you are not gonna get many gigs in Grande Prairie. You will end up playing non-venue places like the museum or someone’s back yard.”

Whereas Grande Prairie’s comparative musical monoculture is reinforced by the genre preferences of its venues, Janzen has noticed that the approach taken by Victoria’s music venues has led to a more pluralistic musical landscape.

“One of the things I like about Victoria is that there is a really wide range of music here. There is a high density of great acts, but they are all pretty small scale. The way the venues work in Victoria makes a big difference. The Copper Owl is a safe haven for us — we have been able to play with lots of different bands there. And then there’s Lucky and Logan’s and those types of places, all of which are kind of small scale: the size of these venues combined with the variety of bands who play there lends itself to more musical creativity.”

Janzen’s relocation to Victoria has had an obvious impact on the direction his music has taken. As the mysterious moniker “Wand” suggests, Janzen has radically departed from the folk-infused rock of his previous bands, Machinery and First Nations. Instead, Janzen has crafted three albums worth of interesting and stylistically divergent songs under the Wand moniker. For Janzen, change is key.

“Wand is the album title of my first First Nations recording and I thought it worked really well as a band name. I wanted a name that was less politically iffy than First Nations, and “Wand” was symbolic of my stylistic transition. I liked the symbolism of the name… it signified my ability to transform: a moniker for a project that doesn’t need to be one thing. Since I am influenced by a lot of different music, I don’t like to be stuck repeating myself.”

Wand’s 2012 release, Mt. St. Helens certainly does not repeat itself. The record is a testament to Janzen’s musical curiosity and flexibility as he plays a host of synths in addition to guitar, trumpet, and accordion. While Janzen’s own creative vision dominates the record, Wand, in its live incarnation, is much more collaborative, as he has enlisted Jzero Shuurman, Ben Willems, Jordan Soles, and Connor Munro to round out the band.

“My songwriting process is still pretty mono and I like being in control of the band’s recordings, but I also really enjoy hearing what the other guys bring to the songs at our shows. I don’t want our live shows to be a carbon copy of the recordings, so this way of doing things has worked really well for us.”

Wand’s live shows have been attracting increasing amounts of attention from promoters. The band has recently opened for Wild Ones and We Are The City, and even played Rifflandia a few years back. April will be a quieter month for the band, however. Janzen continues to write prolifically, and has compiled a dozen songs he hopes to record this month. Fittingly, the ever-shifting idea of home is a central theme in Janzen’s new material.

“The things I write about, and the themes I like to explore in my music have definitely been shaped by virtue of me moving out here. The pull between one’s hometown and this new world is a theme common to a lot of my songs… it is a new horizon to check out.” www.wandwand.com

Words by Nick Lyons, photography by Ilijc Albanese.