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- Posted on May 24th 2010 12:30PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Regina indie-popsters Library Voices might be known for their upbeat melodies and effervescent harmonies, but things have been anything but sunny for the eight-piece collective this month after losing all their instruments and a cache of other belongings when their basement rehearsal space at the Regina Cultural Exchange was flooded on May 6 due to a nearby broken water main.
The studio space was already under eight feet of water by the time the flood was discovered, notes Voices lyricist/keyboardist Michael Dawson, sounding understandably weary over the line from the centre, which he helps run as artistic director of the Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange Society.
Though he's recounted the scenario scores of times since the flood happened, Dawson notes he's still a bit dazed by the enormity of the situation.
"Our executive director heard the air conditioning running -- there was no reason for it to be on, given that Regina isn't exactly that warm yet at this time of year," he points out wryly. "The water was already so high by that point that even after we rented two giant industrial-sized water pumps, it still took four hours to get it low enough that we could go in with wet suits."
The flood pumped over 598,000 gallons of water (weighing about 4.9 million pounds) into the space, destroying not only Library Voices' trove of instruments (which included unique vintage equipment impossible to replace), but also many of the band members' stored belongings from over the years.
"It was such a giant space -- it's hard to visualize 10,000 feet," Dawson explains. "So we actually couldn't get to any of the instruments for hours -- there was 100 feet between the staircase and where the instruments were just floating by. And the thing about being in such a large band is that you end up moving a lot, so we all had a lot of stuff tucked away back there. My degree's in arts education, and I lost all my lesson plans and those sorts of materials -- not that I was planning on using them any time soon -- but everyone definitely was affected in one way or another."
Since the flood, instead of booking shows or practising in the space as he usually would, Dawson's been helping to spearhead the monumental cleanup effort that has galvanized Regina's arts community over the last several days.
"I'm actually sitting at work right now looking out the window -- the city is digging up the street and finally fixing things out there," Dawson says. "Because this venue is a non-profit and people rent it out for all sorts of things, everyone from the heavy-metal kids to the indie-rockers have been coming together to volunteer their time to help. It's really good to see those communities who don't usually cross paths band together for a common cause," he notes.
As for Library Voices -- who've served as the Cultural Exchange's de facto house band for the past few years, rehearsing and recording in the basement space -- despite losing nearly every single one of their instruments in the flood, they're determined to soldier on. The band plans to forge ahead with their previously scheduled Canadian tour in June, including a date at the North by Northeast festival in Toronto.
"A lot of us work here as well -- we've just been so busy with the clean-up that we hadn't stopped to think what we'd do about our instruments," Dawson admits. "But it's a small city -- many musicians have been offering to lend us their instruments, and we'll do what we can to rent or borrow as many different things as we can. It'll take a while to get everything because it's a big band and there are a lot of things to replace.
"But it never crossed our minds not to do it," he continues. "The reason we play this music is purely for the love of it -- we're certainly not making any money from it. We'll figure out a way to make it work. The sick twist is that finally we can sit down and find a way to think of a fresh spin on the songs -- because what else can you do, right?" he quips.
Not only did the band lose its own instruments, but several thousand dollars worth of equipment rented for the upcoming tour was also destroyed in the flood and isn't being covered by the rental insurance.
As it happens, this isn't the first time misfortune has befallen Library Voices -- in February 2009, the band had $10,000 worth of gear stolen from their tour van following a gig in Vancouver and cheekily took to YouTube to cajole the thieves to return the goods.
"It's getting a little bit embarrassing," Dawson confesses, laughing. "It's tough to be that band that keeps popping up in the press because bad things keep happening. In fact, we were joking that maybe the next time something happens, we'll just keep it a secret!"
The timing of the flooding, which happened mere weeks after Library Voices released their debut full-length 'Denim on Denim' to much acclaim, isn't lost on Dawson, who also runs Young Soul Records, the indie label that puts out the Voices' albums.
"It took so long between releases that we were really looking forward to getting out on the road and presenting it to people," he says. "While waiting for the record to come out, we almost started second-guessing it a little bit, reassessing whether we were on the right path. But seeing it come out and having people really respond to it has really reaffirmed our faith in the songs."
And while the cleanup at the Regina Cultural Centre continues with dozens of volunteers working around the clock, and donations from sympathetic patrons and other community groups keep coming in, the band is also getting a boost from some high-profile Prairie peers: Winnipeg's favourite sons the Weakerthans decided to add a second date to their Toronto stop this week and will play a rare small-club show at the Horseshoe Tavern on May 25 as a benefit concert for Library Voices, with a portion of proceeds from ticket sales going towards helping the band pull everything together for their tour.
"I'm not even sure of the entire chain of events," Dawson says of how the benefit show came together, "but it's really incredible of them. And I guess it's sort of the opposite of the whole rock'n'roll cliché where people hear that their favourite bands are these terrible people, and it's turned out to be totally the opposite in this case. We can't say enough good things about them."
To thank fans and friends for their support and give something back to those who have already donated funds or lent a hand with the cleanup effort, Library Voices have released a spirited cover of the Beatles classic 'Help'. Recorded in Regina just days after the flood with any borrowed instruments the band could pull together, the track is being offered up as a free download on their website, where online donations are also being accepted.
While Library Voices' current focus is clearly on finishing up the cleanup and getting ready to hit the road, the flood also claimed a small arsenal of instrumentals intended for the band's next album, which was already in the planning stages, Dawson says.
"We've got seven or eight songs already put together, so we're hoping to start recording at the end of the summer," he explains. "Really, despite the flood, things are still full-speed ahead."