Sewn Back Together

Sewn Back Together

In their respective projects, Adam Sturgeon and Daniel Monkman have analyzed the contemporary Indigenous experience in Canada from opposite angles. With Status/Non-Status (formerly Whoop-Szo), Sturgeon has waged war against Canada’s colonialist foundations—and the genocidal legacy of its residential school system—with a visceral, volatile mix of grunge, psychedelia, and post-hardcore. As Zoon, Monkman has channeled past traumas into soothing shoegaze hymns that have aided his recovery. But as OMBIIGIZI (Ojibwe for “this is noisy”), these two artists of Anishinaabe descent don’t so much forge a common language as develop a whole new dialect. Recorded with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and his frequent studio partner Nyles Spencer at The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse studio, Sewn Back Together filters the DIY spirit of classic ’90s indie rock through the textural density of early-2000s post-rock and folktronica, yielding an album that teeters on the edge between clarity and chaos, while exploring Indigenous identity and injustices through the lens of personal family histories. “Kevin and Nyles were able to encourage us to step outside of ourselves and made us realize that maybe our musical crutches are also vulnerabilities at times,” Sturgeon says. “So, we just stripped all that back and were encouraged to tell our stories more openly.” Here, Sturgeon and Monkman share those stories, one track at a time. “Cherry Coke” Daniel Monkman: “This was actually a Zoon demo, and it was just a mumble of words. I wasn’t necessarily singing, ‘Cherry Coke.’ Nyles thought I was singing, ‘Jericho,’ and Kevin thought I was saying, ‘Cherry cold.’ But the song is about my relationship with my dad when I was living on the rez with him. Whenever he had spare change, he’d give me, like, a dollar and I’d keep it inside this little margarine container and go to the convenience store. There was just one on the rez at the time, and I would always get a bag of barbecue chips and a Cherry Coke, or a Vanilla Coke—those were, like, two hot ones on the rez. So, when we were finishing up the song, it just made sense to call it that.” “Residential Military” Adam Sturgeon: “I wrote the lyrics while we were at the Bathouse. I was thinking of the times, I suppose: It was very close to Canada Day, and we were starting to learn more about the residential school where some of our ancestors had been. I try to do my part to raise a bit of awareness and release those heavy feelings in a creative way. I liked the image of a birch-bark canoe merging onto a freeway—it’s comic for us, but it allows you to begin to see what our history has done to us.” “The Once Child” AS: “We walked in the studio one day and ‘The Once Child’ was written on the chalkboard. Kevin had been out there the night before us and there had been a big lightning storm, and that’s what came to his head. He helped me pick apart a big, long ramble. I like to just write everything that’s going through my head and filter it a little bit, and Kevin actually helped me filter this one a lot.” “Niiyo Biboonagizi” AS: “It was neat to let Daniel and Drew [McLeod of Zoon] and Eric [Lourenço of Status/Non-Status] do their thing on this. We ended up throwing it together so quickly, and even when we jam it now, we almost hit it right off the bat—we just play it. It really feels like a natural kind of band song where everyone is doing their own thing. ‘Niiyo’ is ‘four’ [in Ojibwe], as in ‘niiyo-biboonagizi,’ which means ‘four years old.’ It’s for my son. I like to sneak the language into some of our song titles.” “Ogiin” DM: “I wrote this from my dad’s point of view, trying to imagine when he was taken from my home reservation, Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. As the lyrics progressed, I made it about me and my dad—like, me as a young person having to go to a lot of these rural-area schools with a lot of racist farmers’ kids. Even the teachers were super racist. The school that I went to was called Happy Thought in East Selkirk, Manitoba, which is definitely a psyop, because who names a school Happy Thought where there’s all these racist farm boys who I had to fight all the time? I would get taken out of school because of bad behavior, and I would tell my dad all the time about this school, and whenever I wanted to stay home, he wouldn’t even argue with me. He was like, ‘OK, you can just chill here.’ We would hang out in this old silver Grand Marquis from the ’80s and we would just sit in it. It’s such a typical rez thing: a broken-down car that doesn’t run anymore, in the middle of a field. That’s what this song’s all about.” “Spirit in Me” AS: “This became the most meaningful song for me: It’s about my family history; it’s about Daniel and his family, and how meaningful his story is to me. When we first started doing the project, I was writing songs for Daniel—it’s the first time I’ve really done something like that. And so, this really embodies a lot of the good things that we’re trying to say. I know that a lot of my work at times has been really gritty, and I put a lot of my anger and healing work into my music, but this was a way to really uplift and uphold that idea of what we’re doing.” “Yaweh” DM: “The melody that we do is the first melody that I ever learned on drumming. As a young Native person in Selkirk, Manitoba, we had a Friendship Centre that was on Main Street, and I remember going there and learning this song that Cherokee sang, and it was a song that my mom sang too.” AS: “It’s super meaningful for me to get to play along with this song and make up some of my own parts and sing and use AutoTune and reverse the lyrics. For me, it’s my first time doing something this traditionally on the nose. Even though it’s still a shoegaze/dream-pop song, it’s still a cultural song as well. A lot of our work tends to exist outside of that, but it’s nice to touch base and honor the ancestors.” “Birch Bark Paper Trails” AS: “Before we recorded this, Kevin asked us, ‘Have you ever heard of [the post-rock band] Trans Am?’ And I was like, ‘Kevin, I have white hair—I know Trans Am!’ I had written it in that style, sonically, and what Kevin and Nyles did with the atmospherics and stuff took it to a whole other planet. The spoken-word part was really hard to do; I’ll just let the words speak for themselves. But I think it represents so many people’s story of connection to their community: that feeling of isolation, and apprehension of how to move forward collectively.” DM: “I think that’s one of the most powerful parts of the record. As a First Nations person, the stuff that Adam’s talking about in the song is wild. Because a lot of the research that we have to do about our ancestors is tough, and it’s not always accessible. There’s parts in that spoken-word section where Adam says, ‘I found you in the registry’—you never think learning about where you come from is gonna be so hard until you actually do it. And I think it’s maybe to deter us from learning about where we come from. That’s why it’s important that we put this record out and talk about the things that we were talking about.” “Zaagitoon” AS: “It means ‘to cherish each other.’ That’s what the song is about.” DM: “It’s about giving thanks. And self-love—and through that, you get to love others.”

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