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Electro, funk-and-dance outfit Whale Skin makes their mark on the Maritimes
It was a warm night in June last year when Willow Bell, front-man of the band Whale Skin, was nervously waiting to hit the stage. It was the band’s first-ever live show and they were the headliners.
Bell says Whale Skin’s first show was one of the most stressful events of his life.
“I was a mess,” he said. “We practiced the weekend before for like 20 hours. It was the first time we had practiced as a band and I was just really stressing out .”
After settling his nerves once on stage, Bell and his band played their set to a large, more-than-satisfied crowd at the Capital Complex in Fredericton.
And even seven months later, Bell says he still gets nervous before every show.
Welcome to folk-centric Fredericton, home of the acoustic guitar. This city is where troubadours warm hearts with smooth voices and eloquent lyrics.
Every once in a while, though, things get shaken up – and not necessarily in a bad way, either.
Enter electro, funk-and-dance outfit Whale Skin. They can sometimes be found tucked away in the corner of the small stage at the Capital Complex, and will be found there this Friday with Halifax duo Scientists of Sound.
Whale Skin is made up of band-mates from New Brunswick group The Belle Comedians, Willow Bell and Dan Tweedie, along with JuHang Sin. Bell is the songwriter and beat-creator, with Tweedie on drums and Sin on bass.
Bell was born in Belfast, P.E.I., where he found a niche in dance and funk music. He started out with the guitar, but when he got his first keyboard in Grade 10, he began teaching himself and listening to even more electronic music.
“I’ve just been constantly growing and trying new things electronically… something just clicked when I started listening to it, it just made me feel really good and happy.”
Bell started producing electronic music in high school with the computer program Fruityloops. After finishing high school he worked at a pet food store in Charlottetown before making up his mind to pursue music.
He set foot onto the big city streets of Halifax where he honed his skills as a musician and producer, studying at the Centre For Arts and Technology and working with the likes of ECMA-nominated band and fellow islanders Paper Lions and musician A.A. Wallace.
It was at the Centre For Arts and Technology that he met Tweedie and Sin.
“I went to audio-engineering [school] with Willow in Halifax,” said Tweedie. “He had this project called Whale Skin that he wanted to start doing live and he asked myself and our friend Ju, who lived in Halifax, to play drums and bass for him so we were happy to oblige, obviously.”
Bell started playing bass for The Belle Comedians when they were based in Halifax. All of the band’s members have moved back to Fredericton, leaving Bell to squeeze onto the local scene and get Frederictonians dancing again.
Dressed in jeans, a wife-beater and a cardigan, Bell sits with Tweedie in his bedroom.
“At one point I had 12 [keyboards],” Bell said. His room is full of music gear – from his laptop and speakers to a soundboard and nine keyboards. He admits he’s always been intrigued by the sounds that come out of keyboards.
“Since I first bought a keyboard, since I first saw it in the store when I was younger, I just had a fascination with it… it’s just a sexy instrument.”
Bell writes what he describes as “dirty, funky, electro-pop [songs]” and since their first show at the Capital, the band has played several shows around the Maritimes. Each show they’ve played has been well-received by fairly big crowds. Both Bell and Tweedie admit they’ve been fortunate to have had such great turnouts, even though the Maritimes are known mostly for their folk and roots music.
As far as genres go, Whale Skin is still testing the waters.
“We don’t know what Whale Skin is quite yet,” the two said almost simultaneously.
Even though Bell’s still unsure in what direction to take the band, he said he’ll have some kind of official release of Whale Skin’s music in the summer, be it an EP or full-length album.
Bell said he hasn’t done much promotion through social media as many new bands do. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, he said he’ll continue to toil away in his room until he’s satisfied with every song.
“I don’t really promote anything that well because I’m not ready to release Whale Skin on the world yet… it’s eventually going to be something bigger.”
Catch Whale Skin at the Capital Complex on Feb. 10. Doors open at 9:30 p.m., show starts at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Click here for a free download of the band’s track ‘Shake It Out- A.A Wallace (Whale Skin Remix)’.