With a name that sounds like a remote village in Sweden, Westelaken are actually a quartet from Toronto, Ontario. Having first emerged back in 2018, with their self-titled debut, the band have had a productive 2020, releasing a split-EP with fellow Torontonians Hobby, as well as one of their own, The Pool of Blood. While that record only arrived last month, the band have wasted no time in following up with their most impressive step to date, brand-new album, The Golden Days are Hard, ten songs that show both the variety and quality of Westelaken’s songwriting.
In some ways, Westelaken could be pinned as an alt-country band, yet they’re not one that fall neatly into any particular box. Across the ten tracks they span influences and genres, from the Neutral Milk Hotel-like opening track, The January Song, through to the title track, a 10-minute opus, which combines the emotional vocals of Daniel Johnston with the bar-room balladry of Kyle Craft. Lyrically too, The Golden Days are Hard is a record that explores the layered emotions of modern living, an album laced with fear, resignation and just a touch of hope, it muses on topics of death, friendship, and finding the kindness that’s still left in humanity. While it could have been a heavy record, The Golden Days are Hard manages to portray a brightness that’s beyond its themes, it sounds like a bold next step, from a band whose talent could take them anywhere.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Westelaken?
We’re a four piece band: Alex, Rob, Jordan, and Lucas. We started playing together in 2017. Rob and I met when we would both sing at open mics in Toronto, and Lucas and Alex both just started working at this cheese store where I was working and we would talk about music all the time. I remember Lucas asking about country music and I recommended him a Carter family compilation and a Songs: Ohia album and it took, and we eventually all decided to start playing together. I mostly write country songs but then I bring them to the band and they usually start mutating until the country parts of the songs are like little secrets buried inside and maybe they’ll poke their heads out a little bit now and then. Sometimes they just are country songs, though. I guess we mix noisy stuff with delicate stuff and try to tell stories.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Weirdly, I guess almost everything: the date, the venue, the setlist, the bill, which string broke. Alex’s old roommate Zoe booked the show. There were five bands, which seems ridiculous, but I think they were all good. I decided to wear all blue, from lipstick to sock, and we all had mustaches for some reason. I think the set was “The October Song,” “Staring at Americans,” “Life is Sweet,” “I Was a Vulture,” “The April Song,” and “Pink Lights, and the Dixieland Band.” We thought we were pretty good I guess but thinking back there’s so much we hadn’t learned yet about the songs and each other and audiences. I remember Rob giving me a smack on the shoulder when it was over with a gleeful look on his face like we’d gotten away with something. Rob is usually pretty reserved and it was a moment of joy that really made me think this was something we should keep doing.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I’ve always most loved writing words. For a long time growing up I thought I would be writing books or poems or short stories. I ended up going to film school and found it very difficult to be someone who loved to write in film school, and also found it difficult to share written work outside film school. It started making a lot of sense to me once I started turning writing into songs and playing them, and now I guess it’s just become the way I do things. Once you have an instrument, writing a song is something you can do without spending money or organizing large groups of people. It feels very immediate even though it actually takes forever and is incredibly frustrating.
FTR: What can people expect from the Westelaken live show?
We try to find the right balance I guess between establishing a mood that carries through the set and then also doing things that are surprising or weird and when things work really well is when that mood survives in spite of some abrupt style changes. Songs sometimes take on new shapes and there’s improvised musical or lyrical passages and we usually try to work it out so that all the songs in the set move seamlessly (or conspicuously seamed) from one to the next.
FTR: What’s next for Westelaken?
Oof, well I would love to feel like I had any confidence in knowing right now. We have the material for a third album that is a little different from the first two and I’m very excited to record it, but for now that’s impossible. The four of us have barely seen each other since the pandemic began and I miss being with my friends. The thing I’m looking forward to most honestly is being able to play shows again, and hopefully doing another tour when that happens. The album comes out August 21 and we’re going to do a stream for the release on the night of the 20th. So I guess as far as the immediate future there’s that.
They Listen To…
Here are songs where Elvis gets born, dies a couple times, and then mysteriously reappears:
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tupelo
Bruce Springsteen – Johnny Bye, Bye
Gillian Welch – Elvis Presley Blues
Phoebe Bridgers – Graceland Too
Billy Walker – I Saw Elvis At Wal Mart
The Golden Days are Hard is out now. Click HERE for more information on Westelaken.