Nathan Gurley wasn’t entirely sure his idea was a good one.
In 2013, Gurley was working on electronic music production when he began experimenting with folk music elements. Bass, synths and samples are sounds EDM fans are used to. Banjos and harmonicas? Not so much.
“I was kind of just like, well, what if I played harmonica and guitar and stuff on electronic music? What could go wrong?” says Gurley. “You know, it was kind of a risk-taking moment for me. I was pretty scared actually taking that leap because this was 2013, it was totally unheard of.”
A year later, Gurley met guitarist Sean Rodman at Shambhala Music Festival. The pair soon began collaborating under the name Moontricks, but even Rodman had to admit he didn’t know how the sound he describes as “electronic banjo twangy music” would be received.
They didn’t need to worry. As Moontricks found their voice, fans of both EDM and folk have embraced them.
“All of those elements have kind of come to a place now where I think they’re more widely accepted,” says Rodman. “We’re getting booked at all these big folk fests whereas I think when we started there was probably no way that we would have gotten booked at a festival like that with the music we’re doing.”
Moontricks released their 11-track debut album Currents on Sept. 9. The album is a showcase for a fusion of music nearly a decade in development.
Songs such as opener “Forest of My Soul” and ear-worm single “Animals” introduce banjo riffs that open up into dance music. “The Edge,” a stomping collaboration with Dirtwire, begins as music for dive bars before Gurley adds the sample of Sarah Orton’s voice and the album’s best beat drop.
Rodman’s voice is a consistent highlight. On the title track, Rodman sings over a sparse piano that evolves into a soaring ballad. Later on “Dark Matter” he sings with swagger as he confronts an unnamed person with the lyrics, “You gotta go now, you’ve been hiding, all that dirt, ‘hind that lying tongue.”
Rodman focused on guitar while he was a music student at Selkirk College. He says at the time he was too shy to sing, which didn’t come until later when he began singing with the rock band Red Eyed Soul. Even now he admits to feelings of imposter syndrome as a vocalist, which in conversation Gurley clearly disagrees with.
“Currents,” Gurley points out, was music he sent to Rodman who within a couple days had come back with the melody and vocals. The original take is the one that was used on the album.
“That vocal was on there and I was just like, oh that’s perfect,” says Gurley. “It was the kind of moment where if I was singing this song, this is what I would have sung.”
Moontricks is also, in less obvious ways, the product of a thriving artistic community in the small village of Argenta north of Nelson where Gurley grew up.
The album features Argenta singer Tenise Marie who provides backup vocals, and the cover art is an image taken by photographer Louis Bockner. Rodman’s lyrics include plenty of nature imagery — he says “Currents” was inspired by a river near Argenta — and Gurley adds living in the community helped him develop the sound of Moontricks in a way he couldn’t have in a city setting.
“I think that definitely growing up in those areas helped creativity just be free enough where you’re not worrying as much about what people think.”
The majority of songs on the album were written and recorded during the pandemic. Rodman and Gurley opted to hold off on releasing Currents until they could begin touring, which they are now in the middle of with dates throughout Western Canada and the United States.
Rodman thinks the time is finally right for audiences to discover the music Moontricks once thought could end up as a failed experiment.
“Now it seems like the rest of the world is more accepting of a wider diversity of music. So our music, which is pretty diverse to begin with, has gotten easier to do.”
Moontricks plays at Spiritbar in Nelson on Oct. 21 and 22. Currents can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music.