A group of local musicians is about to raise the curtain on a debut album that perhaps belongs equally to poetry section bookstore shelves as it does in record shops.
With infrequent living room and small venue performances over the past year, folk-poets The Wiles have quietly amassed a following within St. John’s already vibrant literary and music circles. But the silence and intermittency will likely be succeeded with loquacity and a strong, warm presence when the group releases its emotive first work Sept. 8.
St. John’s native Katie Baggs (vocals/guitar/violin) and musical-poetical companion Jared Klok (vocals/rhythm guitar) are the writers and composers of “Painted,” but the brush strokes belong to all five members, including Benjamin Rigby (banjo) and the musically adept rhythm section twins Jake (percussion/keys) and Billy Nicoll (bass).
Klok, a farm hand from the foothills of southern Alberta, was barely into his 20s when he became a songwriting competition finalist at the Calgary Folk Festival.
The Nicolls grew up in southern Ontario and landed in St. John’s for university a few years ago. Evidenced in several shared collaborations, including their own band The Hunter Gatherers, together they share an ineffable visceral musical quality that augments The Wiles’ already intense live performances.
Baggs and Rigby were once at the core of local folk band Dead Language, which disbanded when Baggs left Newfoundland to pursue a teaching job on a tiny island off the coast of British Columbia.
It was there, swallowed up in the absence of familiarity, that the 25-year-old began pining for the rocky barrens back home, her family, and a collaboration with the friends and musicians she admired most.
Alone and in relative isolation, Baggs began conjuring some of her most heartfelt and profound poetry yet.
Admitting to a writing method that precludes any actual writing until after completion, Baggs says that her songs were written as “poems with melodies.”
“If I’m out somewhere or doing something, I’m not going to stop and sit down and write,” she explains.
“It’s easier to remember words if they have a song with them, so I usually just make up a tune to go with the words so I can remember them later.”
The songs reveal a parallel journey of a guileless inner-child navigating austere emotional terrain against vividly painted backdrops of trees, mountains and rivers.
“How Small,” a compelling and humble concession of relative insignificance, depicts a vast landscape and “the vastness of what lay before me” on her Westward travel, Baggs explains.
“Handful of Sand,” one of the album’s true gems, “was written as an offering, as a metaphor for a relationship that could go one way or another,” she says.
“If you’re holding something in your hand it’s real and you can believe in it. But, as simple as a handful of sand, you can just let go and it can go back to the Earth, just disappear, and you can move on.”
Klok’s writing style and methods stand in stark contrast to Baggs’, a merited incongruence though owing to the pair’s symbiotic camaraderie.
“I think he writes like a grownup, and I don’t,” Baggs laughs.
A finicky writer, Klok says he sometimes sits on poems for months or years before giving them closure. The former Memorial University philosophy student infuses his writing with metaphors and obscure literary references, and tends to “take pieces of reality and distort them in some ways,” he explains.
“So if it’s personal it’s only slightly personal, if that makes sense,” he chuckles.
The album’s title track might be Klok’s most significant poetic accomplishment thus far.
“It’s something tongue and cheek, something serious and something whimsical all the same,” he says of the piece. A coming to terms with “how we treat another person and how we learn to love,” “Painted” is delicately analytical of love and romantic relationships.
“It’s the play between these things that we establish and expect and then what we can actually count on in the end, from ourselves and from another person.”
The album has no intended theme, says Klok, but in hindsight has as its leitmotif “art and creativity mixed with amorousness—love got and love lost.”
The Wiles celebrate the release of “Painted” with St. John’s performances at The Rocket Room (all-ages) Sept. 8 and The Ship Pub Sept. 9 before touring across Eastern Canada.
Tickets for the Sept. 8 concert are $10 in advance at Fred’s Records and The Rocket Bakery or $15 at the door ($20 with a CD). Admission to the Sept. 9 show is $10 at the door.
For more information visit on the band and the release www.thewiles.ca.