Vancouver rocker Steven Beddall got his start playing in ska and funk bands whose whole mission was rowdy, reckless fun.
When he founded Wooden Horseman as a solo act, Beddall turned in, trading bar shows for living rooms and a folksy, more personal album.
But after bringing a half-dozen friends in the studio to record that album and then play songs at Tiny Lights — a summer music festival in Ymir, “the best little town in the Kootenays” — Beddall and The Wooden Horsemen hit on a happy vibe between soulful songwriting and let-it-all-hang-out dance music.
Missy Cross, who sings and plays percussion in the now seven-piece band, calls their mission “grounded party.”
Beddall said the band’s sound really took while playing open-air festival shows, from Tiny Lights to Arts Wells, Rifflandia, JUNOfest and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
“I think that sort of defined us,” he said.
“We just loved the atmosphere — dancing and letting loose and having fun.”
Now, as they get set to tour Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Smithers, and Williams Lake, Beddall is excited to play tunes from their second album as a full band.
Past Lives, he said is definitely a rock album, but the lyrics are heavily inspired by gospel songs.
“I’ve always had this reverence for church music and gospel music,” Beddall said, noting that for him and Missy, it was the music of childhood.
Oddly enough, they got switched onto the idea after being asked to write some darkly-tinged gospel songs for She Who Must Burn, a horror film by Montreal-based filmmaker Larry Kent.
But for the album Beddall wrote arrangements for some powerfully uplifting spirituals, such as “I Know I’ve Been Changed” and “You Better Mind.”
Past Lives also has a song titled “Death Has No Mercy,” though the lyrics and music are much changed from traditional versions, some of which Beddall heard thanks to folklorist Alan Lomax, who travelled America and the world to record over 17,000 songs from the 1930s to the 1990s.
While he does the arrangements, Beddall said solos and parts emerge easily when playing with six musicians who know each other so well.
“For me, it seems pretty effortless because everyone is just so talented, good at interpreting what’s best for the song,” he said.
“It’s a seven-person family.”
A surprisingly tough part of touring as a seven-piece band is just finding wheels. Beddall said there’s nowhere to rent a passenger van in Vancouver, and his ’93 Chevy, a cargo van with a few extra seats in the back, just gave up the ghost.
Maybe it was for the best.
“It had no insulation or anything,” said Beddall, laughing. “We did a couple tours in the middle of the winter that were literally -25 degrees in the van.”
Aspiring musicians take note, because Paul Clark, the Wooden Horsemen’s drummer, just bought a 15-seat touring van that he’s renting out to other bands on the side.
“People are hitting him up left, right, and centre,” said Beddall. “It’s paying for itself!”
The Wooden Horsemen will open their northern tour on Haida Gwaii by playing the QC Community Hall in Queen Charlotte on Friday, April 20 and the Masset Legion on Saturday, April 21.
After ferrying back to the mainland, they will play Cowpuccino’s in Prince Rupert on Thursday, April 26, then the Smithers Legion on Friday, April 27 before wrapping up in Williams Lake at The Limelight on Saturday, April 28. For door times and ticket prices, visit the band’s website.
“The whole band is excited just to come up and meet the locals,” said Beddall.
“I kinda think that’s the best part about touring and coming to small towns — there’s such interesting and beautiful people everywhere we go in the country.”