dream catching in bc with welkin

2004.04.13 :: soulshine

by sophie nicholls

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It may be stargazing at a cabin atop the Rockies for Welkin's west coast fans, but once this band hits Toronto, it'll be all about Muskoka, sprawled across the cottage dock for us east coasters.

During my very first Welkin sound bite, I followed the advice of lead singer/songwriter, piano and guitar player, or better known as Welkin's 'brainchild', Geoff Birch, slapping on a pair of headphones. Since there are no stars in Toronto, I walked amidst a spring shower.

Welkin's sweeping melodies took me back to a late summer night, cottage tradition, setting 'dixie' cups aglow with birthday candles to float across the moon glistening lake.

Hard to believe Birch's piercing falsetto vocals, compared to the likes of Neil Young, Radio Head's Thom Yorke, and Flaming Lip's Wayne Coyne, were once shadowed by his bass guitar in various southern Ontario bands, heavier, though comparable, to I Mother Earth.

Plain sick of playing bass throughout the London pub circuit with 'wanna be rock stars', Birch tried a duo stint, seemingly comparable to Simon and Garfunkel, then moved out West and fumbled around solo, nurturing his skills as a singer/songwriter.

"I was tired of the bull shit in bands, the crash of egos and the unrealistic goals - we're gonna be rock stars, we're gonna be discovered. I had to break away from it for while," says Birch.

In time, Birch came around full circle and was ready to play in a band again. But, this time, he and his heavenly vision would be at the forefront. Pulling his totally convinced bass player off the street, and shifting through about five keyboarders and three drummers since 2001, Welkin now renders Mark Christianson on bass, Darren Birch (Geoff Birch's Brother) on drums, Daniel Sturgeon on keys/organ and of course, Geoff Birch, doing the rest.

"Originally it was the adrenaline rush of playing music live, but at some point I wanted more than that," says Birch. "I had my paradigm shift as I got more into songwriting, telling stories and relaying messages… I have dreams and visions, spiritual and mystical experiences."

Despite transitioning band members, Welkin's sound stayed steady, thriving an 'out of this cosmos', iridescent but misty ambiance and fused with visionary, lingering lyrics. It's no coincidence then, that Welkin's literary meaning is ""the vault of the sky, the firmament or the heavens".

Though hidden deep in their music, Welkin is diversely inspired and influenced by musical legends like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Paul Simon and Daniel Langlois…as well as spiritual legends like Jesus and 16th century monks.

Birch, who can be caught cranking 'the dead' on a Saturday morning making breakfast with his gut out and beard long, also sees Jesus as a loving and compassionate insurrectionist and believes monks have a deeper understanding of the world.

"We are not a Christian band…there are no blatant references to Jesus in our music because we don't want to alienate anyone…but it's there if you look for it," admits Birch.

Birch rejects the angry messages many bands send out through their music and lyrics now-a-days, not because there's nothing in this world to scream angst about, but because it's just too easy to do so. Peace, love and hope are the deeper messages Welkin wishes to send out to listeners.

"There is a lot to be angry about…but it's not just about anger. It takes more character to identify what's wrong and offer a solution. Instead about being bitter, it's just about being kind." says Birch. "Do I sound like a total hippy? I swear my beard isn't that long."

Welkin's work-in-progress, double disc, concept album, Silver Stars, which Birch compares to Pink Floyd's, The Wall, does just that, taking the listener on a journey through "darkness and battle" towards "redemption and light". Available now is Welkin's two-year-old, full-length debut, No Ordinary Elephant, and a recent 22-minute EP release.

Birch believes that first-time Welkin listeners either love or hate the band because they sound like nothing else currently out there. Though he wants nothing less, it can work for and against them.

"I don't want to be taken in luke warm way. Some people really like us, and others don't know what to do with us. At our shows there are at least a handful of people that aren't clapping at end, but are so freaking stunned. We really reached deep inside them and touch them in a beautiful way," says Birch.

Welkin yearns to hit Toronto live, with audio, video, lighting, smoke machine effects, and, of course, their mystical music, during a fall/winter 2004 targeted Canadian tour.

Whatever future success Welkin unearths, Birch believes the band, which often plays benefit shows donating 11 per cent of proceeds to Enable International, has found it's musical niche. Honing their skills, here, is what's most important.

"I think success has to be finding value in what you are doing…there is something from yourself that makes it worthwhile," says Birch. "Recognition is very fleeting…in a lot of ways we have already succeeded… we understand what matters in the world."

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