Summing up the sound of Hillsburn is a difficult task but it’s not beyond reason to suggest that, had the members of The Band been born 40—50 years later, Music From Big Pink may have sounded a bit more like In the Battle Years.
The group’s music—much as The Band’s first two albums — seems to have one foot at least sinking to tradition with the other lodged in the present. The result is a very rootsy, familiar sound but with a heaping helping of the modern day.
Rosanna Burrill, vocalist, violinist and multi-instrumentalist in Hillsburn, explained that the group never really set out to sound the way they do but they just sort of evolved that way.
“It’s definitely changed a little bit since we first got together a couple years ago,” Burrill said. “It was quite folky when we started, it was just acoustic instruments. It was what we knew how to play. As we’ve played together and recorded the new record we’ve progressed;
it feels like a natural progression and it’s taken us a while to get to the sound we have now… it’s definitely been a natural evolution.”
Burrill said, “We started out with a lot of instruments because we didn’t arrange them with the intention of playing them live, it was just for fun. We did our first show and it was totally ridiculous — it was two banjos, a mandolin, a fiddle, two or three guitars. We were switching them around, it didn’t make much sense. Part of the trouble was trying to create a live show that flowed easier.”
The band’s sound continued to morph while working on In the Battle Years — bass-snyths and electric guitars entered the picture, while the band itself continued to evolve with the finished product in their hands with the addition of Clare Macdonald on drums and percussion.
The band had recorded their first EP in a music classroom on a Thanksgiving weekend but attention from the EP and the CBC Searchlight contest earned them a place on the roster of Groundswell Music and a trip to a proper studio — Codapop Studios in Halifax — under the production of Jon Landry of the Stanfields.
Burrill described Landry as “an interesting guy with a lot of cool ideas.”
“We were quite hesitant to have someone else because we’d never worked with a producer before and we’re all very opinionated, intense people,” Burrill said. “… but it was actually the perfect thing. He worked so well with all of us and he knew exactly when to step in and tell us when to suck it or get out of your own way, or it sounds fine or do this… it was awesome. We had a blast working with him.”
Still, the question remains: will Hillsburn have a blast opening Sunday night’s Jubilee festivities? The answer should reveal itself shortly.