Five Questions With Ptarmigan

Toronto, ON-based indie-folk group, Ptarmigan recently unveiled their new single, “Once I Knew” along with a video to accompany the release.

“Once I Knew” is the first single from the band’s highly anticipated third album, Cocoon, which is set for release this Fall. The single seamlessly weaves together grounding elements of banjo and mandolin with the tension of atmospheric electric guitar and synthesizer.

An epic and bittersweet journey both sonically and lyrically, Ptarmigan songwriter and vocalist Peter McMurtry explores the transition of his own sense of home from adolescence into adulthood on the track.

Check out the video for “Once I Knew” below, and find out more about Ptarmigan via our Five Questions With segment.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hey! We are Ptarmigan and we are an indie-folk band based in Toronto. We’re made up of old high-school friends from Peterborough, Ontario and have been a band now for over ten years. We’ve put out two full-length albums and are set to release our third album Cocoon in the fall. Our name comes from the northern and arctic bird whose feathers change with the seasons, directly linking it to the landscape around it.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style

Our music combines traditional folk instrumentation (banjo, mandolin, fiddle) with electric elements (electric guitar and synthesizer) to create music that is expansive, dramatic and highly visceral. The songs tell stories often from the perspective of characters in unique and fantastical situations and there is a surreal or dreamlike quality to our music and lyrics. On Cocoon, I (Peter McMurtry) have delved more into my own experience and family history which I think has made the songs more vivid and direct. Cocoon marks the first album where we worked primarily as a trio, while bringing in outside artists to collaborate with and add to our recordings. We brought in Isa Burke (Lula Wiles) who does incredible harmony vocals on two of the songs, Robert Alan Mackie (Aerialists, The Bombadils) on upright bass and beautiful Nordic-inspired fiddle, Evan Cartright (The Weather Station, Tasseomancy) and Steven Foster (Doldrums, Omhouse), both on drums. The recording process led to songs that were more sculpted and moulded, working from bed tracks of just guitar, banjo and vocals, rather than built from more rigid foundations of bass and drums.

How have you been keeping creative during the Pandemic?

We were lucky enough to be most of the way through recording Cocoon when the pandemic hit, so it just took a few carefully planned sessions to finish the record. We were also able to shoot two music videos outdoors which was an amazing creative outlet. One of them was self-produced and shot on the beautiful shores of Georgian Bay near Midland and the other (our first single Once I Knew) was a collaboration with our friend and incredible dance artist Oriah Wiersma and the amazing Toronto director Adrienne McLaren, shot on the family farm of Wiersma in the Northumberland County hills in central Ontario. While performing live was not an option for us, we focused our creative efforts on the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting out an album.

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?

Our first single Once I Knew would be the song. It traverses the full range of what we do – rich acoustic texture, vocal harmonies, dramatic movements, and dream-like soundscapes. I wrote it at the time that I first got my own apartment in the city and it explores the isolation we sometimes feel as adults moving through the modern world. It reflects longing for the simplicity of childhood and reckoning with the trajectory of your life – trying to forge a new identity and a sense of home as you come of age.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

The Weather Station, Sam Tudor, Delta Will, Charlotte Cornfield, Jennah Barry. Too many to choose!

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