It might be the telephone connection, his surprisingly thick East Coast accent, or that he’s almost 1,500 km away in Charlottetown, but it’s hard to hear Two Hours Traffic guitarist Alec O’Hanley.
After several hang-ups and redials, O’Hanley slowly becomes audible. As the best thing to come out Prince Edward Island since Anne of Green Gables, fuzzy phone conversations are one of the many disadvantages the band has when they live so far East.
“I think I would move. We’ve lived here for a quarter century now. I could see a time when I’d move to a place like Halifax,” O’Hanley said. “That said, Charlottetown is a lovely place. Especially in the summer.”
The band’s complex relationship with Charlottetown and P.E.I. has been the inspiration for many of the band’s pop songs, and it’s perhaps their unwillingness to leave that makes their music stand out amongst the sea of other indie pop bands out there today.
“You get to write about what you know and writing about the Maritimes is what we know,” O’Hanley said. “I think that are some similarities between us and other East Coast bands like Sloan and Thrust Hermit.” Two Hours Traffic has certainly made a name for themselves. Touring relentlessly and releasing two albums and two EPs since they formed in 2002, the band has just released their third album Territory this month—dubbed their “darkest” album to date.
“I probably shouldn’t have used the word “dark” in that Chart Attack interview I did,” O’Hanley said. “But yeah, there are some darker themes. It’s mainly about triumphing over the crap in life. I like to think we make positive music.” Territory delves into heavier, less innocent topics like the downside of relationships, alcohol abuse, embracing your dark side and the fogginess of spiritual belief, which probably comes with the fact that O’Hanley and the rest of the band are a quarter of a century old. There’s still a boyish innocence to the tracks on Territory that’s undeniable, though.
“It was recorded over two weeks in February in Halifax,” O’Hanley said. “At Scotland Yard, which is a glorified garage, and my parents’ basement here in Charlottetown.”
The band’s boyish charm might be alive in the basement, or it could be the result of that “glorified garage,” that happens to be operated by Canadian music icon Joel Plaskett. Plaskett has been vital in the band’s development and produced Territory.
“We treaded pretty lightly around him in the initial phases, like you do when you don’t know someone very well,” O’Hanley said of the band’s relationship with Plaskett. “We’ve become pretty good friends over the years. He’s the source of a lot of good, solid pop ideas.” Plaskett took the band under his wing early in their career and has been working with them ever since.
O’Hanley is perhaps the band’s most serious member—he’s the only one without a day job and has recently started another band, The Danks, named lovingly after the word “dank” was used to describe the apartment he shares with band mate Andrew MacDonald.
“He and I started the band when we were living together,” O’Hanley said. “I think we get compared a lot by, not by lazy journalists, but journalists, to Two Hours Traffic. We do have similarities. But I would say the difference is whereas Two Hours Traffic has a more folk influence, The Danks have a much more pop influence.” The Danks are touring with Two Hours Traffic across Canada this upcoming fall, something Two Hours Traffic have been doing tirelessly for the past few years.
The unforgiving nature of the Canadian landscape may be the culprit behind the darker tone to their sound.
“I don’t do a lot of writing on the road,” O’Hanley said. “It’s kind of tough to write a tune when you’re cooped up with three other smelly guys.” Good thing O’Hanley’s sense of humour is still in tact.
Two Hours Traffic play the Mansion tonight. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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