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Edmonton, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | INDIE

Edmonton, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2016
Band Alternative Shoegaze




"Edmonton's nêhiyawak riffs on culture, family and respectful-tour protocols"

Sly and the Family Stone once famously sang about how “it’s a family affair,” and Edmonton’s nêhiyawak know that feeling very well.

The trio, comprised of two cousins (drummer Marek Tyler and guitarist-vocalist Kris Harper) and one who might as well be (bassist, keyboardist Matthew Cardinal) are all of Plains Cree descent, and while that’s not the only intriguing part of their story it’s probably the one they’ll be answering questions about for some time.

They’re all veteran musicians about town, prominent indigenous faces in a very white local indie-rock sea. Harper was the frontman for indie-rockers Pale Moon Lights before he started performing solo as Lou Wreath, while Tyler has a long list of bands that he’s played for across Canada, from Victoria’s Meatdraw to New Pornographer singer Kathryn Calder, with too many to list in between. Cardinal, the youngest member, plays in Edmonton pop acts Diamond Mind and Cantoo, but also fronts his own outfit, shoegaze revivalists Slow Girl Walking.

The band has been remarkably busy in the short period that they’ve been around, fashioning music that takes from their respective rock, alt-rock and roots backgrounds, elegantly wrapping it up in the sounds of their own Cree culture, producing a uniquely compelling fusion that can only be called their own.

They’ve released two singles in the past few months — Tomasso was selected for a U.K. compilation called Ho Ho Ho: Canada, while their most recent, Disappear, landed quite auspiciously on Jan. 20, better known as inauguration day in the United States. It was used as music for the trailer for the documentary Witness Blanket. They were also approached to provide the film score for ôtênaw, an upcoming documentary about storyteller and Treaty 6 educator Dwayne Donald.

The coming year will be even more action packed, as the band, which was named by Cardinal’s father after the traditional Cree word for their people, head back into the studio for a full-length album. They’ll be recording in Vancouver with producer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, New Pornographers, Waterboys) in late March and early April, and are already looking at summer 2017 festival dates before the album is released, hopefully in the fall. We spoke with the band at their downtown rehearsal space, riffing on culture, family, examples of respectful protocols, and David Bowie.

Q: It seems like a lot has happened to this band in the short time that it’s been around.

Tyler: Yeah, and we’re really only just getting to know each other at this point. Kris and I are related, he’s my cousin, but we’re still new to each other, and because of that the music is still very fertile and exciting. We’re still running down all of the connections in our family. I have this feeling that at some point we’ll see Matthew on one of those family branches, because our communities aren’t too far from each other.

Q: Kris, you used to gig fairly constantly in your old group, Pale Moon Lights, and your solo project, Lou Wreath, but then you dropped off the map about two years ago.

Harper: Yeah, I went under the radar. For a long time I was only playing at Bohemia, and I was feeling this disconnect. I felt like I couldn’t convey anything, I was disassociated from the audience with no ground of my own to cover with an acoustic guitar, just waiting for people to clap. To present the music I wanted, and to captivate the audience, I needed it to be about more than just myself. That’s the ideal, for everyone in the band to have input. That’s been an ethic of my own — I don’t tell people how to do it, I don’t like it if someone doesn’t bring who they are to the process. Playing with nêhiyawak has been great because I’ve been wanting to put a band like this together for awhile.

Q: Maybe you now feel as though there’s something at stake?

Tyler (to Harper): Is that why you feel reinvigorated? Because there’s something at stake? You’re not just standing on stage waiting for the audience to clap?

Harper: No, no, but I feel like … straight up I have to say that nêhiyawak is a beautiful idea that just happens to be coming from three male individuals, but in reality that voice is a female voice in our history. That’s the actual representation of indigeneity — women were at the forefront of decision makings. To answer the question, I don’t know if I’m more invigorated, I’m just more excited to stand up with a group of people in front of an audience rather than stand up there on my own. It’s a big family that we’re part of. I would hope that this grows in other ways, and to include more people. The vision has to grow and inspire.

Q: That’s a very punk rock philosophy.

Harper: Exactly. Gang of Four (an early post-punk band from England) used to all speak out on issues as well, unlike other bands who would just go on to the next song. We’re trying to go a little farther.

Tyler: I came across this quote from (David) Bowie where he talks about inspiration. He said to never play to the gallery. Then he said that when creating, go a bit farther so that you feel you’re not touching the ground. When you’re not touching the ground you’re just about there. In a lot of ways that’s what we’re trying to do here. It’s easy to play on the back beat, but I find it a lot more exciting when musically there’s just that something more as well.

Q: But there’s more to it than just pushing your music a little farther.

Tyler: Sure, like the protocols we’ve put in place before we do anything, whether recording or playing.

Q: What are some of the protocols?

Tyler: Well, for instance, if we want to play in another town like Vancouver or Victoria, we would notify people there and ask permission to perform as guests. That’s an old way of doing things, and it makes us more than a band, because we’re also trying to build community. That’s setting the bar quite high, but don’t forget that we’re guests in their house. Other things we might do would be to sweat (go to a sweat lodge) so we can ask ourselves simple questions about what we’re doing. We also ask advice of our elders about what we should do, and trust in it. This sets the table for the music that we make.

Q: This also throws the gauntlet down to other bands.

Harper: (Laughing) I don’t know that I would want to throw the gauntlet down. We’re not setting the bar for everyone. I guess I hope that as with Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq we’re calling into both the future and the past, saying we’re here. We’re a blip on the screen of history, but we are here. - Edmonton Journal

"Ancestral soundscapes"

Edmonton’s nêhiyawak uses its indigenous identity to produce a unique sonic blueprint
Edmonton’s indigenous indie three-piece, nêhiyawak, is the sonic representation of the covenant between ancestral tradition and a contemporary culture. The band creates soundscapes that represents their cultural history.

“We are Cree, so our approach to culture is in the very fabric of what we do,” drummer Marek Tyler says. “The songs are references just by us playing them. From song to song there’s material that makes those narratives.”

After reuniting at a family dinner, Tyler and his cousin Kris Harper began jamming in Tyler’s basement. After the first couple of jams, the energy felt marvelous.

“It just kind of blew on the coals of something. It’s like the feeling of meeting somebody new for the first time,” Tyler says.

With only drums, guitar, and vocals, the sound was missing something. To remedy this, Tyler and Harper recruited bassist and keyboard player Matthew Cardinal into the mix.

“He just evened everything out with his keys and bass. It was like we were leaning on one side of the boat and then everything just settled,” Tyler says.

The moniker nêhiyawak comes from Cardinal’s father, Garry, an elder in the Cree community. The name translates to “Cree People.”

“We’re accountable to Garry now and that means that if he sees that we’re not using the name right, then he can keep us accountable,” Tyler says. “He can say, ‘Look, boys, this is what I think.’ So if we’re going to make a band decision and we’re having a tough time with it, we have our elders like Garry, my mom, and Kris’ mom to go to for guidance.”

The band members stress that everything they do, whether it’s writing songs, releasing albums, or playing live, comes from a place of “respect, culture, identity, and distinctiveness.”

“We hope that what we are doing is done in a good and respectful way and that we’re creating an environment that enables an intersection of culture, the teachings of our parents and our grandparents while also talking about our own upbringing,” Tyler says. “The work itself is indie rock, but It’s all about learning about culture. It’s not us versus them. It’s ‘we.’”

That respectful doctrine has lead to many achievements for nêhiyawak including the very first Edmonton Music Award for Indigenous Recording of the Year for the song “Tommaso.”

“I think symbolically it’s important to recognize and support indigenous artists. We’re starting to see that perspective and narrative be more common. That’s what I like to see,” Tyler says. “If the legacy of that award for the other people who are coming down the pipe enables them to assert their narrative and join a conversation, then I think it’s a good idea.”

The band also recently released a sound score for Conor McNally’s film ôtênaw, a documentary that tells the oral story of the city and deals with the history and treatment of the land, territory, and culture while also chronicling the layers of human residency on amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton).

“It documents a storyteller and the stories of the land that we are on right now just down the street in the flats by the bridge,” Tyler says. “We recorded all of those songs on a cassette on those lands that the stories came from. We were right there and that was actually the very first set of recordings we did as a band last fall.”

(Score for the film) ôtênaw is a bewitching bulk of recordings, made up of the band’s unique approach to indie rock while fringing on the borders of minimalist noise rock.

A full-length album with a title is ready, but yet to be released. The band is still searching for the right process to release it. It all comes down to accountability.

“We must adhere to the protocols and teachings of our elders. We need to use those to guide our artistic and business decisions and how we engage with the community and performance,” Tyler says.

Ultimately, nêhiyawak’s goal is to represent and share its own identity while starting a conversation about culture. The upcoming show at 9910 is the perfect outlet.

Cuban punk rockers Adictox and Mexican hard rock band Canibales will also be gracing the stage, giving the audience a chance to absorb the sounds of two fascinating cultures.

“There is an indigenous narrative that we are not alone in,” Tyler says. “People around the world are part of it. So here’s an opportunity for people to hang out and learn.” - Vue Weekly

"Edmonton's nêhiyawak explores intersection between contemporary indie-rock and Cree culture"

When nêhiyawak performs Thursday at the National Music Centre, Marek Tyler will be playing a 182-cm by 91-cm elk-hide frame drum.

It was loaned to the band by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Carey Newman, who had been consulted by Tyler about the type of wood he should be using to achieve a certain sound in the recording studio. The B.C. artist, who works in wood carving among other mediums, had some suggestions about the sounds made by different types of wood. But he also suggested that Tyler come pick up what he simply called a “big drum.” He was advised to bring a van.

“I was expecting a large hand-held drum, but that’s not what I encountered at all,” says Tyler, whose band will be playing at the National Music Centre as part of its Alberta Spotlight series. “I encountered a drum that was the size of a doorway. I had never seen anything like it before. When we finally brought it to the studio, it just became a character unto itself. It took a sound and made it more important, more than just a bass drum.”

The nêhiyawak trio, which includes Tyler’s cousin Kris Harper on guitar and vocals and Matthew Cardinal on bass and keyboards, ended up using the drum extensively on their upcoming debut album. Recorded with Colin Stewart, the Victoria-based producer/engineer who has worked with everyone from the Waterboys to the New Pornographers, Dan Mangan and Yukon Blonde, the album is set for a fall release and finds the band building on the appealing hybrid of expansive synth-heavy indie rock and sounds that spring from the band members’ Indigenous heritage.

Despite being an integral part of the album’s sound, the so-called big drum doesn’t always make it to the stage for nêhiyawak shows, and not just for logistical reasons.

“I won’t bring it into clubs or anything like that, out of respect for the drum,” he says. “So this will be a real opportunity to have the drum in a live setting. So I’m really excited about that.”

It’s all part of what Tyler calls the “respectful process” of exploring their Indigenous background while performing and writing music. All three of the band members have backgrounds in Edmonton’s indie-rock scene. Harper played in Pale Moon Lights, Cardinal in Diamond Mind, while Tyler has played in acts across Canada, including a stint with New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder, after studying music a MacEwan University. In the summer of 2016, nêhiyawak came to life in what Tyler calls a typical “born-in-the-basement” type of way. The three musicians all have a Plains Cree background and they chose a name that translates to Cree people or people of the plains.

But Tyler points out that finding an intersection between contemporary indie-rock and more traditional sounds remains a work-in-progress for the trio. In the band’s bio, the act is described as hailing from amiskwaciy, the Cree word for the Edmonton area, in Treaty 6 territory. While Tyler, Cardinal and Harper are the musicians on stage, Tyler points out that the project also brings in the talents of other Indigenous artists, including electronic artist Jason Borys to do front-of-house sound and Cree artist Courteney Morin to provide visuals. As the band seeks to be more specific in its cultural outlook, it has proven to have universal appeal. In its relatively short lifespan and with only a few songs recorded, nêhiyawak quickly became favourites on the festival circuit. In May, the band will travel to the United Kingdom for a handful of dates.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge where you’re from,” Tyler says. “I think it’s important to us to acknowledge those teachings. I think it’s also important for us to learn more about those teachings, and this is part of that process. The three of us are not Cree speakers. There’s a substantial amount of learning that we have to take on if we are going to continue this work. So I think this process ignites that or blows on the coals of that learning experience.”

Harper provides and sings the band’s lyrics and often writes about Indigenous issues, even if often in an abstract way. The slow-burning and haunting Disappear, for instance, drew inspiration from a lecture by Honduran human-rights campaigner Bertha Oliva and from Robert Lovelace, a former Ardoch Algonquin First Nation chief, activist and Queen’s professor, and explores what the band calls “the juxtaposition between abandonment and abduction.”

“I think the magic is in the process,” Tyler says. “There’s a process in how we create the songs. There’s a process in how we make decisions. That process involves our cultural teachings. That process is teaching us how to care for these songs, how to care for these decisions, how to care for these drums.” - Calgary Herald

"nêhiyawak juxtaposes pain and understanding on “Open Window”"

This week saw the release of nêhiyawak's (ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐊᐧᐠ) EP starlight along with their single "Open Window".

Since signing to Arts and Crafts earlier this year the band, who hail from amiskwaciy in Treaty 6 territory, have slowly been releasing tracks from the record on days with cultural significance to the fragmentation of indigenous nationhood in Canada. The swirling melancholy of "Open Window" was released, along with the whole EP, on 27th November: the anniversary of the hanging of eight leaders from indigenous nations at Fort Pitt in 1885. Lyrically, nêhiyawak's track addresses the Sixties Scoop (the practice of taking indigenous children from their families and placing them in non-indigenous foster homes or residential schools, which despite its name continued in to the eighties), as well as the residential school system itself.

The track begins with the band's parents speaking in their mother tongues, giving them an opportunity to “say what they felt like needed to be said… More than anything, this message is one of learning and acceptance. Something to help others feel connected by experience, but also encouraged toward personal growth and learning.”

Recorded in BC with Colin Stewart (Black Mountain/Dan Mangan), the record fuses swirling electronics with traditional storytelling, spoken word with psychedelia, crow hop rhythms and distorted guitars with politics. It's a record for and about community, and it's a thing of heavy, expansive beauty. Drummer Marek Tyler explained to Beatroute that community has played a part in the band's modus operandi from day one: “We ask for guidance from our youth and from our elders on how to do this in a respectful way and bring them into the circle. If we live in an echo chamber, a vacuum, it becomes really fake, really quick. There’s a reciprocity that is really important in what we do. I love the process of learning from each other; it’s more than just a band. It feels like there’s something we need to say.”

As for starlight, vocalist/guitarist Kris Harper explains “starlight shines a torch into the shadows of colonial ideologies. What is erasure? How does it manifest in society? What are the depths man will go to to hush the perspective of others? When tools of erasure are put to use on aspects of particular cultures, they are also applied to society as a whole. What are the symptoms and effects of these attempts at extinguishing culture? Recognition of the forms and techniques that impact indigenous, POC, LGBTQ, and our mothers, sisters, and daughters assist in the reformation and reparations sought by survivors in our day. The education of this is nêhiyawak's endurance on starlight.”

nêhiyawak is pronounced neh-HEE-oh-wuk. Follow nêhiyawak on Facebook. - The Line of Best Fit

"nêhiyawak bring their sweeping experimental rock to the q studio"

nêhiyawak is one of the latest bands to break out of the indie-rock scene in Canada. They're also part of a wave of Indigenous artists who've been reaching audiences all across the continent by championing a variety of genres.

The band hails from Edmonton, Alta. or amiskwaciy​ in Treaty 6 Territory and includes band members Kris Harper, Marek Tyler and Matthew Cardinal. The trio named their band after the Cree word for "people of the plains" or "Cree people," and while one of their big goals is to educate their audience with their music, they're also focused on educating themselves.

nêhiyawak dropped by the q music studio to perform some songs off their debut EP starlight, which is out now. - CBC Radio



nêhiyawak hails from amiskwaciy (Edmonton) on Treaty 6 territory. Comprised of Kris Harper, Matthew Cardinal, and Marek Tyler - three Indigenous musicians coalescing at the intersection between traditional and contemporary music. Their sound at times loud and sweeping, and in moments - reticent and careful. Recording their first EP in November 2016 with Colin Stewart (The New Pornographers, Black Mountain, Dan Mangan), the music balances the band’s heritage with the present. Indie-rock guitar and dance floor synths blend and walk alongside the steady beats of carved cedar log and hand drums. nêhiyawak tells stories - their story - capturing time through honeyed and haunting vocals, swaying in and out of the cacophony of electronic and analog sounds. Within the framework of the conventional song, the band creates and adds their own history and stage. Collecting and piecing together their experiences - existing simultaneously between diverse and disparate cultures - nêhiyawak shares with its audience their unique expression of Indigeneity in Canada today.



Pronunciation: neh-Hee-o-wuk (emphasis on 2nd syllable)

Meanings: Cree people, People of the Plains, Plains People, Exact People

note: There are no letters capitalized in Cree language. Please write name in all lower case.

Band Members