“We played this show up in a cabin, way up in the mountains. It was snowing like crazy and no one knew where the actual cabin was. Everybody was walking around for like a mile in the snow with their instruments over their backs.” Jordan Towner plays strings in Westward the Tide, a prolific local band with less than a year under their belts. He tells the story sitting in the midst of his band mates, Jackson and Megan Larsen, Katie Forbes, Cam Brannelly and Cole Herrman.
Jackson, who sings lead vocals, chimes in. “We were driving through these snowy roads and mountains and we’d see these, like, vagabonds walking through the snow—these people looking for the show.”
Megan—the pianist—talks next. “There were people just packed in every single space in this cabin—you know, once we found it,” she says, continuing the collective narrative.
It’s curious to watch the chemistry at work as the members of Westward the Tide talk and remember together. They function with the finesse of a band that has been together much longer than they have. They finish each other’s sentences and expound each other’s thoughts. With everybody laughing, remembering their performance in this tiny, remote cabin, Jordan speaks again.
“That was a special night, for sure, for us as a band,” he says. “I think that was the first night that we all walked away from that show with a smile from our faces and knew that the chemistry was right.”
Everyone joins in a chorus of agreement.
There’s something exceptional about this group of musicians. Westward the Tide, whose name comes from a Louis L’Amour novel, is just coming up on their first anniversary, but they’ve already shown their creative face with their EP release “Everything Is” back in April and followed it up immediately by recording a forthcoming LP set for release in the beginning of 2014.
Aside from their time in the studio—which has been an event in itself—they’ve spent as much time as they can playing shows from downtown Provo and Salt Lake to gigs in far-off and snowed-in cabins. It’s a lot of work for a band so fresh and their sound is uncharacteristically polished.
That polish is not without its price, though. They’ve come a long way from their early shows which they recall being “stiff and pitchy.” The way they tell it, no one—aside from Katie—was even comfortable singing into a mic.
“Every single time we’d regroup, and each show we’d just try to do better and better until we kind of polished our act,” Megan says. “We feel like we know what we’re doing up there now… We really make sure that we’re putting a show on for everybody.”
Following the release of their EP and a handful of ragtag shows in the early days of ‘Westward,’ they saw exponential growth of their fan base, reaching not just out-of-state but seeing album sales reach across continents. Together they tell me about the shock of finding diehard fans driving from out of state to see a small gig they played. In just a few short months, they were already a long way from where they’d started.
“It’s honestly been kind of humbling in the sense that, you know, we all wanted to make music and we were excited,” Jordan says, “but we never thought that so quickly people were going to like the music that we were making.”
Jackson speaks again. “We’ll play a show now and I’ll look out into the crowd and a good amount of the people I can see are singing along to our song.”
“That’s the best thing,” Megan says, jumping in.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” Jackson finishes.
The recording process for their LP was as much a trial as it was an opportunity to grow. While their EP had a pervasive indie-folk sound, their album promises a more mature sound, rounded out with depth and dynamic. It’s the direction they wanted to go as a band and it’s sure to define the path of where they’re going next as artists.
“I feel like our EP was a really good way for us to just show people that we’re serious, that we’re here—it was very light-hearted and fun—but I feel like the album really dives into some real emotion and just gets deeper,” explains Jackson.
The album, produced by Joshua James, is now in its final process before its release. With everybody in the band working different jobs, going to school and trying to maintain a semblance of a social life, they were never in the studio together, with James orchestrating who was recording what and when, acting as, what they call, a “master composer of time.”
With hardly any recording experience between the six of them, they took the opportunity to not only learn, but to get everything on the album right; by their own estimate, recording almost ten different versions of each song.
Joshua James was brought on board after Jackson approached him to produce at the suggestion of Corey Fox, proprietor of the Velour in Provo. James had been touring at the time, but jumped into the project once he returned. After the band met him at his farm—where they were able to meet James’ goat as well—the fit was right and they moved forward with the album.
“Josh puts his whole being into whatever he’s doing at the time… [he] really helped us kind of mold and figure out a good sound,” Jackson says. “After everything was said and done, it felt like it was going to be the right thing for us and we’re really, really excited about it.”
It’s their passion and devotion to the music—and to their fans—that seems to be more than enough to keep them working, even through the difficulties of recording. It’s a passion that has defined their entire existence as a group, a group that started on a whim and a dream—and frozen yogurt.
Katie and Megan had briefly recorded a single together years before, but with really nowhere to go with it, the project had fizzled. After Jackson and Megan were married, the three of them—Megan, Katie and Jackson—found themselves eating frozen yogurt and lamenting their creative state.
“We were just talking saying ‘we wish we could be in a band so bad, we just want to make music.’ So, that day we just decided ‘let’s be in a band—just us three—let’s start it, let’s write a song, let’s do this,’” Megan says. “So, a couple days later, the three of us wrote a song.”
That song was “Until I’m Home,” the third track on their debut EP. Cam Brannelly was brought in to play drums and he introduced Jordan who played the viola. After holding tryouts for a bassist, they found Cole and he stuck. From then on everybody stuck.
“Typically it takes a band a really long time playing with each other to write music that other people like. It was kind of like we sat down and from the very beginning we were able to put our heads together and make music that apparently people genuinely like,” Jordan says.
“Writing music is a process and it’s not very easy. We had such good chemistry out in the beginning and that was—I don’t know what you can call that other than just luck.”
And maybe it is luck, or maybe it’s that shared passion for music that bleeds over into their spirited sound. Whatever it is, it’s exceptional. The six of them talk and laugh like they’ve been together for years. With such a passion for the music they make, a sincere devotion to their fans and a fortunate chemistry, Westward the Tide is a band worth paying attention to.
Westward the Tide will be playing a show at the Velour October 23 with National Parks along with special guests Sarah Anne Degraw and Attic Wolves. Doors are at 8, tickets are $7.
Their EP, “Everything Is”, is on sale on Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon.
They can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @WestwardtheTide for announcements, promotions and contests. And follow them for the announcement of the first single of their forthcoming LP, which will be released in November.
Listen to “Until I’m Home” below: