Sitting in the jam space of Toronto folk soul band The Shuvs, it’s easy to lose sense of time and place. The quartet practice in a twinkle-lit, cement-laid storage room insulated from the traffic of nearby King Street. They record direct-to-tape, so when you tune in later, you get that live music feel. And unlike the rush outside the walls, their sound breeds calm; just follow the groove as it feeds through the eight-track.
As their debut album cover depicts, The Shuvs’ musical home base is The Coffin Factory, a Toronto heritage building with industrial roots stemming from the late 1800s. It’s also where singer/songwriter Rob Nicholls – who keeps an artist studio in the building –, and drummer Richard Verdin – building superintendent –, collided. The pair later brought in percussionist/singer Laura Anderson and bassist Jack Gunn.
“I went to an open mike with another band and saw Rob was there playing as a solo artist. I was watching him and I thought, ‘This guy’s great; he just needs some beat behind him.’ I asked him to jam and everything just went great from the start,” said Verdin.
As the band expanded, their sound evolved partly from listening to Verdin’s record collection. They began fusing the singer-songwriter sensibilities of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, with the wilder, freer vocal styling of Curtis Mayfield and Al Green.
Using a vintage tape player, they set up a recording studio in Verdin’s apartment. They captured their song Hustle and Tussle on the first take. It speaks to a point of connection that inspired both the band name and its antidotal, relaxed vibe.
“It’s about how you get in where you fit in. You have to fit in. There’s a lot of anxiety and stress and tension in a city environment,” said Nicholls. “Those kinds of ideas just ended up in the songs.”
Translating The Shuvs folk-soul, analog style online meant making deliberate choices from everything from the font to their colour pallet. Nicholls leaned on his background as both a visual and musical artist and his related promotional experience. The band’s social channels such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook all have a cohesive look and feel.
“We’re conscious of the way things look. All of this stuff has the sensibility of what The Shuvs do,” said Nicholls. “For us, it was very important that we make vinyl records, and sort of get back to that direct analog sound. So in our teaser video, we have a panning down of an old record player. And we also do black and white that keeps it in this old vibe.”
Being an independent act with limited budget forced creativity. Not having yet released their album also meant thinking beyond the stage and considering how to engage like-minded audiences. That’s why on their Instagram channel, for example, you’ll see album covers, disco shoes and 70s musical artists blended in with band imagery.
The band also uses social channels to forge connections – making plans to collaborate with other artists, for example. While their follower counts may be modest, they say it’s the human relationships that matter.
Like the building on the album cover, Anderson said social channels document the band’s own contacts and stories.
“What we actually do have to offer is that sense of connectedness and home,” said Anderson. “It’s our own history.”
The Shuvs’ self-titled debut album is out November 18. Their album release party is at Burdock.
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