Thomas Walter Scott became the first premier of Saskatchewan by dividing the Northwest Territories of Canada into two autonomous provinces and judiciously divvying up both natural and governmental resources. A little more than a century later, Chandler Strang became the premier of dream-pop outfit Saskatchewan by flipping to a page in an atlas and saying, “That’s the one.”
Actually, it’s slightly more complicated than that: The band is, like its namesake, half of a formerly larger entity, and like the Northwest Territories became Saskatchewan and Alberta, former indie-folk darlings An Introduction to Sunshine splintered into Strang’s project and the similarly ethereal Day Joy.
“Intro played together so long for the same people and in the same places, not really progressing,” Strang says as he stares into his Turkish Gold outside Bar-BQ-Bar a few hours before playing a free show there. He spends his weekends emailing mp3s of the band’s covers of the Weeknd to music blogs – or any blogs, really – with a fair amount of success. But this is his first face-to-face interview, and whether it’s the show or the press that’s on his mind, he’s feeling fidgety, adjusting his oversized glasses and pulling down his beanie for warmth, even though temperatures are only in the mid-60s.
Perhaps it’s because his heritage, for better or worse, still precedes him. Strang’s father, Steven, was listed by Time magazine in 2005 as “one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals,” and the Strang family’s Lake Mary-based religious company, Charisma Media (for whom Chandler is an accountant), is everywhere these days. They’ve seen numerous self-published books land on the New York Times best-sellers list and Steven is on the board of directors of the Christian broadcast company currently attempting to purchase local PBS station WMFE-TV. Chandler’s mother is Charisma’s CFO and his brother, Cameron, is the founder of the Christian-focused Relevant Media Group, whose namesake magazine boasts more than 5 million page views per month. It gets weirder.
Former An Introduction to Sunshine bassist David Plakon followed Strang to his new group and did the production for Saskatchewan’s first 7-inch release at his North Avenue Studios in Orange City near DeLand. Plakon is the son of state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who made headlines recently for his efforts to erase the Florida Climate Protection Act and ban Internet cafés, and last month he appeared on The Daily Show to defend his position that people on welfare should submit to state-mandated drug testing. (Plakon was asked to pee in a cup by correspondent Aasif Mandvi. He refused.)
While their families cast a large shadow, the band is eager to show that they’re their own separate entity.
“It’s a bond,” says David Plakon, who, along with businessman Mark Shepard, helped put the DeLand music scene on the map, working with local talent like Kaleigh Baker and Thomas Wynn & the Believers. “Our families have a long history together. I’ve known Chandler longer than pretty much anyone else. We don’t really talk much politics or religion. I don’t think there’s any conscious effort to avoid it, but I guess we’ve had our share of it growing up.”
Strang, however, credits his religious upbringing for much of his – and, naturally, Saskatchewan’s – musical stylings. “Everyone learns every instrument in church band and an anthemic type of song structure,” Strang says. “Part of the reason I started Saskatchewan is because I wanted to do something where I was something other than a drummer.”
Indeed, that foundation informs much of the band’s sound. Although soundscapes flow freely in Saskatchewan, there is a noticeable structural tightness that’s a departure from their Ariel Pink, Twin Shadow and Beach House influences. It’s an organic meshing that can be traced to the years its members spent playing together in different configurations since high school. While Strang is undoubtedly in creative control, every member of his parliament leaves a fingerprint, particularly co-frontman and merry prankster Michael Serrin, also of An Introduction to Sunshine. Taking the Bar-BQ-Bar stage, Serrin ignites the crowd (or, at least, gets them to look up from their beers), taking the microphone for the band’s best song, “Dream Boat,” an infectious surf-pop throwback with an oddball rhythm that recalls the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese.” Strang’s Rorschachian vocals, on the other hand, are more dampening, ominous and synth-heavy, such as on the track “Skinny Dipping,” which sounds like an outtake from the Drive soundtrack.
Following recent tweaks, like the addition of former Mirror Pal drummer Ranson Vorpahl, Saskatchewan have worked tirelessly to become more fully realized – they expect to release their debut full-length album at the end of the summer – and more successful. They’d better hope so.
Says Strang with alarming casualness: “[My parents] knew I played in a psychedelic band, but when they found out I drank and smoked, they wrote me out of their will.”