Elliot C Way is a living, breathing, boot-stompin’, guitar-strummin’ relic of the 1970s. Standing amongst vintage velvet paintings and wood-beaded curtains in his East Vancouver apartment, the frontman of The Wild North is ready to roll.
In the parking lot out back is the third most important thing in his life (after his wife, Stephanie, and dog, Emmylou — yes, as in Harris): his key lime 70s GMC Vandura. Inside, it’s wall-to-wall shag carpet, a bed, a panther head painting. A sticker on the mini-fridge reads “I DO BAD THINGS.”
On the road to his hometown of Langley, BC, 33-year-old Way talks life while singing along to 8-track tapes. The rasp in his voice is hard evidence of the turbulent stories he tells about making it to this moment, weeks before the official release of Welcome To… The Wild North — the six-year-old band’s debut full-length album. The “dad-rock” record is a testament to the “honest form of wooden instruments and tube amps, y’know?” It’s what his dad raised him on — Bob Seger, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen.
Way stops in front of a beautiful log home — the Dead Flower Family Cabin, where he spent some of the “best years” of his life. “It was a bunch of young musicians living together trying to like, live that classic ‘Big Pink’ dream.”
In 2013, the relationship with his partner ended and after one final hurrah at the property — a music festival with hundreds of people — all nine roommates also left. Way remained for another month, alone with “three years of memories haunting the walls. Darkest time of my life.”
Many of the songs on Welcome To… resulted from the Cabin era. Recorded three times, the album is a time capsule.
Way left the Langley cabin for Vancouver and started The Wild North with friends Erik Nielsen (bass) and John Sponarski (vocals/guitar). The group was later joined by Matt Kelly (organ/guitar) and Leon Power (drums).
“I always had a dream of being in a band with five guys equally contributing their time and efforts and money towards the group.” Alas, the guys have always been busy — Nielsen as a producer at Afterlife Studios and Sponarski as a session player for artists like Ben Rogers. Kelly records and tours with City and Colour, and Power plays with a multitude of local bands.
The first recording of the album was cobbled together over many months when Nielsen could fit them in the studio — usually for a few hours after midnight. That version was scrapped a couple years ago and re-recorded at a friend’s cabin, but it lacked the energy of their live performances. Way throws a palm skyward. “It’s a fuckin’ rock ‘n’ roll show!”
The van reaches Way’s current house in Langley, another cabin-like structure on a hill dubbed “Old Man Mountain.” The musician sinks into the worn couch on the porch, lighting an American Spirit. Welcome To… plays in the background. “I took out a loan and booked a week in Afterlife Studios,” he says. Third time around, the true spirit of The Wild North reigned. Way recorded vocals with his shoes off, dancing, tequila bottle in hand.
“I just decided that if I was gonna do this, I need to stop waiting. They are my band and I love them and when they are there, they are absolutely the guys. That’s what makes up The Wild North. It’s been a struggle to get this record out, for sure.” He taps the ash out of his cigarette. “The end is near. Oh, look—” Way points to a hawk soaring in the sky. “Or the beginning is near, y’know? I hope so.”
The Wild North perform the Welcome To… album release party at Neptoon Records on November 2.