The Fugitives are a Vancouver-based acoustic folk-roots group headed by singer-songwriters Adrian Glynn and Brendan McLeod, and joined by banjo player Chris Suen (Viper Central) and violinist Carly Frey (The Coal Porters). Their sixth album—and first for Edmonton-based Fallen Tree Records—No Help Coming, is available now containing songs that address the climate emergency.
It follows the band’s acclaimed 2020 album Trench Songs, which set to music poems written by First World War soldiers. The Globe & Mail’s Brad Wheeler compared Trench Songs and its companion film, Ridge, to Peter Jackson’s 2018 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, writing, “Soldiers, often teenagers, are humanized and brought to 21st-century life.”
Now with No Help Coming, The Fugitives shift their focus to the existential crisis of our era, climate change, and what can be done to deal with it. The recording itself showcases the core band in top form, with Brendan and Adrian’s voices shining in harmony as usual, and Chris’ banjo and Carly’s fiddle adding just the right melodic touches. Holding it all together is special guest Sally Zori, one of Vancouver’s finest percussionists. With producer Tom Dobrzanski at the helm, the overall sound of No Help Coming is highly polished, although live off-the-floor takes, song snippets from jam sessions and voice memo recordings keep the album real, raw and, most importantly, human.
The Fugitives have earned a Juno nomination and numerous CFMA and WCMA nominations and toured extensively through Europe, Canada, and the UK. This past summer, they performed in 22 theatres and festivals across British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. The arrival of No Help Coming comes on the heels of a 13-date fall European tour and more dates across Canada. It adds to an already impressive touring history that’s seen The Fugitives entertain crowds at major Canadian festivals, perform at Glastonbury, and tour as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s opening act.
Brendan McLeod and Adrian Glynn took some time to speak with us just as the band was getting set to kick off its cross-Canada tour on Oct. 20 in Vancouver at the Rogue Folk Club. For the full list of dates and ticket info, go to fugitives.ca/shows.
The songs on No Help Coming all touch on climate change in some way. Did having a common theme make it easier to write the album?
Adrian: Yes, it’s become a bit of a theme for us to have a theme — it tends to focus the songwriting in the early stages, and then focus song choices and the public messaging of the album in the later stages. It also kind of keeps us out of falling into the tropes of writing love songs for our girlfriends, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s fun to think outside of that, too.
What’s the overall message you hope to get across with No Help Coming?
Brendan: This is definitely a climate crisis-themed album, but from the outset, we didn’t want to make something that was gloomy or pessimistic or apocalyptic. Most of the songs have more of a joyful or hopeful musical feel to them, because we think a lot of resolve can be found in joy. We titled the album No Help Coming, which may sound dark, but in fact we think of it as an inspiring thought. As Carl Sagan said in his Pale Blue Dot statement, “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves… the Earth is where we make our stand.” There is no help coming. But humans are capable of incredible achievements when we decide to co-operate. So perhaps the message of this album is: We are all in this together, so let’s see what we can do.
You guys seem to enjoy taking an ambitious approach to your music, as your previous album Trench Songs demonstrated. What’s motivated you to work that way?
Adrian: If anything, we actually think No Help Coming is musically a bit less ambitious than some of our previous albums. Which is actually a good thing. A few albums ago, we would think big and add whatever we could think of to a song — horn sections, gospel choirs, tubular bells — whatever. But when the pandemic hit and we had to make Trench Songs in a lockdown and in a small band bubble, we were forced to think smaller and use only the instruments that the four of us Fugitives could play, plus a drummer. We really liked the cohesion this brought us as a band, so we decided to make this album the same way, stripped down to just the four of us, plus drums and percussion.
You recently returned from a European tour. How did audiences respond to the new material?
Brendan: It’s interesting for us touring in countries where English is not the first language. Because we are such a lyrics-focused and story-telling band, we have to find ways to communicate our stage stories more clearly and to communicate the messaging of the songs/album more clearly. I think after a few shows, we finally figured out how to do that. One of the new songs, “Landmarks,” has a repeating refrain that goes, “I can’t believe, but I don’t wanna give up on you yet.” We explained to the audience that this was a song about coming together in the face of this crisis, not just for us but for the generations to come, and they sang it with us to end the concert. When we came back out for an encore, they began singing that refrain again, without any prompting from us. It was quite moving, and it felt like we’d gotten the message of our record across.
As you now head out on a cross-Canada tour, what are some of your tips to surviving on the road?
Adrian: Always have a banjo player that is a foodie and can pick excellent lunch stops, even in the most remote places, and whenever possible, make yourself a sandwich from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. You will thank yourself later.
Brendan: And always put a bottle of whisky on the rider because who knows.. you might just get it!