Q&A: Psychedelic instrumental rock band Colliding Canyons on 10 years as a fixture in the Nanaimo scene

‘The diversity and quality of art being produced here is astounding,’ says band member Will Hills.
Colliding Canyons' Brendan Holm, Will Hills, Jordan Koop (of the Noise Floor recording studio), Arlen Thompson and Arlen Brown stand outside under a tree for a band photo last year.
Brendan Holm, Will Hills, Jordan Koop (of the Noise Floor recording studio), Arlen Thompson and Arlen Brown while recording Collapse the Chronosphere last year. Photo submitted by Colliding Canyons

With 10 years and a sixth album just released, Nanaimo’s Colliding Canyons is one of the city’s longest-running and most prolific indie bands.

The psychedelic instrumental rock band features a roster of busy musicians who are fixtures of the Nanaimo music scene, playing in multiple other bands as well as working behind the scenes of local music venues and festivals.

You could say they’re a sort of genre-bending supergroup whose pulsing instrumentals can simultaneously form the centre of a raucous party and serve as a dreamy background soundtrack.

Reporter Julie Chadwick put some questions to band member Will Hills to learn more about the latest album, Collapse the Chronosphere, and how the band has evolved over the last 10 years.

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A sepia tinted photo of four men playing various instruments at an indoor venue.
Colliding Canyons’ Will Hills, Arlen Thompson, Richard Chisholm and Arlen Brown play The Terminal in Nanaimo. Photo submitted by Colliding Canyons

JC: Can you talk a bit about the process of putting together this latest album — where was it recorded, and how did some of the songs come together?

WH: The concept for Collapse the Chronosphere came about as the COVID-19 restrictions lifted. We had had numerous songs ready to be recorded prior to the pandemic, so it was only natural to return to the studio when restrictions lifted. 

While anchored by my own vision, the group shares writing duties, often elaborating on song sketches brought to the group. With loose themes of time travel, spaghettification, and the multidimensional nature of the universe, the album is our most cohesive recording to date.

The album was produced by Jordan Koop at The Noise Floor recording studio on Gabriola Island and mastered by Noah Mintz. Also worth mentioning is the contribution of local designer and visual artist Robert Plante, who illustrated the wonderful album artwork that adorns the record.

A black and white sketch of an alien world and the beasts marching across a wasteland, featured as Colliding Canyons' album artwork.
Collapse the Chronosphere’s cover artwork was drawn by local artist Robert Plante.Photo submitted by Colliding Canyons

JC: You mentioned that you recently celebrated 10 years as a band together, which is a pretty huge milestone. How has your sound evolved over the years and what has kept you all together?

WH: The group was founded by myself and Ian Montgomery in 2013. Initially the music was quite conceptual in nature with a focus on audio collage; however, the band quickly began to include various elements of live instrumentation.

Over the years we’ve been quite collaborative and have worked with a wide variety of local musicians both in the studio and for live performance. Arlen Brown was added to the lineup during the recording of our debut album Desert Ballads and Brendan Holm followed soon thereafter. The current lineup was solidified after Ian amicably left the group and returned home to Ontario during the pandemic. 

Fortunately, Arlen Thompson [of Wolf Parade] was willing to join the group for the recording of the album and has been playing with us since. Richard Chisholm is the most recent addition to the group and performs with a variety of electronic apparatus. We also continue to collaborate with other local artists, and most recently performed a number of shows with Monica McGregor of Nanaimo’s TRUTH.

JC: What was one of your best or most memorable live shows?

WH: That’s a tough question. Personally, our most recent performance at the Time and Space Continuum in Duncan, B.C. It was one of my all-time favourites as it was the first time the current lineup had a chance to perform in full. 

JC: I’ve noticed you’re a big player in the local music scene and play in multiple bands, as well as working to support local venues. What are your thoughts on Nanaimo as a place for new, original and local music and what elements do you think are crucial to keeping it thriving?

WH: Each member of the group is involved with numerous bands and contribute to the local scene each in their own unique ways. Given that all of us grew up either in Nanaimo or elsewhere on the Island, having a thriving local scene is very important to us. 

Nanaimo and the Island more generally has always been a refuge for artistically-minded people and we like to celebrate that legacy. As far as crucial elements for its continuation, community support is a major one. 

Another element that we feel contributes to the local scene is the honesty and artistic integrity that is upheld here. Given that Nanaimo is quite removed from any major city or cultural hub, the diversity and quality of art being produced here is astounding, and I think most artists here tend to be disinterested in the fame machine

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