Cape Breton folk group pines for home with new album

Still of the award winner folk band, Villages for their album 'Play the fiddle all night.' (Submitted: Matt Horseman)

It’s hard to nail down Matt Ellis’s role in Nova Scotia-based folk group The Band Villages.

“Villages is very much a band. The songs would not be the songs without all four of us,” said Ellis.

The group is a family affair as his cousins, Travis Ellis and Jon Pearo, also take part.

With Matt Ellis on vocals, Travis Ellis on electric guitar and bass synth, Pearo on mandolin and backup vocals, and childhood friend Archie Rankin on the acoustic guitar, the quartet will hit the road in March to play three shows in New Brunswick.

It’s all part of an upcoming tour in support of the group’s new album, Dark Island, which will be released on Feb. 17.

All the band members grew up together on Cape Breton Island, and before they were Villages, they were a pop-rock group.

“It seemed like anytime we were together, the night would end with songs from our home. And we thought, ‘we should write songs that are closer to our heart like this’ and we just started doing it. So we started Villages,” said Matt Ellis.

He said that they take their songwriting very seriously because of what writing and singing about home mean to them.

“We definitely have gotten very good at kind of squashing ego and just putting the song first,” said Matt Ellis.

Dark Island focuses on the ways that Cape Bretoners are kind, but also have a survival mindset.

The album was inspired by a fiddle tune called Dark Island which is popular at funerals. The band members found out that lyrics had been written to the tune in the ’60s.

The question posed in the lyrics of the song was, on your deathbed, what of your home will you pine for?

Matt Ellis said that the group tried to thread that theme throughout the whole record.

“We’re all on this island together — let’s get along; let’s help one another. And then aside from that, the island itself just holds a lot of beauty,” he said.

“There’s also a real harshness; we face a lot of pretty gnarly weather. But we are people who can always see like the light in the darkness.”

Matt Ellis explained the songs on the record have a theme of underlying darkness but are masked with optimistic and positive lyrics. They tried to make the sonics of the record as beautiful as possible to reflect the beauty of their home.

Villages will be in Fredericton at the Cap on March 4.

“We’re excited to go back for sure,” said Matt Ellis.