Local Lookout : Ian La Rue and The Condor

The California condor, one of the world’s rarest bird species, has a long and troubled history. At one point the Condor was so close to extinction that the United States government captured the remaining 22 birds and bred them in captivity. Fortunately, the condor rose from the proverbial ashes. The conservation effort was a success and some of the birds were reintroduced into the wild where their population continues to grow today.

Local singer-songwriter Ian La Rue’s most recent musical project, Ian La Rue and the Condor, draws inspiration from this story of survival. Indeed, La Rue says he has experimented with a variety of musical styles and genres, and, at times, found writing music to be a struggle.

“I have always approached music in a totally do-it-yourself way [ . . . ] I sort of spent a bunch of years making really bad songs,” he says. “I was a folk singer and just slowly, painfully, figuring out how to write over the past 12 years. And, honestly it was only in the last half of those years that being a musician started to feel fulfilling and like the right path for me. It is definitely a long hard road.”

Despite the roadblocks he faced as a solo artist, he remained positive. He combined creative forces with other musicians for his current musical project, which features Matt Magura on drums and vocals, Andrew Workman on guitar and keyboards and Louis Levèsque Coté on bass and vocals. The group started rather informally. “It all came together in pieces [ . . . ] it was built layer upon layer,” La Rue explained. “To start off, we definitely came at it like a backing-band type approach”

Now, La Rue still writes the songs, but he explained that the bands dynamics are starting to transform. “In the beginning I just sort of said ‘Hey, can you play this?’ I had most of the artistic direction. It is slowly changing into a different format. We’re more of a band and trying to take it as a full group project,” he said.

The band needed a name and the story of the rare Californian bird came to mind, “We juggled around with different names [ . . . ] I couldn’t really tell you exactly why, but it seemed like the story of the California Condor was a pretty magnificent story, and this big majestic bird to me symbolizes this power of having a bunch of amazing musicians behind the songs I write and it sort of represents the new heights it’s taken it to,” the artist related.

The band is currently excited about their first album together, A History of Layers, which is released this week. In celebration, they will be performing at an album release party at the West End Cultural Centre on Feb. 12.

La Rue describes the musical approach on A History of Layers as “sort of mixing rock and roll, that gritty rock and roll sound with atmospheric layered sounds that paint a picture, rather than just send a message.” On one of the album’s nine tracks, “A Crow’s Flight,” La Rue’s voice compliments the slow and delicate melodies of the piano and guitar. The song has a somber tone to it, reflecting the town he was in at the time.

“I wrote it on tour in Sudbury,” La Rue remembered. “It’s just about seeing a pretty sad town and all the sort of gloomy things, and what that can mean to somebody who is pretty alone. I think that song is about feeling alone in a big scary world.”

The overriding theme of this album, however, is finding hope in these troubled spots. La Rue said he does not want people to “just identify with the feelings of despair or frustration, rather, I want to be able to provide the sense of hope that music has given me.”

Ian La Rue and the Condor play the West End Cultural Centre on Feb. 12 with Nova and Cannon Bros.