One is such a lonely number. Three’s already a crowd. Two is enough to start a band, and that’s what Jonathan and Randall Hildebrand figured when they formed alt-pop/alt-folk duo Mitten Claps.
The two-piece band of brothers from Altona had been practicing together well before the band’s official start, patiently hoping for more members to join in. But eventually, Jonathan explains, they caved.
“Instead of hoping that maybe we’ll find other members that will fit perfectly and be able to do the parts we want, we just said, ‘Well, we enjoy making music together. It’s pretty easy, it’s pretty fun, and let’s just keep that going.’”
The brothers started with a good foundation for their music, coming from a musically inclined family.
“We didn’t want to be the full-on von Trapps,” Jonathan laughs, when referring to the duo’s two other siblings – although he does attribute his guitar lessons to his other brother.
With Jonathan heading the songwriting and guitar and Randall providing the percussion, being a duo seems to be working out for them. They released their first self-titled EP in 2012, the end result sounding “bigger than the sum of two parts,” and on Nov. 10 they’ll be following up with the release of their second EP entitled Tactics. Compared to the first EP, the selection of songs for Tactics was more consciously cohesive.
“I think themes sort of came into the picture more for Tactics,” says Jonathan, adding that the concept of geography and movement played a big influence in writing the music.
“Whereas some songs [I’ve written on my own] might be geared or dealing with people and relationships, the songs that I’ve been working on as Mitten Claps do deal with those, but the sort of foundation of it is place and geography and feeling, how you relate to a place and how you move between places.”
In some of the song titles and soft-spoken lyrics the theme is evident right from the get-go, but it’s Mitten Claps’ ability to capture the theme within their sound that leaves me impressed. Listening to the pensive rhythm and melancholy chords on “Hinterland” conjures up feelings of distance and remoteness. The soft percussion at the start of “Forgot Places” sets a quiet, hushed mood of places left abandoned; its gradual buildup elicits a sense of recollection.
Despite the themes of place and movement, the duo has been rooted to performing in and around Winnipeg. They’ve had a chance to perform with other local acts like Alanadale, From Giants, and Federal Lights, to name a few – they’ve even played at last year’s Rainbow Trout Music Festival. Being a fairly new band, Jonathan says that they’re still trying to find their footing in the city’s growing arts scene.
“We’re in a comfortable place because Winnipeg’s music community is amazing, it’s so supportive. But we’re also really new too so we’re still sort of establishing, meeting people and forming relationships.”
Although social media has made it much easier to establish their place in the scene, Jonathan attributes many new friendships he’s made to any success they have had.
“I think that personal relationships, sort of forming those, is still the core of a community – in this case, a music community for sure. That’s the foundation of it, I think.”
Mitten Claps will be performing at their Tactics EP release party this Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Rose n’ Bee Pub starting at 10 p.m., along with Dust Adam Dust and the Ugly Brothers. Be on the lookout for their first video, coming out within the next month or so. You won’t want to lose sight of this pair of Mittens!