“There’s a shocking lack of ego in the band,” offers Darren Rogers, main voice and songwriter for the folksy Ottawa band The Habit.
He’s pondering the last year’s growth and the changes in his band as he explains their adventurous new album, Safe House.
The funny thing is, he sounds just as incredulous, as one outside the eight-piece band may seem. He’s talking about the safety of creative freedom — throwing glockenspiels, falsetto voices and harmonicas into the mix — and turning a songwriter-driven enterprise into an entirely democratic process.
Rogers, known for his giddiness on stage, carries some of that child-like wonder into conversation.
“This album is really fun. We wrote the songs over a few days in my living room. It’s a really small space so we were right in each other’s faces. But we just created these songs together. Before, with The Sacred and the Profane, no I wasn’t playing dictator! But we had songs we wrote — Agatha, Mike and I — that we would bring to the group.”
“With Safe House, literally, whomever came up with the best melody line got the song. But somehow it wasn’t competitive at all! If someone came up with something even better then we went with that! It was much more organic from the start.”
Democracy is a topic not unfamiliar to The Habit. With half the band working in the field of international development and with the political history of their music, it is not surprising that The Habit is focused on a generous and ego-free band dynamic.
When Capital Xtra last left The Habit, they were brandishing their bold anthem, Fighter, in 2007 which confronted Harper on reopening the debate on gay marriage. The song, which was written about oppression in general, was shared widely and became a rallying cry in Ottawa’s queer community.
Safe House has no such song — not yet, at least. Still, the album which drops May 13, is an upbeat 10-song creation, which bears The Habit’s trademark themes of integrity, honesty and equal rights.
Roger’s admits that they try to keep the themes universal but its clear the band’s values still show through.
“We make an effort probably consciously or unconsciously to make it accessible to everyone. So we don’t use a lot of gender pronouns. Of the three of us writing lyrics, Mike Stevenson and I are gay. We grew up being censored and careful with language. Sometimes it’s hard to let that go. But we can’t help there being a queer angle in the way that we’re ambiguous with gender.”
With five years under their belt together as a band, Rogers finds the ease of writing and creating together amusing.
“It’s almost like we have to make up some kind of drama! I mean, band members have come and gone with work but the core group always returns for the music. There’s no big scandal, we’re just all really nice. The punk rock mystique was never credible!”