Before Daniel Monkman and Adam Sturgeon joined forces to form OMBIIGIZI (pronounced om-BEE-ga-ZAY, meaning s/he is noisy), their experiences as Anishinaabe artists was often quite lonely.
Generational trauma, anxiety, depression; these are all themes that can be picked up from the ‘moccasingaze’ of Monkman’s other recording project Zoon and the grungy psych-folk rock of Sturgeon’s Status/Non-Status, but they were all very solitary for newly formed duo who are celebrating the release of their debut album, Sewn Back Together. And it’s all primarily because they had no one to lean on. “No disrespect to my other bandmates, I love them, but Indigenous artists have the weight of the world on their shoulders,” Sturgeon says. “We’re representing a whole system of oppression and destruction of culture and you try and share that, but my other bandmates can’t fully understand. Daniel did immediately.”
Both Sturgeon and Monkman were aware of each other’s noisy solo projects for quite some time. They met a few years ago through management and consistently offered support to each other over weekly chats, keeping tabs on their peers’ creative process. “Low and behold we found we had really similar and different stories, but knew that we were both healing through our art,” Sturgeon says.
One day they started sending unfinished music to each other, imprinting the idea for a potential collaboration that would eventually become OMBIIGIZI. This was around the same time they were both working on their own solo records. “I found myself kind of exploring new songs and new ideas and didn’t know if it would totally fit with the Zoon vibe and thought ‘Maybe this could be something new,’ Monkman says.
Together they chipped away at the songs whenever time and space would allow. Soon after, Sturgeon started chatting with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, who generously offered him studio time at the Bathouse, the legendary recording studio of The Tragically Hip, to record what would become Sewn Back Together in the summer of 2021. “Kevin has helped me out a few times and was a fan, but we asked him if he wanted to be a part of it and he was really into it,” Sturgeon says.
Drew co-helmed production with Nyles Spencer at The Bathouse Studio and both influenced Monkman and Sturgeon to step out of their musical molds while making the record, which made for a truly organic experience. There are bits of post-punk with “Residential Military,” second wave emo on “Spirit In Me,” indie psych-pop with “Cherry Coke,” and even bits of autotune. Yet as a whole, Sewn Back Together flows as one cohesive sonic element. “We had five days to record everything and we brought demos that I guess kind of just blended our styles together. Kevin wanted a new direction and it was really new to both of us. It was like a songwriting bootcamp,” Monkman says.
“It was a really positive, but honestly kind of a surreal experience,” Sturgeon laughs. “Daniel and I would be outside on the porch just chatting or riffing and Kevin would be with the percussion guys recording drum tracks while we thought they were just sound checking. So we’d go back in and lay down a song without even knowing it sometimes.”
That breeding ground of experimentation led to the lyrical, almost celestial honesty in songs like their first single, “Cherry Coke,” a song about Monkman’s childhood memories of residential school and of his father. Or in “Birch Bark Paper Trails,” a track where Sturgeon explores his ancestral roots in a stream of consciousness, spoken word style. Both have their own integral soundscapes, mostly recorded during live-off-the-floor jams, and play out like cathartic pieces of poetic prose. “Indigenous storytelling, that’s part of our blood in our root system,” Sturgeon says. “I just feel really blessed to be able to work together and share these stories together.”
That notion is where the title Sewn Back Together comes from: Finding a new voice, not as an individual, but together. “I was always taught that I was only one voice in the circle,” Sturgeon says. “Everyone needs to share and Daniel and I coming together is an amalgamation of that.”
OMBIIGIZI is eager to share their new songs in a live setting and had the chance to rehearse the songs weekly in 2021 before being stopped by another lockdown in Ontario. Both Monkman and Sturgeon agree that the songs will be louder and more “raw” live. “It’s just really powerful and the energy from these songs is immense,” Monkman says.
“Yeah live I’m probably going to scream and smash things during that spoken word part in ‘Birch Bark,’” Sturgeon says. “In the studio we could be a bit more abstract, but live it’s going to be way more in-your-face.”
Sewn Back Together is available Feb. 10 via Arts & Crafts.