Trekking along Tantalus Pass 

Squamish folk rockers play Pemberton Hotel Friday

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Take it from the name, folks: Tantalus Pass might just be the quintessential Squamish band. The members knew from the outset that their sound captured the town's mountain vibe, with a rustic folk rock combined with an electrified bluegrass.

And so they named themselves accordingly.

"We bounced a lot of different band name ideas around and finally settled on the importance of place," says Nikolai Gurda, the band's fiddler, percussionist and one of four vocalists.

Named after the Tantalus Range marking the area between Squamish and the Sunshine Coast, they threw in the word "pass" to give them a little bluegrass credibility. Everything about the band, from their name to their style of playing, represents some facet of the Squamish personality. That's no accident.

"All of our personalities fit with the personality of the town," Gurda says. "It's a town that fits all of us really well and we all feel very much at home. It's no coincidence. It's the town that called us and we are writing in that vein and that attitude."

Formed just over a year ago, Tantalus Pass — including Gurda, Doug Smith (vocals/guitar/mandolin/harmonica), Rita Kyle (vocals/bass) and Zachary De Jong (vocals/lead guitar) — are already a local favourite, having played regularly, at least once per month, since their formation. Smith, Kyle and Gurda met as part of the Sea to Sky Fiddle Society and started jamming together in Smith's living room. After a few sessions they decided to play an open mic at the Howe Sound Brew Pub. The booker for the pub, impressed by what he heard, invited them to headline a Saturday night, a slot normally reserved for visiting Vancouver acts.

Shortly after, Kyle and Smith met Zachary De Jong (vocals/lead guitar) at an open jam at the Brackendale Art Gallery. He joined the band shortly after.

"As four very different people, we've gelled really well. We get along pretty well and we contribute quite different skills to the band," Kyle says.

They play a mix of Americana covers and originals penned by De Jong and Smith.

They're currently working on their first album, "taking chips out of it," whenever they have the money for studio time, Gurda says. He hopes to have it completed by this summer and ready for release by fall.

In the meantime, they're setting their sights on venues outside of Squamish. Gurda's currently working on a Master's degree, which puts the kibosh on a cross-country tour, but they're getting out where they can, playing festivals around B.C. this summer. The fact is, their year-long incubation period has come to an end. They're ready to head out into the world. And, well, they've played every Squamish venue multiple times. It's essential that they move on before Squamish audiences get sick of them.

"We don't want to burn out our very small-town audience here," Gurda says with a laugh.

They incorporate elements of bluegrass — and were invited to play the 2011 Brackendale Bluegrass Festival — but it's important to note they are not bluegrass purists. Bluegrass fans are notoriously fickle and they in no way want to promote themselves as true to the form, lest they have their heads removed by said purists.

"We'd never promote ourselves as traditional bluegrass," Kyle says. "I play electric bass and that does not fit in with bluegrass. We don't sound traditional."

But they do play the fiddle, for one. And while they lack a drum kit and other traditional elements, the spirit of the band gels with what bluegrass is all about. It's like an updated version of bluegrass, manipulated to fit the personality of Squamish.

"(Bluegrass is) a little more edgy — not culturally edgy but bluegrass tends to feel like it's on the margins of a traditional society," Gurda says. "Squamish, at least those that gravitate toward that side of the culture, we don't feel like we're part of the mainstream."

So there you have it. One year old and Tantalus Pass has captured the sound and spirit of the town as poignantly as any act so far. Are they the quintessential Squamish band? Unofficially perhaps but they're certainly good ambassadors for the town wherever they go.

Catch them at the Pemberton Hotel on Friday starting at 9 p.m.


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