Artist Spotlight: Total Ed

Three Vancouver tenants write on “the places where feelings and politics collide”

From left: Bassist Daniel Thow, guitarist Andrei Mihailiuk, and drummer Els Patterson in Mihailiuk’s Vancouver home. (Alyssa Laube)

Total Ed is a reflection of their city, staking their place in Vancouver as a band inspired by the environment they live in.

While most groups can claim to be a product of their hometown, this three-piece focuses their music on conversations about local culture and politics, taking their name from a nearby secondary school program (“total education”), and writing primarily about issues typical of the Metro Vancouver area.

The dispiriting state of the Downtown Eastside and the widespread struggle for many to make ends meet are among those issues. Reactionary policymaking and platform promises made by political figures are, too, a source of inspiration for the members of Total Ed.

These contemplations mostly come to light in their older and unreleased material. Their most recent collection, in the field, was released on Bandcamp in March and, at only four tracks long, nicely encapsulates the band’s self-described “baby prog” sound.

Sophisticated structures and chordal dissonance leave their otherwise melodic and easygoing style with one foot in art rock and the other in noisy indie. This makes the group reminiscent of Pavement and other projects by its prolific frontman, Stephen Malkmus. As an EP, in the field is stimulating but not exhausting, offering listeners a chance to enjoy something that’s both eccentric and, thanks to its pre-2000s influences, familiar.

The members of Total Ed, singer and guitarist Andrei Mihailiuk, drummer Els Patterson, and bassist Daniel Thow, do share a love for Malkmus and his work—just as they do for power pop bands like Weezer, Sloan, and Teenage Fanclub—but that isn’t what first brought them together. Mihailiuk and Patterson were introduced to each other over the counter at the former’s Main Street cafe job four years ago. Not long after, they made plans to jam and “hit it off musically,” forming Total Ed and dealing with a “revolving door of bassists” until they invited Thow to join last year.

On the subject of their tendency to write about life in Vancouver, Patterson brings up a song she composed for the band: “Kirby”, a ghostly, fuzzy track from 2015.

“I wrote a song about my landlord, so there’s a little theme of tenancy rock,” she says. “It was a good way of not feeling really upset about a really fucked up landlord.”

Although it’s not currently available online, Mihailiuk later wrote lyrics about Gregor Robertson that were “themed around him promising 100 per cent social housing at this one site in the downtown eastside and then falling back on it.” This conflict, colloquially deemed “the battle for 58”, is still unresolved.

“The song wasn’t originally about Gregor Robertson and then it was like, ‘Oh, this is about Gregor Robertson,’” he laughs. “It was sort of a discovery that’s free-associative.”

Thow nods in agreement. “There is an aspect of uncovering when it comes to songwriting. You feel like you’re building something from scratch when really it’s like you’re scratching the surface off of something,” he says.

Generally speaking, the three explore “the places where feelings and politics collide” through their songwriting, and both Thow and Patterson enjoy writing passionately and imaginatively to Mihailiuk’s “fun structures and melodies.”

Moving into 2020, Total Ed plans to write, polish, and potentially record fresh material. They don’t have any shows planned for the near future, but will begin performing again once they feel confident in playing a brand new setlist. Mihailiuk adds that he hopes to incorporate a greater diversity of influences into their approach in the future.

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