VANCOUVER â€” It’s taken a few years, a getaway from the city and the building of a rehearsal and recording studio for the Star Captains to really fine-tune their sound.
The five-piece jazz-pop fusion outfit â€” singer NaRai Dawn, keyboardist Max Zipursky, saxophone/keyboardist David Mergens, bassist Gavin Youngash and guitarist Jim Black â€” solidified as a group roughly five years ago, when some members of the band ran into singer NaRai at a music event.
"As soon as we met, we realized we shared a bunch of the same values, and our intention was to find the right singer, because we had been playing instrumental music before that," Black explained at the group’s rehearsal and recording studio, The Space Studios, in East Vancouver.
Members of the group initially performed instrumental music around White Rock, South Surrey and Vancouver. Three members of the band hail from South Surrey, while others were met during jazz school.
It was when the group met Dawn that the band became known as today’s iteration of the Star Captains.
"As soon as we started doing some casual things, it was obvious really quickly that we had a lot of rapport and we could make a cool new sound, kind of coming from a jazz influence," Black said.
In 2013, the Star Captains released their debut album, New Freedoms, a 13-track record that shows off the band’s jazz, pop and funk sensibilities. The disc was the last album to ever be recorded at White Rock’s Turtle Studios, which later merged with Johnston Road’s Blue Frog Studios.
"We instantly started writing. NaRai brought some of her material and we brought some of ours and we instantly smashed it together and came up with our sound," Black said of writing together with Dawn, who was known in pop and hip-hop circles for her music.
(Story continues after video of Star Captains’ "In The Light")
The singer, born in Korea and adopted to Canadian parents, grew up in Tsawwassen, formed her own RB group, was classically trained in piano and studied recording and engineering at Columbia Academy â€” all before joining the Star Captains.
"I feel like it just happened really naturally, and that we just have this natural affinity toreally just vibe out and write music. It just comes really easily," Dawn said.
That might seem like a stretch, considering the group has had, at times, seven different members. But the band assures that the writing process considers all voices equally.
"We don’t have a certain formula for starting a particular song," said Zipursky, who plays keyboards.
"It might come from a melody, it might come from a set of chords, or a section or a drum beat, and then we sort of just get in a room in rehearsal and hash together the form. Sometimes it happens naturally and quick, sometimes it takes a few tries, and I think that’s kind of been our way."
Black attests it’s all done fairly, as well.
"A lot of our message is stuff that comes from NaRai’s mind, but the writing process is totally democratic in that respect," he said.
"We’re all such close friends and we’ve been doing this for so long. It’s all of us and all of our ideas, we nurture them from the smallest seed, so it’s kind of unique that way."
Another thing that’s brought the Star Captains closer together? Having a space to create music together that they built from the ground up. Literally.
The group’s jam space, located in an industrial block behind Commercial Drive and Hastings Street in Vancouver, was once a furniture showroom, until the space was leased to another South Surrey musical outfit, the alt-country Sumner Brothers.
The Star Captains stepped up to use the room to write music and jam in, but soon a bigger vision would be realized.
"I guess our first step was ripping up the carpets and painting the walls," Zipursky told the Now, explaining that there were unsightly pink walls and a red carpet that ran through the open room.
Next was setting up a comfortable area to play music in, and then came the recording room.
"We actually feel like building this place, like the frame and all the work for this, was actually like the bed tracks for the record ’cause we built the place and it was like, ‘Now we can record,’" Black explained.
The group did take some time out away from the city to write some songs mid-renovation, up at a Whistler cabin owned by Dawn’s family.
"(Writing has) been in between, ’cause a lot of our focus has been on building the recording studio here," she said. "We’ve been renovating constantly for the last year, so we’re finally able now to sit down and record and take out a chunk of time and record these songs."
The studio’s re-build "has been really good for the group dynamic," Black added.
"We built this together and then we started recording together and it doesn’t feel like we come to a studio. We come to our favourite place to hang out with our friends and music is just happening naturally now."
Expect a new record by the ever-evolving band sometime in 2015.
The Star Captains perform InFlux, a multimedia social event at Surrey Art Gallery on Friday, Feb. 27. Doors open at 8 p.m., with a minimum $5 donation for admission.