Before the big reveal at the 2017 Juno Awards, Greyson Gritt had a good idea Quantum Tangle was going to win. It wasn’t brazen confidence—Gritt nearly dropped the phone when bandmate Tiffany Ayalik called with the news they’d been nominated for Indigenous Music Album of the Year. But on stage, the presenter, fellow Northern musician and friend to the band, Leela Gilday, gave it away. “To see the look on her face when she opened the envelope, I knew,” says Gritt. “I could see through her eyes, I was like ‘It’s us.’ And she read ‘Quantum Tangle!’ and we freaked out.”
In sweet synchronicity, Gilday had a hand in the band’s formation, as the curator of the 2014 Indigenous Circumpolar Women’s Gala in Yellowknife. “We just got together for fun really, to do the first Amautalik story that we did, and we jammed for a couple of days before,” says Ayalik. The response to their sound—a mix of Inuit throatsinging, blues, storytelling and spoken word—was so strong they decided to play a few more events. Eventually, they figured they should choose a name.
This year, Quantum Tangle added Kayley Inuksuk Mackay, a singer, throatsinger and drummer, to the lineup. In a way, she’s been there since the beginning. She was hired as the photographer for the 2014 gala and immediately recognized the duo’s strength. “I said to Tiffany, ‘This has to be a thing. That was incredible,” says Mackay, seated with Gritt in a Yellowknife café. (Ayalik is dialled in from St. John’s, where she’s filming a TV show.)
There was a lot to consider when turning the duo into a trio: “Who do you want to spend time with? Break bread with? Share your energy with?” Gritt asks. And who has the musical chops?
It’s like asking someone out on a date, I muse. It’s more like a marriage proposal, Gritt laughs. “Do you want to share terrible morning wakeup calls, 4 a.m. shuttle rides, be dishevelled in airport lounges with us?”
“I do,” Mackay quickly responds.
The trio collaborated on a song for Quantum Tangle’s first album, ‘Shelter as we go…’ They describe the sound as “spooky Beethoven”—with an edge. They’re working on a new album due out next year, and despite learning to rework songs to fit three parts, the change is breathing new life into their music. After a few showcases this fall, they’re hoping to reach international markets and the group has music videos and a short film in the works. They’ve also brought in band manager Krystal Thompson to take care of booking and logistics, so they can focus on the music.
For Ayalik, there’s strength in numbers. It can be an emotional burden managing the response to Quantum Tangle’s politically charged performances. The group writes music that explores the effects of colonization, and the experience of being transgender, queer and two-spirit among other identities, says Gritt, and they’re advocates for marginalized people. This can cause some audience members to get defensive, or ask very complex, very personal questions. But Ayalik is quick to point out that, “Most of the time, it’s really beautiful and rewarding.”
Like when people say, “Thank you for making me feel less alone,” says Gritt.
“When you grow up and in all the media you consume, you don’t see folks that look like you in any way, it’s really difficult to feel like you belong,” Mackay adds. “Having the opportunity to sort of be the representation you want to see in all forms of media is very powerful.”
Listen to: ‘Love is Love Pt. 1’ and remember everyone who feels this way about you.