There was a time when you could find Murray Wood studying in MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts and Communications building. If you want to see him these days, however, you could try someplace like the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany, as he closes the place down with his best friends and bandmates, Trevor Mann and Shea Connor. Together they form Scenic Route to Alaska.
Wood received his first electric bass guitar from his parents at the age of 13, and he hasn’t put it down since. He doesn’t come from a musical family, but growing up in the Edmonton community of Riverdale, he was surrounded by musicians. He was first drawn to classic rock, learning to play along with the music of artists like Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones.
“When I started, I basically just wanted to learn how to play along with the songs I was into and things my friends wanted to play,” he said. “I had no idea how far I was going to take it, but I basically fell in love with the bass right away and haven’t looked back.”
Wood, Mann and Connor all picked up their instruments at the same age. The group worked as a session band for several years before claiming the name Scenic Route to Alaska (SRTA) in 2010. Prior to officially forming SRTA, Wood’s love for music lead him to MacEwan’s doors in 2008, where he enrolled in the music program at the age of 17.
“I just had real drive for learning and improving myself as a player,” he said. “I wanted to explore all kinds of music.”
Wood’s musical education proved to be a pathway to a more in-depth knowledge of music, as well as an opportunity to express himself creatively.
“Probably my favourite thing about my time at MacEwan was having the chance to play whatever music I felt like in the moment,” he said. “We would often get really broad assignments, and so there was a lot of freedom to pick a random song and pick people from the program that I thought would be the right band to bring it to life.”
Life as a student can be demanding, but Wood still managed to find some free time to enjoy extracurriculars.
“My favourite break activity was a group called ‘Beer Taste Art’ that would meet periodically and basically just drink beer,” he said. “I was 17 for the first semester, though, so I was keeping it pretty PG.”
Wood’s dedication to his studies paid off — he graduated from MacEwan two years later. Back then, music program students were awarded a diploma after two years, as opposed to a degree after four years, as is the case today. After graduating, Wood transferred into the Jazz Double Performance program at McGill University.
“I was really excited when I got accepted into McGill,” he said. “Just the idea of moving across the country and taking on something like that on my own really made a huge impact on my life.”
In the fall of Wood’s first year at McGill, the rest of the band made the trip to meet with him at the university and recorded three of the six songs for their first EP.
During those days, Wood continued on with his regular classes while recording at night, which proved to be a challenge.
“Just thinking back on those weeks makes me feel tired. I had classes all day and then would record from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. five nights in a row,” he said. “I have memories of falling asleep in classes, or telling my private teacher he would have to go easy on me because I wasn’t really at my best.”
Before his three years as a student at McGill came to a close, Wood and the band recorded at the university again. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album, All These Years, in June of 2012. The album went on to be nominated for three Edmonton Music Awards.
Following the success of their first album, SRTA released their next record, Warrington, in 2013. The band was later named group of the year at the 2015 Edmonton Music Awards.
Despite his musical successes, Wood hasn’t forgotten his time at MacEwan, and he continues to live in Edmonton, frequently coming across other alumni and instructors through his work.
“I’ve definitely kept in touch with so many people from MacEwan,” he said. “The Edmonton music scene is full of alumni, and you basically can’t play a show without running into someone that has been through the program. Even the faculty are all over the scene, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play with most of them since coming back to Edmonton.”
The music program provides a diverse education and exposes students to a vast variety of music, as well as opportunities to explore their individual tastes as artists.
“My time at MacEwan really prepared me for the crazy variety of things I’ve been asked to play over my career,” said Wood.
“It mostly just made me feel comfortable saying, ‘Yes,’ to such a wide variety of gigs. Plus, when it comes to finding my own voice as a performer, I feel like all of these elements add to my personal story.”
Edmonton’s thriving music scene is something that Wood is inspired by, making it much easier for him to stay in his hometown, rather than relocating.
“The quality of musicians coming out is higher than ever, and I think it’s encouraging people to stay in Edmonton, since they’ve invested so much time establishing themselves in the community,” said Wood. “I have noticed that the music scene in Edmonton is seeing some growth because of the degree program being introduced at MacEwan.”
Wood describes a degree in music as a major undertaking, although his education may not be over just yet. He hopes to receive his master’s degree and eventually teach at a university.
“I always felt like I could be a good teacher, and I have a lot of ideas for how I could guide my career down that path eventually,” he said.
Wood, Mann and Connor are certainly keeping busy, as they continue to tour and promote their newest album, Long Walk Home.
On Oct. 15, the trio were welcomed home with open arms when they played a sold-out show for a crowd of dedicated fans at The Needle Vinyl Tavern.
Judging by his flourishing career, Wood’s dedication to a greater knowledge of music has paid off, and he continues to reap the benefits of his education as he tours across the globe.
“Obviously, the musical aspects are amazing, but the people are really what (make) this experience unique,” he said.
Cover photo by Toni Zendran.