An Interview with Pharis and Jason Romero

Photo by Rick Magnel

Pharis and Jason Romero take time out of the tour to chat with Folk on the Road before their concert at the Arden Theatre this Friday October 19 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are available online.

What’s something you look forward to when touring as you’re packing things up at home in Horsefly, BC and preparing to head out on the road?

Exploring new parts of the country, finding moments to go for a hike or a delicious coffee/meal in a neighborhood, finding something that’s fun for the whole family (we’re going to Drumheller for a few days in the middle of this tour).

Since Sweet Old Religion has had the past few months to be out in the world since it’s release in May 2018, how is the response from audiences?

Really strong and enthusiastic as our most consistent feedback from audiences is that the songs feel like they’ve been around for a long time (even though they’ve all been written within the last two years).

Is there a particular track that you enjoy playing live?

We’ve been playing the title track, Sweet Old religion, the longest, but one of my (Pharis’) current favorites to play live is Leave the Garden Gate Open (it’s such a strange journey of a song), and we both love the dreamlike state we go into while singing Age Old Dream (plus I get a chance to do something that approximates a yodel).

Conversely, are there tracks which exist to be in recorded form only that you do not play live in concert?

No, with the music we play we always want to be able to play songs live – even if the studio version on the CD has guest musicians, we’ll always find a way to find the essence of the song and perform it live as a duo. The songs are also all written by us with just our two voices and two instruments, so they all start from our core essence as a duo. We don’t do a lot of pre-production before recording, with adding instruments, so the end result of a studio version is often a surprise for us.

There’s numerous roles within your lives as banjo makers, songwriters, music educators, and family members. What are some things you’ve learned from managing these many roles?

number 1 – We are fairly consistently going to be busy, as our passions and what we do for a living really integrated, so we need to make space for downtime (hiking, swimming, fly fishing, exploring).

number 2 – we are making it up as we go along (like most folks, right?).

number 3 – it’s more important to have a spacious tour, with time for exploring, than to book in every night with a show.

number 4 – it’s got to be fun.

Songwriting and instrument building are some examples of how there are roles of creation and expression in your lives but are there any other creative outputs you are involved in?

Yup, constantly.

Pharis is the Artistic Director for a singing camp called Voice Works, in Port Townsend, WA, and we both teach at a lot of music camps.
We make jewellery (earrings and necklaces, with plans to expand) from the leftover materials from banjo building (brass, copper, silver, woods, shell, stone).

We were actively involved in building our house, and are doing most of the finishing work on it, building furniture, wall art.
Everything feels like it has an element of creativity and expression to it – from the gardens (we built a half-submerged earthship style greenhouse a couple years ago), to putting a new roof on the barn, building a sauna – and that moves over into our relationships with our kids and each other.

Do you feel a sense of responsibility and heritage when you’re sharing songs through the oral traditional and also creating handmade, heirloom-quality banjos?

When playing music together the connection is intimate, even when you don’t know someone well (or at all). If you’ve spent time listening and feeling recordings from any tradition (our particular favorite is the 20’s – 40’s old time, ballads, bluegrass and early country) you speak a similar language right away and for us that transfers into feelings of respect and creativity both. I think the responsibility would come with wanting to not be replicating the older music, but to have spent enough time listening to have a feel for the spirit of the music, so that our own innovations come from a place that isn’t just wanting to immediately put our own stamp on it. The early musicians we so love were innovators, and we admire that very much. Far as the banjos are concerned, Jason’s woodworking is immaculate, and our goal is that if treated well these instruments should last hundreds of years. We draw from a lot of sources for inspiration and creation – early furniture makers, artists from the 1800s and early part of the 1900s and our natural world around us.

Where were you when you found out you had been nominated for three Canadian Folk Music Awards? (Awards will be announced in Calgary Nov 30 and Dec 1).

Working at home in the banjo workshop!

Anything else we missed that you would like to mention?

Thank you!!!! Can’t wait to play the Arden!

For more information and tickets please visit the Arden Theatre website.

Advertisements

An Interview with Skerryvore

Catch Skerryvore at the Arden Theatre tonight at 7:30 PM

Skerryvore-732

 

Where has your latest touring taken you and what have been the highlights for you?

DANIEL – We have had such an incredible year that it is very difficult to pick the highlights! The weekend that had Tonder Festival and Shrewsbury Folk Festival in the space of 4 day was very special. We performed to over 30,000 in 4 days and the response to our new material was incredible. It is also a real highlight to be in Canada for the first time and it is hopefully the first of many visits for the band.

 

What does the songwriting process look like for Skerryvore?

FRASER – Generally Alec will come up with an idea, lyrics, maybe an instrumental section too. He puts down a demo at home and sends it to the rest of us. We then have a rehearsal process where work from the demos to create the finished product. Sometimes the songs can change quite a bit from the demo, other times it’s just a matter of everyone adding their own touch as essentially the whole song is there.

 

Skerryvore is often described as a fusion of rock and traditional Scottish music—how would you describe how you fit into the traditional side of that equation?

DANIEL – Obviously the traditional instruments in band have a huge part in that equation both in instrumental sets and songs. In the songs there are many riffs or hooks played on fiddle , box or bagpipes that could also be played on electric guitar.

 

How did growing up on Tiree influence your approach to trad Scottish music?

MARTIN – Myself and Daniel were immersed in traditional music from a young age on Tiree with an abundance of Ceilidhs, concerts and Dances. We were also lucky to be taught from a young age from dedicated tutors on the island and also tutors brought on to the island as part of the local Feis movement. Through this we not only got to hear great musicians and bands but also be taught by them.

 

What are some of your influences? What are you currently listening to?

MARTIN – Runrig have always been a massive influence of mine  and some of the other guys in the band as well. At the moment I am listening to a lot of Dance music, Calvin Harris, Arlissa & Jonas Blue, CamelPhat to name but a few.

 

What are the challenges in forming your voice as an ensemble when you are inspired by different musical genres?

FRASER – Sometimes we have to find a place for the traditional instruments in a song. There are a few songs that would sound great as guitar, drums, bass, keys and vocal but it wouldn’t necessarily sound like Skerryvore. So, we have to adapt the songs to fit with our sound.

Skerryvore’s newest album is EVO—what is your favourite song to play off it?

 MARTIN – I would say ‘At The End Of The Line’ is my favourite song to play. Very emotional song and the tune part is mighty on the box!

What are your plans for the coming year?

FRASER – We have plans to release some more videos and will also be working on some new material. We also have our first tour of Australia coming up. Watch this space.

For tickets call the Arden Theatre Box Office at 780-459-1542 or order online. 

EFMF 2018 in Review

Some final photos from the 39th annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival—see you on the hill!

 

 

An Interview with Twin Bandit

Twin Bandit, comprised of Vancouver based duo, Jamie Elliott and Hannah Walker, sit down at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival media tent just at the rain begins to fall and the evening chill settles upon the Gallagher Hill. They played the Wapiti Musical Festival in Fernie, B.C. the previous evening and just arrived in Edmonton that afternoon.

So you’re not twins, or sisters, but you both grew up with sisters. What were those relationships like and how did that shape your sisterly bond now?

Jamie: Mine was very nurturing. I am the middle of three girls and we were best friends growing up. I remember one little thing that was very one sided. My older sister had a meltdown when we were very young and wrote in her diary, “as far as I’m concerned, I have no sister!” But other than that, young, silly diary entry we’ve gotten along so well. I’m still very close with my sister. And meeting Hannah it was an instant connection. She felt like a sister right away.

Hannah: It’s funny hearing [Jamie] say, “we had this one conflict.” I grew up with four younger sisters in my family and we fought all the time. Like cats and dogs. Not a fight for survival but our family is just really loud and we’re all very passionate, strong-willed people. So there’s often a lot of witty remarks back and forth and none of us are afraid of conflict. It was not traumatic. It was our way of communicating with one another. It was just how it was. We were all very comfortable relating to each other in that way. It’s been an interesting journey for Jamie and I because we did have a very strong connection like family right away. But it’s took us a lot of time, especially at the beginning, to learn how to communicate with one another working in a band.

[Twin Bandit notes there was a point when their sisters came to sit down with both of them and helped to provide perspective and work on bridging communication break-downs they were having. This sisterly intervention helped them better understand one another and move their relationship forwards.]

Was learning those communication skills a turning point in committing to this group and developing your relationship?

Hannah: I think Jamie and I right before we recorded our last album we were going through very heavy things in life. Some very serious illness and a couple of deaths in my family. The fact that we were able to walk with one another through that journey. And the fact that we were willing and able to support each other just through presence and through emotional availability. For me, it was the turning point that I knew I was prepared to walk the distance with Jamie. It felt like we would be in it for the long run. Whether that was musically or as people.

As you stated, there was darkness you were navigating prior to recording you last album. What I notice about the repetition of your song choruses is that it sounds more like a recitation of a positive mantra instead of a phrase that is trying to be catchy.

Jamie: We kinda needed that. We needed to write in that way. And find hope in our lyrics and in our songs because we were going through such a hard time. It really helped us get through those times, especially writing together and expressing these things that needed to get out. And putting a positive spin on things just helps in so many ways.

Hannah: Yeah, not ignoring the hardship of it but speaking frankly with one another and simplifying that experience into a mantra that we felt people would be able to relate to and appreciate. And something we hope would bring more positivity to our audiences. For us, because we sing for a living, we are saying these things all the time. Speech is very powerful and it really has the ability to change your perspective. That can be for better or it can impact you negatively. We had a lot of people come up to us over the years saying that our music helped them get through death in the family or heartache. We feel very honoured that people have that experience with our music.

[One of Jamie’s songs, For You, was used in a US commercial and Twin Bandit received much positive feedback. A mother who had lost three children in a car accident told them that she thought about her love for her children when she hears their song.]

Jamie: It’s so nice when people respond. When they walk up to you and say something.

Hannah: It is the reminder of why we are doing this. Music is so important in how it creates community.

Do you find songwriting is writing what you need to express at that time or what your audience needs to hear?

Hannah: It’s a little bit of both. Songwriting is quite cyclical, I find. For the style of music we perform and write, it’s storytelling. Whatever is impacting, moving, or inspiring us at the time is what we tend to write about. It is very possible songs on the next album may not be uplifting and inspiring necessarily because we may be going through a time in life where we’re exploring other aspects of the wide range of human emotion and experience. When it comes to songwriting, we’re trying to find a way to bring a deeply personal experience and boil it down to its core. That is what becomes universally relatable to people. In some ways, it’s the most personal thing in the world and in other ways it is created with other people and sentiment. To find the personal and make it public.

How is the aspect of vulnerability when sharing what is private for a public audience?

Hannah: I always cry when I sing Rosalyn and I rarely perform it live because the last few times I have broken down in the middle of a song. It’s always when my family is in the middle of the audience. It brings me back to that moment again. It tells me I am still connected to the art. But it can be really challenging and uncomfortable to perform songs that are really personal. I think people love to see that vulnerability. I think a lot of audience members connect with that. Even if you cry or forget a word, people watching you go through that experience makes it human again.

What are some exciting things coming up next for Twin Bandit?

Jamie: We’re going to Scotland!

Hannah: We are going on a three bill tour. All female acts. It’ll be our first time going to Ireland and Scotland. And it’ll be our fourth European tour. We recently found the goal sheet that we wrote [when we first started]. We have ticked off half of the things on our list!

Sounds like you have to dream bigger now.

Hannah: It was cool. We were talking about level of priority, fame, finances, connections and talking about what was more important to us. We both agreed that experience and personal connection with people that we looked up to musically were our goals as musicians. That was more important to us than material success or fame. Neither of us wanted to be famous.

It sounds like longevity is more appealing than short-term success.

Hannah: And build a good life and have music be part of that life but not the centre of it. It was really important for us to both arrive at that place. Agreeing that we didn’t want music to be our whole world. That it’s something that we love and feel passionately about.

Jamie: But we want to do it for the rest of our lives and make it lasting.

Hannah: Having freedom and understanding that life is going to change and our level of commitment to Twin Bandit. We may take time to rest or have a family. Jamie just got married a few weeks ago. [Hannah has a foster son that will soon be a year old]. It’s been a really big year for the both of us. A lot of changes in our life. It’s cool because we’re beginning to build the life we always wanted to have. Music has been interwoven throughout it.

Stay tuned to Twin Bandit’s site for upcoming information on their shows and tours

Stay Dry

 

Those Hazy Summer Days

Friday at EFMF 2018 gave new meaning to the description “hazy summer days”. Despite the heavy smoke obliterating the Edmonton skyline, the music went on.

 

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals