Tag Archives: Pharis and Jason Romero

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.

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Review: Pharis & Jason Romero at Northern Lights Folk Club

I can only tell you what anyone in the standing room only crowd at the Pharis and Jason Romero show at the Northern Lights Folk Club would — the Romeros are phenomenal musicians and performers. Perhaps the best way to explain the essence of the show is to say what wasn’t there. It didn’t feel like the Romeros had adopted some sort of worn-out stage persona, they were themselves. Simply put there was no artifice.

Family was a big part the show last night, in the songs from the silly “Grandpa Bob” written about Jason’s father,  to “Long Gone Out West Blues” commemorating Pharis’ family’s move from Quebec out to Horsefly, BC generations ago, to “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” an old-timey tune which Jason’s grandmother danced to with her father; and, in the stories the Romero’s shared of their children. A laundry list of the tunes heard yesterday wouldn’t be helpful. Everything that was played and sung was executed with meticulous attention to detail (I’m guessing its the same assiduousness that makes them excellent luthiers). Some highlights from last night, however, were the title track off 2015’s A Wanderer I’ll Stay and their take on the Woody Guthrie tune “Oregon Trail (That Oregon Line)” which appears on the 2017 Smithsonian Folkways’ compilation Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie’s 26 Northwest SongsThey also shared some new tunes written in the wake of last year’s devastating workshop fire that destroyed all of the couple (and their daughter’s) instruments except for Jason’s banjo and guitar. Pharis explained that she wouldn’t wish a fire on anyone, but that she did wish everyone could feel the same wave of support, of having their community behind them, that they did after the fire. The evening ended with a standing ovation demanding an encore for which the Romeros sang the appropriate “Goodbye, Old Paint.” Old tunes mixed with newer ones, along with other people’s tunes that the Romeros have adopted, creating a timeless evening — that would be as much at home in the 1930s or 40s as it was in 2017. My photos may be black and white but my memories of their lyrical duets are in full colour.

The Northern Lights Folk Club has added an additional show to this year’s season with the Maria Dunn Trio performing on April 22, 2017 and their upcoming season will feature thirteen shows. Season tickets for next year (2017–18) can be purchased directly from Northern Lights Folk Club (not another distributor of their tickets) prior to this last April show, and will be slightly cheaper than if you wait.