Halifax septet Gypsophilia bring their unique style of old-school swing home tonight for a sonic soiree with Symphony Nova Scotia. AE spoke with the band’s bassist Adam Fine about the gig, the group and the state of music today.
What has the group been up to over the past while?
Well, last year was a really big year with the release of our latest record, Constellation. Lots of touring both west and east in Canada. Since the new year, we've mostly been preparing for this upcoming Symphony Nova Scotia show - we've been rehearsing lots ourselves as we only get a brief time to work with the orchestra. We want to be really
How do you explain the group's popularity?
I think it offers an alternative to what's out there - but has some of what gets people excited in other styles of music. I like to think it has some serious dance-ability, but it's got a lot more surprise than most dance music has. It's also got some of the edge and noise that rock has, with none of the posing and posturing. We take what we think is fun and useful from all the music we listen to. And most importantly, we have 7 people who love to play music together, and several years of group silliness which comes through in every show. There's some excitement you lose as a band gets older - working with new, interesting people you don't know very well - but you gain it back tenfold in trust and comfort. You take risks when you're playing with old friends that you'd never take otherwise.
How did you swing the gig with SNS?
Well we'd been talking about it amongst us for quite a while as a "pie in the sky" idea. Or "pipe dream" if plumbing is more your thing. It turns out that SNS had been looking to do more of this kind of collaboration recently. We've got a sound that lends itself really well to orchestral music - some of us drooled a little at the idea of commanding such a massive and powerful musical force for a few hours. It really didn't take long before the proposal became a real opportunity.
Is this the first time that you will be working with a large ensemble?
Definitely. We're six or seven usually on the road, and so we're used to working in a medium format - this will be a huge hulking beast of a group on stage.
What kinds of challenges are involved?
All seven members of the band compose and arrange. However, writing for the orchestra is a particular skill that none of us have any experience with. Even if you have some sense of what you'd like to hear, there's a lot to learn - the ranges and limitations of all the instruments, the dynamics possible (e.g. if you ask both the double basses and the bass drum to play "fortissimo", trust me: the bass drum will be way louder), etc. The SNS was very generous in letting three of us take a run at doing our own orchestrations - Matt, Sageev and myself. All three of us are pretty proud of the results and are hoping this won't be the only chance in our lives that we get to write for orchestra. The symphony hired three professional arrangers to do the other 5 songs that we're doing with the orchestra - Chris Palmer and Dave Christensen (both veterans of writing pops arrangements for SNS), and Rebecca Pellett, a composer/arranger based in Toronto. They all did a great job mixing our sound with the wider palette the orchestra offers.
What can audiences expect at the gig?
Musicians on stage packed to the gills. Ross trying to get off stage to play bass drum in the audience. Instrumental duels. Getting the orchestra to sing along with us. Harpsichord (!) I think you can expect our usual sense of humour and fast interplay with
a much bigger sound. I tried to talk Nick into wearing his blandings turtle costume again, but I don't think it'll happen.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Canadian music?
Well, I think there's tons of great music being made in this country, but it remains a really difficult country to tour and for business generally. The geography makes for a monstrous natural challenge – I consider it a miracle that bands keep going, keep driving/flying/taking the train such long distances to play for so little money. That's the
challenge, and I'm sure it has a big influence on our sound and character as a national scene.
Why does Atlantic Canada enjoy such a strong music scene?
I like to think that the big city trappings don't affect us here, and that we can concentrate on our work with fewer distractions. That's probably a lie fit for a tourist brochure, but I think it sounds rather nice.
What's next for you personally, and what's next for the group?
I'm working on developing Der Heisser, another project devoted just to klezmer, Jewish and eastern European music of various kinds. Definitely some cross-over with Gypsophilia for sound (and also for musicians), but there's a strong element of percussion, no real swing component and no guitars. As for Gypsophilia, we're right now building our first tour of the USA - we're going to be going to hit the northeastern states in June/July. That's pretty exciting, and a little scary. Getting further and further afield is part of the plan. We're also getting to work on some new repertoire, and hatching a plan for some brand new music videos to follow up on Hietzing and Agricola & Sarah, which have been very successful.
Gypsophilia with Symphony Nova Scotia
Friday, March 23, 7.30pm, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Halifax