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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Live Previews

Jillian Bell
Published Thursday November 12, 05:33 pm
The Slocan Ramblers stand together live and in the studio


Friday 13

The Bassment

Adrian Gross says he’s wearing his mandolin around his neck, on the way out the door on tour when I get him on the phone. That’s probably how interviews with folk / roots bluegrass composers should always start.

The Slocan Ramblers — Adrian, Frank Evans (banjo), Darryl Poulsen (guitar) and Alastair Whitehead (bass) — have escaped their native Toronto for a shotgun tour of western Canada. I spoke with Adrian in advance of their gig.


Why do you think there’s been a resurgence in folk/roots music, particularly bluegrass?

So much music is processed and altered and produced, you have no idea how the musicians sounded when they were making it. The way we sound on record is the way we sound live. Just four guys singing and writing and playing music. Our music provides a visceral directness to bluegrass — it hits you right away; there’s not a lot of fluff. Bluegrass wears its heart on its sleeve.


You’re all talented musicians but there’s a rawness to your music. How do you get that crisp, raw sound?

We’re all big into making the music sound as good as possible. When we tour, we play our asses off. Normally, when you record in studio, you’re all sitting down and laying tracks individually and hearing them played back. Usually there’s a metronome playing in your ear. We did it differently; we recorded live in one small room with all four of us standing up, close enough to touch each other — there’s an energy to standing up while you play. No metronomes.


When you play close like that, there must be a lot of unspoken communication going on.

We used to play in a tiny bar in Toronto in a little Irish pub. It had a tiny stage, and we all played into one mic. When it was your turn to solo, you just pushed everyone away and made your way up there. Now, when we do sound checks in a big theatre, we see our mics and they’re all spaced way far apart, and the first thing we do is bring them closer. We want to hear each other acoustically. The mics make it happen for the audience, but we like to listen to each other.

There’s a connectedness that comes with being close like that. You can hear so much of the player on an acoustic instrument; you can feel the stuff that’s going on under the surface with the music.


Do the Slocan Ramblers play a lot of house concerts?

The whole house concert thing has really taken off — it’s been around forever, particularly with Baroque musicians. In its current folk incarnation, it’s become incredibly popular. It’s great for the artists. Normally we play totally acoustically and those really close, intimate house concerts help us connect with the audience and with ourselves.


Who are some of your musical influences?

I play jazz guitar and I grew up in a house that was really into jazz: Paul Butterfield, John Winter. I’m a big fan of acoustic blues and the Grateful Dead. I came into bluegrass from the blues — Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson. Our banjo player grew up playing old music, like old-time music; our bass player was into a lot of rock. Everyone had different backgrounds. Everyone came to bluegrass when they got serious about music.


What are some of your non-music influences?

When I’m writing a piece of music, I try to think how a piece tells a story. I come from a family who are really in to the visual arts and I like how art tells stories. I think about the story a song might tell, just like a painting might.



Saturday 14


When I catch up with Marlon Harder from Autopilot, he tells me the band is in Philly, having spent more than one session sucking down cheesesteaks.

They’re really good,” he says. “We played last night and now we have a day off, so we’re going to go hang out with The Sheepdogs, because they’re playing tonight.”

The band is far from what their name implies. They’ve been ripping through the U.S., eyes on the prize, all thrusters go, brandishing their latest album, Desert Dreams. It’s a hybrid of loud guitar-rock, effect-pedal wizardry, and accessible hooks.

We’re writing songs stripped-down,” Harder says, “then adding layers of effects, or even changing the chords, doing something to make it sound a bit different from typical power-chord rock.”

I thought it interesting that Autopilot has been going a different route from many of the bands that tour out of Saskatoon. On this tour, they started in Moose Jaw, but have dipped around to wander around places like Connecticut and New Jersey. Where many Saskatoon acts go west to Vancouver, or east to Toronto, Autopilot has put a lot of focus on the States.

It’s the biggest music market, and it’s right next to where we live,” Harder says. “We want to do this for a living, so it’s one way we can break into the U.S. market. Well, I don’t know about ‘break in,’ but tap into it a little bit. There’s so many people here that you have shorter drives. Going the northern Ontario route to get to Toronto is just ridiculous. But if you hit all the cities in between, like Minneapolis and Chicago, there’s crazy population down there. And the people are really receptive to original music. They’ll buy a CD or a T-shirt or whatever.”

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