Gypsophilia :: Like a little family

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by Ed Durocher

Gypsophilia call Halifax, NS home but the sound and roots of their music come from many places around the globe. Creatively breaking down walls, they mix it up with Jazz, Funk, world beats, high energy swing, old time folk and a touch of indie. After years of making records, stunning festival crowds all over North America, crisscrossing the country countless times and winning over fans one note at a time they are proving themselves to be a gem in the Canadian music scene.

Stylus had a chance to talk with Ross Burns (guitar, percussion) about the band, playing music with friends, the creative process and Gypsophilia’s new album Night Swimming.

Stylus:  How did you guys all come together? Did you  find each other through the Halifax music scene? Or are you all childhood friends?
Ross Burns: We came together for the first time for a Django Reinhardt tribute show at the Halifax Jazz Festival years ago. We knew, or at least knew of each other from the tight knit local music scene, but hadn’t all been on the same stage together until that first show. Fast forward more than 10 years, five albums and thousands of kilometers and we are even closer than childhood friends now for sure. We are like a little family!
Stylus:  You  are very gifted musicians blending styles very organically. Did any of the members get formal music training through school or are you guys more self taught?
RB:  There are a some of us with formal music training in the band and some without. But collectively we have developed as a band most of all by playing a lot together. We are really proud of having a strong collective sound as a ensemble and not just being about the soloist as people expect jazz bands to be. We are much greater together than the sum of our individual musical abilities! As far as the stylistic thing, at the outset we were interested in sounding like Django Reinhardt, but as we started to compose our own music we realized that we would be better off trying to sound like ourselves rather than anything else. So we’ve become more and more comfortable over the years experimenting with different musical mixtures.

Stylus: I love the music videos! Very cool style of animation. Do you come up with the concepts? And if so, where does the inspiration come from?

RB: We love those videos too! The credit goes to Sydney Smith who is a wonderfully talented illustrator and artist. It was Sydney that had the vision to marry our music with stop motion animation.  He wrote those videos and created the puppets, and along with Jason Levangie (a great Halifax film maker) put in all the painstaking labour to make them come to life. The music we make is so cinematic and narrative and it is a treat to see how other people think it looks. Sydney and Jason nailed it.

Stylus: What is your proudest moment with Gypsophilia?
RB: There are so many moments. We are especially proud of this album Night Swimming since it represents so much of our musical growth as a group. But getting to travel the world while playing music with your best friends for years leads to lots of great moments. Playing in front of 10000 people at the Montréal and Vancouver Jazz festivals, crossing into the US for the first time and playing shows in New York City, releasing our music on vinyl records… there have been lots of dreams come true!
Stylus: Is it true you opened up for Kanye West? How did that all come about?
RB:  It was Gina our violinist who played with Kanye. He was in Halifax opening for the Rolling Stones and wanted an all-woman string section with him on stage for the show. Not a bad credential on a music resume, eh.

Stylus: How does the composition process work in the band? Does the band co write or is it one person handling the writing?

RB: We are all composers and six of us have songs on this album. That diversity of voices is one thing that makes our music so varied. As far as the process goes, the most common thing is for people to bring in tunes as a sketch or even as a more formed idea. Then once we get to play through it as a group it comes to life and gains quality and detail – it is as if it jumps from two dimensions into a 3D image once we all lay hands on it.

Stylus:  In the past I read you had recorded more “live off the floor”. What made you change the way you record albums.

RB: We have always been a band that loves and thrives on playing in front of people. That is where we feel most comfortable. We’ve always tried to capture that verve and energy on our recordings by playing more or less live off the studio floor. But in the case of Night Swimming we’re excited to try some different things. We wanted to have more input from a producer (Joshua Van Tassel, in this case) and to give Josh more freedom to be creative. So we did some different things in the studio this time – tracking, isolating instruments, layering sounds, adding subtle details – to capture a different side of our own musical vision. It was very liberating and I think in the end this album recreates the atmosphere and excitement of one of our live shows better than any live recording ever could.

 You can check out Gypsophilia Tuesday June 16th at Maw’s Beer Hall. If you can’t wait that long go pick up the new album Night Swimming and check them out on Youtube for videos that are truly one of a kind.