On the heels of a new release, the Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra performs at Fratters Sept. 9th.
The group is a collection of musicians, linked by what are described as “common sonic journeys and familial ties.”
After the release of Love last month, the band embarked on a 25-date western Canadian tour. What makes The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra’s nine new songs unique is that they collect differing experiences into one harmonized narrative, teasing apart the layers and revealing how hard good people work to be good to each other, said singer/guitarist Kurt Loewen.
It’s an album that speaks to the consequences of love in its many forms, seeing it as both sugar and lemons, suggesting that to have one without the other would make the recipe incomplete, he said.
“The creation of Love was a family affair, which is a feeling our group has always embraced,” he said. “Our dear friends not only provided the space for the making of the record, designed the set for the front cover and had a hand in the naming of the album but Emily, my wife, produced it and was the graphic designer.”
Rounding out the band are Ian Griffiths (vocals/accordion/keys/shruti box), Paul Wolda (percussion/vocals), Mack Shiels (fiddle/viola/vocals) and Keith Rodger (double bass/vocals).
TMO have spent years weaving their stories with guitars and violins, with accordions and bass, with melodies and music makers gleaned from their wanderings.
Their beginnings stretch back to their years together at the University of Victoria. “We started playing music in and around the Victoria music scene,” he recalled.
“We were a seven piece at the group’s inception and then after that first year we ended up as a five-piece for about five years.”
In about 2012, a couple guys left who were replaced, so they remain today a solid band of five who have continued to break new ground over the years – particularly seen in the new CD Love.
Loewen pointed out that the project is different from past ones. “This one, and the one before – Follow My Lead – are probably the two that we have sunk the most production time into,” he said.
As mentioned, Loewen’s wife produced the project and there were less outside engineers and other recording staff brought in along the way.
“This process was unique in that we did it all ourselves,” he said, adding the tracks were recording in a friend’s home studio on Quadra Island which added to the home-like, intimate feel of the project. “My hope is that it would be a really organic, intensive and really immersive experience – which for us it really was.
“We really got down to business – and we were writing as we were recording which is unusual,” he added. “So we were doing a lot of the pre-production during the production which is really unusual, too. But I really liked the process, and all in all, I really feel like there’s a uniqueness to it in comparison to our previous offerings.
“It’s a lot different – a lot more introspective. A lot of the songs are really quite sad actually,” he adds with a chuckling. “There are a lot of songs pretty much about the ending of relationships in all the capacities of your life.”
Still, regardless of the tone for the CD, performing it live – in the midst of their past hits – is going over extremely well.
“We are bringing the new record into our set and it’s cool. I’m really proud of the songs, but I was a bit tentative with how they were going to come across live. Now that we’ve been playing them it’s been working well – it’s been really fun.”
And speaking of performing live, it’s really where the magic happens. Loewen loves how hitting the stage can bring a wealth of new ways to interpret the same song – time and again. “When I listen back to some of our older songs, we don’t play some of those songs even remotely close to how we play them now. And I like the way we play them now even more because there can be better arrangements and better playing. Maybe even smarter playing – we are older and maybe a little bit wiser too!”
For Loewen, his experiences in music began largely with years in formal piano training.
“I was in my early 20s by the time I realized I wanted to play with a hard working band and pay my rent with it,” he recalled. “But I grew up with music, education and sports being heavily enforced into my household.
“So I played classical piano until I was about 12 and then I discovered the guitar, which I really loved. And I found all of these really great rock bands from yesteryear which I love.”
His dad was also a pastor until Loewen was about 16, so there was plenty of singing in church to hone the vocal chords, too – including choir singing. “Church choirs, school choirs and community choirs were a big part of my life,” he recalled. “Even when I moved to Victoria, I joined a community choir and really learned to sing – it really opened up my voice.
“There was always a piano in our home and grandpa always played and the cousins would always sing. It’s funny, because when you are a kid you don’t realize why your parents are showing you not just the love and the gift of music, but also encouraging you and pushing you in that direction. It’s so special – whether you are the one playing it or the one listening to it.
“Other than maybe being desperately in love with a person, nothing else can really touch that feeling.”