Folk Fest: Tune in to Axis of Conversation
From Rocky Ridge to Chaparral, Coral Springs to Cougar Ridge and all that’s in between, there’s at least one thing all Calgarians have in common: we all have to grow up eventually.
For local experimental indie pop sextet Axis of Conversation, marriages, babies and nine to fiving it on a daily basis has certainly changed how the band operates. Axis was planning on laying low during 2010 to craft a new album — the first full album since 2007’s Delusions of Safety — and rebuilding their repertoire without playing too many shows.
“We’ve grown so much since our last record,” says Chris dela Torre, vocalist, guitarist and Kaoss pad jockey. “I think we’re all still trying to find our feet and what the hell we’re doing with our lives.”
“Most of us, we’re just a lot more sane than we were 5 years ago, which works against you in rock music, you know,” he says. “You need to have some blarney in you to like stay out all night and drive forever and ever and ever and make no money. A lot of us have pretty good careers and we have kids and we’re functioning on the day to day in normal nine to five hours so then when it comes time for us to play shows, its just this weird sort of netherworld we’re not used to anymore.”
Speaking of a weird sort of netherworld, Axis was founded in 2005 following the break-up of Sheldon Overboard, an all-Filipino grunge band that dela Torre and bassist Eric Estor were part of.
“We’d have skinheads throw coasters at us and heckle us all the time,” dela Torre recalls. “We were pretty good though!”
After playing with sample-based music on his own for awhile, dela Torre realized that he’d need to recruit other musicians if he wanted to continue creating songs or start playing shows. He teamed up with Estor, then added Gerry Dacanay (keys), Shelly Groves (violin), Matt Doherty (drums) and Cheryl Bergen (cello).
The band has been growing up together since 2007, playing countless shows including festival gigs during Sled Island, NXNE in Toronto and the Vancouver Jazz Festival. This summer’s performances at the Calgary Folk Music Festival are giving some band members a bit of anxiety.
“I’m anxious. I don’t feel badly about it though,” dela Torre says. “I don’t feel nervous like I was nervous for one of the first shows we played, (which) was at the Jack Singer. It was like the most awful, awful experience.
“Part of the reason is because they treat you so well. They put you up in this nice green room, which does nothing for your nerves when you’re brand new at this stuff. Like ,I’m sitting up there thinking, ‘Oh my God, Elton John was probably in this room!’ So yeah, that was terrible.”
At the Folk Fest, Axis will share a stage with other performers: sometimes trading off songs, but other times jamming together to make new music.
“I’m nervous!” says Estor, though it’s a feeling tinged with some excited anticipation. “I’m uneasy about it. I’m not a jammer — ‘let’s jam!’ Uh oh. I’m a bass player, I need structure.”
Folk Fest Spotlight
Axis of Conversation
Saturday 10:30 a.m. Stage 3
Sunday 10:30 a.m. Stage 6 Axis of Conversation, and Chris Gheran
Sunday 12:20 p.m. Stage 1
“The jamming, I think frightens a lot of us,” says Bergen, who plays her cello in a quartet outside the band. “Especially those of us who were in orchestras and stuff because we never jam. It was like you need to memorize everything and then you need to go and you need to play it really, really well and if you make a mistake, play a wrong note, then you’re screwed.”
But despite the nervous energy, the band is both flattered and impressed that they were asked to play in the highly reputed festival.
Dela Torre was in a comic book shop in Vancouver when he got a call asking if the band could play.
“I sat down on all these expensive comics,” he says, laughing. “But it was huge. I still can’t believe it, its crazy!”
Axis of Conversation build songs with rich string arrangements, gently grinding guitar and electronic beats provided by the Kaoss pad. Dela Torre’s mellifluous voice is laid smoothly over top, sharing faintly echoing lyrics about love and the suburbs.
Dela Torre’s lyrics about the suburbs (“where culture goes to die!” he sings in They Can See Your Ghost. “You know this inner-city living can be such a chore, but you’re friends don’t come over ‘cuz your neighbourhood is such a bore,” he sings in the similarly themed Ladders and Snakes) are more contemplative than uncompromising.
In fact, “In a lot of ways I sort of regret writing those songs,” he says now. “I think a lot of people and people I know and love live in the ‘burbs think that I’m this total inner-city snob now.
“I think when I wrote those… I think I was just trying to make sense of a place and how that affects they way you live and the way you treat other people.”
Bergen, who recently moved to a suburban neighbourhood with husband Estor laughs as she takes no responsibility for dela Torre’s lyrics, but acknowledges she struggling with indentifying herself as a suburbanite.
“I’m trying really hard not to lose who we are, despite where we live, but its difficult,” she says. “It’s almost like — I’m trying to be different from our neighbours, but I’m not a suburbanite, I’m trying.”
“Chris and I used to live in the Evergreen,” says Estor. “We were full-out suburbanites and we would run in the forest!”
“What fascinates me most about it,” dela Torre says, “it’s sort of all in your head. People have these preconceived ideas of what it means to live in the inner city and what it means to live out of the inner city but its sort of all BS in the end.”
Whether you’re on the Island running between stages or sitting at your computer in the suburbs, tune into Axis of Conversation. And check out their website to download the brand new track, Memorial Hall.