JAZZ FEST: Lost Fingers find success in the ’80sWhen Byron “Maiden” Mikaloff’s father brought an Iron Maiden album home from the library for his teenage son, he couldn’t have possibly imagined where it would lead: a gypsy jazz cover band that’s traveled the globe and then some.
Mikaloff’s now one-third of the Lost Fingers, a Quebec City-based trio that’s found unexpected success delving into the back catalogues of ’80s pop-rock acts like Soft Cell and Samantha Fox. Its first album, 2008’s Lost in the 80s, was certified platinum in Quebec, just months after its release. Since then, the band has released two more albums, and toured ceaselessly, beckoned as far as Dubai and Colombia. The scope of their success is astounding, even to the band members.
“This is whole project was kind of like an accident, so everybody is always surprised,” Mikaloff laughs.
It was the happiest accident imaginable. Mikaloff, a trained classical guitarist, was coming off the dissolution of his electro-pop band, One Ton, which had found moderate success with the one-hit wonder “SuperSexWorld” and got trashed by MuchMusic staple Ed the Sock. He and Christian Roberge, the Lost Fingers’ lead singer and fellow guitarist, began playing afternoons in a coffee shop, mostly classical pieces until they discovered gypsy jazz.
“The classical — not that it makes people sleep, but it’s really hard when you have people talking and it just doesn’t have the swinging vibe that the gypsy jazz has,” Mikaloff says. The pair started mixing in covers by the likes of Sade and Stevie Wonder, with a Latin or jazz twist. But it was a chance visit to a gas station that really helped the Lost Fingers find their way.
“Samantha Fox was playing on the radio and I went to fill up the truck and Christian sort of jammed along with it,” Mikaloff recalls. “Then he sang ‘Touch Me’ when I came back in the truck and I just friggin’ laughed. It sounded good, you know? Then we looked at each other and the whole project came together. We started trying to find the coolest ’80s tunes that weren’t necessarily the biggest songs but that have these icons that people related to.”
The pair added Alex Morisette, double bassist, to the group, and named themselves the Lost Fingers in a winking ode to famed gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who lost two fingers in a fire. Though it could have come off as a novelty act, critics couldn’t help but appreciate the technical skill that went into the Lost Fingers’ arrangements and dazzling musical proficiency. Plus, damned if the trio can’t put a smile on the sourest of faces.
“It’s rare these days! The last good-time band was like, the Barenaked Ladies back in their heyday. That’s good time, smilin’ music,” Mikaloff laughs. “But this — it’s witty. I find it Monty Python-ish or something.”
And, though all three are classically trained musicians, Mikaloff says that reinventing already-established songs actually gives them more freedom — even more so than one of Canada’s most famous and powerful singers.
“We’re able to express ourselves fully as musicians,” Mikaloff says. “It’s a really rare project when you can do something with pop and yet get away with all this cool stuff. Like, the musicians that are playing with Celine Dion are playing with maybe 25 per cent of their potential because they’re restricted, they’ve gotta back this woman up... But, everyone has restrictions, I guess. We played with Celine once and she just thanked us for letting her scat. And she can scat like crazy! We knew she was a phenomenal singer, but her music is just too corporate. This one, she just let it all out and it was crazy.”
The band’s already working on their next album, which Mikaloff anticipates coming out next year, and those who come to the Lost Finger’s show during the Vancouver International Jazz Festival may get a preview of what’s to come.
“We were thinking about a one-hit wonder vibe, but we might save that for a little later,” Mikaloff says. “Now we’re thinking of doing rock classics and hair bands. Motley Crue, KISS, Guns ‘n Roses, Aerosmith, those are already done... “One” by Metallica, it’s this awesome, epic version, a waltz. And, of course, Iron Maiden.”
Lost Fingers play the Vogue Theatre (918 Granville) on Friday, June 24, 9pm. Tickets $28 from Ticketmaster.