Monday, March 26, 2012

Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers

My last piece for WE! It was edited down substantially, so I've posted the entire interview here.

Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers


Jesse Krause is a shy, awkward interviewee — a total contrast from his onstage persona as the lead singer of larger-than-life, gypsy-pop six-piece Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers (at the Railway Mar. 28). He’s polite and friendly but sounds pained, as if with every question I’m also squeezing drops of lemon juice into an open cut. It puts his band’s music into a new perspective: Flying Fox’s penchant for theatrics, self-invented mythologies and puppets is as open, wild and outlandish as Krause is quiet and reserved. But he knows the value of showmanship and a good narrative. As he says, “I did go to bible college.”

Did you think it was feasible or wise grow up and be a musician?
It never actually occurred to me that I was growing up to be a musician until I arrived at university. I think I always wanted to be an engineer or an inventor of some kind. My first memory of what I wanted to be was a banana bread chef. (Laughs)

It is a delicious food. Well, you could combine engineering and music and create new instruments.
I’ve started working on that, actually. Sometimes it’s more successful than others.

What’s been your greatest success so far?
Well, I was trying to build a C chord. I teach a lot of guitar and the C chord is a particularly hard one to play, so I wanted to build an instrument that a child could sit down and play easily. So it turns out that it’s a D chord. But it’s a log with a whole bunch of strings on it that’s hooked up to a set of bicycle pedals and there’s an electromagnetic pick set up. So you just sit in a chair and pedal and the log spins around and plays this chord as an amplifier so it’s pretty easy to do.

There’s a lot of theatricality in your music and it’s very distinctive. Where did that sound come from?
A lot of places. Two things, maybe: in high school, I was taught very, very well that music is not just an auditory experience. Audiences see with their eyes. We don’t say we’re going to go listen to a show, we say we’re going to see a show. I think we’re all on the same page about that: how things look has a huge impact on how things sound, or at least the interaction of our senses isn’t something we should forget. And I suppose my theology training at the bible school I went to — well, university, I guess, not just a bible school — but I grew up in a Mennonite church and then went to the university for music, but one of the requirements was a whole bunch of theology. The thing I took from that was the importance of a story and a narrative in the formation of a people. Which is maybe heavier than what Flying Fox is dealing with, but I see the value of that in music: having a narrative makes things more powerful.

You’re in Winnipeg. Is it the community that keeps you there? When I listen to you I’m reminded of seeing weird bands in New York City basement clubs, places that are much more urban and open to avant-garde than one imagines in Winnipeg.
You’re right that it’s the community that keeps us there. Winnipeg is a fairly small place and everybody knows everyone. But everyone in the city has a great deal of respect for our music culture. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that respect: everybody believes we’re all making good music in Winnipeg so we’re all making good music together.

I’ve heard that it’s a really vibrant arts community.
Yes, and I suppose also there’s a lot of funding for these things than in other provinces. Winnipeg just happens to be the biggest concentration of things in Manitoba. The government giving a lot of money to these things makes it possible for us to do this. If we had to be making more consistent day jobs then we’d be making less music.

There are a lot of beautiful orchestral flourishes that should allay the criticism that Flying Fox’s sound is gimmicky or one-note.
I’ve always felt like the job of musicians is to make music and not worry too much about issues of style. I find that can be fairly consuming. Some bands talk about influences and who they’re sounding like and I suppose that’s never really interested me.

Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers play Mar. 28 at the Railway, 8pm. $8 at the door.