Alberta jazz quartet Bones From Underground talks debut album
Tell me a little bit about how the band got together.
We’ve been playing together for years. I had these compositions that I wrote for my degree with Berklee, and I decided to record with them. The guys said, “We should form a band!” — like high-school kids — and we did it. We recorded the whole album live off the floor in just four hours. We wanted to do it like Miles in the ’50s, very unforgiving recordings — one or two takes and you’re done.
How much of these recordings were improvised, as opposed to written compositions?
The compositions were predetermined, but I wanted the musicians to bring their own personalities to this music. Just like actors, I’d write the screenplay and they’d bring their magic.
When you’re doing a live-off-the-floor recording with only one or two takes, do you feel that extra pressure to get it right on the first try?
It’s very intense. It’s almost like doing surgery. You have to be really precise, but also relaxed and not stiff. You have to bring your own musicianship and trust the universe that what you do will actively connect with the band. You have to have tentacles with your ears. As the bass player, I have to go right inside the piano and listen to what he does, and then support the horn player when he solos, to bring up or listen to him when he wants to bring the energy down. It’s very interactive, very satisfying, but very cruel, too.
It sounds like you have to have a lot of trust in each other when you’re recording that way, too.
You do. We did it a few shows before that, just to get ready. We did four or five shows at the Yardbird Suite here in Edmonton, and a couple in Calgary, just to get friendly with the music and with ourselves. I didn’t want people to have their heads buried in the music stand. I wanted to rise above that and bring the magic.
You recorded this album in 2019, and then 2020 happened. How did that change the way you approached the production and rollout of the record?
I’m glad you asked that, because all professional musicians in Canada and around the world pretty much lost everything. We were planning to do a tour and then this came on and everything got cancelled. We sat down and talked about how we can release the album, because we can’t even play together. We hired a couple of videographers to create animations for all of the tunes on the album, and we released them on YouTube once a week, starting in October. So far, we have 120,000 views. That’s a lot for us. We have comments from Peru, South Africa, Germany, so that’s pretty exciting.
Why did you decide to go with animation? Was there any specific reason?
I thought it would be nice to have the video animator be part of the band somehow. They would give their own interpretation of the music, but visually. I got Armaghan Taghvaei from Edmonton and Sylwester Wielanek from Poland. They made some drawings, and then I had to explain to them how the song would progress. I was thinking we could eventually do an art gallery, where people walk in and see the videos like a work of art.
The song I’d like to play is Fortress of Solitude. Based on the title, you’d expect something quiet and introspective, but it’s really celebratory and exuberant. Where did this song come from?
Being from Quebec, I didn’t know it was a Superman thing. A buddy of mine invited me to play poker, and as the night went on, he was losing. In some kind of hysterical way, he goes, “Welcome to my fortress of solitude!” I thought it was amazing. The next day I wrote that song. When we did the animated video, Arma said we should have him [work on it]. He’s a saxophone player, Don Berner, but he can also draw very well. As the song progresses in the video, you can see him drawing the action hero and the villain, and they have a battle. That’s the idea of this exuberant energy in that song.
Inspiration comes from the most unlikely places.
You’ve got to stay open for what the world brings to you, especially now.
You can find Bones From Underground’s music on all major streaming platforms. You can also visit ther website at bonesfromunderground.ca and follow them on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
This interview has been edited and condensed.