Fish & Bird - neither fish nor fowl yet both


Inspiration for band names can come from anywhere and sometimes the name a band decides on can bear no relation to them or their music. It’s just a name that works. Or is it?


Canadian roots music quintet Fish & Bird took their name from a Tom Waits song after a session of searching through album covers for ideas. They liked the song, liked the sound of the name and then realised that it was appropriate for a band that follows its instincts rather than keeping to any particular musical genre.


“You could say that Radiohead or David Bowie and Appalachian music are like the fish and the bird,” says fiddler Adam Iredale-Gray down the line from Boston, where he’s currently working towards his final credits at Berklee College of Music. “Pop/rock and folk are two quite different genres but from the start we’ve never worried about how the music we play would be described. We just play what sounds good to us. So in a way we’re making the fish and the bird swim together, like they do in the song, although Fish & Bird’s a pretty cool song to call a band after anyway.”


In the beginning Iredale-Gray didn’t know if he and singer, songwriter and banjo player Taylor Ashton had even formed a band. They’d met through Iredale-Gray’s cousin Riley, who was in a high school rock band with Ashton, when the school friends came over to the studio that Iredale-Gray was setting up on the sheep farm his family owns on Mayne Island, a remote community of some nine hundred souls off the coast of British Columbia.


“I was still in my teens and had become interested in recording, so Riley and Taylor were my first clients,” says Iredale-Gray, whose  studio is now a commercial operation, with singer-songwriter Jenny Ritter and Canadian bands the Sweet Lowdown and the Bills all recording albums there. “Taylor was getting into folk music and I was playing old time-style Appalachian and Irish music, and we started playing together and made a record. I didn’t know if this was a collaboration or Taylor’s own album, to be honest, but it was at that point that we established the basic style of Fish & Bird and we gradually grew into a band.”


Adding drummer Ben Kelly, electric guitarist Ryan Boeur, and upright bassist Zoe Guigueno, the duo brought in further sources of musical inspiration as they all listen to different music, from rock to rhythm ‘n’ blues to jazz  to old field recordings of African and Indian music. Interpreting well-known pop and rock songs such as David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes wasn’t something they planned, although it’s done them no harm in terms of attracting attention.


“It started because we’d hear something we all liked and we’d wonder if there was a way of making it our own,” says Iredale-Gray. “We wouldn’t want to do a version of a song that sounds exactly like the original, even if we could, but if we like the core lyric and melody and can fit it into our own style, we’ll try it. It’s better if people maybe don’t recognise it immediately but there’s something to be said for playing something that an audience that’s new to our music knows. It gives them something to judge us by and I think it can help to draw them into what we do.”


As Fish & Bird have become better and more widely known – their latest album, Something in the Ether is their fourth – the tables have been turned and Ashton’s songs are now being interpreted by other artists. No longer living full-time in their British Columbia heartland, with Iredale-Gray in Boston and Ashton now based in New York and the others scattered around Canada, the group has come to exist to a large extent on the road.


“That’s generally when we get together and make music,” says Iredale-Gray. “We’ve moved around a fair bit. We lived in Toronto as a band at one point and as we tour we meet people and encounter other music scenes. There are so many options and different places can inspire you and take you off on new musical adventures. But for all that we are all over the place geographically, when we do get home to Victoria, usually around Christmas, we seem to recharge our collective musical batteries.”


The capital city of British Columbia, Victoria, says Iredale-Gray, has a very supportive musical community and over on Mayne Island, with a basement recording studio at their disposal, is where the hard work that goes into making Fish & Bird’s music sound so natural gets done.


“I’ve started running a music festival on the farm in June, which brings in quite a lot of visitors, but in the dead of winter it’s very much the remote, rural place and we can work there with no distractions. It’s still our natural habitat.”


From The Herald, October 27, 2015.


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