Head out to the Rock House this Friday and you might be surprised that instead of the booming thud of kick drum and wailing electric guitar you hear the booming thud of bodhran and wailing button accordion. Local trad band The Dardanelles will be hitting the Rock House stage for the first time ever, which likely marks the first time a trad band has headlined there in… well, ever. I spoke with the group’s guitarist Tom Power about the show.
The Dardanelles – “McCarthy’s Double”
So what can you tell me about this show that’s coming up on Friday? Will there be a smoke machine?
Smoke Machine? You never know. Once I had this birthday party that my girlfriend put together for me. She and Jud Haynes and Krista Power got all these smoke machines and lasers. At a certain point in the night we wanted to play tunes, so we all sat around playing accordions, fiddles, bouzoukis, guitars while smoke machines and lasers went off in time with traditional music. It has since become known in the session world as ‘laser tunes’. But at the show? There’ll be lights and, who knows, maybe a smoke machine.
As for the show, it’s our first time playing the Rock House. In fact as far as I know it’s the first time a trad band has ever played the Rock House, but we’ve always prided ourselves on making the same racket that a full drums and bass band makes too, so it should be fun. Plus at our Ship shows, there’s always been lots of dancing but limited room. Now there’ll be more room.
The Dards seems to take a straight-ahead approach to maybe not the structure but the tone of the music you play, and I know you used to play around with the structures and time signatures, but usually when someone is trying to reinvent people’s perceptions of the music the temptation is to change that sound somehow — like Ashley MacIsaac plugging his fiddle up to an amp and playing over a drum machine or whatever. Why do you guys approach the sound in that way?
Yeah, I think there was a time when we were interested in really shagging around with time signatures — for their sake. Kind of like taking a Rush or Yes approach to traditional music. Over time, and as we grew up, we realized that what’s really great and heavy and wonderful about the music is the grooves in them. Literally sometimes you get entranced in Rufus Guinchard the same way you would in Deadmau5 or something like that. We still like to play with the music and play with the melodies — but the goal is to make good music, not to shag around with it for shagging around’s sake. I think if you listen to a lot of traditional Newfoundland music, you’ll find that the grooves we put to the music, the chords we put behind it, the ornaments and the drive are pretty different. I don’t know if we’re changing the music, but we like it and we’re happy to put our stamp on it.
With the “changing the way people think about traditional music” slogan… How goes the battle? Do you have any examples of the impact the band has had since you started?
Man, I think the fact that a trad band can even attempt to play traditional music on a Friday night at the Rock House is a sign that attitudes are changing. But I don’t necessarily think it’s only us. That division between trad music and indie rock or metal or whatever is all starting to disappear and I’m meeting more and more people who just like good music. I think as people are able to find music easier (like through the internet), people’s tastes are becoming more and more diverse. That being said, when we started we made a decision to play places like the Ship, to play gigs with non-trad bands, it was somewhat because we wanted to play trad music as just… music instead of heaping any preconcieved notions onto it. But also because I figured that’s just what you do when you start a band: you play at the Ship.
It’s been 20 years since Emile Benoit passed away, and I know you’re a fan. What is it about him that connects with you so much?
It’s an interesting question because I think as a band we’re in a weird place with Emile sometimes. We never knew the man so all we have are his tunes, most of which are deadly, and videos of his performances, which are sometimes deadly and sometimes a bit weird. It’s hard to deny the influence this guy had on Newfoundland and on traditional music. Here was a guy.. a born entertainer, a storyteller, a singer, a fiddler… and a guy who composed this unbelievable music. Music that sounded like it could’ve came over on the boat from Ireland or England, but instead it was written by this guy. We are incredibly grateful for his music, and just as grateful to the people (Kelly Russell, Anita Best, Noel Dinn, Pam Morgan, Gerald Thomas) who wrote down and recorded him so that we can have it as a reference.
You can catch The Dardanelles this Friday at the Rock House on George Street. Opening for them will be new local band Mammoth — this will be their debut show.