Those who live east along Vernon’s Pottery Road, just outside of the city limits, may have heard the distinctive sound of music that has emitted into the summer air.
Listen carefully on certain nights and you can hear the sigh of strings being pulled along by a bow, an arpeggio of a flamenco guitar, or the thump of a hand drum.
As live music venues become harder to come by, house concerts have become a popular way to see a live show. In Vernon, there’s an old yellow farmhouse with outbuildings, used as art and yoga studios, that has become a popular stop for travelling minstrels.
Owners Neil and Sherrie Erickson, a visual artist and musician and yoga instructor, respectively, have opened their home, namely their yard, to host musicians from as far as Spain, Los Angeles and Toronto, and now one of B.C.’s most respected bands is coming back to share the love there on Aug. 29.
The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, whose new album, Love, is about to be released, are no strangers to house concerts and have played Pottery Road on a few occasions.
“I love that place. There’s this big yard and stage,” said Mockingbird multi-instrumentalist Ian Griffiths. “It’s interesting playing house shows; some have become a regular venue. We were the first band to play there and now there are a queue of bands that stop on a tour.
“At one place, in Gravenhurst, Sask., the brother of the owner told me he met his wife at our show. We’re making music and babies!”
Griffiths is responsible for many of those unusual sounds you hear at a Tequila Mockingbird show. He plays flamenco guitar, accordion, and something called the shruti box, which he learned while studying classical Indian music in Varanasi, India, a place where Hindus bring their dead to be cremated.
“There are enormous funeral pyres to burn the bodies, and the ashes are thrown into the Ganges. Seeing that on a day-to-day basis while studying haunting kinds of music brought a particular energy,” he said.
Griffiths studied the harmonium, otherwise known as a pump organ, while in India.
“My brother gifted me a harmonium… I do use it quite a bit at home, but not with the group. The harmonium and accordion are closely related – the keyboard is identical,” he said. “What you do is slightly different. It has an oral tradition in that whatever you play, you sing it. It makes you conscious of what you are playing, making the sounds with your mouth and the instrument.”
Griffiths was presented with the shruti just before the end of his trip. He describes the instrument as a “drone machine” that traditionally works on a system of bellows.
“It just makes two notes. You pump the bellows and there’s a one-way valve that keeps the positive pressure that makes the two notes make constant sounds.”
Griffiths brought the shruti back with him to introduce to his fellow Mockingbirds.
“It took me 50 hours to get back from India due to delays. When I got back, I slept 20 hours. It felt amazing when I woke up, home to all the people I love and excited to make music together again. We don’t live in the same city anymore, so when we get together we catch up on what everyone has been doing.”
Hailing from the small town of Hinton, Alta. Griffiths has always had an interest in travel. He moved away from Hinton the day after he graduated and lived in Australia, before he returned to Canada to attend the University of Victoria. He later moved to Spain for a few years, where he was introduced to accordion and flamenco guitar.
His meeting with Mockingbird drummer Paul Wolda, who has lived in Ecuador and grew up playing African hand drums and has played with Nigerian djembe master Babatunde Olatunji, started out as sort of an ex-love triangle.
“I came back with my Spanish ex-girlfriend who Paul became interested in,” explained Griffiths, adding the girlfriend ended up going back to Spain, leaving the two men to their music.
“When we met, I was playing flamenco guitar and we decided to play in an underground open mic in Victoria – him on djembe and me on flamenco guitar. The venue was literally underground. It ended up being closed after it was discovered the owners didn’t have a liquor license. Quite a few bands began at that same open mic in 2006. We started picking up members from the open mic.”
Although Griffiths and Wolda remain a constant, the band’s lineup has changed a few times over the course of the past nine years.
“Everybody in the band has travelled quite a bit. When Kurt (Loewen, guitar player) joined the band, he had travelled in South and North America. All this has influenced our sound,” said Griffiths.
That sound has made its way onto the Mockingbird’s last three albums, and is an influence on the band’s new album, Love.
“There is nothing on the record that is traditional. There is not much classical Indian, but what I brought back is influenced by that tradition,” said Griffiths. “Various members had works basically done that they had been working on. Kurt had a bunch of songs, I did, and Mack (Shields, the band’s fiddler) did. They changed as soon as the group got their hands on them.”
Love was recorded on Quadra Island and engineered and produced by Emily Bachynski of Girl from the Bitter North studios.
“Our friend has a big property and big house on the island. Emily brought her mobile studio to the site. She is also a live sound tech, and has encountered some misogyny, but her skills and attitude help her rise above because she’s damn good at what she does,” said Griffiths.
Audiences across the country will be able to hear the songs from Love, including new single Funeral Song, played live when the Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra embarks on a 25-date tour of Western Canada.
The band stops at 964 Pottery Rd., Aug. 29. Gates open at 7 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, available at the Bean Scene and Record City Kelectibles in downtown Vernon. For more info, contact Sherrie at 250-260-0878 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bring a blanket and chair to sit on.