Esmerine played their first European tour recently, performing material from their acclaimed third album La Lechuza. The 405 was afforded the opportunity to speak with founding member Beckie Foon and we jumped at the chance. As a member of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Set Fire To Flames and A Silver Mt Zion- Beckie Foon has been at the centre of some of my favourite music and has consistently upheld a recording and publication ethic that puts localism and creativity above profit making and careerism. It was a real pleasure to sit with her and have this conversation before Esmerine played at the Electrowerkz venue in London.
Amir Adhamy/the 405: Evening Beckie. It's lovely to meet with you.
Beckie Foon: You too. Hope you enjoy the show tonight!
405: I'm looking forward to it a great deal. Esmerine has gone from being a duo to now incorporating many members. How has that evolution been?
BF: Bruce and I were very interested in exploring the world of melodic percussion and cello when we started, especially based with our groups, our punk rock groups and also because we were in loud bands. And so it was nice to think about stripping it down and really thinking collaboratively about using these wooden beautiful instruments that we might not have got to fully explore their potential in our loud rock bands, so initially it was borne out of that- we wanted to try something different. And so that's kind of how Esmerine was born. For this album, well- we were never actually planning on recording a third record. Not that we 'weren't planning' a third record, we just hadn't thought through it, or were too busy with everything else going on in our lives- even though we'd always stayed vaguely active, doing performances in Montreal.
405: And jamming yourselves, as well?
BF: Yeah. But we would actually do a lot of shows in Montreal, we just never took Esmerine on tour before. It was all Silver Mt Zion or Godspeed, the other commitments. So what happened was that we'd started playing live with Lhasa De Sela, she'd asked us to open up for her as a duo in Montreal. So we did that show, and we met her band and we all really connected. And from there, Bruce and I became more and more interested in the some of the instrumentation that she had in her band, drums and harp for example. We all got on, so we just started playing together. We played a show and Lhasa sang with us- it became this very natural evolution. It's a little difficult for Bruce, I mean- we still play duo shows- because for us, it's kindof this whole new world to have harp and drums and these extra musicians, because certainly on record, Bruce has always overdubbed the marimba and drums, playing them both. So now we can have all of those parts live.
405: It's interesting to hear that you still play duo shows. When I think of how A Silver Mt Zion has grown and grown over the years, I wonder if it would be nice to take that back to a three-piece, and play some shows as the first album had been recorded.
BF: Yeah, I totally agree.
405: I guess you have that with different incarnations of bands though, right. And Mt Zion isn't your thing anymore! Have the extra members here influenced or changed the way you write songs?
BF: Yeah, it's definitely more of a band thing now, we're more collaborative. It can be a bit more complicated at times writing music with more people, or easier when things evolve naturally. There's different people, more minds, more energy and opinion to deal with.
405: How did this album come about then? You mentioned that it wasn't planned, but not not planned either.
BF: There were some Esmerime songs that we'd reworked together, after a show in Montreal we played as a four piece. And as we reworked the songs, Sarah and Andrew also had some ideas, sketches of songs, that they brought to us, and we incorporated those into the set. And then when Lhasa passed away, we wanted to write a special lullaby for her as she'd brought us all together- so the entire composition really came about very organically.
405: You really breathed new life into the band with the album.
BF: Yeah, and it's fun to do that, shake it up and grow as musicians and people.
405: So your first two records, put out on Resonant and Madrona respectively...
BF: Yeah, Madrona was the label Bruce and I started.
405: I think I bought the Aurora vinyl direct from the Madrona mail order. How did working again with Constellation come about?
BF: I guess we have a long term history with Constellation. We gave them the record and they were amazed by it. Bruce and I had retired Madrona! We were very happy to work with Constellation.
405: It's led to collaborations with label artists like Colin Stetson (http://vimeo.com/29119122)
BF: Yeah, that was from our opening show in Montreal. And Clea Minaker, who did the projections, will be with us tonight.
405: How does this LP compare to the first two?
BF: This record has a completely different meaning behind it, due to where we are with our lives and the history we have together, and so there's a different element in it. There's a lot of symbolism in it for us, and musically where we are now is so different to where we were five or ten years ago. We're older, we have kids. We've grown as artists and as human beings. The first two Esmerine records are still very close to my heart though.
405: It's nice when you get to a stage and think, well they could only have made this record with a certain level of experience and maturity, at a certain point in their career.
BF: Yeah, I agree- it's a very strange thing, but also quite a beautiful feeling.
405: How does it feel to be part of such a now-noted and successful community of musicians?
BF: I learn a lot from the musicians around me and am very happy to be a part of this community. I've had the pleasure of playing music around the world, and that's something I can never take for granted.
405: What does the future hold for you as a group, or indeed as an individual?
BF: For Esmerine, this is our first European tour and we were excited about trying this out. I also don't play in Silver Mt Zion anymore and I'm excited to see where this goes, and I'm also working on a solo record built from looped cello and singing. I've just finished that record. It's totally different to everything I've done so far, it has electronic percussion! That maybe should be out, hopefully in the Spring, but we'll see.
405: I have to ask, will we ever see another Set Fire To Flames record?
BF: (laughs) Who knows, man. We worked on a soundtrack for a short animation film, and that was the last thing we did. I would love to, but there's 13 people in that group!
405: And I imagine you all have to be in a similar, very particular mindset while recording.
BF: Exactly! But thats how Bruce and I met, and how Esmerine came about initially.
405: Thankyou so much for your time, Beckie.