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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Acorn Cracks the Cradle

This Wednesday, November 12th at Cat's Cradle, Ottawa band The Acorn performs along with Tuscon's Calexico. I had the chance to see The Acorn on their last visit to our area, and trust me when I say this band puts on an amazing show! Their 2008 release, "Glory Hope Mountain" is a biographical odyssey following the life story of lead singer Rolf Klausener's mother, including her journey from her native Honduras through her eventual immigration to Montreal. At the last Chapel Hill show he joked that it was either the best or worst Mother's Day gift ever. Being one of the best albums I have heard this year, I'm sure Mom would agree that it's definitely in the "best" category.

One excellent thing about The Acorn is that you will find both elements of traditional music, hand drums and chants, along side modern, effect-laden electric instruments. On "Glory Hope Mountain", this is most notable on the track "Low Gravity", with Howie Tsui's searing e-bow guitar cutting through the strong rhythmic current, as Rolf rocks a mean ukelele.

Rolf of The Acorn was kind enough to answer a few questions I sent, filling us in on what's up with the band.

Where have you had your best gigs? recent memory, there have been a plethora of really memorable, and inspiring shows, most notably:
- Final show at the End Of The Road Festival in Dorset, England. It was our final show with our "Glory Hope Mountain" touring line-up (including Shaun Weadick and Keiko Devaux), and it couldn't have been more energetic or emotional.
- Workshop performance at the Winnipeg Folk Festival this past July collaborating with Calexico and The Apostle of Hustle. It was, for all intents and purposes, magical.
- A lot of the shows on our recent North American Tour with Toronto's Ohbijou were outstanding, including a wild Tuesday night show where we, the audience (and staff for that matter) drank the bar dry at the legendary Apollo Club in Thunder Bay, Ontario; a sweaty show at the Lo Pub in Winnipeg Manitoba; an amazing first show in San Francisco; a very messy, but fun show at Spaceland in Los Angeles where Maynard James Keenan from Tool bought us one too many whiskey shots resulting in guitarist Howie Tsui jumping off Ohbijou's tour van and fracturing his heel; and most recently, two oustanding shows with Calexico at Antone's in Austin and the magnificent Granada Theatre in Dallas.

How did the band get together?

I started The Acorn in 2003 as a way to alleviate bordom when my other musical projects went on hiatus. By 2004, I had an album's worth of material and assembled my friends (drummer/writer Jeffrey Malecki, Guitarist/Visual Artist Howie Tsui, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Debutte) to help me flesh out the material live. This core membership has been together for 4 years and revel in both our musical and interpersonal relationships. It's a band founded on both the values of friendship and common artistic goals. The Acorn has always been a simultaneously collaborative and very personal project for me, and as such, I enjoy writing songs on my own and then presenting them to friends and collaborators to bring to full fruition. I'm not beholden to any specific genre, and relish that freedom. To date, the band has included dozens of collaborators including the aforementioned members and: Montreal pianist Keiko Devaux, guitarist Shaun Weadick, drummer Pat Johnson, members of Ohbijou, Flecton Big Sky, Snailhouse, The Wooden Stars, Andy Swan, Kelp Record's Jon Bartlett, The Soft Diaster and many more.

How do you approach writing new material?

I'm a bit of a slave to my moods and temperment, but do push myself to pick up my guitar or pen every day to work on ideas. Unfortunately, and like most artists, I have to wait for a little burst of manic energy or a song-fragment to magically appear in my mind to feel really inspired. Over time, it's become painfully apparent that if I don't finish a song within the first 5 minutes of starting it, it can take up to a month to chisel and hone. I typically start with a melody or just one line, hummed ad nauseum and then fall into a sort of meditative state.

What is it like working on videos with Christopher Mills (who has also directed with Modest Mouse, Shinedown, and many others)?

He's pretty darn delightful to work with, a manic ball of energy, decisive and open to pretty much anything. All that said, we do not take much credit for his work on our videos for "Flood Pt. 1" or "Crooked Legs". We gave him a basic idea of what the song was about, and just watched him do this thing.

Your EP "Tin Fist" was recently released in the US, though it appears to precede your excellent album "Glory Hope Mountain" (which everyone must buy at once!). How does "Tin Fist" compare with "Glory Hope Mountain" musically?

Tin Fist was recorded live off the floor on a weekend in the summer of 2006, about 5 months before we started recording "Glory Hope Mountain". We initially were looking to document 3 older songs ("Spring Thaw", "Feral Chile", "Maplebees") to disperse to some compilations that were looking for tracks from us. A few days before entering the studio, I managed to pump out "Dents", "Brokered Heart", and "Heirlooms". We were really happy with the 6 songs as whole and decided to release them as a full EP. Musically, it's the first recording featuring Keiko Devaux on piano and is a nice testament to our live dynamic, varied in both mood and sonic palette.

How do you describe your sound?

600 mature, recently-fed bison, dropped simultaneously from an altitude of 1000 feet onto an unsuspecting gathering of basket-weavers and child pyschologists in the Mission District of San Francisco.

What are your influences as a band?

Too many to mention, but some might/may not include: Modernity, antiquity, the vicious cycle of socio-political stagnation and renewal, Paul Simon, Ghostface Killah, Neil Young, Steve Reich, Glenn Gould, Cormac Macarthy, the standard medical text for manic-depressive illness as edited by Kay Redfield Jamison, the inevitable decay of suburban expansion, pigeons, Daniel Day Lewis, Steve Martin, the films of David Cronenberg, yogurt and granola, the inimitable death-squeal of the common squirrel.

I understand you have a live collection in the works. Tell us about that.

It's called "Heron Act", and it's a collection of live recordings, blog recordings and demos/outtakes from our Glory Hope Mountain recording sessions. It's got a cover of "Goonies R' Good Enough" by Cyndi Lauper, which I'm pretty happy with.

How did you get together with Calexico? How many dates are you playing together?

We met at the Winnipeg Folk Festival this past July where we played a really memorable workshop, collaborating on each others music. About 4 weeks ago, as we were just starting our North American tour with Ohbijou and Portland's The Shaky Hands, we got the call that the Calexico boys wanted us to join them for 2 weeks worth of shows. Luckily it all worked out, as we're having a pretty darn incredible time. Joey, John and the whole lot of them are some of the most talented and humble musicians we've ever had the pleasure of touring with. Woot Woot!!

Thanks for all of that great info on The Acorn from Rolf Klausener. I hope you will all check them out this Wednesday the 12th at Cat's Cradle. ($15, show starts 9:15)

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