Vancouver-based Illiteratty is a folk music group comprising of Earle Peach (guitar), Albert Klassen (mandolin), Wanda Mundy (bass), and Simon Kendall (keyboards).
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello guys, thank you for answering my questions. How did you all meet and what made you decide to form the band?
Earle Peach: Albert and I played together in a popular folk band in the 1980s. The band was called Natural Elements. That was also when we initially met Wanda, who was a friend of the band’s lead singer Jen West. The band split up in the late ’80s, and both Albert and I had been involved in a number of other projects in the interim.
After many years of threatening to do so, in 2008 I finally finished an album of my own songs and did a short tour with it. Shortly afterward Albert and I reconnected. Albert made the decision to support me in getting my music out to the public, and when Albert decides something he does it. For example, Albert taught himself the art of building mandolins, and plays a beautiful mandolin he built.
Albert Klassen: I couldn’t afford to buy the mandolin I wanted so in keeping with Mennonite tradition I built several of my own, one of which I now play at all our shows.
In the liner notes for his 2008 album “By The Flood,” Earle writes that he’s always contributed some original material to whatever bands he’s been in. When I read those liner notes, it occurred to me that the world needs a band whose primary function is to give Earle an outlet for his song writing talents. That has become the focus of Illiteratty and we’ve had to butt heads a couple of times to keep that focus.
EP: I conduct a group called the Solidarity Notes Labour Choir (among others), and through that choir I re-met Wanda in 2008. Wanda has had a long and illustrious musical career playing with some very well-known musicians, and her bass and her voice were a great fit for what was suddenly a band.
The trio added percussionist Rev Nixon, with whom Wanda was working in The Hen Pals when she’d first met me and Albert all those years ago, in 2010, but Rev is no longer with us. Simon Kendall, who has played with a million bands including Doug and the Slugs, has been recording with us since mid-2011 and in the process enjoyed the music enough and had so many musical ideas that he began performing with us this year.
Simon Kendall: I met Earle briefly at a tribute concert for Phil Thomas several years ago. We were re-acquainted through Gram Partisans who I was producing, and soon I was also producing Illiteratty.
Some of Earle’s tunes were crying out for accordion, so I succumbed to the temptation to play. I also added a couple of piano tracks, and my fate was sealed. The material is quirky, eclectic and diverse. As I’ve said onstage – ‘it runs the gamut from P – S: provocative, quirky, ridiculous and sublime.’ Earle’s vocal arrangements are lovely and he usually cooks up a part for me.
EP: We’re getting a total kick out of the sound we create, but we’re still interested in finding a percussionist (and perhaps a fiddler?) willing to play a bizarre variety of styles and time signatures!
CM: Why did you choose to call yourself Illiteratty?
EP: Everybody knows how difficult it is to name a band…one of those dreaded exercises which seems to go on forever, but nevertheless so important.
We tossed around a million or so names, and then Albert sent “Illiteratty” to me in an email. Although the name was meant to be a bit of a joke (we claim to be like Illuminati except that we can’t read), it’s ended up being appropriate because the songs themselves are quite literate. Our repertoire embraces a broad spectrum of genres (folk, jazz, celtic, rockabilly, baroque and more) bonded by a common sense of unusual subjects, often quirky humour and always intelligence. The name seems to capture all of that somehow….perhaps the only thing it doesn’t reference is our vocal harmonies.
CM: You released your first EP last year. Would you tell us a little about it?
EP: The EP has five songs on it, and represents a quick survey of some of our different musical styles. There’s a European-sounding song with overtones of Django Reinhardt about a street bookseller; a wedding song couched in what I call “hypnofolk”; two (!) waltzes, one an instrumental and one a song by Albert set to the music of Guiseppe Verdi about the aspirations of a hockey player; and a didactic folky romp about overcoming heartache by walking. We only made 300 copies, which are now close to gone. The EP is being subsumed in the larger CD…
CM: What is the main theme of the album?
EP: The album is at least as varied as the EP, and consequently it was a challenge to come up with a suitable song order.
If there’s an overall notion to it, it might be that we’re on a planet in trouble because of our activities and at the same time struggling to find meaning in our lives. There’s an appreciation for humanity as a charming but perhaps fatally flawed experiment in evolution.
The whole thing is named after the first tune, “It’s Getting Late”; various of the songs reflect that message: that we don’t know where we’re going, but it’s not looking good for the future. The last tune is called “Our Ability to Dance” and I’ll indulge myself by inflicting some of the lyrics on you:
Our vision is rather limited
we haven’t got a lot of time
but we have the sweetest music in this region of the galaxy
sometimes we stumble on things that seem to be true
the world flows through us as it does through you
it might be true to say
our ability to dance redeems us
Perhaps a limited sort of redemption! But as a typical Canadian might say, it’s the best we can do under the circumstances.
CM: How do you usually work together? Is there a main idea provider or does everyone pitch in?
EP: I come up with the great majority of the material, and we start experimenting with it in terms of shape and instrumentation. As we work more together, the arrangements get richer and more precise…this evolution is actually becoming more intense over time.
We’re each becoming better at what we do, and the vocal harmonies are getting tighter and more interesting each time we work together. I’m happy to say that recently we’ve overcome Albert’s resistance to adding his own material and we’re learning one of his songs, which is great.
CM: You have performed all across Vancouver. How is your music usually received by audiences?
EP: The standard response we’re getting from audiences these days is, first, an encore (or more), and comments to the effect that we really should be on the festival circuit…we’re doing what we can about that.
A number of the songs build mini-environments for people to hang out in, they’re like little films; and people really enjoy that.
SK: Audiences are amused, abused, bemused and enthused, often all at once.
CM: Any favourite moment to share?
EP: Some of my favorite memories are from the tours last year and the year before…loved the intimate venues, but perhaps my favorite was a 100-year old community hall on Mayne Island, where we got the key from someone’s mailbox and returned it to the mailbox after our show. Such a beautiful building, and although we’d been worried about not having a publicist on the island we actually got a nice turnout…it was a lovely show.
WM: I agree with Earle – some of my best memories are of moments during the tours – the first one being our reconnecting with our friend, Jennifer West, on Denman Island. Sitting around a fire late at night in her back yard, under the stars, with this amazing group of people, eating fresh oysters that were baking in the coals.
And other memories centre around serendipitous moments – like first working with Simon, and hearing him play (wow !!) – and the total silliness that ensues when he and Earle go off on one of their Tom Lehrer romps – or catching one of Albert’s sideways comments, or his ability to ‘play’ with words and language.
There IS a lot of work involved, but we are also friends – and many of the best memories have nothing to do with the Music, at all.
CM: Do you plan on performing in other Canadian areas?
EP: I think we’d like to look at touring the interior and southern BC, and then maybe try going further east. I guess we’re trying to build slowly, but we could really use some help in organizing these things.
Apart from the sheer challenge, I’m conducting four choirs and playing with three other groups, as well as organizing a couple of other monthly events…so I’m finding it difficult to really make the time to devote to expanding our horizons. Too busy making a living to create one, so to speak.
CM: What is next for the band?
EP: We’re planning another island tour, with more dates, in early July; and checking out festivals around here. And of course, we’re hoping to do the CD release in late May; still trying to settle on the perfect venue for that. We just had a photoshoot, we’re looking for a graphic designer and a publicist to help us organize the release.
CM: Where can people find more information on Illiteratty?
If you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, I will put you on our mailing list and we’ll invite you to our CD release!
You can also preorder a CD from me through that email, or on our website.