Music

November 26 2015

Meet Vancouver's Competitive Christmas Carollers (part 2)

(read part 1 here

There are 20 different groups competing and they’re all super different. From pros to first-timers, from retirees to kids, from the highly trained to the… well, we’ll say highly spirited. We sat down with some of the choirs to get to know their unique personalities a little better before they go head-to-head in the streets of Gastown for the Yule Duel.

Fiona and Matt from Impromptu

“In some ways, we are the bad guys,

but we have fun doing it.”

What got you into choir singing?

Fiona: So where as Matt has a musical background and education, he has all the degrees in music—

Matt: Well, one. It’s a Bachelor of Music degree, in jazz studies actually.

Fiona: I’ve always just enjoyed singing, and I’ve loved playing high-energy music since I was young. But when I started looking around for places to sing, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t that high-energy opportunity out there. I had to be able to read music or I had to audition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t suit me. So Matt was teaching some people that I knew, and I was moaning to him, “oh I’d love to be able to sing Rolling Stones and Muse” and there just wasn’t any of that.

Matt: And I really know the choir scene in Vancouver, there’s gospel choirs and folk choirs and hospital choirs and everything in between, but we sort of decided there was this niche that wasn’t being filled. With those groups, there’s an element of formality to it. Even just the idea of joining a group and committing to it for a year, and working towards performances, there’s some room for something that doesn’t work on that model.

Is that where the name comes from?

Matt: Yeah! Pretty much.

Fiona: The Yule Duel will actually be our first performance.

Are you nervous about that?

Fiona: Not really, our goal is to get people to join in with us. So when you’re one of those choirs that’s got to sound perfect… that’s not our thing, but we’ll be laughing the whole night. We’re going to get as many people as we can to join in with us. It’s very much a “drop in and sing with us” thing.

So what do you think your odds of winning are?

Matt: Here’s the thing, I have no idea who else is going to be there. That’s what I’m most excited about, is hearing the other choirs and seeing what they’re doing.

Yeah, I keep hoping it’s going to be like an 80s comedy or something where there’s one underdog choir, and they really need to win it to save the community center, but then there’s the established choir and they win every year until the underdog choir rallies together and beats them in an upset.

Matt: Yeah, I’m just curious as to what other kinds of groups there are.

Well there’s Gentlemen of Fortune, they’re pretty hardcore.

Matt: They’re totally hardcore.

But there’s a few other amateur ones that we were happy to get onboard. There’s a kids’ choir called Nuthin’ but Treble, which is cute, but I’m waiting for the like, Star Wars Empire of choirs you know?

Fiona: Well in some respects I think we’re them, because we’re the opposite of how most choirs run. So in some ways, we are the bad guys, but we have fun doing it.

No! I think you guys are like the Rebels! You’re going against the establishment. You’re the Rebel Alliance, you’re super inclusive and what not.

Fiona: Haha, yeah that fits us better.

You guys cover some really contemporary stuff like Foo Fighters and The Lumineers, how do you go about picking those songs?

Matt: We try to pick stuff that people will recognize, stuff that’s going to be familiar, stuff that’s high-energy. I’ll also play through a song and get an idea of how it’ll work, some songs just work better in a group setting.

Have you ever tried a song that just didn’t work?

Matt: You know that Gotye song? So many people love that song, but we tried it and it just didn’t work. And that’s the thing, this type of music- it’s rock music, so there’s supposed to be a band with drums, bass, guitar, and we’re really pairing it down. I’m the accompaniment. I’m either on guitar or piano and some songs adapt really well to that, they take on this whole other dimension. Other songs you take away the production of it and it just falls apart.

Fiona: We ask our singers to give suggestions, and some people really wanted Florence + The Machine, so we started with it, and it was so hard at first.

Matt: We did, Dog Days Are Over and it was really hard.

Fiona: At first. There’s so much to that song. But after a bit, it really came together! By week three it really started happening. We did Wake Up by Arcade Fire, and that was really challenging as well, but it ended up really good.

Cool! What are you guys listening to right now? What’s in your iPods?

Fiona: I am very excited that Muse is coming back to Vancouver again. So I’m listening to lots of Muse in preparation, I’ve got my tickets already.

Matt: I like Muse, I haven’t really gotten into their new album yet, but I think they’re amazing. I just discovered this Austrailian band called, Hiatus Coyote and I’ve had that on non-stop. They’re like, R&B, electronic, Jazz mixed together- I don’t think the choir could do any of their stuff, though. But I’m also listening to a lot of Stealers Wheel; we’re going to do their song, Stuck In the Middle With You in the choir.

Jonathan from 8Wings

8wings

If we can capture Skrillix, we’ll do it.”

What got you into choir singing?

Growing up in a Chinese family, I was classically trained on piano and there wasn’t much room for fun and singing, really. But in high school, there was a moment where the choir seemed like it always needed more guys. I auditioned at UBC in my first year and they accepted me. It’s been a great way to defeat some of the structural and classical constructs that my childhood experience was about.

The other seven wings all went to St. Pats Regional, and if you ask anybody in the choir world, they’ll tell you that school is famous for choir singing. It’s funny, I have an undergrad music degree for vocal performance, but I’ve been matched with seven people who are studying everything from liberal arts to engineering, they just have raw talent. The one thing in common is singing and we love it.

How did you decide on the choir name?

So I was not an original member, more like the last piece of the puzzle. We came up with the name after we became eight because- and I don’t wanna say eight is “mystical”, but eight is important.

Wait, why is “eight” an important number?

Eight is a common number, usually you have two male and two female parts for every four, and 8 is the minimum number to create a coral sound. As for the “wings”, we wanted a name that represented flight, the idea that we could be free and liberated from our upbringing and our pasts.

What did you think your odds are of winning?

Winning isn’t our biggest concern. We just want to be part of the event. We just want to remind people what the holiday season is about, not that we want to prescribe the holidays season, we want to celebrate the music. We come from diverse backgrounds and we want to be able to celebrate that, celebrate our culture. We want to deliever something enjoyable and seasonal and fun. 

So no rivalries with any of the choirs then?

We think all the groups are excellent. The UBC a cappela groups are friends of ours, we think what they do is amazing, but we’re a little different from them. Sweet Scralet has so much experience, and again, we bring something different, but we’re looking forward to their performance and what they offer the music scene in Vancouver. 

What are you listening to right now?

A lot of the members have really been paying attention to Justin Bieber’s new album, I think popular music is important. If you come to a show, we always do something from the top 40; it’s important to show people the evolution of where music is going. If we can capture Skrillix, we’ll do it. We love musical theatre, the tradional coral idiom, but it’s important for us to do it all. We want to represent everything from the classical right up into 2015.

Tonye from Guilt & Co.

guilltone

“When it comes to my peers and this neighbourhood,

I’m competitive.”

What made you take the dive into choir singing?

To be really honest, I was volunteered for it, and the reason why is because, when they started doing the planning for Yule Duel, we found out that Portside was competing and they challenged us.

Wow really? They’re next door, you guys must have a hardcore rivalry.

I mean, I wouldn’t call it hardcore, but yeah, there’s a little bit of rivalry… okay, I’m ready to crush them. I love them to pieces, they’re great, they’re sweethearts, but we’re coming for them. The other thing is that Guilt and Co. is a live music venue. We cultivate a lot of beautiful, creative energy and a lot of people who work within the company are musicians in their own right. Singers. Rappers. Dancers. All kinds of creative, wonderful people.

So you’re not coming in fresh at all?

No. We’re all seasoned vets. I’m not saying we’re gonna destroy everyone. But we might destroy everyone. I’m a musician. I’m a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. I have an incredible band and I recently got signed to 604 Records. My whole life is music. I actually have a choir of my own (not the choir that’s going to be in Yule Duel) called the Living Society Soul Choir and last year was a big year, we did some really wicked recordings. So yeah, it’s always been in my heart to delve into the world of choirs and this has just been a really great opportunity to do something super fun for a great cause.

Man, I was under the impression you guys were just competing for the fun of it, but you’ve got some serious talent here. What do you think your odds are of winning?

I think we can win. Am I biased because I love my team so much and believe they are the most talented human beings on Earth? Yes. I’m totally biased. But it’s a combination of things. It’s the team, the talent, the song choices- there’s nobody else who is going to cover the material that we’re going to.

Really? What are you guys singing?

I’m not gonna tell you that!

You can’t give me a teaser?

Okay, I’ll say this. It’s a medley of a number of brilliant songs made popular by the fantastic film, Sister Act 2.

That’s cool, but I gotta tell ya, you’re not the only group that’s been inspired by Sister Act.

REALLY? Who?

Vancity Drinks said they were inspired by Sister Act.

Vancity Drinks? Whatever. We’re gonna do the Sister Act essential mix. Complete with solos, dance moves, the whole shebang.

So are you guys just gunning for Portside, or is there anybody else that you think might be a threat?

I don’t care about anybody but Portside. That’s it. As long as we beat them, I’m so happy. I’m totally golden. I’m not usually a competitive person, but when it comes to my peers and this neighbourhood, I’m competitive.

What are you listening to right now? What’s in your iPod?

Oh man, my favourite band of all time is Snarky Puppy, and a friend of mine is opening for them and asked me if I would come sing and I was like, “uh, of course!” So that’s super exciting. Another band I’m getting really into is Hiatus Coyote, I saw them a month ago and they’re probably one of the greatest bands I’ve ever seen in my life. The lead singer is just this ball of energy and her style is impeccable. Her voice is so- I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. Fantastic. There’s so much that I’m into. K-Os is putting out new music and that’s super exciting.

For more on Yule Duel, click here and to get it in your Facebook event calendar, click here!