Blackberry Wood is no stranger to Revelstoke. The self-described alt-country-gypsy-circus band seems to come up here a few times a year on their frequent tours, whether its to play the Last Drop or the Summer Street Festival in Grizzly Plaza.
The first time I saw them was in the plaza, where, dressed in candy red, they hopped up and down while playing a frantic, almost ska-like beat. I’ve also caught them at the Drop, where some of the more carnivalesque elements of their show came out as the night went on.
So, who, or what, is Blackberry Wood? The band is fronted by guitarist and singer Kris Wood. He is backed up by a varying cast of players, which currently consists of Jen Charters on saxophone, Ryan Trigg on drums, Shelder Footz on trumpet and Devon Bates on banjo and percussion.
“When I say percussion I mean things like slide whistles, giant crashing cymbals, noise makers and things like that,” Wood said.
Blackberry Wood is returning to the Last Drop this Friday, Nov. 23, on a tour that is serving to promote their newest album with its circus-like title, Strong Man vs. Russian Bears.
I spoke to Wood last week to talk about the band and album. The first thing I had to ask is, ‘What is alt-country-gypsy-circus music?’ Well, it’s a meld of alt-country, gypsy punk like Gogol Bordello, and circus influences, replied Wood.
“The whole idea of the circus to me is quite an interesting thing because there’s so many different things under one tent that for me it puts all my different musical interests into once place,” he said. “I’m interested in so many different kinds of music, and the rest of the band as well, that the whole circus thing holds it all together, going from some strange Indian thing, to a ska thing to old jazz and country.”
Wood cited as his influences lots of old-time music, like country singer Jimmie Rodgers, Louis Armstrong and western swing originator Bob Wills. As for his own song writing, it all starts with a story.
“For me its about figuring out the setting for the story. That’s where I pull on different styles of music to set the story in a different place,” he said. “If the story’s a little exotic, I’ll try to incorporate something Eastern European or Indian, something like that.”
Blackberry Wood formed six years ago when Wood and his girlfriend got together for a New Year’s Eve party. Since then the band has grown to as many as nine people but has since settled into a quintet, with the occasional extra member.
They’ve toured regularly throughout western Canada and have been to the States and to the UK. They played the famous Glastonbury festival twice – once taking the stage shortly after Lady Gaga. Their bass player even got to use her private port-a-potty, said Wood.
Strong Man vs. Russian Bears is Blackberry Wood’s second album. It was recorded by Steven Jake from The Odds, who has also produced the Tragically Hip and 54-40. Wood said the goal for the album was to try and capture the feeling of the live show.
“This album is a lot more high energy rock and punk and such like that and it still has all the flavors like the Eastern European and old jazz and stuff like that. It’s more like our live show.”
What the album doesn’t capture is the visual element of their show – the costumes and stage presence of a band that once did a residency where they were trained in clowning. For that, you’ll have to go see them live.
Blackberry Wood plays at the Last Drop this Friday, Nov. 23, starting at 10 p.m.