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Published: 2012/03/27
by Dean Budnick

Strangefolk: Return to "Reuben’s Place" with Jon Trafton

When I heard that you guys worked up 60 songs, I had mixed feelings. While I was impressed with the effort and commitment to shake things up each night, I’m only going to attend one show, so I was also concerned that I might not get to hear some of the songs that really resonate with me. Has that been a consideration as you look ahead to these gigs?

Yes, that was another factor in all this. We have some people who will go to all four and some people who will only get to see one, so we’ll have to have that balance. It sort of worked out perfectly because when I saw that our one and two votes gave us 60 songs, I thought, “Well, we usually play 20-ish songs an evening, so that gives us about 80 to play overall.” So 60 spread out will give us a nice core but there definitely will be some repeats and we definitely have to view it from both perspectives and have some of the big stuff, as well as some of the deeper cuts and more obscure ones. And for us, for our own experiences, I don’t want to play “Reuben’s Place” just once. We relearned all this material and spent so much time over the past couple months just breathing this stuff in again, I don’t want it to be over in one song either.

On that note, this otherwise might have been my last question but what are your thoughts as to playing additional gigs beyond these four?

We haven’t really discussed any solid plans but the fact is that we are open to discussing solid plans if things go well. What we had was a very special thing and we realize it’s been a long time and there’s a lot of nostalgia around it and we want to be sensitive to that. So I guess the short answer is we’re open to discussing future dates.

We decided that we’ll give all our energy to this reunion, this run, and if things go great and we all feel really good about it then we’ll talk about what comes next, if anything, and take it from there. So we’re literally taking this one step at a time.

I imagine that’s all somewhat complicated by the fact that after Reid left, Strangefolk continued on and is now a quintet that includes yourself and Erik.

Exactly. You touch upon a relevant factor in that the name Strangefolk has continued and evolved and we’ve had this conversation with the current lineup and it definitely brings up “What’s in a Name,” a phrase that’s all important in this scenario. I’ve been sitting in this seat for the whole drive, so I see it as two distinct phases and even though the name is the same, the bands are different, the material is different, the chemistry is different and I’m proud of them both. One of the good conversations with current guys was, “There’s this band Strangefolk and our past has come back. It’s alive but I don’t think we need to discuss necessarily rebranding ourselves or anything, I think people will understand the original lineup versus what we are now.” As it has turned out I don’t think there has been as much confusion as we all thought there would be. I think people are pretty clear on what’s what.

In terms of general reaction to the reunion, as we get closer, I’ve noticed a real intensity on the part of fans, including many folks I’d assumed had just moved on. It’s almost tangible. I’m curious if you’ve sensed this and what your reaction is to it?

I’ve felt a lot of it and it’s been really touching and an affirmation of something I kind of let myself forget which is just how special this was to a group of people at a certain age at a certain time. I was always very proud of the community and I always felt that the coolest thing Strangefolk ever accomplished was the sense of community. It felt like we were all really connected and I was pleasantly surprised to see that feeling come back and so many of those people and faces and names come out of the woodwork. So it’s been really fun and exciting on that level. It’s a reunion not only of us as a band but I’m seeing lots of reunions of friends. So there are lots of reunions within the reunion. It’s really neat coming together. It’s almost overwhelming.

What impact might that have on your performance?

It’s something we’ve discussed amongst ourselves. For me personally, I need to have an internal governor of the energy. I can’t allow allow myself to get too swept up in it because it will make me play badly, I’ll just overplay. I can’t get too excited or I’ll overdo it and sing sharp and I need to keep some inner center and that’s what I’m focusing on. I think as the day of the shows come, the energy level will ratchet up even more and we’ll have to protect ourselves a little bit from our friends and family and well-wishers, who want to hang out and say hi. That will be a challenge because we’re going to want to buckle down and focus to keep ourselves balanced so we can put on a good show. So it’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Going back to rehearsals, as you revisited some of that old material, what most surprised you about the songs?

There are couple things. One thing that surprised me right off the bat and it was a very pleasant surprise, though a tiny bit frustrating, is that there are passages in the music I wrote where I had a hard time figuring out what the hell I was doing. It took me forever to reconstruct certain passages. So there was a mixed feeling of pride and frustration. I’m happy to say that I got it all together but there were some songs that took me an entire afternoon.

Another thing that happened was we tested the waters a little bit during the rehearsal. My thought was, “Sure we can learn these songs, we can come and play the right chord sequences and note sequences and sing the harmonies but can we play? Can we get down to it ?” Because that was the other half of what Strangefolk was good at. We had wonderful songwriting with Reid and all of us working as a team but there’s also all of us working as a team of musicians improvising together.

At the Barn we really were focusing on playing the songs and playing them right but there was one where I took some time to let it breathe a little bit and started throwing a jam in there that was completely different. The song was “Pooh Bear’s Mistress” and that jam has a kind of a Middle Eastern vibe to it with some of the scales that I run. But this time I played it as a blues with a dominant 7 (chord) and everybody jumped on it. It was neat to see that everybody’s ears were there and the responsiveness and willingness to break out of its mold. I did it on purpose to feel it out and I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

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