Pharis & Jason Romero
11th Annual Americana Album Winner
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Record Label: Lula Records
Home Base: Horsefly, BC
Category Entered: Americana Album
Work Submitted: A Passing Glimpse
Artists Featured: Pharis and Jason Romero
Label: Lula Records
Who are your influences? In no particular order and with the disclaimer that the list keeps growing and that we’re only mentioning a few:
- The countless artists who recorded in the 20s and 30s, who may have only put out 4 sides
- Robert Johnson: when that first box set came out, that changed everything. This was the window into so many other early recordings.
- Riley Puckett: his singing and guitar playing freak us out
- Carter Family: Maybelle’s guitar playing, her and Sara’s duet singing, and the incredible songs (even though A.P. didn’t write a lot of those songs that Ralph Peer took songwriting credits for)
- Bill Monroe: his singing and songwriting and sense of rhythm
- Stanley Brothers: Carter’s lead singing, and Ralph’s high tenor may be a touchstone
- Cooke Duet: some of the most bad-ass gospel singing that has or will ever be recorded
- Iris Dement: A quintessential heartbreak singer
- Tim O’Brien: his singing and playing are heartbreaking, in every musical incarnation he’s a part of
- Dirk Powell: his musical tastes and skills are just so what both of us want to hear in modern music
- Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: a perfect day would be hanging out with them and playing music all night
Describe your nominated work. The first collection from the husband-wife duo of Pharis and Jason Romero, A Passing Glimpse is an album of finely crafted originals combined with obscure and well-loved songs from 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Striking duet singing backed by acoustic and National guitar and banjo, it has a clear sense of tradition with enough jagged edges to feel modern.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording? Not at all. The acoustic and National guitars and banjos were all played acoustically. We love good instruments and good microphones, with nothing in between. Jason Romero built every banjo played on the album – they are custom instruments from Jason and Pharis’ J. Romero Banjos home workshop in Horsefly, BC. No synthetic heads or picks were used on the banjos on A Passing Glimpse. Romero banjos are played by Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Dirk Powell, Ivan Rosenberg, and many other fine players and banjo connoisseurs.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned? Recorded with Ivan Rosenberg in Portland, OR, the album was planned as a bare-bones record, only Pharis and Jason, and as live as possible. Playing live lends it self to happy accidents and interesting takes that you just can’t predict.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses? This project was recorded out of our pocket. Pharis’ 5th studio release, and Jason’s 3rd, the recording expenses for A Passing Glimpse were largely saved up from the sales of our previous records. We’re also very hands-on for the record process – we design the packaging, deal directly with our manufacturer, and work out trades for work done whenever possible. Thankfully and luckily, our recording expenses have been recouped after the first 1,000 discs were sold.
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 11th IMAs? From reputation and word-of-mouth, we knew the IMAs were a good place to showcase our independently-released album.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it? Success is a good day, a fun show, a rocking festival or a great review. We make music because it’s an integral part of our lifestyle, so when we feel good about the music we’re making, that’s success.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals? We look forward to spreading the word far and wide about our nomination! When not making music we’re building banjos, and the demands of the banjo business limit our opportunities for being on tour and the road. With that limited tour schedule, recognition from the IMA will greatly help us to get the word out about our music to a wider audience than we can reach in person.
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique? In an age of heavily produced records, our fans seem to really connect with our sparse instrumentation and honest vocals. Being that our live show is essentially the same format as our album, we find that audiences really connect with two people playing and singing their hearts out with acoustic instruments – and appreciate the lack of smoke and mirrors. Fans of our music are often folks who tell us they’re been listening to old time music and classic country duets, and also the current revival of banjo-geared music. They’re often players themselves, which makes for fun after-shows.
What is your guilty pleasure on the road? Any close calls or mishaps while on tour? Coffee. We both get excited when we head out to get a good espresso. We haven’t had any bad tour times, except for the VW van breaking down on the way to a show.
Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why? The only songs I wish I’d written are the ones that come half-formed into my head, and then I promptly forget about them. I always figure they’ll come back around. Otherwise, we both love the experience of learning someone else’s song and discovering why that song makes us love it.
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans? I don’t know if they’re surprising, but we both love the Fleet Foxes, Toots and the Maytals, and occasionally Pharis busts down to some Pharcyde.
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming? We buy music from artists that we’ve met on the road, or that we’ve heard on the radio, online, or friends have turned us on to. In person, online, as CDs, and as vinyl. We both love the art of music packaging, and are big fans of liner notes. Plus we both like to support other musicians, and love the art of the CD trade.
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free? From where we’re sitting, that is mostly a false expectation. Most of our fans don’t expect music to be free. They respect it as the art form that it is. But as far as making a living goes, in general our culture needs a better value system for the integral role music plays in the human experience. Canada has a great support network for musicians, in our grants and loans system, but good paying gigs can be far between.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today? It seems like fans and audiences understand a lot about the music industry. It does take some extra perspective though to understand just how many hours are put into promoting an album and booking tours – let alone the practice and time put into getting ready for recording.
Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future? Without turning this into a diatribe on short attention spans, we’re both huge fans of full albums, and think of the entire album’s flow and content when we’re recording a new record. We spend a lot of time listening to music from the 20s and 30s though, when singles or two sides were the norm – in any case, as long as the personal thought and time has gone into creating the music, we usually enjoy whatever format it comes in.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…to be honest, something we don’t interact with a whole lot on the big industrial side. Because we either do things ourselves, or work with small-scale professionals, the side of the music industry we interact with is of independent people and businesses, often doing it their way and doing a kick-ass job.
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year? Some really fun tours, great Canadian festivals like the Winnipeg Folk Fest, and teaching at music camps through the summer. We plan on recording a new album in late fall 2012, and are working on UK tours for 2013.