7" Survey: Eucalyptus

Every edition of this season’s Long Winter, we’re releasing a free split seven-inch, each side featuring a song from one of the night’s featured artists. To compliment the releases, we’ve issued a seven-part questionnaire to each of the artists involved, giving the subjects an inch (about 85 words) of space to answer each of our questions.

In the middle of a month-long residency at Hirut Ethiopian Restaurant, Toronto composer Brodie West’s avant-calypso ensemble Eucalyptus is set to take the stage in the Great Hall’s Conversation Room (11:00 p.m.) at the Long Winter Fair, where we’ll also be distributing a limited run of our February splits featuring Eucalyptus and Crosss. In this questionnaire, West explains how “Fascination In Sound” developed from a direct-to-phone melody recording to the track it has become – the namesake of Eucalyptus’s new 10-inch EP, released Feb. 9 on Healing Power Records.

Long Winter: Who are you and how did Eucalyptus come about?

Brodie West: I am a saxophonist and composer with a background in jazz and improvised music. The band came together because I wanted to continue to play music with Alex [Lukashevsky, guitar] and Ryan [Driver, piano] after our wonderful times as Deep Dark United had ended. I didn’t want the romance to end. At our first gig (for the grand opening of Holy Oak Café in November 2009) I played drums and Blake [Howard] on percussion but shortly thereafter I asked Nick Fraser (also from DDU) to play drums. There is also Nicole [Rampersaud], Mike [Smith]. We’ve been the same line up since. I feel very lucky.

LW: What inspired “Fascination In Sound”?

BW: I improvised this melody directly to my phone a few years ago while on my morning break working as a gardener. I transcribed it afterwards including the exact form and phrasing. That is how a lot of my compositions start. Sometimes I play with the form and change the phrases around but in this case it is pretty much exactly how I initially sang it. I like the results I get using this process. The title “Fascination in Sound” refers to the infinite ways one can hear and listen to something. It is learned, the way we hear and see things. I like to play one tone and try to listen to it different ways as a meditation.

LW: For lots of listeners, this will be their first point of access to your music. Where does this song fit into the rest of your catalog?

One could definitely get the wrong idea about us from listening to this one track.  Fascination in Sound is kind of singular in our repertoire in that it never falls into a danceable time feel at any point. It is also probably the most chaotic. The rest of our repetoire is more danceable and mostly quieter. If you think in terms of “inside” and “outside” (which is a common habit of jazz musicians) then this is our most “out there” probably. In Eucalyptus it feels natural to go different places - improvisation is what is the constant throughout all our music.

LW: Once they’re turned on to this, what releases (songs, EPs, albums, or otherwise) should people pursue as logical next steps to getting to know your music?

BW: I recently heard a quote which comes from one of my biggest influences, Misha Mengelberg. Apparently he said, "Music doesn't exist, at the most it is an illusion". So I don’t really know what we’re talking about here. Anyhow musical taste is so personal, and mysterious. The best way to get to know our music is to listen to our music a lot.  

LW: When you think of winter, what’s a memory that stands out for you?

BW: Last winter I had a practice space in a large storage facility at Spadina and College (which is now closed). I was alone on the top floor. It was a huge old building. There was pretty much no heat in the building. I would come into the room sometimes and my water bottle would be frozen solid. I went through 3 different space heaters but it never really got very warm in there. I was putting up plastic over all the walls and windows and throwing newspapers on the floor to cut the draft out. It affected me in many ways that I can’t explain. Last winter was brutally cold, but I loved that practice space all on my own. I recorded up there a lot. A segment from my upcoming solo saxophone album was recorded in the hallway there at about 10 degrees. It will be released on vinyl by Pleasance some time this year.

LW: How do you survive winters in Toronto?

BW: The winter is a good time to be solitary and to write music, to write in your journal and to have entire days doing nothing. I can’t do that anymore as I have a little 2 year old to take care of. But if you don’t have a kid yet stop beating yourself up for doing nothing and just enjoy it while you can. Play your new tunes with some friends in the springtime.

LW: What are you most looking forward to for the Feb. 13 edition of Long Winter?

BW: I really like that front room at the Great Hall. A very romantic setting for us. And there is even a grand piano! A rarity these days as most people can't afford the space.  But you could always put your bed under your piano you know? and it sounds really good under there. I love to lay under a piano. Maybe we should put a mattress under the piano for the gig?

Hear Eucalyptus's new Healing Power Records 10-inch on Bandcamp

By Tom Beedham