The Bullock Performance Institute’s Live and Interactive! series continued on Wednesday evening with local favorites, The Red Sea Pedestrians.
Hailing from Kalamazoo, the group consists of Ira Cohen (guitar, banjo, vocals, accordion), Jay Gavan (guitar, bass, vocals), Rachel Flanigan (clarinet, vocals), Ian Gorman (mandolin, bass, guitar, vocals, banjo), Benjamin Lau (drums, percussion) and Cori Somers (violin, vocals, bass). In addition to their playing duties, each member also writes music for the band.
The Red Sea Pedestrians played an 18-song set for the crowd at WMU’s Dalton Center, including the funky-folk “Jewbacca,” the Beatles-inspired “Magic Alex,” the hilariously historical “Brutus” and the touching folk ballad, “Happy To Move With You.”
The Red Sea Pedestrians will soon visit Toronto for their first Folk Alliance International Conference. They played the State Theater in Kalamazoo on New Year’s Eve, performing the entirety of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road” and are planning on doing the same for New Year’s Eve in 2013.
The Western Herald got a chance to talk to Gavan, the one of the group’s primary songwriters, after the show.
Western Herald (WH): What are your biggest musical influences?
Jay Gavan (JG): They’re all over the place. Certainly, when we started out as a band, we were intending to be what’s called a klezmer band, which klezmer is kind of Jewish wedding music, “Fiddler on the Roof,” that sort of thing, so we learned some music like that. Then we started to branch out. First of all, it was just for fun. Just we’re going to play for our friends and kind of have a hoot. Then we started playing gigs and then started recording and in the recording process we started picking up new things. Now our influences are everything from The Beatles to orchestral music and classical music. I think you maybe heard that in the concert there.
WH: What have been your favorite moments for the band?
JG: Tonight. Tonight was my favorite moment for the band. It’s a moment I’m always going to remember. Playing the Dalton Center is a dream. Ian and Rachel both worked here at the sound studio and we kind of came together as a band because of the sound studio in a way because those two and John Campos was a mutual friend of mine and of Ira’s and the other guys. So yeah, it’s, I don’t know, seven years later and we’re playing a concert here. It’s awesome.
WH: What are some future goals for the band?
JG: I think our hope is to keep playing enough that we can continue to write and record. We don’t have typical goals of wanting to make it big, but as long as we can keep playing as much as possible and writing and recording, it’s great. We’re lucky in that regard because we have two, three sound engineers in the band, access to studios and we have a graphic designer in the band, so all the expensive parts that go into recording, we’ve got pretty good access to. I think that’s our goal. We’ve got three full length albums. We’ve got some smaller things and hopefully we can keep churning out new stuff.
WH: What’s your favorite thing about the Kalamazoo music scene?
JG: I would say that it’s broad. It isn’t a one-trick pony. It isn’t a bunch of rock bands. It’s an incredible variety of things from rock to what we do to jazz to what happens at the Dalton Center to musicians coming through, traveling, playing concerts in between Detroit and Chicago, stopping in for a gig. We may be a small market in a small town, but I think we have way more diversity musically than, certainly, most cities in Michigan. I wouldn’t want to be part of any other scene.
WH: Why do you think each member brings a different element to the band?
JG: It’d be hard not to. Rachel, just for an example, Rachel and Cori and our recent drummer, Mike, who just left the band recently and now our new drummer Ben, they’re all classically trained musicians. They studied music here. They studied jazz and composition. Cori plays with the Kalamazoo Symphony. Then Ian and Ira and I couldn’t be more different. None of us can really read music. We just play by ear. We come from the school of just pick up an instrument and play. Somehow we’ve been able to meld the two together, where those of us who aren’t readers and aren’t trained, we’ve done a lot of writing and we’ve learned how to work with the others, compositionally. We might just have a real simple idea, but they’ll come up with an amazing clarinet part or a clarinet and violin harmony.
WH: How often do you usually play shows in Kalamazoo?
JG: In Kalamazoo, not very much, usually maybe once every couple of months. Sometimes, there have been years where it’s been less than that. If you play too much, you kind of saturate the town. We try to play different parts of Michigan. We’ve been to Iowa. We’ve been to Chicago. We’re going to Toronto. I think the most shows we’ve played in a year is about 40, so compared to a lot of full-time bands, we’re very part-time, but we all have other groups and we all have day jobs.