Published Jan 01, 2006Its geographical distance is great, to be sure, but the musical gap between playing the stages of your hometown Vancouver Folk Festival and rocking (or should that be folking) out to 100,000 people at one of the world's biggest music festivals, in Glastonbury, UK is almost insurmountable. And yet the trio of women behind folk-roots band the Be Good Tanyas made the leap on the strength of a straightforward, simple and endearing little record called Blue Horse. In a matter of mere months they leapt from the bush leagues to the majors, from Samantha Parton's 1977 Dodge van to planes en route to the UK and Australia, where sold-out audiences awaited them. But having pulled off their magic trick, and released their follow-up record, Chinatown, the Be Good Tanyas are pulling a Keyser Soze: like that, whoosh, they're gone.
"I was 23 when I started playing in this band," says Trish Klein. (Suffice to say that all three women, rounded out by Frazey Ford, sing and play a variety of stringed instruments.) "I just bought a banjo at a thrift store, started jamming and it turned into this full-time thing." It's just the kind of enthusiastic-for-its-own-sake tale that could emerge from this triptych of tree-planting nature lovers, whose sound hasn't much changed from the crackling fire and crickets that soundtracked their earliest music-making together.
Their material, too, befits the kind of casual community folk-roots "scene" (if a campfire and the natural echo of the outdoors can be called a scene) call out a song and if you know it, join in. As a result, on Chinatown, originals (mostly by Ford) cosy up next to more surprising selections, like "House of the Rising Sun" or traditionals like "In My Time of Dying." "We don't want to be put into a specific category," says Klein, although she has a penchant for embracing the seemingly vile alt-country label. "The sound of the band is what we do; it's not necessarily always going to be folkie it happens to be that way because those are the instruments we play."
With successful comeback albums by Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, as well as emerging artists like Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, the Be Good Tanyas have enjoyed some illumination from the spotlight that's recently found acoustic music again. Not to mention a certain smash soundtrack. "I think in general there's a folk revival going on," says Klein, "and O Brother Where Art Thou was sorta buoyed by that. I think O Brother happened at the right time" not the other way around. "People like to hear the mistakes, the human element. People need to hear music that comes from a genuine place and has a lot of authenticity, that's not necessarily technically brilliant or completely flawless, but has a lot of heart and soul. Hopefully, that's what we do."
It's been what they do in front of increasingly larger audiences around the world for almost two straight years. Who knew that playing music could turn into the one thing it's used to avoid: a job. "We're used to being free spirit vagabonds," Klein laughs. "We never intended to make this a project that was going to last for years and years. It's all happened so quickly, I haven't had time to pursue other interests and projects. I guess we all feel like that."
With Frazey Ford due to give birth any day, Samantha Parton and Klein are jumping at the opportunity to get off the merry-go-round. "I play in another project called Po' Girl," says Klein. "Sam's gonna do some travelling. We're all going to do different things and regroup in the spring [of 2004]. It will be interesting to see what happens after we're away from it for ten months."