They call themselves “an eight-piece funk jazz hiphop reggae latin rock crew,” but chances are there’s also soul, beatbox, and guest musicians at their shows. They like to play loud and swamp the audience with organized, improvised chaos. They also enjoy improvising outside their music; that’s why the topics of the interview with five members of the Bananafish Dance Orchestra ranged from togas to underage driving to napping on stage.
Navigator: What’s the song you remember the most from your childhood?
Duncan Symonds: It’s a tie between “Barbie Girl,” by Aqua, and “Sweet Surrender,” by Sarah McLachlan, because the first CD I ever bought – I pulled money together with my brother—was Aquarium.
Andrew Fraser: Probably “Ruby Tuesday,” by Rolling Stones. That was my first favourite song as a kid.
Brendan Holm: “Alberta Bound,” by Rodney Crowell—a country song—and probably “My Heart Will Go On,” by Celine Dion.
Phil Hamelin: When I was 13, I heard Brecker Brothers play “Some Skunk Funk.” I didn’t know you could do that with a trumpet and a saxophone. I didn’t know you could make those instruments sound like that. I was completely oblivious to completely different genres of music, and it blew my mind.
BH: What was the first AC/DC song you liked?
PH: I didn’t even know who AC/DC was until I was in high school.
N: What were you doing while listening to those songs?
BH: To Rodney Crowell’s song, I was driving my dad’s truck.
AF: I was driving my dad’s truck, too.
N: You were driving trucks as children?
PH: He [Andrew] grew up in Chilliwack.
AF: Yeah, there are no rules in that town.
Matt Carter (shows up late): For me it was “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” by Johnny Cash.
MC: My mom recorded me singing that song when I was about three years old, so whenever I get married that’s coming out.
DS: I wasn’t doing anything exciting—just sitting in the living room, listening quietly—
BH: twiddling your thumbs—
MC: inventing sour cream. I’m trying to spice your story up there, man.
N: When did you realize you wanted to become musicians?
PH: I started music when I was, four or five years old, playing piano, and from there I’ve never stopped. There’s not a day that’s gone by…well, maybe when I was, like, six, for a couple of days…but I never stop thinking about music. It’s like music kind of chose me.
AF: I don’t remember thinking “Ok, I want to do music.” It’s just something I remember wanting to do. Even when I was three or four, I still have those memories.
DS: Grade eight.
MC: My mom forced me into band class in grade six. I didn’t want to go. It seemed like something I was going to fail at, so I didn’t want to do it, but I come from a long line of musicians, so I’m very glad she did. As soon as I got my saxophone, I took it home and just practiced.
BH: It was a pretty conscious decision for me to go to university for music. I was working on my carpentry apprenticeship and playing in bands in the Comox Valley. I decided “Ok, I will do this.”
MC: What was the name of your first band?
BH: Hayden, like the 90s artist. It was pretty downtempo, emotional. I played the piano, and there was a violin going on.
AF: My first band was called the Nude Soviets. It was a greasy pop band.
MC: My first band was called Crash of the House Fly. It was a prog rock band, and I played the sax and synthesizers. It was pretty crazy.
N: If you weren’t musicians, what would you be doing?
PH: Trying harder.
AF: Practicing somewhere.
N: What’s your favourite way to get psyched-up before a show?
BH: Usually, we try to get all the instruments set up and ready to go, then come backstage and have a little mosh pit to get everyone on the same page.
MC: Have a beer and be together.
BH: Totally. Hanging out as a band. I love to—but it’s never the case because we usually play in town—get outside and play a basketball game.
MC: Or throw a football around or something.
BH: Do the beer mile as a warm up.
PH: A pint of beer is perfect to relax between setting up and playing. If I have to set up and immediately start sound check, then play right away, I won’t be able to relax at all.
AF: Sometimes I like to nap before a gig. When you’re playing a long set after working your day job, it takes a lot out of you, jumping around the stage for two hours and hyping everybody up.
MC: And having a nap while the gig is going on doesn’t work too well.
AF: Yeah, I learned that the hard way.
BH: I also really like a good drive to the gig. Putting on some tunes or talking with band mates and getting out of your regular environment feels totally different than sitting at home and thinking “Oh, I have to go play a gig tonight.” As soon as you’re going, it’s like, “Ok, now I’m doing it! It’s easy!”
N: What was the craziest gig you’ve ever played?
BH: Toga Party and Five Alarm Funk Show. Bananafish started about four years ago. It was Niall, myself, Phil, Dave, Ron, Duncan, and Connor. We used to play a lot of hall shows and sometimes 200 or 300 people would show up. That was really crazy, with cops there, and it was just a bad scene. We played a bunch of parties on the Gulf Islands, and I remember starting one at 12:30am and playing until 3:30am with no breaks…
PH: That was the Denman Island Show. Everyone was dressed up in togas. Crazy stuff happened that night.
BH: And [the organizer] came to us after and said “can you fellows play the whole set again?” It was 3:30am after playing three hours straight, and we probably repeated a few songs already. And then the Five Alarm Funk Show last November. They had us open at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver. There was, like, 700 people, and a big sound system. Butterflies in stomach, totally nervous, we thought this is crazy.
MC: We had a guest Mormon trumpet player who got drunk before the show.
BH: And Phil was also three songs late on his trumpet, so we had a drunk Mormon trumpet player filling in for three songs before Phil showed up.
N: I thought he was playing three songs behind.
PH: Yeah, I had to play really fast to catch up.
N: What do you mean by ‘no hipsters allowed’ on your Facebook invitation to the concert?
Everyone: That was Nialls [Harvey, singer]. Probably Nialls. Definitely Nialls.
DS: We don’t want to see anybody with rolled-up jean shorts in the audience.
BH: I roll up my jean shorts sometimes.
PH: It’s all a big joke—irony. There is no hatred toward hipsters, to make that clear.
MC: In general, I’m not a fan of that whole white belt and oversized scarf look, but for me, it doesn’t mean hipster, but no frowning people allowed. The style itself is…whatever…but no frowning.
N: Ok, you are given the opportunity here to persuade those who don’t know you to come see you at the Queens.
BH: Our bass player is extremely handsome. That’s a good reason to come. It also might be the last time Phil’s performing with us for a while. He’s going on a cruise ship for six months. I’m sure he’ll be back to do some tours again, though.
MC: But he’ll be more than three songs behind so he’s going to have to play really fast.
PH: Or I could play loud enough so you can hear me from the cruise ship.
MC: I think one of the reasons to come see our show is that [Bananafish Dance Orchestra] is a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just come out, have a good time, dance, be impressed by our musicianship, and forget all about your problems.
BH: And we’re fun to look at.
MC: There’s lots of chaos on the stage, guys jumping around, I’m jumping around, Dave Lawson’s napping…
PH: There’s not a shred of pretentious nature. What you see is what you get.