Montreal is the middle of a renaissance of synth-based dance bands. Add to the list Saxsyndrum, a duo composed of tenor sax player Dave Switchenko and drummer Nick Schofield. The two combine their conventional instruments with programmed electronics and synth to create frenzied, fun, energetic dance music.
The band started three years ago, when six-piece instrumental funk six-piece Bananafish disbanded. Switchenko and Schofield continued to play together, initially acoustic, and then added electronics. “We were trying to get people to dance, a big thing for us,” says Schofield. Switchenko adds “We had a cool groove. There was a lot of texture and weird harmonics, all done acoustically. We got tired of that and started to do more stuff. We incorporated loopers and a sampler to build sound further than the two instruments could do alone.”
Saxsyndrum released an album Future Circus that reflected these changes. Then, inspired by similar projects of Feist (Open Season) and Stars (Do You Trust Your Friends), Saxsyndrum gave tracks from their album to musician friends to remix. Among those that took up the challenge are Pick a Piper, Syngja, How Sad, Beta Frontiers, and ¡flist! Saxsyndrum compiled the tracks into a new album, Fairground.
Inviting musicians to participate in creating music is something Saxsyndrum has done before. “A unique fact about Future Circus is that we had a guest vocalist on each track,” explains Schofield. “It was the first album where we had different vocalists involved. They were far-ranging from folk Folly and the Hunter to Akua Carson who plays with Akua. Sometimes the vocalists set their own pieces and it was a done deal. Other times we chopped it up.”
Switchenko explains that the remix of Future Circus was a natural evolution. “We wanted to have more people involved in the community. Nick had played with a few of the groups that we asked to do vocalists so it was natural to ask them to join us and that was a spark for us for the remix album. We had a good time, a fun time having people join us. We wanted to figure out how to involve more people in the project.” Switchenko adds that it was time to do something new with the pieces. “We’d been playing these pieces for a year,” he says.
Saxsyndrum handed off the tracks of Future Circus and they came in a few at a time. The members of Saxyndrum were more than pleased. “We’re super excited to launch.” says Switchenko. “We have tracks that we’d been playing for a year and a half and it came back completely new with a new vibe.”
Schofield explains some of the changes. “Every remixer brought their own flavor. Syngja took the song Heartstrings and incorporated the melody really well, but remixed by overdubbing cello and coming up with verses and choruses. ¡flist! contorted our tune until it fit his style, which is a really impressive demonstration of his production skill. Stefan Christoff is a classical pianist with mood and tone to his playing. He brought in a solo piano cover of Heartstrings.”
I asked if the songs kept their dancability. Switchenko explains that the results depend on who did the remix. “Pick a Piper did a super awesome job with experimental electronic sound, developing the groove over a long track. Overall, there are some very dancey tracks and some are more laid back.”
One other thing remixed is the art. Switchenko explains that the original images on the album Future Circus (done by en Masse) has been redone by a member of Holobody. “He remixed the artwork and did an awesome job,” says Switchenko. “The diamonds that we have on Future Circus — he used a kaleidoscope technique to make 16 different images of our original artwork. It looks amazing. Each track has its own wheel.”
Now that songs are remixed, the question is whether this changes the live show Saxsyndrum is known for delivering. Will the new tracks be incorporated? “The live set is changing,” says Schofield. “Loopsy Dazy and Syngja daisy did remixes for us and they’ll be playing.” All they can predict is that they will continue to deliver high energy, body shaking shows punctuated with atmospheric, chill out pieces.
In the works, Saxsyndrum is working on an ep that return to experimenting with their own instruments. “Dave will make a track just out of sax sounds and I will do something out of just drums. We’re planning to put it on a cassette. The a-side is sax and b-side will be drums,” says Schofield. “We want to push the sounds we can make as a two piece.”
Saxsyndrum plays with Syngja and Loopsy Dazy at Cagibi (5490 St. Laurent) on March 22. Saxsyndrum plays again on April 25th at Casa del Popolo.