There are journeys and there are journeys. BC indie-jazz band Tofu Stravinsky not only went on a five-week cross-Canada tour in multiple vehicles, they moved their lives with them.
“We’re from Nelson BC,” explains vocalist Sarah Orton. “We came to Montreal because it’s more central to other cities and there’s more opportunity than from where we are from.”
Bandmate and guitarist Tyler Toews adds, “We were attracted to the eclectic nature of the music scene. The Toronto scene is larger, but Montreal has the richest.”
In everything they do, Tofu Stravinsky seems to have a free-spirited attitude and a willingness to adapt. The evolution of their band and its sound reflects this openness, turning the journey into a journey.
Tofu Stravinsky started as a solo project of Toews. He recorded music at home on his computer and had Orton sing on a few songs. Their respective talents meshed. “Our strengths work well together,” says Toews. “Sarah is the melodic and lyrical creator. She’s kind of the melodies and the voice behind the music. I come from the arrangement, chordal, and harmonic world.”
Sarah says, “Ty comes up with a riff or groove and it’ll kind of inspire me to come up with some words or a feeling. Then, I’ll come up with a melody over the top.”
Toews adds, “Sarah develops a chunk of an idea and brings me a chorus with a piano chord progression behind it. Or, I’ll have pre-production stuff on the computer and record it and build drum loops and violin. We get together and try to build off each other’s ideas.”
From there, the band eventually grew. According to Orton, “We knew each other from music school and had the same group of friends. When we started playing together, it clicked and worked well. We appreciated what each other did and had the same vision.”
“The school is in a town of 10,000 people. Everybody jammed together and partied together,” says Toews, “We selectively chose the best people we knew.”
With a full band, though, the process of making music also changed. “We jam together and a lot comes out of the whole band organically developing ideas,” says Toews. “We’re not really picky. We’ll take a song wherever we can get it.”
The results of this evolution are two EPs with a third on the way in the spring. BTTRMLK was released eight months ago, a combination of dreamy jazz and electronica. Male and female vocals share songs to create indie-style anthems with danceable beats (Edward T). Others feel more spacious and sensual with Orton’s purring voice atop slow like Sunday morning sythns (Jon Perry) and chilled out bass lines (Quillan Hanley). Smoothness prevails.
Toews compares Tofu Stravinsky to another well-known BC band. “If Mother Mother were the Beatles, Tofu Stravinsky is the Rolling stones,” he says.
When it comes to playing live, the band is flexible enough to change its sound based on the venue. In their cross-Canada tour, they adjusted as needed. “We try to be very dynamic as far as our sound goes,” says Toews. “As musicians we can cater to our venue, depending on how we want to play the song. We played at a vineyard in BC to an older crowd and it was a classy venue. We toned things down and stretched the music out, and played a subtle, kind of quiet show. The next night we played at a metal bar.”
This kind of flexibility is helping the band adjust to its new home. “It’s great to be here,” says Toews. “There’s so much action. It’s easy to get around. The transit is great. The only thing that we kind of overlooked was how important speaking French is here. I signed up for an intensive French course. I’m going to learn a lot here, and not just music.”
Tofu Stravinsky plays at Casa del Popolo (4873 St. Laurent) with the Wicks on December 27. 8:30 p.m. $10, and Alize (900 Ontario E) as part of the Landmark Showcase on January 18. $13.