What a delight to find out that a band I loved years ago is not only making music, but its members are enjoying continued success in new projects. New Brunswick’s Grand Theft Bus was largely a Maritime sensation that packed bars and venues with its 20-minute-long trippy jams. Today, half of its members have their hands in another successful New Brunswick band, the moody and contemplative folk outfit Olympic Symphonium. Olympic Symphonium has quietly made its way to play at the Winter Olympics, Pop Montreal, and Liverpool Sound City with the same humble grace that comes through in their music. They also curate the Shivering Songs festival in New Brunswick. In support of Chance to Fate, their fifth album released in March, Olympic Symphonium is currently on tour across Canada.
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Rachel Levine (RL): Tell me a bit about Olympic Symphonium?
Kyle Cunjak (KC): Well, with this band, there are three of us who write, sing, and play in the band. It’s always a bit unusual. We get a lot done. It’s easier, in a way, because you only have to write 1/3 of material.
RL: What about the new album? What was the process for making it?
KC: This is our fourth. We went into a space in a condensed amount of time and committed to recording and let the space decide how it will sound. This one was recorded in St. Andrews at this old inn, Salty Towers, a staple of New Brunswick, run by music supporter – Jamie Steele. It’s an old Victorian mansion. It was a functioning inn for a long time and played home to musicians traveling through the area.
RL: With three songwriters, how do you work out who sings the songs and what part each of you play? Do you have a process for writing the songs?
KC: Whoever writes the song, sings it. As for the writing process, someone will come with a complete song, lyrics and melody and chord changes. The rest of the band will put their own stuff on it — the hooks, the lead parts, etc. We’ve been playing together for so long and respect each other’s writing. I’m a big fan of the songwriting of the people I play with. We respect each other’s styles and compliment each other. When we put an album together, it has all these different parts and themes and styles.
RL: Any particular songs have meaning for you?
KC: The songs are all pretty personal. Home is about accepting that when something is done, it’s done. Sacred Son – I don’t want to say too much about it. It’s got a bit of a religious debate in it. For me, it’s a constant theme in my writing — the place that religion holds in my life. I grew up in a not super religious household but I did go to church and school. I just started seeing both the good and bad things about religion. I try to see things from both sides. The song is about the idea that what you believe might not be what was intended and some people take things too far. Faith is a good thing, but don’t base your whole identity on something you can’t be sure about. While the lyrics are pretty heavy and emotional, we’re all joking around all the time, even on stage. All we do is laugh when we write songs.
RL: The album has a folk sound to it, but there is also a dreamy, jazzy sound running through the tracks. Was that intentional?
KC: There is one different thing about this album – Joshua van Tassel. His signature is all over the album as the producer. He did the heavy mixing. He remixed a song for us from an old album and we knew that we wanted to work with him. We recorded [Chance to Fate] without him and then gave it to him to work on. He’s a percussionist and plays omnichord and percussion on part of the album. He does a lot of that atmospheric dreamy sounds. That’s his whole vibe. That’s what he makes on his solo albums and he brings it in to the album. It helped tie everything together. We’ve always mixed with the same person and it was nice to give it to fresh ears to someone else. Josh did a great job.
RL: So what’s in the future for Olympic Symphonium?
KC: We’re doing more touring in the states and a few in Europe. We’ve been doing a lot of shows in New England. We’ve been there about five times in the last four years or so, playing in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. We live in Fredericton, an hour away from Maine, seven hours from Boston. It’s really fun, because its so close and really different. We’ve met a lot of great minded people in Maine. When you go to the States, it’s only an hour away but everything changes. It’s like touring from square one. One consistently good place is Boston, especially Cambridge. Rose Cousins is there and she’s a big champion of the band.
The Olympic Symphonium plays at Casa del Popolo (4873 St. Laurent) with Jenny Berkel on April 17. 9 p.m.