We Always Let the Song be King: Interview with Darwin Baker of the Crooked Brothers

The Crooked Brothers The Crooked Brothers

Upon first hearing the forthcoming album “Thank You, I’m Sorry” from Manitoba Trio The Crooked Brothers, it would appear as any ordinary collection of folk records. However, this album is quite unordinary. Although widely within the indie folk and blues genre, it challenges these boundaries by remaining versatile and individualistic from one song to the next. This is due to the three brothers, Matt Foster, Jesse Matas, and Darwin Baker contributing individually and alternatively between instrument and vocals providing a personal touch for each song, while remaining distinctively Canadian with their many references to their home life and locations in Canada. The album is a tapestry of hand made woven lyrics and layering of instruments including the banjo, mandolin, guitars and skillful harmonica playing. Creating an album that ranges from mellow alternative country and eases into upbeat gritty blues, recorded over a three separate locations that contribute to achieving that unique final sound. Upon closer look, in a recent interview with band member Darwin Baker, any listener is able to realize that the songs speak for themselves, as they were intended too.

Zoe Schultz (ZS): What is the background story behind for the formation of The Crooked Brothers?

Darwin Baker (DB): Well, Matt Crooked and Darwin used to play in reggae punk kind of soul band and we toured across the west a lot. We started playing around with acoustic instruments like the banjo, that he borrowed from his friend and is still borrowing! I started playing harmonica and Dobro and it kind of started as a science project. From very early on Matt met Jesse Crooked at University and they worked the summer in Falcon Lake, Manitoba. Then, Matt came back saying that he had met another Crooked Brother, Jesse had picked up the mandolin and then we started writing songs. It was a way to exercise their mellow and sing harmony and it forged a different sound out of that. The three of us toured the country in my Ford Hatchback for a year, but these days we have an upward bass player touring with us. We are trying to get this drummer involved more and more. The show we will play in Montreal is going to have our friend Patrick from the Yukon joining us.

ZS: You and your band have played in a wide variety of Festivals around the world, ranging from England “The Great Escape” to Switzerland “Spring Bluegrass Festival” and even across Canada. What would you consider your most memorable festival experience?

DB: My most memorable experience would have to be doing a tweener on the Winnipeg Folk Festival stage. We are from Winnipeg, so the festival is quite iconic. I didn’t grow up in a musical household but a lot of people have been going to festival since they were in utero, Jesse is an example. But I didn’t go until I was eighteen and it kind of changed of my life. I wanted to come back and play this festival next year and about 14 years later we finally made it! We played and it was pretty magical on the main stage and playing to thousands of people in our hometown.

crooked brothers 2

crooked brothers 2

ZS: You guys are currently on tour, is this your first purely Canadian tour? What locations are you most excited to play in?

DB: This is our dozenth Canadian tour and our third time going to coast to coast. Montreal is always a party, and we are excited to bring a drummer who is going to join us, so it will be a five-piece show. Before we are going to Montreal, we are doing a weekend in Moncton in a place called Plan B. They’re are a rowdy bunch and its fun, since we are doing a weekend we won’t have to pack up the gear the next day.

ZS:About the album, overall the sound is unique and there is just such a change from record to record. What aims were you trying to achieve musically with this album compared to previous works?

DB: With this album and any other times we always let the song be king, as opposed to everybody trying to put their own imprint in it. We try to let the song do what it wants to do. That why we brought our friend Eric in to play pedal steel guitar in the album, we were really trying to get a heavy rhythm section with bass and drum. We recorded the bass and drum in this empty warehouse in downtown Winnipeg to get this big and roomy sound, with our songs we let the song take it. This was a collection that all of us had been working on with the intention to do the best job we could to capture each song.

ZS:I’ve read previously that you recorded this album over three different locations. What was your purpose in recording in these different areas?

DB: Personally, cheapness and convince. We did the bass and drums in this warehouse space in Winnipeg because our drummer lived in Winnipeg and we liked the big room sound. Although most of the album we recorded in this giant log home north of Winnipeg. It’s this bed and breakfast this woman runs and she let us use this space if we watched her cat while she was on vacation. That’s how we always make our records, getting the gear ourselves and doing it ourselves. We like that because we can record any time of the day, if you get inspired at three in the morning we can get up and press record and write songs down. It’s very nice to have unlike those constraints in the studio with a scheduled time with an engineer, instead we just do it ourselves and at our own pace.

ZS:The songs “Organs on Demand” and “Lighting in my chest” really sticks out from the rest of the album, just because they have more of an eerie vibe and narration aspect than just being solely musical. Is there a certain story or motive behind writing these songs?

DB: We are attracted to the dark side of humanity and definitely something that intrigues us and we like to explore. “Organs on demand” is specifically about a poem Jesse wrote based on the work his uncle did about the underground black market organ harvesting. In this case the song is talking about China, its really twisted creepy stuff that seems like out the movie but is actually happening in the world. It’s talking about things that seem imaginary but that are happening around the world.

ZS:It seems that there is some sort of alternative technique in the album, where you don’t necessarily sing but play all together for different pieces. What would you describe as the general process in creating any album or any music piece?

DB: Every time we make a record we bring as many songs as we can at the beginning. We always try to record more songs than we know are going to end up on the record and we see how things work out. Sometimes you record something and it doesn’t quite capture the vibe. Its nice to have more songs that are going to end up on the record because you don’t quite capture what you’re going for, so you leave it for the next album. For example, the record “Kennedy” worked out and finally made it on this album instead of the previous record.

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ZS:In this album or generally in any of your work, there are a lot of connections to Canada and other places in Canada. Do you believe that there is a strong link between your home life and your music?

DB: I don’t think we set out the write a songs about Canada, although it definitely seeps in. Places, family and friendships are important to us so it naturally seeps in. We do this more than other acts but it just seems like a natural process.

The Crooked Brothers are currently on tour across Canada promoting their album “Thank You, I’m Sorry”. They are set to play with Ol’ Savannah at L’Escogriffe (4667 St Dennis) on October 28. 9 p.m.