"Sirius.B is trova italiana, war song, gypsy, middle eastern, quasi-Klezmer-seculare, with strong Irish-drinking overtones and Zappa madness."
In the the Mountain XPress's Best of Western North Carolina Sirius.B has been voted:
#1 Next Big Thing
#1 Rock Band
#1 Experimental Band
#2 Indie Band
#3 Live Show of 2009 - (Beating Sirius.B for live Best Live Show were The Beastie Boys and Phish.)
Sirius.B brings to you the finest Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk that the world has to offer. Their "impressively irreverent, combustible, three-ring circus of sound [and] high-energy style is difficult to neatly categorize. They play foreign music as well as upbeat and serious originals, with a lyrical style ranging from the quirky to the absurd."
Sirius.B's music is created with an eclectic mix of vocal harmonies and instruments including cello, accordion, violin, marching band & African percussion, charango, flamenco and acoustic guitar, banjo, and melodica.
“Sirius.B. carries the brewing excitement of something big in the making."
-Alli Marshall, Mountain Xpress
Pancho Romero Bond - Vocals, Guitar, Kazoo, Ukelele
Xavier Ferdon - Banjo, Vocals, Flamenco guitar, Charango
Imhotep - Percussion
Bryshen Brothwell - Bass, Accordion
Franklin Keel - Vocals, Cello
Lauren Baker - Vocals, Melodica, Musical Saw
Mattick Frick - Vocals, Percussion
Monkey Robot Soldier (2010)
Dazzling Urbanites (2008)
Show Review: Sirius.B at Bobo Gallery
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bsurdist folk-punk collective Sirius.B may be fairly new to the Asheville music scene, but their sou...bsurdist folk-punk collective Sirius.B may be fairly new to the Asheville music scene, but their sound harkens back to an earlier era. Or eras, perhaps.
The group is a scene unto itself, for starters. They packed their Saturday, Oct. 13, appearance at Bobo Gallery with a collection of punk street musicians, belly dancers, arty types in granny dresses and well-coifed fashionistas. Booties were shaking. Exotic dance steps were being executed. It was rather what one would imagine Athens, Georgia's 40 Watt Club to have been like in the early days of R.E.M. Only with more gypsy leanings. And Pancho "Chris" Bond's sometimes snarling vocals would likely have frightened shy '80s Michael Stipe.
Bond's more-punk-than-pretty antics would not, however, have intimidated mustached Ukrainian refugee Eugene Hütz, leader of New York gypsy-punk icons Gogol Bordello. It's obvious that Sirius.B draws some inspiration from Gogol Bordello, blending folk instrumentation (violin, viola) with marching-band style bass drum, electric guitar and (lest things get too serious) kazoo. There's also the matter of Eastern-block flavored tunes like "Bella Ciao" — the sort of fare you'd expect from a Hungarian troupe of street performers outside a Parisian cafe.
There's nothing wrong with usurping the gypsy-punk theme. In fact, with Hütz busying himself as a movie star these days, there's an opening for such a band and fans are clamoring. (Asheville just voted Sirius.B among their favorite unknown bands in the 2007 Xpress reader's poll.) A Sirius.B show carries the brewing excitement of something big in the making, probably much as fans felt in Gogol Bordello's early days, circa 1999 (though it's unlikely Bond will be kicked out of any clubs — as Hütz was, famously — for his stage antics).
One more comparison: The Pogues. I have to say it. There's a certain sense of unpredictability (perhaps staged, but palpable, nonetheless) and an undercurrent of righteous anger to Sirius.B's songs. Take the raucous, irascible "Francophile": emotive, danceable and fiery. Surely there's an element of the Shane McGowan (with a few more teeth and a chip on his shoulder) who took his band's name from the Irish phrase "póg mo thóin" (meaning "kiss my arse"), yet still sweetly penned "Christmas in New York."
Sirius.B, it's worth noting, is far prettier than the Pogues. Or Gogol Bordello. On the whole, they may well deserve some sort of prize for being Asheville's most aesthetically pleasing band — that is, if everyone could just get past their impressively irreverent, combustible, three-ring circus of sound.
Alli Marshall, A&E reporter
Are You Sirius?
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Local music fans may not be sure what Sirius.B does, but they know they like it. Built around the...Local music fans may not be sure what Sirius.B does, but they know they like it.
Built around the core of flamenco guitarist Xavier Ferdon, vocalist Pancho Romero Bond and percussionist Imhotep, Sirius.B is five years into a distinctive Asheville musical experiment they describe as "Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk." The band took home two top honors in the Mountain Xpress Best Of 2009 voting — Best Local Rock Band, and Best Local Experimental Band.
Bond and Ferdon met at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where Bond studied languages and Ferdon classical guitar. Bond earned his master's degree in Latin American Studies from Cambridge University in England, and was living in Morocco, when Ferdon suggested that he move to Asheville and they start a band.
"I came down here with my van loaded up and no plans of staying," Bond says. "So it's a testament to Xavier's abilities of convincing as well as the wonders of Asheville. It's been an amazing experience. Music has really pushed its way to the front of all the things that I do. And not only have we flowered as a band, but we've all really flowered personally as musicians."
Bond and Ferdon met drummer Imhotep (Rising Appalachia, LEAF In Schools) soon after arriving in Asheville. "He's a Mardi Gras Indian, and his background is very New Orleans-based," says Ferdon. Imhotep, with marching bass drum and cymbal, would provide the musical and visual focus of the band.
They decided to name the group Sirius.B, after a mysterious dwarf star. "From there we just shaped the band, intentionally based it on gypsy music. We don't play real traditional tunes, but we flavor them that way," Ferdon says.
"Both Xavier and I have a long love affair with Spain, and Spanish music," Bond explains. "Xavier studied flamenco there under a gypsy teacher for awhile. My experiences with Spain, while I was always very interested in music, were more linguistic in nature, and travel-based. I think we were both introduced to gypsy culture through our experiences in Spain, and that naturally led us on a backwards journey following gypsy music."
Ferdon studied flamenco with Rafael Santiago Habichuela in Spain, and was influenced by flamenco guitarist Tomatito as well as shredder Steve Vai. "Flamenco is nylon string, played with your finger and fingernails," he explains, "with a lot of flicking outwards and rhythmic sounds that way, and more complicated rhythms. The more we looked into the Eastern European gypsy styles, the more we kind of drew from that influence to make our own music."
Bond was influenced by vocalists such as Jeff Buckley, and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and also by the flamenco style of singing. "I try to do some pretty stuff, and I certainly make sure that I'm singing the right notes," he says. "But sometimes my vocal I think can be...asilla, a type of flamenco voice which is hoarse and earthy. That's an aesthetic that I'm going for.
"We take certain influences from gypsy music, but we don't pretend to really play gypsy music. I get worried when people say, 'Oh, you play gypsy music.' Well, kind of."
"I almost want to change our description to 'Gypsy-flavored Folk Funk Punk,' but it doesn't quite ring as well," Ferdon smiles.
The group now boasts seven members. Some of their material may sound like Gypsy Kings, but in all they're more like Asheville's version of Gogol Bordello meets Ojos de Brujo.
Accordionist/bassist Bryshen Brothwell is a professional busker. "We heard him on the street," says Bond. "Most times when you hear an accordion on the streets, that's him. He's probably most immersed in real gypsy music, hardcore traditional songs, and big instrumental pieces in that style."
Violinist Amy Lovinger and cellist Franklin Keel are classical musicians by trade, both holding prominent positions with the Asheville Symphony. "They bring a lot of technique, and mayhem as well," Ferdon says. "They're good at adding the exact flavor to the songs that we're looking for. The violin and cello are kind of predominant sounds, because of the nature of the instruments. Franklin has been coming up with a lot of ideas for melodies on different songs, and they both contribute amazing solos."
Lauren Baker is the newest member of Sirius.B. "Lauren began joining us about a year ago, at first just on 'Hava Nagilah' and a song or two more, and slowly started hanging out onstage for entire shows. At one point we just realized that she was essentially a member of the band. She officially joined about six months ago, and has taken up the musical saw as well as the melodica and some tambourine. She's really become quite integral," Bond says.
"She and Tep and Poncho are like the charisma of the band," adds Ferdon. "She's continually dancing and being really flamboyant, real high energy. She plays the stage presence really well."
As the title of their latest album, Monkey Robot Soldier, points out, they haven't lost their appetite for the absurd. "That was fun," says Bond. "For a while I feel like we weren't being as absurd as we intended to be. That was in some ways harkening back to our absurdist roots."
The band looks forward to playing at BoBo Gallery on December 9, a venue Bond refers to as their "training ground." "When I'm onstage I feel this energy, and the crowd feeds off of that, and they sort of offer it back to me as this gift. We get into these wonderful spirals of energy that to me are like nothing else."
"We'll look out and there'll be someone being held up on a chair, with a huge crowd dancing them around," says Ferdon with a smile. "It's pretty cool."
Sirius.B Thursday, December 9: BoBo Gallery, 22 North Lexington Avenue, Asheville. 828-254-3426.
Friday, December 31 (Free Show): Lexington Avenue Brewery, 39 North Lexington Avenue, Asheville. 828-252-0212.
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Gypsy folk band has new players, new songs and a new sound by Alli Marshall in Vol. 16 / Iss. 28 ...Gypsy folk band has new players, new songs and a new sound
by Alli Marshall in Vol. 16 / Iss. 28 on 02/03/2010
"When you're doing pop and jazz, ugly sounds are encouraged," says cellist Franklin Keel. Not the case in classical group Opal String Quartet or as first cello in the Asheville Symphony — two of Keel's musical engagements. But, as the newest member of self-described "absurdist gypsy folk funk punk" sextet Sirius.B, Keel is making nice with the ugly sounds.
"I have been doing this kind of thing for a little while," says Keel of the transition from classical to the many nonstructured styles that make up Sirius.B. But the first time the cellist embarked on a rock project, "It was like the difference between reading something on a piece of paper and holding a conversation. When you're improvising, you have to speak through your instrument and that takes a while. As classical players, we're taught to read before we can speak, so we can have a hard time finding our voice."
Sirius.B violinist Amy Lovinger is in the same situation. She and Keel met while attending the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Keel returned to Asheville (his hometown) in 2004, and about a year later Lovinger followed. She is also in the Opal String Quartet and is principal second violin in the local symphony. "It's great playing with Franklin because, since we play in a classical string quartet together, we almost know what each other is thinking," she explains. "It's been really easy to incorporate him into the group, for me."
Currently, Sirius.B is without a bassist (though the band is in talks with a former bassist to return — "We're going to be a huge band," accordionist Bryshen Brothwell muses). Doesn't matter: The layering of various strings — the mandolin-like South American charango, violin, guitar and cello; no two in the same register — creates a full sound. But the instrumentation and accompanying lineup shift is only the beginning of what guitarist (and founding member) Pancho Romero Bond calls "a personal band-wise revolution."
So far, the revolution has led the collective away from an electric rock-band format and back to its gypsy roots. Traditional Hebrew folk song "Hava Nagila" begins with sleepy chords from Brothwell's accordion, followed by a slow build of strings and voices, and finally the insistent pulse of bass drum.
Drummer Imhotep was an original member of Sirius.B at the band's 2006 inception. He was later replaced by a kit drummer, but recently returned to Sirius.B. "Bringing Tep back was part of the change," says founding member and guitarist Xavier Ferdón.
"We had big issues we were figuring out," Bond says. "We never left the field of the unique, but exploring the realm of the electric stuff was almost limiting to us."
Now, with electric/acoustic instruments the band is, according to Ferdón, "more adaptable" to various stages. Rhythm comes from the sometimes frantic pace set by the strings players, the hurdy-gurdy feel of the accordion, and what Ferdón calls "Tep-driven dancability."
Part of that chemistry is explosively spontaneous; much of it comes from practice, practice, practice. On a chilly night, crowded into a small living room, the band evokes a Bohemian mood. Though they must carefully position themselves so that no one gets hit by a flying bow, the music they create is anything but cautious. "Charango," featuring Ferdón on the 10-string Andean instrument, is an organic and fiery cacophony around the plaintive refrain, "Don't let me down." The musicians are constantly communicating through eye contact and nods as they navigate turn-on-a-dime time signature changes that play like moods throughout the song.
"Monkey Robot Soldier," on the other hand, shows off the band's avant-garde sensibilities. The cello is elegant in contrast to chucking guitars; Bond's lyrics rise to a fevered pitch while the other musicians add playful sound affects.
"Something that's been in my mind was that, as an acoustic band, it could have this raucous pirate tavern feel," Bond says. With the addition of musicians who also lend background vocals, Sirius.B is touching on shanty territory.
With all of the changes in place, the band is eager to record a new EP. "We want to get something out there to reflect this new sound. Young as these songs may be, we want to get them down," says Bond. The forthcoming album will likely be called "Monkey Robot Soldier," a tribute to the band's original number, and will also include Sirius.B staple "Bella Ciao." That song, made popular during the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy, has been embraced by artists across the world over the decades. It's loved by punk bands and has been recorded by the likes of Chumbawamba. For Sirius.B, a new recording will show fans — a listening base that has evolved as much as the absurdist gypsy folk funk punk outfit has — exactly how far the band has come.
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gypsy in their souls: Sirius.b's motley band of travelers
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Who is this band, Gogol Bordello?” asks Xavier Ferdón, guitarist for Asheville folk-punk collective ...Who is this band, Gogol Bordello?” asks Xavier Ferdón, guitarist for Asheville folk-punk collective Sirius.b.
It’s the band’s gypsy-infused violins (they have two), European street sensibilities, world-traveled tunes and multiethnic lineup that warrant comparisons to New York City gypsy-punk icons Gogol Bordello, a group fronted by Ukrainian-born lunatic-turned-actor Eugene Hütz that did much to inject Slavic culture into the New York underground music scene.
Sirius.b, likewise, boasts some far-flung roots. Ferdón claims Vorkuta, Siberia, as his hometown (then again, his MySpace page names “prankster” as his occupation and he speaks with no trace of an accent). He’s joined by drummer Imhotep (a recent New Orleans transplant) and songwriter Pancho Romero Bond (who speaks multiple languages). Fully manned, there are six members, including new recruits Jamie Davis on bass and violinist Hannah Furgiuele.
Sirius.b, however, isn’t planning to follow (at least not directly) in Gogol Bordello’s footsteps.
“We saw Everything is Illuminated,” Bond says of Hütz’s 2005 big-screen vehicle. “We thought, ‘This is great,’ but for the longest while we didn’t have any Gogol Bordello albums. It’s only sort of recently we started to learn more about them.”
Instead, the group considers its sound a happy accident.
“Fusion would imply intention, that’s my impression,” Ferdón says. Neither he nor Bond wants to classify the band as fusion or world music.
“Absurdist” is one description they’re comfortable with—which is fitting with lyrics like, “Your aunt was a microbe who lived in a bathrobe. She’d wear it night and day.”
“This is more our own thing,” the guitarist states, “flavored with various elements.”
And discovering those elements has been years in the works. Ferdón and Bond met at college in Columbia, S.C., where they first played together in a band. The guitarist delicately explains, “We only had two shows.”
Ferdón went on to study flamenco guitar in Spain for most of a year before returning to Asheville to head up U.S. distribution for Spanish-made Alhambra guitars.
Violinist Laura Baskervill came into the band through providence and plenty of wine. She found herself missing her old fiddle during a jam session at the house shared by Ferdón and Bond, and picked up a sad, out-of-tune violin that was missing a string. “Stuff started flowing,” she recalls. “Or maybe I just thought it was because I was a little drunk.”
“At the beginning, things all started falling together and we were kind of amazed,” Bond remembers. “People wanted to play with us.”
And, since winning a third-place mention as one of Xpress readers’ favorite as-yet unknown bands, it’s obvious people want to listen to them, too.
An early version of Sirius.b was Ferdón on guitar and drummer Imhotep (who seems to play with nearly every other band in Asheville, when he’s not mentoring student drummers at the W.C. Reid Center), accompanied by a loop pedal.
“It failed,” the guitarist quips.
It was Imhotep who brought the band their name: A reference to a dwarf sun mysteriously known to the West African Dogon tribe long before its discovery by astronomers. One theory is that tribal members actually came from that distant galaxy illuminated by the Sirius B star. The songwriter and drummer mused that they, too, might have descended from the same cosmic locale.
But intergalactic travel aside, Sirius.b’s music remains firmly rooted to earthly traditions. “Without even knowing it, we had this klezmer thing going on,” Bond says. With the occasional addition of August Hoerr on accordion, that Eastern-block piquancy is sure to rise to the top of the Sirius.b stew.
Old-world flair rubs elbows with new-world themes as the band—now fleshing out not just its sound, but also its mission—begins writing material as a group effort.
“The writing is really changing now, because it’s geared toward the band,” Bond explains. His new song, “Guerra Santa,” means “Holy War”. The group’s first political number, it challenges what they see as a plague of apathy among young people.
But don’t expect Sirius.b to get too, well, serious. Ferdón is quick to point out that other new material (slated for upcoming album, Dazzling Urbanites) is sure to earn more gypsy-punk comparisons. “The songs move toward a Gogol Bordello style with driving, syncopated rhythms,” Ferdón offers. “It’s something people want to move to.”
Asheville band not afraid of mixing it up
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By Wayne Bledsoe Friday, December 14, 2007 If there’s a bit of built-in incongruity about being...By Wayne Bledsoe
Friday, December 14, 2007
If there’s a bit of built-in incongruity about being voted “Best Unknown Band” in your hometown, that seems to fit Asheville, N.C.-based Sirius.B just fine.
After all, this is a band that bills itself as “the finest absurdist gypsy metal folk funk punk the world has to offer,” and then says, “Well, not quite.”
“It’s all those things and more,” says Xavier Ferdon, lead guitarist/vocalist with Sirius.B. “Or maybe it’s just absurdist. You know, we have two violins, a marching-band drum and a cymbal played with a coat hanger … .”
“We definitely don’t want to be a fusion band,” adds Pancho Romero, lead vocalist and guitarist with the group, “but there’s always new things to throw into the mix.”
The genesis of Sirius.B can be traced to the University of South Carolina, where Romero was teaching Spanish and Ferdon was studying guitar. One night Romero sat in and played some of his songs with Ferdon’s cover band.
“His songs were better than our covers,” says Ferdon.
The would-be group never quite happened because Romero moved to Brooklyn to take a job at New York University. Ferdon eventually relocated to Asheville.
After two years, Romero found himself “at the end of my New York rope” and decided to visit Ferdon in Asheville.
“I got a girlfriend, and within three weeks of being there, it seemed like I had a whole life set up,” says Romero.
It wasn’t until early 2007, though, that an actual group began to fall into place.
Hannah Furgiuele (violin and viola), Imhotep (percussion), Jamie Davis (bass) and Laura Baskervill (violin and duende) joined the band.
“For all of us, the whole thing just magically fell into place,” says Romero.
But what the group is, is still up in the air.
Some people would like to call the group a “dance band,” and Romero understands that reaction:
“We have a couple, no, four or five songs, that if you’re not up dancing, then you’ve got a problem. (The songs) beg for a crowd to be up dancing. Maybe those are the songs that people remember, but we have slower songs, too.”
The group’s songs used to be Romero’s with just additions by the rest of the band.
“Lyrically, we’re very different,” says Romero. “I have a love song about an oyster.”
However, more recent compositions by the band have begun in a more democratic fashion, which Romero says is “very exciting.”
While the group is just spreading its wings outside of Asheville, Romero says the band is no longer unknown:
“No, now people know us around here.”
CD Review: Monkey Robot Soldier
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Filled with all the raucous energy, exquisite anguish and well-traveled thump that one expects from ...Filled with all the raucous energy, exquisite anguish and well-traveled thump that one expects from a Sirius.B show, the band’s new EP, Monkey Robot Soldier does not disappoint. The self-described “absurdist Gypsy folk funk punk” group recently returned to its roots with a strings-based, mostly-acoustic lineup (they also dropped “metal” from their classification).
The 5-song disc contains a couple of chestnuts: “Bella Ciao” is attacked with certain vigor (singer/guitarist Pancho Romero Bond) is almost ragged-voiced from the exertion; “Hava Nagila” starts with the slow procession of a funeral only to gather both speed and levity as it wends through seven minutes of instrumental and vocal gymnastics. “Charango” is a stand-out, composed in movements and oozing desperate passion. The only departure from form on this album is the fantastical title track about a kind of alien transformer-type primate (“I got no ‘nanas but I do got phasers; got a long tail that shoots red lazers”) performed with a particularly menacing hurdy gurdy drone and some crazy-awesome B-movie sound effects. But for all the madness of the song, the layered strings and tribal percussion rise through the caucauphony. This album is in the spirit of fun, but it’s obvious that Sirius.B takes its musicianship… seriously.
CD Review #2: Monkey Robot Soldier
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By now, most of us around here with a musical bent have encountered Sirius. B. Describing themselves...By now, most of us around here with a musical bent have encountered Sirius. B. Describing themselves as an "absurdist, gypsy, folk, funk, punk" band, not only are they unique to the Asheville scene, but I don't think I could add much to their description of themselves - they hit the nail on the head. Grabbing you up from your chair with infectiously toe-tapping tunes (even the dirge-like "A Cloth and Some Rain") Sirius. B takes you on a crazy dance through their delicious take on the festive music of the Gypsies with Monkey Robot Soldier. For some reason I kept envisioning Chaim Topol in Fiddler on the Roof. Maybe it's the accordion. Besides the excellent rendition of "Hava Nagila", there are two other standout tracks on the album. The aforementioned "A Cloth and Some Rain" has some great vocal wailing reminiscent of the more angst-ridden cuts from Pink Floyd with a little Peter Gabriel thrown in for good measure. The title cut "Monkey Robot Soldier" is refreshingly goofy, almost as if Mike Patton and Weird Al Yankovich were in the studio the day this track was recorded. Like Darien's, this album seems a tad short. I'd have liked to hear a few more tracks of wild abandon, because once you find yourself in an absurdist, gypsy, folk, funk, punk sort of mood, it's hard to stop. Keep it coming, Sirius. B!
Our typical set list is all original music with a few Gypsy, Italian, and Jewish folk songs blended in. We generally play two sets lasting anywhere from two to three hours.
The Moonshine Tree
There are no upcoming dates at this time.