Geoff Berner

Geoff Berner

BandPop

Though rooted in the klezmer scholarship and more transgressive. The lyrics are sometimes humourous, sometimes frighteningly dark, and ofter both at the same time. Elements of punk or "klezmer punk" also fits the bill.

Biography

“I want to drag klezmer music kicking and screaming
back into the bars.”

That’s the goal of Vancouver singer-songwriter-accordion player Geoff Berner.

His first EP, “Light Enough to Travel”, released on the punk rock label Sudden Death Records in 2001, was an eclectic mix of song styles, united by the fact that it was recorded with only voice and solo accordion accompaniment. The reaction from press and audiences tended to fall into 2 categories: puzzled horror or puzzled but sincere appreciation of the great songwriting and the sheer chutzpah of appearing alone on stage with an accordion. By 2003, with the release of the full-length CD “We Shall Not Flag or Fail, We Shall Go to the End”, his fan base grew enough that Berner was able to quit working as a freelance writer and earn his living solely by traveling the world, playing his music.

Over the years, his style incorporated more and more elements of klezmer. “I want to make original klezmer music that’s drunk, dirty, political and passionate. As a Jew of eastern european descent, I feel I have a calling to make this music live, not just preserve it under glass like something in a museum.”

After numerous international tours, festival appearances, airplay on national radio, and opening slots on tour with artists such as Billy Bragg, Corb Lund, Po' Girl, Kaizers Orchestra, Carolyn Mark and the Be Good Tanyas (who covered his song "Light Enough to Travel"), he's garnered critical acclaim and a cult following for his sharp songwriting and cabaret performance style, especially in Canada, England and Scandinavia (see press kit and quote sheet). "Whiskey Rabbi" (2005) marked his transition to a consistent style--klezmer informed with the energy and passion of punk.

The klezmer punk sound was bolstered by a research trip. In May/June 2004, the trio of Berner, Diona Davies (violin) and Wayne Adams (percussion) travelled to rural Romania to investigate the roots of klezmer with their guide and klezmer guru, Bob Cohen, leader of Budapest band Di Naye Kapelye. They returned with a deeper understanding of the music, and quite a few stories to tell.

His new album, “The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride”, on Jericho Beach Records in North America and Europe, and the CCAP label in Scandinavia, is a continuation of the path begun with Whiskey Rabbi. It’s the 2nd in a planned trilogy of albums with a similar approach. All will feature Davies and Adams. "Because klezmer is largely wedding music, I decided to write a wedding album. But it`s my wedding album, so it`s a bit fucked up." observes Berner.

It would be tempting to paint Berner as a kind of klezmer rebel, but he maintains that he is working firmly in the true tradition. “When we went to Romania, we found musicians who are masterful, but can also play so loud and passionately that pitch and meter don’t matter. And the words in the songs are full of drinking, politics and sex. That’s my kind of tradition.”

Discography

Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride 2007
Whiski Rabbi 2005
Live in Oslo 2004
We Shall Not Flag We Shall or Fail We Shall Go On To The End 2003
Light Enough to Travel EP 2001