Artist: Pharis & Jason Romero
Hometown: Horsefly, BC
Latest album: Bet on Love
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc. — inform your music?
Music and handcrafting go hand-in-hand for us, and the connections between the sounds, the textures, and the colors the sounds create are an essential part of the art we’re making, oral or visual. The music we make is informed by the banjos we build, the jewelry we create, the gardens we plant, the overwhelmingly beautiful part of the world we live in.
We work as banjo makers, sending custom-made Romero Banjos to clients around the world. It’s a powerful artistic outlet, inspired by things like old furniture, deco and nouveau paintings, the look and feel of raw copper or wood, the feeling when you’re up to your thighs in river water and casting a fly rod, the geometry in tree branches and tall grasses; often our strongest inspiration is found in the forms seen in nature.
Jason is an old film nut — he briefly studied film in college, and old Japanese films really formed an aesthetic cornerstone for him. The texture of the film is something you can feel and almost taste, and his banjo playing draws on the texture of the instrument’s tone in a similar way. Pharis finds a large part of her songwriting happens with rhythm and nature — the swish of cross-country skis on snow, the soft splash of a canoe paddle. And like many songwriters, a turn of phrase in a book or poem can be her basis for an entire song.
What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a musician?
Pharis’ parents said she came out of the womb singing — her family sang together from day one — but she didn’t want to be a performer. Pharis’ dad was part of a couple groups that were invited to play at Expo ’86 in Vancouver, BC. Her dad had her sisters up on stage but Pharis, 7, refused. She studied classical music from a young age, and being on stage was a painfully nerve-wracking experience for her. But she persisted (her mom persisted), and when she and her sisters sang a Beatles song in three-part harmony at a festival, it was good – and people loved it. That’s when Pharis really woke up to the love of singing harmonies and the lift it gives people when they hear them.
Jason always loved music — especially the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Cream — but his relationship was as a listener until he was 19 and heard a 5-string banjo played in an Irish bar band in Chico, California. That sound redirected his life — a month later he had a banjo and has been obsessed by it ever since.
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
We often have our two kids on the road with us. It’s incredible to all be together, but it means we need to pay attention to making time for quiet and stillness. We try to give ourselves a good hour before a show to sit, have a cup of tea or a glass of whiskey, not talk, and warm up our voices slowly. The important word here is “try”, as our most important ritual on the road is being adaptable and resourceful — and sometimes that means waiting for the babysitter to show up five minutes before we go on.
Since food and music go so well together, what is your dream pairing of a meal and a musician?
We live an hour away from our main town and there are few places to eat out, so we eat at home a lot and love making and sourcing good food. If we could sit down and play and sing tunes with some close old-time music pals, drink some mezcal margaritas, and then sit down to fresh greens and grilled veggies from the garden, pesto, some kimchi and a grass-fed burger, life would be excellent.
What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?
Pharis: I was in a band called Outlaw Social years ago. At a big CD release show, packed to the rafters, we had a guest fiddle player join us on stage. I meant to introduce him as our substitute fiddler player, but my tongue slipped and I introduced him as our “suppository fiddle player.” The bass player, bless his heart, quipped, “He just slips right in.” The room completely fell apart.
Photo credit: Laureen Carruthers