If you haven’t heard of them, Lemon Bucket Orkestra is one of Toronto’s premier folk-party bands. If that sounds like a funny term, the interview will help explain what they’re about, but really it’s best to see them and the rest of their urban folk collective “Fedora Upside Down,” rock the Ukrainian Cultural Centre on October 22, 2011. The collective is launching an album with all eleven bands on two stages, so even by their standards of free wheeling musical insanity it’ll be a great time.
Lemon Bucket Orkestra grew out of a conversation between a Breton accordionist and a Ukrainian fiddler in a Vietnamese restaurant on Yonge Street. Their debut EP, Cheeky, was recorded at the CBC in Toronto and mixed by the renowned John Bailey. I went to Ideal Coffee in Toronto’s Kensington Market, to sit down with Marczyk and Tangi from Lemon Bucket, as well as Freeman Dre from Freeman Dre and the Kitchen, Now Magazine’s songwriter of the year in 2010 and a frequent colloborator from the collective.
J: Lemon Bucket Orkestra is basically musical multiculturalism incarnate. Can you even list all the musical influences?
Marczyk: We like to bill ourselves as a Balkan-klezmer-Gypsy-party-punk super band. So we play music from all around Eastern Europe, a lot of Ukrainian, Ex-Yugoslav, klezmer, a bit of Gypsy. And everyone brings his own flavour to it as well. Some people bring their swing and jazz background, there’s a punky side to it, celtic…lots of different influences. We try and let audiences know, though it doesn’t always happen when the energy is really high, that “this song is from this part of the world…this one’s a Hungarian gypsy tune and this one’s from Romania.” But it’s a blend too, we’re not total purists. There wouldn’t be a sousaphone, a trombone, or a flugelhorn in certain Romanian Gypsy fiddle and cimbalom tunes, but that’s our instrumentation and we adapt.
J: You guys have a lot of people in Lemon Bucket. Is it the same roster every night, or kind of a rotating door policy?
Marczyk: We’re fourteen people deep right now. We all have other bands we play with, Boxcar Boys, Kitchen Party. Sometimes people want something smaller, a violin and accordion player at their anniversary. We do lots of different kind of shows. It’s exciting for the audience too, they get a different version each time they come out.
J: Lemon Bucket Orkestra is one group in the larger collective, Fedora Upside Down. What unites all you guys? Is it musical, personal, something else or both?
Dre: Geographically we all live in the same neighbourhood, play in the same neighbourhood. A lot of it is like-mindedness and approach to the music and to the career of music, and to the scene in Toronto. A lot of it is a lack of a scene in Toronto. We three got together here and said, “look, we’re creating a little scene, why not give it a name, a context, something that people can associate it with.” That said, Fedora Upside Down is musically connected, and a lot of us play on each other’s albums, and part of it is embracing the diversity. Toronto is such a multi-cultural place, this collective is the same way, the influences behind the collective itself…you’d have to say “the world.” At this show on October 22nd you’re going to have eleven acts, singer -songwriters, flamenco, to straight up party bands. The uniting factor between them all might not be audible right away…
J: It’s almost philosophical too…
Marczyk: Yeah. One thing I didn’t like about Toronto after living in Ukraine for a couple years was the fact that there were these scenes. What we’re doing is less than creating a scene, but a lifestyle of living music. Not like, “here’s a scene, here are our gigs.” What’s missing is a time where musicians and audience members could get together and play together and create a community where all types of different music and that passion for playing music is promoted, supported…
J: It’s like a lifestyle.
Marczyk and Dre: Yeah!
Dre: And not narrow it down by style. Prior to this you can see in Toronto there’s various scenes but there’s a massive disconnect between the musicians and the audience. Even the bands towards each other there was a disconnect. A situation where there wasn’t an inclusiveness with the audience. We’re trying to bridge that gap. Taking it to the street, so apart from being active as musicians, active in the community…
Marczyk: Playing Pedestrian Sundays [in Kensington Market], bringing a crowd out into the street, playing for people for free, busking, playing in the park, choosing different venues and interesting places that aren’t about the scene but about the lifestyle. That’s why we chose the Ukrainian cultural centre because it’s not attached to any scene, it’s just a hall. It’s not like if you go to the Mod Club it’s going to be this, or to the Great Hall and it’ll be this kinda show. This is just a hall, it’s empty, put everyone in there and have a good time.
Dre: And the people who come to the show are just as important…
J: I grew up on the Grateful Dead…
J: It sounds like their relationship to San Francisco…
Dre: You can see it in the way we approach our Thursdays…there’s several acts that are worth $10 each, but we leave it on the crowd to donate what they can because we want them to feel like they’re a part of it, they have a say in what’s going down. We go out of our way to become friends with everyone.
Marczyk: It’s not unlikely that one of the bands is up on stage and all of a sudden, you turn around and there’s a clarinet in the back of the room playing. Nobody on stage is going to say, “fuck off man! This is a performance!” It’s like, “yeah! Somebody’s playing, great!” There’s this conception of musicians like you do music and you quit the working life 9-5, but then in the music scene there’s all these 9-5er musicians, you know? They’re in the business, not actually enjoying music. We enjoy what we do.
J: Most people don’t identify with the kind of authentic, exotic folk music you’re playing but you’re getting such a big following. Explain.
Dre: Well I think more and more are liking it, sure.
Marczyk: People don’t know it, it has to do with the energy of the performance and the connection with the audience, that’s what unites all of these bands too. It’s not the genre, it’s the energy of the performers and the willingness to break the boundary between performer and audience. That’s what people are reacting to. The rhythms are interesting, and the musicians are obviously awesome too, though it’s more than that, it’s the willingness to break that gap that people really appreciate.
J: It’s infectious. I saw you guys on a night when I was tired, maybe I had a beer or something, but I was dancing, and I don’t normally dance. I was surprised! [Laughter] I was like, “shit, they got me!”
Tangi: My legs are moving! Oh no!! [Laughter]
J: I wasn’t expecting it. You guys win! Hats off to ya.
Marczyk: We all win in that situation.
Tangi: You’re giving us a lot when you start dancing. For us right away we’re going to give you more. Because you’re giving us something, so “OK, now he’s giving us! We started giving, you’re giving now something, so we need to give more.” That’s how you get the best shows. After an hour and a half of music, if everyone’s always giving more, at the end everyone’s just insane! Everybody’s just giving everything, it’s like a trance. You create a trance between this crowd and the musicians. Everybody’s just in another world.
Marczyk: We notice when somebody’s going like this [tapping foot], and they’re on the verge of breaking through. That’s when we really try and push.
J: You really do? [Laughs] Because that’s me, not dancing but tapping away wondering, ” do they see me? Do they think I’m enjoying myself?”
Marczyk: There are some musicians who don’t care about the audience, they get up and do their thing. For us it’s the point, so we do notice those things. If there’s a quieter crowd, as sometimes happens in Toronto, we really try and push it to get everybody out of their shell.
J: I think [in Toronto] we’re known for being a bit cold. There are times where I’m in the audience thinking, “the band is looking at me and it doesn’t look like I’m enjoying myself but I am, I hope they appreciate that,” you know?
Marczyk: That’s a Toronto thing, but experience has shown that it can be broken. You just gotta really push! [Laughter] That’s the point.
Dre: For whatever reason, people in Toronto have grown embarrassed to show enthusiasm. We want to eliminate that. Like you were kinda embarassed, “you got me,” but you shouldn’t be, you should be proud, you know? A lot of times, I’ll do a show and someone at the back will say to me after, “that was the fuckin’ greatest show I’ve ever seen,” but in my mind I’m thinking “really? I wouldn’t know by the way you behaved.” But that’s a Toronto phenomenon we’re really trying to make people break out of, this feeling of being embarrassed or vulnerable, but to embrace it, because when they do, they end up having the best time. You let yourself go. And we’re doing it too. We’re as vulnerable, and we let go of our pretensions as well. Hopefully that becomes contagious.
J: Well, I think I’m a particularly bad dancer. [Laughter]
Dre: But a lot of people are like that. Whether it’s being a bad dancer, or being tired, we say you don’t have to feel any kind of embarrassment or shame about it, which you can see in some places they do. “Looking cool,” for whatever reason, is important for people, but you can look cool and still look stupid at the same time. And still have fun.
J: We touched on this briefly, but what’s your connection with Kensington Market? Whether it’s Pedestrian Sundays…do you think there’s a similarity between the vibe here and your ethos?
Marczyk: That’s hard to say, I wouldn’t say that we’re attached to any one location in Toronto, because we try to play in a lot of different places. I guess we are focused more in the west end of the the city…
Dre: Simply because of where we live.
Marczyk: Where we live, for sure. Part of creating a community is being in touch with the neighbourhood around you.
Dre: And being bicycle riders we don’t want to go too far.
Marzcyk: Kensington has been really awesome. Tangi first lived in Kensington when he moved here. We did lots of shows, lots of busking in the market.
Dre: We hang out in Kensington, played in Kensington tons. Definitely I think Tangi having lived in Kensington…like when I first started hanging out with Tangi, he lived in a house called “the crazy house.” We’d always jam there every night. It’d be the place where we’d go to have after-parties after playing Bread and Circus. We wouldn’t want people to think of the collective as a Kensington Market thing, but for sure, Kensington’s included..
Marczyk: One of the things we’re trying to do is bring that feeling that’s created at a Pedestrian Sunday every day out in the city. So yeah, we do come here and play and hang out during those times. But then it’s, “alright, how do we make it a lifestyle so it’s always like that?”
J: You don’t want to attach yourself to something, but they’re doing it here anyway and you want to bring it to other places…
Marczyk: Yeah…sure, and lots of our friends are part of this community, and it’s one we’re close to. But it’d be the same as saying of Lemon Bucket, we’re attached to the Ukrainian community, or the Ex-Yugoslav community…well we’re not, we just have our hands in many different places.
J: Any big shows coming up?
Dre: I play the Cadillac Lounge every Tuesday.
Marczyk: October 22nd is our big launch of the collective. We do every Thursday at the Cameron House. Those are concept nights, we call them F.U. Thursdays, where we assign a theme, and anybody from any of the bands can join. This Thursday [October 13] is the Cameron House’s 30th anniversary, so we have a few special collaborations in store. But we do dynamic, interesting stuff every Thursday; and the big show is October 22nd.
Dre: Mention that several times!
Marczyk: At the Ukrainian Hall at 83 Christie Street.
Dre: Starting at 7 and going all night.
Marczyk: Eleven bands, two stages, non-stop live music.
J: You guys are known for kinda spilling out onto the street.
Dre: There’ll probably be a spill! [Laughter]
Marczyk: At least a drop, a trickle!