Here’s what the band had to say about the new project and the last three months of touring:
the once – in their own words
The Once has only been a band for a few years. They did not grow up dreaming of playing music together – it was more of an after-hours hobby, an adjunct to busy acting careers. Over time, it became more and more important. The busy years since they recorded their first album have allowed the band to grow and mature, and Row Upon Row of the People They Know represents the full flowering of that growth.
“We’ve definitely learned more about each other, what makes each of us tick (in good ways and bad ways), but also what each of our strengths and weaknesses are,” said singer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dale. “We’re also a bit braver with our music. We’ve gained confidence with our own abilities, both on our own and as a band.” Singer and instrumentalist Phil Churchill made similar points: “We are much less polite and have stopped trying to impress each other. ?We are more open, more honest, more relaxed, more confident around each other. We work faster. We decide smarter. We dream bigger.”
All three members agreed that this album represents a massive step forward for them.
“We were participants in the making of the first album – we are the creators of this one. ?The songs that we played together before releasing The Once, our self-titled debut, were the songs that we had learned in order to make up a long enough set to fill a night. ?They encapsulate a very short and very specific period of time for us”, said Churchill. “Row Upon Row of the People They Know is made of pieces of the three of us as individuals over kitchen tables full of tea and happiness and pressure and frustration. It’s each of us putting ourselves out there in front of each other like we’ve never done. It’s the first step towards becoming the band we want to be rather than the band we’re expected to be.”
Lead singer Geraldine Hollett explained that the two years of extensive touring and intense creativity have changed the way they collaborated.
“I think we have learned to really listen to each other, and make an album that represents who we are individually, and as a group, without compromising too much. We are all very strong-minded. Or stubborn – it’s a fine line.”
The new album represents a crossroad in the bands creative process. All are fond of traditional Newfoundland music, but the quiet and moving songs they sing are miles away from the rowdy drinking songs and shanties that often represent the Island’s music.
“Songs like I’se The B’y are already provided with great enthusiasm and capability by other bands,” explains Dale. “Our focus tends to wander down many different avenues underneath the folk music umbrella. We have a fairly wide range of interest musically and we believe the variety of material on the new album reflects that.”
Churchill sees the traditional songs on Row as being part of an ongoing narrative, one which began in the band’s first album.
“My Husband’s Got No Courage felt like another chapter in the life of ‘The Girl’ – that guilt-trippin’, death-wishing woman from Nell’s Song, the Venus Man-trap from Maid on the Shore, the black widow wannabe from Willie Taylor and the un-murderable Marguerite kind of became the same girl to us. This seemed like another perfect scenario for her.”
For Hollett, traditional music represents part of her musical DNA.
“We basically love these old songs, and felt we could do something fun and interesting with them to keep them in the present.”
The album’s centerpiece is the vast Song For Memory, an enigmatic and powerful piece of music. It started as a small poem, and in the band’s hands turned into an emotional symphony. The images and melodies are both complex and memorable, leaving both band and audience alike to find their own stories.
Churchill prefers not to intellectualize it, explaining that the song is just about “making the last stand at ‘Fortress Pub’ against the inevitable and impending onslaught of loneliness and old age.”
Dale sees it differently, believing “To me, it’s about a group of men sitting around a table playing a game of cards, while they quietly ponder what their lives have meant and will mean, if there is more to life then the people and objects around them in the room, or if what surrounds them in the room is in fact all they need to be fulfilled.”
Hollett, as in many things Once, gets the last word:
“I believe its about the same old hard working folk working in the same old worn down towns thinking and dreaming about days gone by and living through regrets in the company of those doing the same. There’s comfort in that, don’t you think?”