The History of Gunpowder

Gigmit: Let us know who you are and where you're from.
The History of Gunpowder: Our name is The History of Gunpowder. Throughout the group’s trajectory we have had around 22 members for live performances, always changing the instrumentation, and at least twice as many members on our studio recordings. This collaborative spirit is maybe the reason for the constant evolution of the sound and the fact that every song has a logic of its own, a character of its own. Our players come from all across Canada and the U.S. but the longest lasting members, apart from Alex Morison, the frontman, composer and writer of the group, are from Montreal and Vancouver.

Gigmit: What style of music do you play?
The History of Gunpowder: This question has always been hard because there is a stereotypical response that musicians give akin to ‘we don’t fit in a box’ or ‘we try not to label ourselves’ but in our case it is true that it is difficult to pin down our style. A common theme to our reviews is this inability to categorize our sound, however, a few styles that have been mentioned: Circus rock, swamppirate blues, or orchestral freak-out music.

Gigmit: When and how did your band form?
The History of Gunpowder: The History of Gunpowder formed in 2012 or 2013. Alex Morison put together a six piece group in Vancouver and started to write songs that were very different from the current version; many of them were simply Mingus-inspired jazz arrangements with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-esque vocals on top. This started to develop and intensify, eventually getting louder and heavier while his vocals started to get more and more ragged. The move to Montreal represented a pivotal point in the History’s path, since the six piece in MTL would persist until recently and for the first time shape a sound that felt right to Morison. This current version of The History is inspired by the Montreal line up, with a few different influences that have recently shook Morison’s writing and singing style.

Gigmit: What do you mostly do when you are not on tour?
The History of Gunpowder: Mike W. T. Allen, the Bari Sax player, arranges and composes for a group called Space Elevator; a 20 piece jazz big band that puts on shows that are closer to heavy metal shows than to jazz. Nik Focht, the drum player, is a song writer and drummer in other projects. Franki Lemon, the Cello player, is a classical instrumentalist, playing in various symphony’s as well as her own projects. She teaches, is a session player, a performer and writes her own music. Cole Tinney is a sought after keys player around Vancouver and western Canada. Alex Morison has numerous projects; RumSalt Orchestra, his own 7-10 piece orchestra that performs his compositions at special events throughout the year and records his compositions as well, he is looking forward to composing for the Plastic Acid Orchestra in the new year, composes for television and film, as well as produces records with groups from across Canada. On top of this, he is an indigenous activist, writer, and researcher.

Gigmit: What are you looking forward to most on tour? Which city/venue?
The History of Gunpowder: We are looking forward to all of it. German artists have been such a huge influence on our style so we want to give back, see what’s happening over there and add to the chaos/beauty. After Germany we will be touring Italy which will also be beautiful in its own way and we will have those lovely exchanges that only performers and audiences can have, and hopefully come back for more soon.

Gigmit: Who are your musical live-show models/influences?
The History of Gunpowder: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Charles Mingus, King Kahn and the Shrines, Nina Simone, Mars Volta, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Bjork, Patrick Watson, and Cab Calloway.

Gigmit: When and how was your first live gig ever? Which live show will you never forget and why – your own or another live-act?
The History of Gunpowder: First show I ever played was when I was 14 years old at a place called Broken City in Calgary, Canada. I tried to play ‘Bright Size Life’ by Pat Metheny with three of the best jazz players I had ever heard; I got lost, couldn’t hold the head, and stumbled through the whole thing. The guitarist who accompanied me, Gordon Grdina, ended up being my mentor and to this day collaborates with me, helps with decisions and performs at my events. Sometimes you don’t know what will happen from putting yourself out there, just get on stage and sound awful for long enough and you’ll start sounding damned wonderful.

Gigmit: What’s on your tour playlist?
The History of Gunpowder: Buena Vista Social Club, Cab Calloway, Marty O’reilly and the old soul orchestra, Chabuca Granda, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Ray Charles, big Maylene, Nina Simone, D’Angelo, The Roots, Nas, Jaga Jazzist, Joe Cocker, Leonard Cohen, Morphine, The moulettes, Nai Palm, Sick Boss, Gordon Grdina’s Haram, Valerie June, A. A. Bondy, Alabama Shakes, Alt-J, The Band, Jonny Greenwood, Ali Farka Toure, Aquarius Dreams, Atoms for Peace, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, Bjork, Blind Willie McTell, CAN, Charles Bradley, Childish Gambino, Chinoy, Colin Stetson, Erykah Badu, FlyLo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lhasa De Sela, Marlon Williams, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Mulatu Astatke, Sam Cooke, Sean Rowe, and Tanya Tagaq.

Gigmit: What are your personal must haves on tour?
The History of Gunpowder: Music, tequila, and good conversation.

Gigmit: What can people who come to see you play live expect?
The History of Gunpowder: A mixture of chaos, harmony, unpredictability and an explosive music that will leave you with a fire in your belly that keeps you alive, curious and driven to prowl the night.

Listen to The History of Gunpowder, watch their videos and have a look at their tour dates on gigmit.com/the-history-of-gunpowder! German speakers can also read the full interview here.

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