The Once – Interview – Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Photo by Renita Fillatre

At the 35th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Vancouver Weekly had the pleasure of chatting with The Once.  Before the Folk Festival a preview of The Once was written in anticipation of their performance at the festival and they met and exceeded all expectations.  We had the pleasure of speaking with Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale.

Vancouver Weekly:  First, let me begin by letting you know that I really enjoyed your show just now.  The workshop titled “Tailored to Fit” with Dan Mangan, Wake Owl, Mark Berube and yourselves was really just that; tailored to fit.  Before I saw you play today I wrote a preview of you for the folk fest.  Your song Valley Kilbride really struck me with its poignancy and love, so thank you for that.

Let’s begin with your process, how do you guys write?

The Once: Get er’ done!

Phil:   On the first record we had no real process and it was a real uphill battle to get anything done.  When something happened it was surprising, like oh my lord we finished something and we really like it!

The second record was intense.  We hadn’t really made second records with bands before.  When you play music you make a lot of first records and then bands fall apart and life goes back to the way it was.

For us, things went really well on that first record and we ended up touring a lot. When it came to making the second record, the process developed out of desperation and fear and not wanting this thing that was happening all around us to stop. Yet we knew that we were really going to get judged on that second record so we ended up taking little nuggets of ideas and by the end of two hours, sitting around a table, we end up with something we could work with.

This isn’t to say that we don’t really drill stuff home and really try to make stuff better but when you’ve gone through that fear and speed process so many times you start working at that pitch and level.

Vancouver Weekly: Could you say that it’s what you begin to know that breeds success in a way?

The Once:  Yes, our process is kind of intense and weirdly lazy.  We trust that a lot of our first ideas are pretty good and that our second ideas are usually what we stay with.  It’s a process built on speed and fear and comfort.

Vancouver Weekly: I was struck by the level of comfort and connectedness you display on stage while watching you perform.  Can you tell me about that and how it happened?

The Once:  Well we don’t smack each other around but yes we are very comfortable around one another. We play a lot of gigs together.

Vancouver Weekly:  Often?

The Once:  Yes, all the time.  Last year we were on the road for over 200 days.

Vancouver Weekly:  Wow!  That is a lot!

The Once:  It’s a lot, and we changed it because we couldn’t handle being away from family or loved ones.  <jokingly> Because they’re not the same.

It was really hard for us last summer for example…we were away for two and a half months.

Vancouver Weekly:  Where did you tour?

The Once:  All over, Canada, Denmark, Memphis, Australia to name but a few places.

Vancouver Weekly:  What does this year hold for you?

The Once:  Well for one we are making another record.  Actually we are making a Christmas record!

Vancouver Weekly:  Wow, that’s fantastic!

The Once:  Even though we really want to make a Christmas record, we know what people’s perception of Christmas records are.  We know that this won’t be that type of record and we are working really hard to make this something different.

Vancouver Weekly:  What made you decide to write a Christmas album?

The Once:  Well it comes from this Christmas show back home, where we do all the standards. It’s turned into a huge event at Christmas that has gone from one little house and now its three days in a big Church.

Vancouver Weekly:  Are you the only performers?

The Once:  No we have many special guests and now it’s this big deal and this will be the fourth year of the show.  In previous years we haven’t had an album to provide the 2100 people that now come to this event every year and demand an album.

Vancouver Weekly:  Well I can certainly say that I’m going to play it this Christmas and send you an email to tell you I loved it!

What else are you doing when you leave here?

The Once:  More festivals and then we are heading back to Newfoundland

Vancouver Weekly:  Good luck with the rest of your tour.  It was lovely to meet all of you and thank you for taking the time to chat with me.