An Introduction to Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s ‘Moorka’

Photo by Eamon MacMahon

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra has come a long way from their busking days that started on the streets of Toronto. This 16-piece, high-energy, guerrilla-folk super-band has now toured all over the globe and has been nominated for several awards, including Canadian Folk Music awards and a Juno. With the release of their second album, Moorka, expect to hear a lot more from these renegade musicians.

Vancouver Weekly had a chat with LBO’s ring leader, Mark Marczyk, about politics and barns. Catch them at the Fox Cabaret on April 11.

Vancouver Weekly: How did Lemon Bucket Orkestra come up with the balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk genre?

Mark Marczyk: It’s “balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-SUPER-BAND,” actually. It partly started as a convoluted tongue-in-cheek answer to a fairly standard question in the world of music journalism: “How would you describe your music?” But over time we really grew into this air of ridiculously joyful exuberance (or maybe deep down it was always a part of us) and even wanted to expand the tagline to include other interests and maximize hyphen-use (“god-fearing,” “gluten-free,” hyphenated, etc.). But it was too late; we were pigeonholed…

VW: The band started as a quartet. How did the band recruit the other members?

MM: It was more of a process of elimination than a recruiting process. We would pick up our instruments at a party or on a street corner or at an open mic and invite anyone who wanted to join us to jam along. Whoever could keep up (musically, physically, emotionally) did, and whoever couldn’t (whether it was after three songs, three hours, or three years) dropped out. But we’ve never fired anyone, and we consider ourselves to be the sum of anyone who’s ever played with us. And by that count, we’re about… er… let me see… uh, carry the four… divide by the…. a 113-piece band.

VM: How is the song writing process given the band’s many members and many possible musical ideas?

(1) Steal from the best and make it better.
(2) Change the worst or try to disguise it with (1).
(3) Accept that originality is nothing but a combination of (1) and (2) and therefore don’t take criticism personally.
(4) Try not to hurt anyone’s feelings because artists are sensitive.
(5) Congratulate ourselves liberally on our originality.

VW: The band’s songs are politically inclined. Did the band intend to use its music as some sort of an outlet or megaphone to voice its political standpoint?

MM: We sing and play traditional folk music from Eastern Europe – songs from places that do not shy away from exploring a wide range of physical and emotional experiences through their music and that are proud to call these expressions a part of their national or ethnic identity. We chose to dedicate ourselves to digging into and re-imagining the “truth” of those songs and the people and places that created them. I suppose that IS a political standpoint, and we are certainly fond of megaphones.

VW: Why is the band deeply involved in Eastern European politics?

MM: I don’t think it’s possible to sing folk music and not be involved in politics. Folk music is a reflection of people, and people are political creatures. By singing folk music, you are expressing politics of one sort or another, whether you agree with what you are singing or not.

We sing traditional songs from places and people that have recently seen war and witnessed atrocity; we sing songs from places that are CURRENTLY involved in war and are witnessing atrocity. Sometimes those songs are devastating, and sometimes they are ecstatic. That’s part of the mystery and wonder of the human experience – the multifarious ways in which we convey our shared agony and bliss. We are deeply involved in this mystery and wonder as passionate and conscientious artists.

VW: Ultimately, what do you want your listeners to achieve when they hear your music?

MM: We want listeners to be deeply involved in the mystery and wonder of the human experience as passionate and conscientious citizens of life. That, or to just not give a fuck and dance their asses off.

VW: LBO’s new album, Moorka, seems to have an interesting background story, and it was recorded in a barn. How did that affect the music and the overall sound quality of the album?

MM: We originally planned on recording in May of last year. Then the Maidan Revolution happened in Ukraine. Riot cops opened fire on citizens and destroyed buildings and streets. The president fled the country. Crimea was annexed. Break-away republics were formed. An anti-terrorist operation zone was established. A foreign invasion ensued. Priorities changed.

Part of the band went to Ukraine to support people affected by the Revolution and war and traveled across the country sharing music and stories with everyone from kids in orphanages to plumbers-turned-guerrillas to arts-collectives-turned-soup-kitchens to tour-guides-turned-fatigue-suppliers.

When we returned we immediately embarked on a three-month tour of Canada, playing nearly every night in places we had never been to before as a band: Vancouver Island, Banff National Park, Gaspésie, Old Montreal, the Big Nickel, the Halifax Pier… Canada is fucking BIG. Talk about a hyphenated country…

We basically came right off the road and into the studio – not a fancy urban set-up with separation or sound booths but a sweltering, fly-ridden barn in southwestern Ontario where we stood in a circle and played at each other for a week straight despite being completely physically and emotionally exhausted from half-a-year of processing and performing our hyphenated identity at home and abroad, together and apart. It’s an incredible album, and we’re very proud of it.

Wait, what was the question? How did the barn affect the recording? You can hear a couple of German shepherds barking on one of the tracks…

Tickets for the Lemon Bucket Orkestra are available online and by phone (604-602-9798)

Gian Karla Limcangco

Gian Karla Limcangco