Q&A with Canadian Folk Musician Andrew Collins

                        Andrew Collins Trio, playing The Rogue Folk Club Sunday, February 2nd

Where in Canada are you from and how did you get started and hook up with the other guys?

I’m from Toronto (which is where we’re all based).  I originally met Mike Mezzatesta at least 10 years ago.  He actually approached me at one of my shows for a lesson.  Well we got together and it was obvious that he didn’t need lessons.  Instead we just jammed and became friends.  I also discovered that aside from having very similar influences, he had learned a bunch of my tunes that I had previously recorded.  Anyhow, eventually we ran into each other again out in British Columbia (where he was living at the time) and I told him that I was thinking about starting a band of my own,  and if he ever made it back to Toronto to let me know as I’d love to play with him.  A few months later, he called me out of the blue and told me he was back in Toronto.  Well I had to put my money where my mouth was and that was the start of the Trio.

Around that time, I was producing/recording an album for a band called the Unseen Strangers.  This was my 2nd production for them and they had a new bass player, James McEleney, whose vibe, bass chops and singing, blew me away.  Anyhow, as a courtesy, I checked to make sure that the band leader, Adam Shier, wouldn’t mind if I asked James to play with me and he responded “not if you don’t mind if I ask Mike to play with me”.  So we did a little band sharing and the rest is history.

Tell me about the recordings you have done before, and the reaction that they received?

Before the Andrew Collins Trio existed, I put out a few original instrumental albums, which were definitely in the bluegrass branches category.  Two solo albums, “Little Widgets” and “Cats & Dogs” which are all instrumental, following in the path of the New Acoustic heroes of mine.  These draw from many more genres than just bluegrass (bluegrass, jazz, classical, celtic, swing…).  I also recorded two collaborations.  My first “side” project “Likewise” was a duo album with this absolutely incredible flat picker named Marc Roy and then years later I did another duo album “Mando Lore” with a fantastic Irish mandolin player named Brian Taheny, which features and album of all traditional Irish, Old Time and Bluegrass duets on the mandolin family.  I also have seven straight ahead bluegrass albums out with the Foggy Hogtown Boys, and four albums of New Acoustic music with the Creaking Tree String Quartet.  

The Andrew Collins Trio has four albums out now.  Our first album “A Play On Words” is mostly original instrumental music with a couple of vocals on it.  Our second release “And It Was Good”, was my first concept album.  It’s all original, instrumental music, that is based on the seven days of creation story.  Each piece reflects a day in the story.  There was also some influence by the David Grisman album Mondo Mando, where he used the Kronos Quartet on the title track.  I put together a string quartet which I dubbed “The Phantasmagoria String Quartet” and wrote and arranged accompaniment all over the album.  

I’m most excited about our latest release with the Trio, a double album called “Tongue & Groove” which features one album of all vocal material and one album of all instrumental music.  Since so much of my material has been instrumental over the years, people expect an ACT show to be almost all instrumental, however I love to sing and we’ve always incorporated vocals into the show.  We got so used to people at the Cd table asking which album has the songs that we sing, that I decided to finally do an album of all vocal music.  As the recording date approached, I thought since most people think of us as an instrumental group, we might as well do an album of instrumental music as well, thus the birth of the double album.

 I think because it draws from so many traditions, there’s a familiarity to the music despite the strange blending of sounds.  It’s great to play for audiences that think you’ve invented something new. haha.  Honestly though, it really has been so warmly received.  I’ve received many Canadian Folk Music Awards for instrumental album of the year and Pushing the Boundaries (seven now) and five Juno nominations.  These have all been for the New Acoustic material, so there’s something about it that is connecting with people.

Where do you perform and how has your career evolved up to now? Have you toured?

Up until about a couple years ago, most of my touring has either been in Canada or overseas.  In Canada, a bulk of my touring has been in western provinces, British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon.  I’ve also toured Internationally in places such as the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Israel, Australia and more.  I’ve done some touring in the US, but over the last year, with the Trio, we’ve been touring the US more than ever.  Actually, we’ve been playing the US more than in Canada lately.  

I recognized “Black Veil” as a folk tune covered by The Band. How much of your material original compared to what you cover?

Actually, Black Veil is based on the song Long Black Veil (and even has one chorus of the old standard included) however, it’s an original based on that story.  In Long Black Veil, the protagonist has been executed for a murder that he didn’t commit.  He has a alibi, but doesn’t speak up because his alibi is his best friend’s wife (if you know what I mean).  While I love the song, it was always a little bit too much of a coincidence that he would be accused of a murder he didn’t commit. In Black Veil I made up a back story about the husband knowing about the affair and in a gesture of vengeance, frames his best friend for the murder.  

Tongue is comprised exclusively of songs with vocals.   Of the 11 tracks only 2 are originals, where as Groove, which is all instrumental is comprised of 8 originals with only a couple traditional tunes and one cover.   In the past, most of my own albums have been largely  original material, but again I consider myself much more of a composer of instrumental music than a songwriter.

Doing an entire album of vocals is a first for me.   I’ve done a lot of singing over the years, but since instrumental music is such a big part of bluegrass music, you would rarely put out an album without at least a few instrumentals and the Andrew Collins Trio’s albums previously have almost been exclusively instrumental.   

Were folk and bluegrass always your biggest influences? What other kinds of music impact you?

I’ve always had pretty broad musical interests.  I grew up listening to the radio, so was listening to a lot of to 40 music up to the early 80’s.  I guess the first time I started to explore my own interests was when I discovered Pink Floyd.  I spent years listening to one album for months until I had digested it and was ready for the next.   Even then though, I liked jazz music, classical music and started listening to other folkies like CSNY, Jim Croce and the like.  It wasn’t until high school that i was exposed to bluegrass music.  At that point, I loved the banjo and thought I hated the mandolin.  That was until I heard the David Grisman Quintet for the first time. In case you’re unfamiliar, the DGQ was one of the first innovators in the genre know by the initiated few as New Acoustic Music, which is really my passion.   This genre grew out of bluegrass actually.  While being relatively harmonically simple, Bluegrass is a rather technically demanding music. there are a lot of high tempo, intricate melodies and improvising is a big component as well.  I guess in the 70’s, some of the young masters of bluegrass started exploring other genres with their formidable chops, and started writing original music that drew from these varied influences.  That’s what really got me interested in music.  It’s for that reason that our genre is so hard to describe.   Along with a lot of different instruments, we draw from bluegrass, jazz, classical, celtic, folk, rock…sky’s the limit.   The cool thing about playing this music, is it is so fresh sounding by design, yet it has this familiar sound because it’s drawing from these really well known genres.

How can people get your music?

We’d especially love for folks to come out to the show and pick up CDs. They can also get the music from our website www.andrewcollinstrio.com/music or iTunes, Amazon etc.