New album plucks the gems of their repertoire for an organic, vintage sound
Jason and Pharis Romero live just outside Horsefly on a riverside property where cutting one’s own trail on cross country skis is as natural as hearing banjo music floating through the trees.
The pair are folk musicians, but if there’s a bread and butter calling in their simple life, it’s their banjo business.
Jason trained as a carpenter and lives and breaths his instrument so much he and his wife, Pharis, star in a documentary on their banjo life.
He worked around the clock to develop the business, holding down a nine-to-five job for another luthier and working on his own custom orders at night. Pharis does the detailing on the instruments, carving mother of pearl inlay and spending hours at the table hand-carving scrolls, while Jason sets up the instrument itself.
Together they make the kind of team where one feels she’s the left hand and he the right, or the other way around; they’re simply the best compliment one can imagine for one another, in life and musically, both seeming to have walked out of another era.
Perhaps this is why their debut album, A Passing Glimpse, released in 2011, put them at the forefront of the Canadian folk music scene, earning them New/Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards. That’ and the fact they never seem to take a break from their instruments, spending all of their time on their chosen vocation.
“I write most of the new songs and Jason brings these beautiful old songs to the table because he’s the banjo player,” said Pharis.
Neither of them thinks of themselves as the dominant half of the duet and they’re quite aware a duet is unique in the music business. Neither a solo act or a band, they’re a pair of roving minstrels and seem to like it that way.
Pharis once played in another duo, busking in university, and Jason has been known to team up with a fiddle player; but since meeting in 2007, and marrying two months later, they’ve been virtually inseparable.
In interview Monday, before heading out with their sophomore album Out West Blues, Pharis said she likes to describe the music as a little bit Bluegrass, a little bit country, grounded in the traditional with a contemporary spin.
“We’re not looking to make a million bucks a year on music. We do it because we love it,” she added.
Admitting they tend toward terms like vintage roots but casting off “organic”, she says it’s taken some time to grow into their sound and get a feel for how they fit together musically.
They met at an old-time fiddle jam and admit, it was love at first sight. Jason is from California and Pharis grew up in the B.C. Interior. Pharis played with Outlaw Social prior to meeting Jason and he was a fixture on the Arcata bluegrass and old-time scene in California, having mastered early fingerstyles, clawhammer and bluegrass.
For anyone who loves old-time, perfect singing and a tight set with foot-stomping rhythm, the Romeros will be a pleasing event.
Pharis and Jason Romero play the Kelowna Folk Club house at 1640 Gillard Drive on Feb. 17. Tickets are $20 and available at ABC Hobby on Dilworth Drive or via the kelownafolkclub.ca