A full length, unedited version of the interview which appears in the March 2009 issue of WAMM
Several years ago, two people fell in love. Now this sort of thing happens every day, but these two people fell in love, stayed in love and got married. Somewhere along the way, a band happened. The people in question are Kevin Buckridan, owner of the sorely missed Carhole Tavern, local photographer, and occasionally seen musician in What Heart with Lee Gaul, and Stefanie Zaccagnini, a young teacher who moonlighted in a cover band called Red Locust Frenzy. After joining as a couple, the two managed to do what very few couples have been able to pull off and maintain – make music together…literally. Combining their influences and ears for great music, Buckridan combined his dark melancholy with the spritely joy of Zaccagnini and thus Two For The Cascade was born.
An acoustic duo who had seamlessly sewn together a set of haunting original tales of love and loss with a smattering of handpicked covers that never felt out of place in amongst their own. After several sporadic shows, including appearances at the 2007 and 2008 editions of the Harvesting The FAM Festival, Two For The Cascade has, like a caterpillar to a butterfly, gone through a metamorphosis. The principal players are still in place, but the body count has doubled. They’ve expanded to a foursome. In the fall of 2008, they welcomed in George Manuray on the drums. Manuray was back in Windsor after a sabbatical in Calgary where he’d assembled his own outfit, Roy Mahal, after spending years on Windsor’s stages in bands such as Ten Indians, itzjunk and The Scarecrows to name a few. Manuray’s addition was followed shortly thereafter by scene newcomer Holly Brush, joining principally as the thermin player but hardly limited by it. They unveiled their new sound in December and the results were unanimous. The danse macabre had its orchestra section. The haunting melodies were taken to new levels and the structures and layers of Two For The Cascades songs were taken to a fuller realization than anyone had imagined, evoking the sound and spirit of bands like Blonde Redhead, Dead Can Dance and My Morning Jacket, with just a hint of Brian Eno, and making it all there own. WAMM recently talked to the members of Two For The Cascade about this transformation as they got ready for a show on Thursday March 5th at The Whiskey (300 Ouellette Ave.) as the opener on a three band bill that also features Vultures! and headliner Perilelle.
WAMM: First off, starting a musical project with friends is risky, but with a significant other it’s almost dangerous. What lead to you two deciding to start a project together?
Stefanie: You would think it would be dangerous, but it has always worked out very smoothly. It was never a conscious decision to start a project. It began with us sitting around the living room sometimes with friends, like Lee Gaul and George Manury, pulling out the guitars and belting out songs. Certain nights, it would be just the two of us. Some couples rent movies, we play music. It’s the best kid of foreplay. I suppose when you have a very healthy relationship, anything can work. It’s also very cool to be the only married bandmates in the city at the moment.
WAMM: How did the idea of Two For The Cascade progress from being an idea between a couple jamming to taking it to the stage?
Kevin: When we started to write together, I think it was that easy for me… and our separate projects were coming to an end. I’m always working on something, a song that may or may not ever see the light of day. I just started to work on things with Stefanie’s vocals in mind and she began writing and came up with lyrics to a couple of songs. I also knew I needed someone to make sounds I can’t make on my own while playing guitar and the further we go along, the more she experiments. I guess you could break it down to its simplest form: I was going to play gigs anyway, she was going to the gigs anyway…I sound better with her…and here we are.
WAMM: Stefanie, were you ever intimidated that you were essentially pairing up with someone (in Kevin) who came from a different musical avenue as you?
Stefanie: Intimidated? Yes I was, and at times still am. I am not just saying this because he is my husband, but I admire Kevin’s musical ability immensely. His innovative style is fresh and his lyrics profound. It has always been a joke between us that although I am more technical musically, he is the one with the passion. I found myself letting go and can really feel the difference. I think coming from different musical avenues has allowed us to teach each other things we might not have otherwise learned.
WAMM: How do you two keep music problems from escalating into your relationship?
Stefanie: Fortunately, thus far we haven’t encountered any major problems. We sometimes bicker about whose fault it is when someone screws up, but it’s more like our “bit”. It’s amusing, at least to us.
WAMM: How does the songwriting process work in Two For The Cascade?
Kevin: The basics of each song starts with me. I bring what I have written to Stefanie so we can figure out her bits, then we bring it to George and Holly to finish it off. Not that I would recommend this for every band but it is really convenient having your band‑mate living in the same house as you. We play when we want.
Stefanie: Ideally we want this to be a collaborative project with everyone contributing lyrically and musically. Each of us has a very different and unique style, and so far when we combine them, beautiful music is the result. I would like each of us to feel like the songs are ours. Although Two for the Cascade was Kevin’s and my baby, now we are just one big family.
WAMM: You guys pick a nice blend of covers that work well in your “tapestry”. They almost mesh as if they weren’t covers. How do you go about deciding that that song is something you want to play live to represent the band?
Kevin: They are just good songs. Ya know, I feel better as a human being playing a Drop Nineteens or Cat Power song instead of a Nickelback or 311 song if I’m not going to play my own. I’m kind of a music snob when it comes to music I think is good, which leaves me wide open for critics. I know, I just can’t help it. No matter what song we choose to do, we change it, its always been my way… I think when you do a cover, it should come across as your own. Unless, I guess, you are a cover band being paid to be a juke box… at least they get paid well.
Stefanie: The bands from which our cover songs come from highly influence the original music we produce. Regardless of the songs we choose, we always try to make them sort of like our own. You know, put our own spin on them. There are certainly bands we love and songs we’ve tried, which for whatever reason didn’t feel right. It’s those that we perform live that we think worked with our style.
WAMM: Stef, how has it been going from a cover band like Red Locust Frenzy to a more hands‑on creative project such as Two For The Cascade?
Stefanie: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Red Locust Frenzy. It was a great experience taking covers and putting our own spin on them. However, it seemed to be a stepping stone for what I truly enjoy, which would be writing and collaborating on original pieces. For me, it is much more rewarding.
WAMM: Kevin, after so many years of playing solo or occassionally as a duo, why the decision to enter the full band stage now?
Kevin: I’m tired. Its nice to have other people help you carry things. I don’t know, I guess the right people came together at the right time. I wanted George to be the drummer in my last duo (What Heart), with Lee Gaul, but he was already involved in 2 other projects at the time. Its not like I was against it, it’s just most of my musical endeavors have been accidents. It’s a tough gig playing solo all the time, I loved it and will do it again, but having a full band has been fantastic.
WAMM: How has the experience of Two For The Cascade changed going from a duo to a trio to a quartet?
Kevin: We were just two for so long, and fine with it, but knew at some point it would turn into more. George came back to Windsor for a bit (for our wedding) and I knew I had to grab him up before any other ‘George‑less’ band snatched him for themselves with their ‘sweet talk’ of fame and glory. George and I have played music together in one way or another for many years, but not in full‑band‑form until now… so he was an easy fit for me. In fact, I don’t know who it would be if it wasn’t him behind the drums. I realize playing gigs in bars is very public, but creating it is far more personal to me, almost private, so I need people around who kinda cater to that…no inner band tension allowed. We really thought it was going to be a threesome for a while. We had recorded together and went to Toronto to play a FAM show as a threesome. We had talked to Holly before George joined, about joining, but she wasn’t ready… or maybe she was waiting to see if we ‘landed’ George. I don’t know, you will have to ask her. You might not be able to tell by listening or watching her, but Holly has never been in a band before. To me she is a perfect fit for what we are doing. I think the band experience is completely different and I think you can say the same thing for those who have seen each version of us.
Stefanie: Playing live music with my then‑boyfriend/now‑husband was amazing. I think it even brought our personal relationship to a new level. I think if it had continued to be just the two of us, that would have been more than fine. However, I think Kevin and I were growing as a band and we had so many ideas about a new sound that was just not feasible for us to do on our own. Enter George…the man we both admire personally and musically. We were honoured and elated that he felt the same. Our first show and road trip as a threesome confirmed that the fit was right. And then there were four…we had asked Holly to come and jam with us months prior, but we were all a little preoccupied at the time, so when Holly approached us saying she was interested in playing with us we welcomed her with open arms. She was the last piece of the puzzle. She brings something to the band that was much needed. She is a natural. She not only brings her own sounds and ideas to the band, but is willing to make all the sounds that Kevin dreams up in his head. It has been a perfect progression.
WAMM: George, you’ve played for some pretty diverse heavyweights in the past. How has playing with Two For The Cascade differed from some of your past projects, such as Ten Indians or itzjunk?
George: Well, if we consider the psycho‑ acoustic differences between the cyclical nature and kinetic sound molecules that Ten Indians generated and juxtaposition exactly that against the organic yet psyllisonic crystalline fervor if itzjunk, you would…uhhh…hmmm….who am I kiddin’. The view is better.
WAMM: You’ve worked with some pretty heavy songwriters over the past few years, such as Sean Barry, David Dubois, Dennis Cantagallo and the guys from The Scarecrows. How do you work with so many different songwriters and styles so well?
George: Patience, a strong liver, 29 years in the biz, song first ego last, easily fooled, I like our songwriters and storytellers a lot.
WAMM: How has Kevin’s workmanship challenged you in ways different from those others mentioned?
George: Kevin loves to play, just play. Very passionate that one. His songs are deep and also can be very to the point. The challenge and the pleasure comes with working out the proper rhythmic movements just short of being berated. That and he has beers.
WAMM: What else are you working on musically?
George: I’ m workin’ on words and lyrics most these days. Haven’ t much time to do much else, but I am movin’ to fix that and get more locals into my studio….
WAMM: Holly, you’ve been attending shows for years. What prompted you to join the local circus now?
Holly: The trapeze artists, tee hee. I’ve always loved watching live performances. I’ve always been in awe of musicians and what it takes to get out there and make music. It was great to be asked to join an already accomplished band. I love the music, the friends involved and meshing what we all have together.
WAMM: Where you surprised that musicians actually wanted to bring your instrument ‑ the theramin ‑ into their mix and present it live?
Holly: I purchased my theramin three years ago, not expecting to ever join a band or anything. I bought it because it was an interesting instrument and I always loved the sound. When I was asked to join Two For The Cascade, I thought the sound would be a great addition to what they already had. I think it has added a new depth. And I think a lot of people are very interested in it because its not something that too many people have seen nor heard of.
WAMM: Stefanie, apart from singing, you also play the Moog, glockenspiel, shakers, tambourine – are there any instruments you’d like to learn or implement in your own performance that you haven’t yet?
Stefanie: I have always wanted to learn the keys and the trumpet is another instrument I have dabbled with. Kevin has also looked into purchasing an autoharp for me. When it was just the two of us, Kevin would play everything. Being a vocalist is satisfying, but sometimes I would feel like a jerk just standing there. Learning the Moog has been wicked.
WAMM: One of your trademarks, Kevin, going back to the What Heart days to now, is the use of often overlooked instruments or things that aren’t meant to be taken so seriously seriously (such as toys) in your music. Do you actively seek out new sounds from all these things or do they just sort of stumble their way into the mix?
Kevin: I’m always on the lookout. There are tons of kid’s instruments at Value Village, for cheap… a lot of them don’t work out because although they are tuned to themselves they are not necessarily in tune. Music is such an emotional experience for me. Sometimes I revert back to childhood and I just want to bang two pots together…by the way, I tried that in a song and it didn’t work out so well. I don’t know…there are plenty of ways to express a C chord or an A minor, it doesn’t always have to be done with a guitar or piano. Stefanie and I have also started to collect instruments from some of the places we have traveled.
WAMM: What prompted you to use your iPhone as part of the live performance?
Kevin: This is a whole can of worms to get into. Playing solo or in What Heart, I felt the need to play more than one instrument, sometimes at the same time. It can all go wrong real quick, relying on pedals, technology, but it is so much fun. Although each of my songs can be broken down to just an acoustic guitar I rarely hear them that way. But its not like I got the iPhone thinking I could use it to play music, but you can. Before Holly joined I played a virtual theramin during the show using the phone while looping a guitar track. Now she is there I don’t have to, but there are so many other ‘applications’ to create music with that I just can’t resist. I use a mini synth app during the show now – well, ’cause I have yet to collect the real thing. There are loads of other instruments like a wind instrument called an Ocarina, an African Thumb Piano, guitars… but mostly I use the different synth applications. I use them in the same way I would use any other musical toy I find… never mind, it’s fun as hell.
WAMM: Do you think the change in your format (acoustic duo to full foursome) has helped push Two For The Cascade’s exposure in the scene?
Kevin: I don’t know about any of that… it might just be that the other three of them have more friends than I have, or are more attractive.
Stefanie: Probably. There are other acoustic duos in the city, so although we were unique as a couple, there was nothing that different about us. I think as a foursome, we are more unique. We have also added in instruments like the Moog, Theramin, various applications on Kevin’s iPhone…we are now more experimental, hence more recognition.
WAMM: Are there any plans to release a recording of the band?
Kevin: I have recorded all of the songs in demo form at home. It has been a helpful tool for song writing, being able to record at the drop of a hat, but we are going to record ‘for real’ in George’s space, Maiden Lane Studio. We recorded one song already; “Where Things are Fine.” We will finish the rest of the tracks over the next few months.
WAMM: Music is a real interwoven process for any band, but it’s like an old school meets new school web of sounds. You’ve got ‘traditional’ instruments like acoustic guitars and drums, weaving in and out with more ‘experimental’ instruments such as a theramin and a Moog. How does everyone keep their dynamics separate while intertwining them live during a show, without getting lost in the paint? Or is that the whole point?
Kevin: With a firm hand! No. Sometimes my band mates accuse me of being a tyrant. It may seem like there is lots of ‘experimenting’ going on on stage, but most of that happens during practice. Although, there are some parts that are never played the same way twice, though it all follows the original structure and length. Some of it is supposed to be ‘lost in the paint’ while other parts are meant to stick out like a black eye on your wedding day. There is even more to come with the new songs, but I won’t just throw in noise for the sake of noise and nothing else…it has to make sense to me in some way, even if it only makes sense to me.
WAMM: What do you see for Two For The Cascade down the road?
Kevin: We will stick together for as long as it makes sense for each other. I just want to play. If George buys a VW bus and takes off down the road and Holly leaves us to be in a band with her man instead of playing with another couple, Stefanie and I will always sing together, even if its just in our basement studio. There is no pressure with us. The band is there for a creative outlet to a somewhat regular life…