A do-it-yourself band from the West Coast is bringing an interesting breed of gypsy music to Weehawken this Tuesday for a free lunchtime concert. The Fishtank Ensemble, based out of L.A., has been performing their brand of Romanian folk music, without a record label, since 2005.
A motley crew of musicians, this must-hear band features two violins, an upright bass, flamenco guitar, a musical saw – a piece of metal strummed with a violin wand – and a banjolele, the offspring of a banjo and a ukulele.
“As an opera singer, I’m really the odd man out,” said lead singer Ursula Knudson, a California native, who also plays second fiddle with the group. “I’ve been really lucky with the musicians that I get to play with, who have really studied the style as it’s supposed to be played.”
“Someone called it a cross-pollinated gypsy music.” – Ursula Knudson
“Someone called it a cross-pollinated gypsy music,” Knudson said, “which I thought was fitting. Taking a lot of traditional songs but using are own experiences. Like a bee carrying one grain of pollen from one flower to the next.”
What is known is that the band’s guitarist, Douglas Smolens, is classically trained in flamenco; and the violinist, Djordje Stijepovic, who is also Knudson’s husband, traveled the European countryside in a mule-drawn carriage studying the gypsy style. In fact, Knudson and her husband met while traveling abroad in Venice, which was the primordial beginning of the band. Knudson called the experience “serendipitous.”
“We kind of play a lot of styles,” she said, “which makes the band so unique. But, we don’t play any one style perfectly. I think what makes the band great is our liveliness.”
According to Knudson, the band’s contemporary sound is all about energy.
“Americans love to dance and have fun, you know that party atmosphere. So we try to make our music really, really lively.”
Music my way
One thing is for certain, the Fishtank Ensemble want to keep producing their music without the help of record labels.
“I feel like the popular music scene is so fickle that it’s not really a solid career path,” Knudson said. “But we’re happy in the direction we’re going.”
With music recording software becoming more accessible, many bands are choosing to cut the record labels totally out of the process.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said, “but a lot of groups are doing a good job, and people are starting to become aware of DIY bands. Bands that are doing music differently and totally by themselves.”
A musical excursion
The Fishtank is actually a music venue in Oakland, Calif., where Knudson was briefly living. Once the band had their first gig at a local restaurant, they needed a name and the rest is history.
“I used to really not like the name,” Knudson said. “But it grew on me. It makes no sense for any kind of music, which I think is great. If we were stuck with a really Eastern-European sounding name then we could never branch out.”
Knudson and company hope to one day explore new music, especially Indian music she said.
“We’re interested in pursuing all kinds of music,” Knudson said. “But especially interested in Indian music. The whole project is very nebulous right now, but we like the idea of going and having a musical excursion.”
The concert is part of the UBS Atrium Series produced by the Hudson River Performing Arts Center (HRPAC), which is not actually a center – but it is a group that hopes to build a performing arts center on the Weehawken waterfront when they raise enough money.
All performances for the HRPAC’s UBS Atrium Series begin at 12:30 p.m. They take place in the Lincoln Harbor area of the Weehawken waterfront, in the atrium of the UBS building.
The concert is free and open to the general public. Sponsored in part by the Hudson Reporter Newspapers. For more information, please visit the HRPAC web site www.hrpac.org or call (201) 716-4540.
Sean Allocca can be reached at email@example.com