These days it’s not uncommon for a breakout band to have a string section, maybe some horns, even an accordion. But Vancouver’s Brasstronaut has set a new bar for musicians who are pushing the boundaries of pop instrumentation. Flugelhorn, glockenspiel, clarinet, strings, lap-steel and even the EWI (electric wind instrument—a type of synthesizer) combine to form a rich tapestry of pop perfection. Equal parts chamber pop, Balkan bouncing indie rock, blissful soundscapes and jazz-tinged, funky rhythms, Brasstronaut members Bryan Davies, John Walsh, Brennan Saul, Edo Van Breemen, Tariq Hussain and Sam Davidson blend finely honed playing skills and powerful songwriting. This year they were long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, played smash showcases at festivals around the country and recently took home SOCAN’s 2010 ECHO Songwriting Prize for the song “Hearts Trompet.” The band’s debut full-length, Mt. Chimaera, was released in March. Visit


Whether it’s onstage or in their videos, one thing’s for sure: the five Québec musicians in Les Marinellis play retro garage and surf rock in French and they clearly enjoy it. They don’t take themselves too seriously, so they’re your run of the mill indie band, right? Not! Les Marinellis’ goal is to earn a living with their music, and they’d rather die than quit before they make it.

Paroles & Musique talked with Benoît Gromko, the band’s bassist, a few weeks prior to their SOCAN showcase at the Rendez-vous Pros des Francos on June 18, 2015.  “All of us gave up a lot to play the music we love,” says Gromko. “A lot of older musicians I meet tell me, ‘I had a band too, when I was your age. We shoulda… We coulda…’ I didn’t want to become that dude. I don’t know where our band will end up, but we will surely have tried everything we could!”  The band has already toured Europe three times, played the FrancoFolies festival three times, and played at South by Southwest last winter in Austin, Texas. And those accomplishments are just the beginning.

The input of mythical Burger Records

The many efforts of Gromko and company haven’t gone unanswered. With their first recordings under their collective belt, they started pitching to labels locally and internationally. The drafted a short list of preferred labels, and it was the mythical Burger Records that answered their call. “We’ve made quite a lot of friends through Burger,” says Gromko. “It truly is like a family, a community where people help each other: when they tour, bands crash at the other bands’ places and they help with the gear. We’re also lucky to have signed with a label that really has an identity of its own, and that draws a really cool fan base. Not only do they naturally fit with our sound, but as time goes by, we realize we get more and more people that come to check us out only because we’re on Burger, even though they might not know us, because the label is such a solid reference. It definitely helps.”

Thanks to the support of Burger and that of German label P.Trash – which distributes their (mostly vinyl) albums in Europe – Les Marinellis end up playing the Euro zone as often as they do on their home turf. As a matter of fact, they’re prepping a new European tour, and will follow with a stint on the Eastern seaboard in the fall. “It was quite hard, at first, to book shows in Europe. It wasn’t always glamourous,” says Gromko, laughing. “But now that we’ve created a network and people know us over there, booking shows is becoming easier and easier.”

Besides, the bass player isn’t one to give up easily. Hard work, commitment and devotion are standard operating procedure. “We’re reaping the efforts we’ve invested in our band,” says Gromko. “Often, bands are in a hurry to get signed so they can delegate those tasks to others as soon as possible. Nothing wrong with that, but we decided to do things differently, the D.I.Y. approach, never compromise on the choice of venue or musicians we play with. We play late, people are drunk and it can sometimes get weird, but that’s our world and we give it our all.” As for Canada, in the end it was the upstart Kapuano Records – also home to Les Deuxluxes – that signed Les Marinellis.

Sounds, Influences, Attitude

But Les Marinellis’ work isn’t all about promotion. Guitarists Alix Lepage and Alexis Patry, as well as Gromko, are all “tone heads,” musicians who seek the perfect sound, even if it means using different instruments or vintage pedals and amps in order to achieve the “color” they seek. Drummer Jean-François Martin rounds out the quintet.

Even though they have a surf rock aesthetic – think Chocolat meets Dick Dale – Les Marinellis don’t sound like a cover band or a novelty act. “When we started, we were called Kid et les Marinellis, and Luc Brien of Breastfeeders played guitar in the band, which was quite different than it is now,” says Gromko. “Our main influences were Jacques Dutronc and Antoine. But as we gradually changed musicians, our singer Cédric Marinelli shifted the band towards the garage sound we have nowadays. Usually, Cédric will come to rehearsal with a melody and a few chords, and he quickly shares his ideas with us, and we each work on our parts separately before working them out together. “

The band’s third album titled Île de rêve came out on March 27, 2015, and was introduced on stage in early May at Club Lambi, in Montréal, shortly after a concert run in Europe.

Their SOCAN showcase during the Rendez-vous Pros des Francos will happen on June 18 at 5 p.m. , where they’ll share the stage with Le Couleur. “For once, we’re playing early and the show is free, so all you poor people have no excuse for not coming!” wrote singer Cédric Marinelli on his Facebook page. It will indeed be a great opportunity to catch Les Marinellis for free in Montréal, because after that, they will play L’Escogriffe on July 15, then Rimouski (Le Villageois, on Aug. 6) and UpFest (Sudbury, Aug. 14), before hitting the road abroad.

When it comes to music, Christine Fellows could almost be two people. “There is the anti-social songwriting me that lives in Winnipeg,” she says with a laugh, describing the more solitary practice that has allowed her to release four solo albums since “quitting her day job” a decade ago in order to pursue music full time. Then there’s Christine Fellows the performer and fervently engaged-in-the-world artistic collaborator, with more than a few creative projects on the go at any one time. “It’s a way of giving you more opportunities to expand your work,” she says, describing mixed-media endeavours that span dance, theatre, film and art, and fearlessly mash-up musical forms. “I guess, for me, it’s a way of not just working inside your own world.”

Not that Fellows seems at risk of navel-gazing. Instead, her most recent albums have been fed by in-depth research on a specific topic, allowing her to learn while she writes. Her whimsical 2007 release Nevertheless, for example, is anchored in the life and work of American modernist poet and “legendary spinster” Marianne Moore, but also includes a cast of unlikely characters, from artist Joseph Cornell to the Greek goddess Athena. “I like having something to spring off,” explains Fellows, her voice curling into an audible smile. “I get really inspired by that.”

A six-month residency and commission at Winnipeg’s Saint-Boniface Museum in 2009 became the inspiration for her current project. Due for release in March 2011, Femmes de chez nous will be a studio album and performance DVD inspired by the Grey Nuns who once inhabited the museum’s building. The commission resulted in a series of public, on-site performances in a tiny chapel, which were accompanied by overhead projections by visual artist Shary Boyle, with whom Fellows collaborates regularly. “The nuns came to see it,” she says. “It was totally moving — the direct contact between the work and the people the work is about. That’s always amazing.”

Fellows, who does most of her writing at the keyboard, also recently took part in the National Parks Project, an initiative that sent groups of musicians and filmmakers camping while they collaborated on films and soundtracks reflecting their experiences of the Canadian landscape. Fellows, who describes the experience as “life-changing,” worked with musicians Sandro Perri, Fellows’ husband, John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans) and filmmaker Daniel Cockburn at Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Indeed, though she enjoys her solitary writing work, Fellows admits she is less and less drawn to performing on her own. “It’s not fun for me,” she admits with a laugh. “The fun part is sharing the experience with other humans!” Fellows is also intent on continuing to collaborate, and is open to whatever comes next. “Every time you open yourself up to experimentation, you aren’t going to be disappointed. Even if it’s a total failure, you will have had a really transformative experience. And that’s what I’m looking for.”

Track Record

  • Fellows has been touring with the Correction Line Ensemble, a chamber group that blends classical and modern music, sharing the stage with John K. Samson and four classically trained musicians. Fellows says, “It’s like trying to find a common language.”
  • She has created numerous live scores for performances by dancers Susie Burpee and Brent Lott, and served as composer in residence with Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers.
  • She has toured across the country with the Pan-Canadian New Folk Ensemble, which includes songwriters Old Man Luedecke and Kim Barlow, along with musicians Alex McMaster, Jordy Walker and Alison Corbett.