Best Fern Is Blooming

Duo Best Fern to Play at Concordia Greenhouse on Wednesday

  • Alexia Avina and Nick Schofield are Best Fern / Best Friends. Photo courtesy Rachel Nam

Alexia Avina and Nick Schofield used to walk past each other every day on the street.

That is, until one day, they decided to jam.

The two musicians—a McGill student and a Concordia electroacoustics student, respectively—make up Best Fern, arguably one of Montreal’s most unique up-and-coming bands.

Listening to Best Fern is like floating through an aquarium. Watery synths, with layered bubbly samplings, and of course, Avina’s angelic voice, all come together to produce a whimsical underwater sound.

In the name of organic, plant goodness, Best Fern will be playing at the Concordia Greenhouse on Jan. 25, along with Devon Welsh and Kah Sing, as part of the fifth installment of the Sauna Series.

Before “officially” starting their band, Avina would stay at Schofield’s place in the evenings and they’d make music together. Eventually, they transitioned into playing in the daytime—usually after brunch. Possibly fueled by pancakes, but mostly influenced by the soft sunlight, Avina said that the daytime really inspired them.

“Once we shifted it towards the morning, that’s when Best Fern started to sound like Best Fern,” she said, perched on a ladder in Schofield’s Mile End kitchen.

Best Fern’s quirky name also had to go through a lot of changes. “Ananas” was already taken, Avina explained sadly.

“It was comically difficult how many names we cycled through. At one point, Alexia suggested ‘Mos Def,’” said Schofield, as the two musicians burst into a fit of laughter.
Finally, the pair decided on “Best Fern,” because of the way it sounds like “best friends.”

“Which we are!” Avina enthused.

Their affinity for plants is uncanny. As we spoke, I spotted something odd from the corner of my eye—a yam floating in a jar of water sitting on the table.

“Is that […] is that a yam?” I asked, perplexed.

“It’s Madame Yam,” Avina said smoothly. Madame Yam’s roots fill an extra-large mason jar, and a vine emerges from her head, growing all the way up to the top of the kitchen window.

“She’s hydroponic,” quipped Schofield. I needed to confirm that Madame Yam does not, in fact, grow other mini yams. “No, no. That would be creepy,” he said.

Yams aside, the band is deeply rooted in the local scene. The cute friends slash bandmates can often be found at La Plante, a quirky venue in the heart of Mile End’s industrial section.

Jean Cousin, who makes his own music under the pseudonym Johnny_Ripper, helps to organize the many shows that go on at La Plante every week.

“You have to start with loving yourself, to love anyone else effectively.”— Nick Schofield, Best Fern

“We have moments where it’s really hectic. It’s been La Plante for five years now,” he explained. “But anywhere [Best Fern] plays, it’s the most calming thing. It actually forces the audience to be as quiet as possible, because if you start talking, you’ll hear [the chattering] over the music.”

The band is gaining momentum daily and Avina and Schofield find it hard to keep up with.

Seven months after getting together as a band, Best Fern found themselves onstage at the Rialto Theatre—opening for Angel Olsen during Pop Montreal last fall.

Best Fern is also part of a small community-oriented label called “Oh Hi.” The collective is made up of other local bands, such as Loon and Saxsyndrum—Schofield’s other project— that tour, collaborate and support one and other. Best Fern recently dropped their first self-titled EP through Oh Hi in September.

There was a lot of momentum building up to the release, Avina explained.

“We made this really huge jump […] Nick put it well. He said that it was like landing on your feet, but shakily. We kind of wobbled.”

Polaroids, ya feel? The only thing it’s missing is Madame Yam.

Some things are just like that though—different from what we’d imagine them to be. Best Fern’s music sort of leans in that direction, as the sounds culminate from improved jam sessions, only to become fully formed songs later on. But also, their music acts as a commentary on these kind of conflicting, or confusing, or even overwhelming feelings of self-doubt.

“A Way,” “Lay It On Me,” “Do U Love U,” “R U Well,” and “I Will Try,” the names of the five key tracks in the EP force listeners to ask themselves how they care for others and themselves, too.

“I’ve gone through a history of anxiety and a lot of self-doubt,” explained Schofield. It’s a feeling that resonates within many of us. Avina and Schofield both know it well.

“I notice myself inciting certain emotional states into existence and clinging to them without recognizing that I’m doing it to myself,” Avina adds to the sentiment. After all, we are what we fear becoming. “That fear—of the unknown landscapes of your mental inner-being. I don’t want to be afraid of whatever shadow sides I have.”

However, the music that the two create together works in a healing, positive nature.

“The music that we create is a conduit for helping ourselves,” said Schofield. He explained that “Do U Love U” was inspired by the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist. “You have to start with loving yourself, to love anyone else effectively.”
Many of their songs work this way, asking the listener to reflect and be more introspective.

For Avina, the music she makes with Best Fern is very different from her solo project. Typically, she explained, her songs are sad; coming from a place of anguish. “With Best Fern, it’s as if we’re putting aside whatever we’re dealing with to reinforce this positive message in ourselves and in the community around us.”

With the delicate touch of dusk pouring through the glass ceiling, and the warmth of candles twinkling around the plants, and the band’s mantra-like lyrics—the intimate Jan. 25 show in the Greenhouse will certainly project the dreamy vibes that Best Fern aims to achieve.

Sauna V with Best Fern, Devon Welsh and Kah Sing // Jan. 25 // Henry F. Hall Building — Concordia Greenhouse // 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. // Doors at 5:30 // $5 or PWYC //

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