The Ivory Coast

The Insular and Versatile Turns of Bent by Elephants

Local chamber folk-jazz septet Bent by Elephants are magicians. Despite the fact that they’re, well, seven people, pulling off a mini-orchestral sound—they do it while escaping the trap of being pretentious.

Vocalist Chelsey Walsh chatted with The Link over some chicken from Rotisserie Romados, talking music, travel, romance and eventually faith and existence in general. Needless to say, it got real deep real fast, much like the band’s songs and live shows.

The Link: Bent by Elephants are very textural and your lyrical narratives are pretty non-linear and experiential. Is this a product of all the travelling the band has done together?

Chelsey Walsh: Personally, I’ve been transient my whole life. I’m from the States and have moved all around because my dad was always moving for work.

Part of me has stayed very transient because I feel the best time to gain clarity is when you’re moving. There is a certain way of looking in on your life when you can step outside of where you live.

So is Montreal home?

The band definitely calls Montreal home. I think part of that is because we all nested here for a very fruitful period of time. The last six months on the road were healthy because we started actively seeing what we’re putting out into the world; you become less of an insular critic.

When you’re in it all the time you can’t really see what you’ve created. It’s the same as performance vs. writing and production. When you’re performing, everything is fluid. You can make it a different song if you like. I think I really want to re-engage with that now that we’re writing again, to write compositions that are more versatile.

Versatility seems like a big deal in BBE because you all play in other bands. Do you find the ideas of your bandmates change with their involvement in different projects?

Definitely. Paul [Van Dyk] and Luke [Fowlie] are our rhythm section and they play together in a jazz trio and understand music very harmonically. Our music is so textural because we’ll discuss a chord forever and take a while to construct it. It can sometimes be exhausting but generally results in something really cool.

Then Ryan is in The Youjsh and does stuff for a bunch of different projects, sometimes pop and sometimes experimental stuff, so he always has great contributions too. It makes our band who we are, that we all have different interests.

What do you think of the ‘husband and wife band’ concept and its connotations? I know you and Luke aren’t married, but you’re together. Do you think that kind of romantic element can influence sound?

To me, making art with somebody is a sort of romantic act anyways. You have to suspend certain preconceptions you have about that other person’s abilities and you have to believe that person has a certain degree of magic in them and you have to agree on what you’re doing together.

It makes sense to me that partners could make music together, but I don’t think that gives them a leg up.

In a way you have to be able to negotiate even more shit, and you have to be able to draw the line and say, “This is the shit we have to deal with at home and this is the shit we have to deal with in rehearsal, let’s not overlap that crap.”

Bent by Elephants (w/ Corinna Rose & The Oh Wells) / March 17 / La Tour Prisme (550 Beaumont) / $6.00

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