Say Hello to The Oops Kitchen

Folk Quartet Channels a Variety of Vibes

The Oops Kitchen’s Florence Lemieux, Mathieu McConnell-Enright, Iola Patalas and Michael Johancsik play at L’Escalier. Photo Shannon Carranco

On the third Sunday of every month, The Oops Kitchen gathers at L’Escalier bar to play their original Roma inspired folk songs.

The quartet is comprised of four young musicians: Michael Johancsik on guitar, Iola Patalas on flute and vocals, Florence Lemieux on violin and Mathieu McConnell-Enright on upright bass.

The Oops Kitchen’s sound is a unique mix of Eastern European or Balkan folk with hints of jazz and blues. Their lyrics are about love and lost loves, telling stories of heartbreak, boozy nights and the human experience.

On Sunday, when the quartet started their two-hour set which lasted from 4 p.m to 6 p.m., the room was warm, bright and bustling. L’Escalier patrons lined up to order a beer or some delicious homemade vegetarian treats.

L’Escalier’s funkily painted walls and stained glass lamps paired with The Oops Kitchen’s soulful sound give the event a lovely New Orleans-esque feel. The band played through the rise and fall of conversations from the audience and the sounds of St. Catherine St. wafting up through L’Escalier’s open windows.

Michael Johancsik happily plays guitar at The Oops Kitchen’s last event.

The lead singer, Patalas, has a laidback and almost blasé attitude, but it works for the band. They’ve been playing at L’Escalier for seven months now, so they’re comfortable in the cafe’s environment.

Patalas and Johancsik compose almost all of The Oops Kitchen’s music. The two musicians grew up in Calgary before moving to Montreal to go to McGill University. Johancsik has a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance and Patalas studied biology.

Johancsik and Patalas started The Oops Kitchen two and a half years ago. After their original violinist moved back to the U.S, Johancsik met Lemieux while they were both studying jazz performance at McGill, and he asked her to join the band. Patalas met McConnell-Enright at a jazz jam at Grumpy’s bar on Bishop St.

“In some ways we’re trying to create music that we think should exist already.” — Michael Johancsik

The two founders of the band struggled with describing their peculiar sound.

“I’m Polish and I grew up with a lot of Polish folk music. The excitement of that music is a big influence on what we’re going for,” Patalas said. “We try to be a bit more free with what we do.”

“I think in some ways we’re trying to create music that we think should exist already,” Johancsik said. “Obviously we have pretty diverse influences. I’m a jazz musician by training, so that has an influence in how I write music and how I play.”

Patalas writes all of the lyrics for The Oops Kitchen. Many of them are from poems she wrote in middle school and high school.

“We’ve written 42 original songs at this point, so now I’m running out of middle school material to convert to lyrics,” said Patalas, jokingly.

Iola Patalas plays flute.

The band also uses poems that their friends have written. One song The Oops Kitchen played on Sunday was based on a friend’s poem about loving the outdoors. This unique blend of poetry and music aids in the lovely diversity of The Oops Kitchen’s sound.

Three of the four bandmates in The Oops Kitchen are making a go of being professional musicians.

“Music, for me, is the last vestige of unfettered capitalism,” Johancsik said. He says that outside of organized musical institutions, like orchestras, there aren’t any rules to how musicians have to be treated. Because of this, musicians can be easily exploited. “If they paid us five bucks each to play they’d still get musicians. So it’s totally a free for all.”

But, according to Johancsik and Patalas, you can still make a living as a professional musician. Patalas said that Johancsik was making more money when he first graduated from McGill’s jazz performance program than she was with a bachelor’s of biology.

When asked about their name, Johancsik explained that a lot of what has made the Oops Kitchen’s sound so unique is because they’re all doing things they don’t know how to do.

The band originally had a trained singer do their vocals, but when she dropped out Patalas, who had never sang professionally before, stepped up to the plate and took over. Johancsik hadn’t played the guitar in 12 years.

“It’s a collection of happy accidents,” Patalas said.