Backwater Opera infuses classical roots with bluegrass jams
Juggling Gypsy • 1612 Castle St.
Sat., 3/31 • 9:30 p.m.
Aside from the fitting geographical location, UNT harbors a music school of high regard. So, what else should three classically trained double-bass majors do when they meet a skilled violinist? Start a band, of course!
Enter Robert Sherwood (mandolin, guitar, vocals), Marisa Sherwood (guitar, vocals) and August Dennis (bass), who met violinist Carlo Canlas at a coffee-shop performance. For the three bass students, being trained on the same instrument placed them all on an identical musical wavelength—but adding Canlas was the finishing touch. Together, they form Backwater Opera.
From the coffee shop to taking first place at festival competitions—including just finishing 35 Denton earlier in the month—Backwater Opera’s covered a lot of ground since founding in 2009. Their instrumentation can only be described as Johann Bach meets Nickel Creek; bass and violin offer a sophisticated alternative as the boys juxtapose their sound with the plunkings of the mandolin and guitar. Robert and Marisa’s playful duets and powerful solos are enrapturing on originals like “Kathleen’s Farewell,” and fun on covers of The Beatles and The Strokes.
Marisa provided some insight to the group’s unique sound before they hit Juggling Gypsy on Saturday, March 31st.
encore (e): How do you incorporate a modern appeal into chamber music and bluegrass—or chambergrass?
Marisa Sherwood (MS): Because of our classical roots and bluegrass instrumentation, chambergrass seemed like the perfect description. I wish we could say that we coined it, but after a year of use, we learned that there are actually a few bands who already call themselves chambergrass. We’re just happy that the idea is spreading!
New music is constantly emerging, and we’re always finding something new and different to inspire us. I think the easiest way to bring a modern twist to “older” genres is by simply throwing the idea of genres out the window and just playing what we feel the song needs.
e: The band is just over two years old, but you seem to have accomplished so much in the short time together.
MS: Two years doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you put the amount of work required to succeed as a modern DIY band, sometimes the two years seems much longer. We are endlessly proud of what we have accomplished so far, and hope that it sends a message to all new bands that if you put enough time and hard work into your craft, you can accomplish just about anything. That’s not to say that it’s been an easy road, though.
The biggest tools that a band has at their disposal today are social networking (both online and in person), the magic of open-mic nights which give a group an outlet to practice their performance and meet other musicians, and websites like SonicBids or Reverb Nation, which have numerous free festivals and gigs that you can submit to. You just have to take the time to sift through the huge list to find ones that are relevant to you.
e: Is your new EP still expected this month? And why release an EP rather than make another full-length album?
MS: We’re actually in the process of recording the EP now, so you can still expect to see it really soon. The primary reason we decided to record it is because the songs from our first album have all been rewritten since losing a former fifth member (Larry Vanderpool on cello). Although we are so proud of our original LP, we are recording this in order to give our audience an accurate representation of what our current live sound is. Since we’ll be touring and thus introducing ourselves to brand-new audiences, we wanted to have this in the meantime until we record our official LP this coming May.
e: What’s the deal with Tree Shows?
MS: The downtown Denton square lawn is easily our favorite stage. We started to do Tree Shows to serve the purpose of getting our music out into the Denton scene while providing performance practice for ourselves, which we believe is just as important as private practice.
Every time we do a Tree Show, it reminds us where we come from, and seeing what we have developed into is quite remarkable. Our last few Tree Shows have each pulled out an audience of almost 100 people, all of whom are just there to have fun and listen to some music. They’re also our most interactive audience, and therefore our most personal.
e: I’ve heard Denton is a good town for budding bands.
MS: Denton is an incredibly musically receptive and supportive town, especially to new music. It’s also the friendliest music community I’ve ever known. There is always someone, musician or not, looking to help you move forward. The support of your community is just as important as the music you’re putting out there, and Denton is a beautiful place in that regard.
e: How have you guys grown since the beginning, and what do you think you’ll accomplish by the end of this year?
MS: Since the beginning, I’d say the way we’ve grown the most is within the band, through our musical communication and connection to each other. It’s because of our personal growth that we’ve been able to have public growth. It’s also helped us become completely comfortable on a stage of any size.
We’ve already got a pretty busy year ahead of us, and we can’t wait. We’ll be touring, recording, releasing a new album, playing festivals, and just seeing where all of this takes us next. Our band is our family, and we hope that is conveyed onstage.