Sporting a curious menagerie of instruments including kazoos, accordions, and charangos to supplement the standard-issue guitar-bass-and-drums rock band format, Asheville, N.C. eight-piece Sirius.B have spent the last 12 years reinterpreting the jazz and folk of Eastern Europe from an American perspective, performing gypsy music with the speed an energy of rock ‘n’ roll.
Guitarist Xavier Ferdon relates that the band began in 2006 with himself, singer Pancho Bond, and a drummer who has since moved on. With his close friend Bond living in New York, Ferdon felt an urge to start something new. He convinced Bond to move back to North Carolina, and the two men began assembling members for their fledgling project.
Ferdon, in the meantime, had been enamored of the 2005 film “Everything Is Illuminated,” about a young Jewish man who travels to the Ukraine in search of his ancestors; the soundtrack, in particular, grabbed Ferdon’s attention, with music from Russian folk artist Arkady Severny and American gypsy-punk band Gogal Bordello. “I heard the music in that film, and it got me interested in playing those styles of music,” he says. “It just appealed to me in some way; I loved it.
“When (Bond) and I agreed to start the band, we didn’t really discuss what it would be, but we quickly realized that this was what we wanted to do — something along the lines of the Eastern European and gypsy stuff. He already had a handful of lyrics written, and it was just a matter of setting those lyrics to that style of music.”
Sirius.B rapidly gained new members, and began playing shows in Asheville, but Ferdon maintains that the outfit didn’t truly take flight until the addition of cellist Franklin Keel a year or so in. “Franklin is a genius musically, and with him, the music really got interesting,” he says. “Before Franklin, I really don’t feel the band was quite there yet.”
For his part, Keel was impressed with Sirius.B even before he signed on. “I remember going to one of their shows before I had joined the band, hearing them play,” he says. “I’d never heard anything quite like it before. “Lots of things stood out to me, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what those things were. It was such a unique and unusual sound.”
Apparently, Keel was a quick study, because Ferdon says his writing contributions to the Sirius.B repertoire immediately made the band’s music richer and more complex.
“We have grown more adventurous in the way we structure songs and harmonies,” Keel admits. “The older songs have much simpler chord structures. The newer ones have more sections; they’re more harmonically daring.”
Keel adds that the music’s complexity makes live performance all the more difficult, as he and his ‘mates seek to balance technical derring-do with the kind of ebullient showmanship Sirius.B crowds have come to expect from the notoriously raucous octet.
“With each album we’ve done, we’ve had a conversation about how to recreate the music live,” Keel says. “Which is next to impossible to do. But we keep getting closer. But at our shows, we’re loud and high-energy, and our audiences have a hard time sitting still. We’ve done shows at theaters before, and people still weren’t able to stay in their seats.’
“People also tend to drink a lot at our shows, and there’s always a storm of drunk people dancing up front,” Ferdon adds. “We definitely appeal to a beer-drinking crowd.”
Sirius.B will play Preservation Pub Saturday, June 9 at 10 p.m.