A song by Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra comes on like a thunderstorm. The skies darken, things creak in the stillness, someone remarks on the ominous mood and suddenly the world erupts in a calamity of lightning and upheaval. When you think the world is saturated with such unrest, it peters out and the world seems more alive than before. OffBeat spoke with Efrim Menuck, leader of the Montreal-based folk orchestral quintet.
There is a marked tension between the personal and global, the rustic and the baroque, the contained and the outraged, that manifests in your songs.
All the songs have some sort of tension because, to a fault, they are all about the same thing a lot of the time, which is that people are good and the world is cruel and everything that happens in this world follows from those two facts.
Does Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra make protest music?
I guess so. “Protest music” is a weird term because it refers to a specific moment in history and was explicitly marshaled for a cause, the civil rights movement mostly. Our music isn’t marshaled to any specific cause. I’d say it’s “complainer music,” that’s for sure.
There is a gospel cadence and fervent delivery in what you do, along with aspects of plainsong and choir-singing.
That’s the sound we aspire to. Most of the stuff we listen to is old music. We’re not interested in being an old-timey band, but there’s a quality of that sound we are always aiming for. One of the things I like about old recordings is that they sound like people are playing something that’s just a little bit out of their reach. It’s very rare that people sound comfortable on those recordings. They are aiming for something just a little outside their wheelhouse, and subconsciously we try to do that. We write arrangements that are just a little out of our reach, voice vocal lines a little out of our range. There are sounds we aspire to and if we can’t quite make those sounds, we want to point our sounds in that general direction.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra plays at One Eyed Jacks February 14. Tickets are $12.