Morykit agrees, "Yeah it just doesn't seem right does it?"
"No it doesn't actually," I finish.
I asked about a story I read in their bio, "Cilette, this question is
really for you. It's one that really has tugged at my heart, so I need to ask
it, if you don't mind. I read that you had a father/daughter bonding
experience when you were 20 years old where you and your father had
collaborated on a song. Have you and your father had any other experiences
since that time?"
"'Romeo's Prey'? No that was really a magical thing," Swann answers. "I was pretty young and we, my dad and I, were on our way to Vegas. We wrote the song in a diner, I mean the classic Americana beehive hair-do waitress with the pineapple earrings. It was the classic song written on a napkin. I had just broken up with some guy and my dad was consoling me. It was so cute. He was a writer. That was his trade. He sang and acted as well. He passed away four years ago. So it was kind of neat because before he died, that song went to number one on the jazz charts on mp3.com. So he got to see that song hit the charts. Yeah it wasn't the Rolling Stone or anything but it was neat. We were like, 'Dad it's one of your songs! It went to number one!' My dad was really a big part in helping us get our music on track. He was our tour manager for many years. So yeah, my dad was quite a guy."
I continue, "You know, people try to pigeonhole you with your style of music. You already told us about the style of music you play, but where do you find yourself fitting in?"
"It's just so eclectic," Morykit replies. "I mean that's just the thing with what we do. We have a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It has a lot of what we use to listen to growing up. So I guess there are many influences there. I guess we would be basically acoustic rock with Celtic and Americana influences.
"That's one of the challenges I love when we go out with just the two of us." Morykit goes on, "The challenge of really holding a room just because of you're sound and voice. Especially for us we, a lot of times are playing for people that have never heard of us play before. That's another reason why we decided to do 'Beneath the Covers' because it's actually another great way to introduce people to our sound. Doing songs that are very familiar to them. Our take on the songs of 'Beneath the Covers' is just very different, same with our Christmas albums.
"As an experiment we were playing a Christmas concert and we thought, 'Well, let's rearrange some of the tunes and just throw them into the set. The people were like, 'Wow, this was the best version I had ever heard. Why don't you make a Christmas album?' So we did. We did it within 14 days and it was incredibly popular. We took the essence of what the songs were, which is what we tried to do with 'Beneath the Covers,' hence the title, and try and make it our own. So the people listening go, 'Wait I recognize that tune, but it's not what I'm looking for.' So I may play the song with the Dobro and then you get to the chorus and they go, 'Oh my god, it's that song!' and then by the time you get to the end it has taken on a different journey."
I tell them, "'Scarborough Fair' is like that and is one of the best versions we've heard of that song. Same with 'Superstition,' you really own that song, you made it your own."
"Thank you," Swann smiles. "You know if you're going to do a cover, why do it in the identical way it was done initially. Like there is a version of Roxy Music's 'More Than This' and almost note for note they do it identical. I can't see your take on that. I, as a listener, want to feel what you would do. Roman is the arranger and I'll find different ways of singing the melody just to keep it fresh and interesting for us and still keep the integrity of the song. It's so fun."
"You performed at the Orange County Swap meet. I thought this was real genius, creative and unique. What inspired you to play at such a venue?" I ask.
Bouncing back and forth the pair answer.
Swann: "It was about seven years ago, I think in '99. We did it for about two years. Bless my dad, he was not a morning person, he would get up and drive with us to Orange County whenever we did the swap meet. We would get there and play from something like 11 in the morning to about three in the afternoon."
Morykit: "We would do it about once or twice a month."
Swann: "We realized that what we really needed was lots and lots of different kinds of people who had great musical taste. Where do we find lots of people who are just milling about drinking a coke or buying sunglasses or whatever? It was just a wonderful way to connect people. Some of our lifelong friends we met through the Orange County Swap meet. Fans that were made there, have been to seven or eight states to see us perform. In fact, one of the couples we had met at the Orange County Marketplace bought Roman a Dobro when his was stolen -- and we'll tell the story tonight when we perform. All our gear was stolen and when they found out the sent him a check for $2,000 and said that we needed to buy another because it is their favorite thing that we do. Then we graduated to outdoor shopping malls, Universal City Walk, Seaport Village etc."
"Where was a great turnover of people?" Swann goes on. "That is what we needed. Lots of people and that was one way of finding them. We were selling 50- 70 CDs then it became over a 100 CDs in a weekend. Then we went and did the art and wine fairs. They were a little bit harder and the timeline was different because you had to get juried in. So then we did art and wine fairs for about four or five years. Some years we were doing $40,000 a year going to Oregon, San Francisco, or Seattle. We started to get a huge following and an e-mail list going back to those towns and have a crowd turn out to see us perform."
Morykit: "Here in Arizona, we played the Tempe Art Festival nine times! We would go down to 6th and Mill and play there. I can guarantee that most of those people that caught us there are here tonight. There is not many bands out there that can fill a place like this, even with labels. So we are very proud in the fact that we can go to many of the western states, and we can bring in a crowd of 100 to 200 fans; in some places, 400, and we don't have a major label helping us."
Swann: "You know I think also too that there is a bonding that happens. There is something with people who do get signed and they get kind of shuffled into this pretty up-scaled glamorous performing life. They never get that really intimate connection with their fan base-- they are people who have heard them on the radio, they haven't actually met them. They haven't signed their CDs or know that their child learned guitar because they saw Roman play the Dobro and then we come back this year and find out that they're getting married. You know you're part of their life and it's such a privilege to have them take your CD home. It's really an honor to have your fans e-mail you and tell you that they have a room full of 30 people and they play our music for them. It is such an honor and just so touching. They know our struggle and a lot of them participate in it. Many participated when my dad died. Many participated when all our gear got stolen or when management deals fell through or record labels were courting us. Many people have participated in our career because they know it's challenging, they know our struggles and they know we're doing it on our own and many who are attracted to our music really have that entrepreneurial spirit."
Remembering something else I read in a review I ask, "You said that you have done some TV series, do you have any plans on branching to other areas?"
"We have done a couple of movies. Our publisher is the one and is actually the only outward source that we have in the business. He has been a friend for about 12 years," Swann says. "Actually we started this business together. He didn't have the money to actually buy into the venture, but he did say he could help us get into TV and film. When someone couldn't afford a Sarah McClocklin or a Loreena McKennit or one of the larger artists who were requiring the larger sums in which to have a song on a TV show, he would say, 'Oh? Well, I know, let's send a little Gypsy Soul your way.' So we received a reputation that way. We also had another friend who had played our music at a party one night and not even trying for it, the director heard our music and used it in his movie. So you know we take it as it comes and it's a really cool thing when it happens."
"Let's talk a little bit about the other side of your music," I go on. "You're not just all about your own music, you have your own label too named Off the Beaten Track. Tell us a little about that."
Morykit starts, "Actually it came about out of necessity more than anything. We really started the record company for ourselves. Since I had produced a bunch of other artists who are on the label, it's basically a cooperative effort. We barter a lot of our services back and forth with Gavin, who is one of the artists on our label and has helped us with our styling. Gavin's then-boyfriend, Jerome does our graphics. He is an art director for videos. So that is how the label actually got started. We do have a distributor for it, we just started with Allegro, a division with their company actually. So yeah, that's how the label actually got started."
I was wondering, "You said you currently have a few artists on your label. If other artists would want to obtain your label, how would they seek you out or contact you?"
Swann responds, "Quite honestly..."
Morykit picks up, "We have more than we can handle at the moment."
Swann clarifies, "It's actually a 24/7 deal for us right now. We don't really go out of our way to advertise. I think, not for a couple of years, would we even be able to handle other things."
Morykit adds, "Nor are the people that we are working with at this time."
"Or ourselves because we are funding the whole thing," Swann says. "So if we're not touring or bringing in international licensing or whatever, we don't have money to put towards their promotion. It is kind of an insane way of doing it, but that is how it's happened."
"It really is a group of friends that is a co-operative effort." Morykit goes on, "We are all helping each other. Everyone is working on his or her own career and we needed the umbrella and the appearance of a label. So we really formed this as a functional way to help everybody, including ourselves. Whoever breaks first are the ones who will really help promote the label. That's really how we are working it."
"You know you talked about the Internet. How has that helped your career?" I ask.
Morykit responds, "On MP3.com, that is a phenomenal resource of its kind, it has really helped. It is free to the consumer and is paid for by advertising only. 'Scarbourgh Fair' was #1 on their charts for about a year."
Swann picks up, "The amount of e-mail that we get from all around the world is really like, wow, we can go to bed and wake up the next morning and people have heard our music! And we didn't have to be there to promote it! Or we weren't there to perform it! It really is amazing and we were one of the few that had some really nice attention on there. So yeah it's a great tool."
Morykit finishes, "Our music had at one point a million downloads and a million of anything is significant. So it helped spread our name. I suspect that if we get anything that is vaguely high profile, that it will really invigorate a lot of these people who already know who we are."
Before parting I ask the two if there anything was else they would like to share?
Both musicians look at each other and in agreement Swann replies, "Well the only thing is that of thanks to our publisher. This is the guy we started with 12 years ago. He used to just administrate our song catalog but had no investment in our career. He didn't have a large-scale investment in at the start of our career, but now he has. We just signed a publishing deal with him last month and he has officially invested in us, which is incredible. Here we are 12 years on and we stayed pretty good friends. Since he started his company, he ended up administering the Bob Marley catalog among other huge artistís song catalogs. So we are really proud of him just as a friend becoming successful in this industry. He is not a cutthroat guy at all in fact, he is the nicest guy you would like to meet. So we are so proud that he has managed to get through the industry and do so great. And that he wanted to invest in us. He said that he doesn't have anyone on his roster that puts in the kind of hours that we do and he really wanted to help us out."
Morykit completes their thoughts, "So our worldwide publishing deal with him is great and it's very fair as there are performance clauses so everyone has to do what they say they are going to do and now he is also facilitating licensing with a South African company and a company in Scandinavia and other international companies as partners for our own label. You know all those seeds that have been planted all those years are finally starting to come to fruition. So we are really happy."
Gypsy Soul is the most accessible of groups not only to us, the media, but also to their fans. After our interview I took my place in the audience to watch the evening's performance. It reminded me of when I was a young girl and my mother and my uncle (who sung on the radio while growing up in South Dakota) would sing at family gatherings. The interaction that Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit have with their audience is much like they had invited us into their home away from home for a night of entertainment. It seems proper and I now know why the duo to call themselves Gypsy Soul.
To learn more about or find out when Gypsy Soul will be in your area check out their Web site, www.gypsysoul.com
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