Gypsy SoulGypsy Soul - From Our Home to Yours
By Sally A. Schwartz
Photos by Dave Schwartz
 
On a recent Friday night my husband, Dave, and I made our way to the Kerr Music Hall in Scottsdale, Arizona. The venue is small and very quaint, an adobe brick building with beautifully refinished wood beams, but has the sound system of a grand theater. When we arrived, Robert Zucker, concert promoter and owner of Acoustic Music Arizona/AMAZ Records, ushered us to the Green Room where we waited for the acoustic and folk rock duo Gypsy Soul to finish sound check. It wasnít long before vocalist, Cilette Swann and instrumentalist, Roman Morykit, joined us. Settling in, Swann, Morykit and I made small talk about the previous nightís show in Prescott, Arizona. We all laughed as Morykit referred to it as "quite buggy actually" and began restringing his guitar.

"What caught my attention when I was offered this interview was your band name -- Gypsy Soul," I begin. "As a dancer and at one time a member of a troop that did gypsy-style dancing, the name caught my eye. My understanding of gypsy music stems from Romania, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, etc. Did you come up with the name because of your Celtic/Ukrainian/Italian background or because you are mostly a road band?"

"Well it's a little of both actually," Morykit replies.

"It's actually a little bit of everything." Swann clarifies, "It's more figurative than a literal description of ourselves, because obviously we don't sound like gypsy music. It's more about our experiences and careers because we have had to travel around the world to find each other. So obviously it was in our blood and secondly, I think it's about the experience of just living a dream."

"Both of you grew up around music. Cilette, in an article I read while doing research, it said you were more self-taught, not really wanting to confine yourself to notes on a page."

With a hint of a smile Swann admits, "Exactly. I would rather sing what I feel than the notes on a page, but Roman, he was classically trained."

"Yes, I was classically trained on the piano since about the age of five along with my brother," Morykit adds. "He is a classical composer actually, and is an extraordinary pianist. He plays as a concert pianist and is incredible. I realized that my path didn't lie with the piano. I picked up the guitar, classical guitar actually, when I was nine. I taught myself how to play the guitar because I found the instrument that just really connected with me. Then when I was 16, I was in a band and we needed a bass player. So I said, 'Well, I play a string instrument, I guess I'll play bass.' The only thing available to me at the time was a fretless. So that is what I learned to play next. That was and is really my first love. That is what I really love to play though I love to play acoustic guitar also. It's definitely a go or the Dobro for a duo like us."

It wasn't difficult to get excited in listening to the two talk about touring.

"Yeah, when we go out as a duo it makes more sense for him to play an acoustic guitar or a Dobro," says Swann. "We do play a few songs with the fretless bass, but a whole set (about two hours) with just a fretless bass we think would be just too much."

"I love playing bass just as much as the next guy, but you can't do much with four strings really," Morykit shrugs and we all laugh.

Swann continues, "What he can do with it, is much like getting an orchestra out of it. For the audience, they want variation."

"What is interesting about what we do is that we try not to make it like your usual been-there-done-that guitar," Morykit explains. "We try to make it a little more interesting than that. We have been able to employ certain aspects of technology without having background tracks. There are certain things that we do to make it a little more interesting for the audience. Depending where we are and the format that we go out with people really don't know what they're going to get even when they get the two of us. Like today, the last time that we played here I didn't have the bass with me and I didn't have the loop station with me that I use to make loops as we go along, so yet again they get to see something different tonight. We're perfectionists in that way."

Swann adds, "It's a really fun visual on stage and I'm just like in the middle of it, enjoying what is going on around me."

"We just want to have a good time playing and that is our goal for the audience as well," Morykit concludes.

As musicians, the pair brought up the latest Bruce Springsteen CD and DVD, "The Seeger Sessions." It was obvious the two are very impressed with the style and format of the album as they both agree, "It is so real, alive and true to form. This is what it is really all about."

"I was wondering how much of the folklore plays a part of your sound and music. Has it influenced you at all?" I query.

Morykit replies, "Well, yeah, I'm sure. When I was nine or ten years old I was playing in a polka band with my brother. We were playing Ukrainian folk songs. So that was really my opening to playing live, besides playing at concerts and recitals. I did that as a kid, as a piano player. So I can't say that it didn't have an impact on me, the European aspects of folk music. Obviously living in England there are influences there. I used to live in London, the Pogues lived down the street from us and we used to go see them play. There are so many Celtic bands there. So like here, of course the influence plays a part."

Swann picks up, "And my parents are South African, so we grew up with a lot of South African music in the house. I have always had an affinity for the Celtic music and Roman had always the affinity for more of the Americana, blues and bluegrass, even that has kind of traveled down into our music. So it's kind of a kismet that we actually met and dug the same music, that we had the same kind of souls and the same draws to cultural things that sort of represented our background. I also have the Irish background that brings in the Celtic aspects."

"Tell me about your latest album 'Beneath the Covers' then," I ask. "How did that come about and what inspired it. How is it different from your other CDs?"

"Well we decided to pay homage to artists/writers that had influenced us." Morykit says. "There's about nine or 10 songs, that's why the title -- 'Beneath the Covers.' We tried to find artist that had influenced us both, on different continents, that had actually meant something to us both. Not necessarily a song by a certain artist, but a song that had a profound impact on us."

Swann adds, "The absolute key was that we both had to be affected by it. So it really narrowed the field, like I love Joni Mitchell, but to Roman she isn't his taste."

Morykit jumps in, "That doesn't mean I don't like her, it just means that her style is different than my taste. So that was the criteria for the album. We had to have in order to make this album."

Gypsy SoulSwann continues, "Its kind of a funny thing really, we just only released it to friends and a few fans in October 2005. It really wasn't a big deal. It was more to test the waters. What we have decided is that a few of those songs, like the eight-minute ode to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush take up an equivalent space of like two-and-a-half songs. It's not really like it's the guiding force in our decision at all, obviously, but we decided, 'You know what? We are going to take that off and maybe save it for a DVD down the road and add a couple other songs that are a little shorter, a little more familiar.' We took off 'Landslide' and we are putting on 'Wicked Games' by Chris Isaac and a different original song that actually sounds like a cover, but we actually wrote. It's called, 'Loving me' and then we are going to properly release it in September or October this year. We want to give it a more rounder and fuller signature sound and properly release it and we will take it from there."

Morykit adds, "The worst case scenario, would be that (we have distribution already) we could do a radio and press campaign on our own. You know, just a modest one in which we could do the right kind of radio and the right kind of press for what we are doing. We'll most likely try and stay away from mainstream radio."

"Talking about staying away from mainstream radio, have you considered something like Sirius and the other paid satellite radios?" I wonder.

"Oh yeah, for sure," says Morykit. "I think that is one reason why regular radio may go, honestly. I think that many people are tired of that whole thing of commercials and the control of it. There are more formats on satellite radio than on regular radio, and if your looking for something more specific, say, like now 'I want to listen to bluegrass only' you can dial in a station that will only give you just that. You don't have to listen to others. Eventually I think that is what people will end up doing. It's a format that is more personal."

Swann adds, "We are doing a lot with broadcasting and we might end up getting a station on Live 365. We have requested some information on that. With the eight CDs that we have and the people that we have produced, we could have a lot of programming. So we are looking into that, but we really don't want to bite off more than we can chew. Already it's a 24/7 deal running our label, booking and touring and all that. It is something that we are looking into and is really appealing to us. So we'll see how it goes."

Bringing up something I had heard earlier that day I say, "In one of your interviews you spoke about the control that the music industry has. It's something that Frank Zappa was such an advocate against back in the '70s. It was really interesting to hear that segment replayed on Howard Stern's Sirius program today. I forgot about that over the years. He talked about the service fee of Ticketmaster being outrageous back then. He thought it was getting out of control back then. Look at it today."

Swann nods, "Oh yeah, even here if our fans go through Ticketmaster to get their tickets they had to pay a service fee of like $7.50. That is unacceptable. In all of our newsletters we put in writing (and I don't care if it ticks them off) 'Be aware of high Ticketmaster fees.' It's unacceptable. A ticket for a concert of $16-$18 becomes a $50, $60, $70 night for a couple to come out have a few cocktails or something and to see our show. Its tough and where we can, we try to produce the event and really try keeping our tickets reasonable. When we can we try not to associate with companies that really mark up their fees."

Laughing, I date myself, "The very first concert my husband, Dave, took me to go see was Aerosmith back in, well, we're old, we paid $7.50 for tickets. But now prices are crazy."

Morykit responds, "Isn't it amazing what we use to spend? It's almost become a state of prestige as to what kind of tickets you can afford for a concert. $1,000 for a set of four tickets? You know what, I don't think so. It's absolutely crazy."

My hubby speaks up, "You know as journalists we are lucky to attend some of the finest shows for free. Sometimes, when we talk to people, we find out just how much they had paid for their tickets. I can't believe what some of them pay for front row seats! As photo / journalists we get right up to the stage to do our work during the first three songs of all these bands, while these people paid all this money just to be close to them and see them perform. We are working, but when you find out that the guy in the front row paid $1,200 for two seats, it makes us aware that even though our seats are in the back, we are privileged to shoot the show and conduct interviews with some of these bands."

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.

Gypsy Soul"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."

Gypsy SoulSwann: "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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