Band of brothers clocks in

Barmitzvah Brothers grow up and take on odd jobs in song

Johnny Merrit, Geordie Gordon and Jenny Mitchell make up the multi-instrumental folk-pop Barmitzvah Brothers from Guelph, Ontario.
Johnny Merrit, Geordie Gordon and Jenny Mitchell make up the multi-instrumental folk-pop Barmitzvah Brothers from Guelph, Ontario.

Getting a steady job usually marks the end of adolescence. But for the Barmitzvah Brothers, who hit the scene in their teens and are now grown up and leaving teenhood behind, their musical career has found them singing stories of the faces behind some strange occupations.

The Brothers’ latest album Let’s Express Our Motives: An Album of Under-Appreciated Job Songs features 19 tracks that play out like pages from the secret lives of projectionists, sign erectors and dental technicians with a whimsical clunky piano- and banjo-inspired background. Ode-like in execution, the album emphasizes the nonchalance of the everyday while drawing upon life’s oddities in the form of these often-unnoticed people. Weaving stories with insight into the workers’ personalities and thoughts, the Brothers take their songwriting to new heights.

The laid-back folksters from Guelph have piqued a lot of interest over the years, with a handful of skepticism from critics for their youth and quirkiness. But a few years later the band has made their way cross-country and to Europe and proved their longevity while playing alongside Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire and the Burning Hell, who they’re currently on tour with. Since their early teens, their musical prowess has evolved as they’ve come to better master their instruments, which include banjo, keyboard, guitar, omnichord, trumpet and slide guitar.

Getting over the initial label of young and eccentric because of their unusual choice of instruments may have been challenging but the band soldiered on making songs to their own folksy beat.

“I think throughout all the comments about novelty there was a larger base of people who genuinely liked it. People may come out for the first time reading about it being a joke. We’d win them over just by being a capable band and then they’d come back,” frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Mitchell told the Journal.

“Even with silly instruments and being young, the songs were still written sincerely and I think that had a stronger impact than any of the instruments on their own.”

Recording and songwriting are something current Brothers Jenny Mitchell, Geordie Gordon, Johnny Merrit and Tristan O’Malley have done together for so long that they’ve become a family.

“We’ve been at the same studio for years now. Every time we go it’s that much easier. If you’re working in comfortable environment, it’s easier to feel that you’ve done something close to how you would imagine it to be. An easy extension of our writing process is our recording process. It’s this big expanded family,” Mitchell said.

“It’s nice to be capable enough to play the parts I’m imagining in [the] studio.”

Although each member contributes eclectic experiences—matched only by their diverse array of instruments—working either in insurance, as an academic or managing their family’s thrift store, their latest album’s songs weren’t influenced by personal experience.

“I was reading a book called Working at the time by Studs Turkel. He’s the writer of a bunch of books where he interviews people about various projects. … That’s part of where it came from, but also friends and family members who had jobs that were intriguing,” she said.

Guelph as a home base, with its close-knit music community, has garnered the band enough loyalty to let them take the more curious of musical routes with lyrics and instrumentation. That concept has perhaps led to unique projects among band members. Mitchell and Gordon both have solo projects ongoing and Mitchell has a more idiosyncratic endeavor in the works, which gives the band’s shows another odd job element.

Instead of just making stories, Mitchell is collecting them by giving people haircuts. Members of the audience volunteer themselves to receive an off-stage haircut from Mitchell, a musician-gone-barber, on the condition that they share with her a story, which she then documents in a book.

“I’ve been collecting stories from people as I travel the country. It’s like bird-watching. It makes me love [touring] for a whole different reason,” she said.

Mitchell’s own unique project points to another example of the Barmitzvah Brothers’ taste for the rare but endearing, something that has probably pulled them through from quirk band to relevant indie act.

“The story is the important part.”

The Barmitzvah Brothers play with The Burning Hell for The Burning Hell’s CD release party on Friday Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. at The Artel. Tickets are available at Brian’s Record Option for $10.

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