Local Horsefly musicians Pharis and Jason Romero feel grateful to be up once more for a JUNO award.
Their most recent album, Sweet Old Religion, which received rave reviews and was recorded mostly in and around Horsefly, is now up for 2019 Traditional Roots Album of the Year.
“Quick, embrace me before it’s over! What a thrill,” Pharis said on the couple’s Facebook page Tuesday. “Thanks to everyone who has loved this record up — it means the world to us.”
Pharis and Jason live just outside of Horsefly with their two young children where they operate their new banjo boutique when not on the road touring around playing folk music. Pharis grew up playing the folk genre with her family, especially when performing on stage with her father who, himself, was a singer-songwriter.
“That came kind of naturally, the love of acoustic instruments and the love of people just sitting in a kitchen singing together,” Pharis related.
Jason, meanwhile, Pharis said came to the folk music in a different way when he lived in a place where folk music was prevalent. The first time he heard a banjo, he fell in love with it and despite being in his twenties at the time set about mastering it.
“So we both sort of independently came around to loving the idea of playing music with other people and the old folk traditions people have with passing on songs,” Pharis said. “Orally, learning by ear and just the music being part of a community.”
This shared love of folk music is how the happily married couple met in the first place while at a fiddle jam and has continued to connect them for years. Bluegrass, folk and country are all music often played in jam sessions with multiple performers which, in Pharis’ opinion, is when they’re at their best. The two went on to jam together in a few bands and as time went on and Pharis started writing more of own music, it just “made sense” to transition into making music together.
The Romeros have enjoyed an award-winning career since they have started recording albums together, winning many accolades for their music in recent years, including a JUNO in 2016 for their 2015 album A Wanderer I’ll Stay. Sweet Old Religion marks the couple’s fourth album as a duo, though they have published collaborative work with other artists.
“(We’ve been) loving it, oh man, it’s so fun. We live and work at home, we got the two kids together and we’re in the banjo workshop as much as we can be, too, and we listen to the same music a lot together,” Pharis gushed. “When you listen to the same music as other people you develop a similar sort of lexicon, a sort of way to hear things through. We’re both definitely individuals with opinions of our own which is great when you’re in a duo. We’re always making an active study of the music.”
Pharis said it’s a great feeling to get to live in a nice small town like Horsefly with their kids but still be able to go out into the world and play music for a living. Being nominated for awards is especially amazing to Pharis considering, unlike their peers, they do not spend all their time on the road touring and promoting their music. The fact so many people seem to enjoy their records is something Jason and Pharis are incredibly grateful for.
The album itself, meanwhile, was born and inspired by a tragedy in the Romeros’ own life. In 2016 their old banjo workshop J. Romero Banjo Co. burned down in the wee hours of the morning, costing them tremendous sentimental and monetary losses.
Out of this loss, however, was eventually born a desire to put music out into the world full of “love, light and a sense of love for one’s family and community.” Bluegrass, she observes, is often full of “foul deeds” and she said it’s been nice to sing about themes of love and light. These songs eventually coalesced into their JUNO nominated album, Sweet Old Religion.
Sweet Old Religion will be going up against The Broken Heart of Everything by David Francey, Queen City Jubilee by the Slocan Ramblers, The Wailin’ Jennys’ Fifteen and Horizons by Vishten.
At the Canadian Folk Music Awards in Calgary last month the album won them Traditional Singer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year and a nomination for Ensemble of the Year.
“Jason and I, we sing a lot together, we record all of our vocals and most of our instruments, everything’s done live, in a studio. It’s all about how much we listen to each other and that’s so much what the music is, listening to your fellow musicians and playing together with them,” Pharis said.
“Rather than it being all about the individual person, there is a collective energy.”
The JUNO Awards will be broadcast live from London, Ontario on CBC March 17, 2019.