The new album was recorded in Romeros’ banjo studio in Horsefly. (Photo submitted)

The new album was recorded in Romeros’ banjo studio in Horsefly. (Photo submitted)

In times of COVID-19: Pharis and Jason Romero releasing new album in May

With all gigs cancelled in the foreseeable future, they are hunkering down in their Horsefly home

Horsefly musicians Pharis and Jason Romero will be releasing a new album in May and said it is strange timing considering the COVID-19 pandemic.

Normally they’d tour with a new album, but with restrictions in place they have no gigs in the foreseeable future, Pharis told the Tribune.

“Months of work putting everything together is cancelled, but it has opened up a whole bunch of space for us to do other things because we are crazy lucky and have other ways of making money,” Pharis said. “It is interesting to have the quiet time without social gatherings and school. We have young kids and are spending more time as a family.”

Grateful to be living in Canada, Pharis said the support for musicians, artists and people who work in the service industry is ‘amazing.’

The new album — Bet on Love — started incubating about two years ago.

As soon as the Romeros complete one record, they start working on the next.

Pharis never stops writing songs.

“It’s not at task-based experience, my song-writing. I don’t wait for the muse to hit. If something comes along where I am inspired — either a melodic flow or a pattern of words someone says or something I hear on the radio or whatever it is, that will sort of trigger wanting to work on a song.”

Chuckling, she said she’s wondered sometimes if she should be more disciplined in her approach.

“Pretty much as soon as we’re finished one record there are new songs already fermenting, or there are songs that didn’t make it onto the latest album because they didn’t fit into the scene that was happening with that particular record so we will keep it for future reference.”

Bet on Love came together very naturally and was recorded mostly live with all of the musicians sitting around with ‘beautiful’ microphones.

As much as possible, they didn’t wear headphones so they could hear each other and play live.

Marc Jenkins produced the album with sound engineer John Raham.

John Rieschman played mandolin and Patrick Metzger was on stand up bass.

It was the same crew involved with making their JUNO-awarding winning album, Sweet Old Religion.

“Our relationship with the whole band feels like a calm, creative fun experience filled with lots of mutual respect and interest in trying new things and see where that takes us. It’s excellent when we are playing live because you can play and lean into each other rather than just trying to remember what you are supposed be doing.”

That approach was in the spirit of the music they were making, which is folk music, Pharis explained.

“You can use other words such as old-time, bluegrass or country, whatever you want to use to describe it, but in my mind this is folk music. This is music written from the experience of being out with people, of living where we do, of wanting to tell stories.”

Folk music tells stories and evokes emotions through instrumentals and that’s what their music feels like, she added.

Pharis said what’s fun about the new album is the Romeros are starting to tell their own stories.

“Jason and I are telling our own experiences, which we’ve never really done before. A little bit in a few songs, and hinted at here and there, but most songs were telling stories about other people. It’s a bit of a song-writing emotional break through for me to be telling some of my own stories.”

It has been invigorating to write about herself and put experience into words and melody.

Trying to decide what part of the story is important to tell and what details are necessary to put across might be very different now than it would have been two years ago or two years in the future.

“That’s what is so neat about song-writing, it really is an expression about a moment in time, how you are feeling and what is important.”

Jason does not write lyrics and Pharis said they approach music in different ways.

For one of the songs on the new album, she handed him the lyrics and he made all the melody.

“A lot of the time what is more common with us is I will have the skeleton of the song with the lyrics mostly done and he is an amazing filter. He’s like the next step or the editor. He might say ‘this line doesn’t work for me,’ just the flow of the work.”

“If you ask him what any of our songs are about, he doesn’t really know. He does eventually, but he is very oriented to sound and pulse of things. That makes a lot of sense to me based on his job as a banjo maker.”

When he talks with clients he asks them what kind of end sound they want with the banjo. He is able to visualize what needs to come together in order make that sound, she said.

“So we are a really neat team because I’m all about the flow of words and the story and how to tell the story and he’s very much about the sound of it.”

For Jason, the new album is the music they came up with after an exciting year of playing music, touring and travelling with their children.

“All of the music that comes out of our collaboration is so connected to our lives, which is probably pretty obvious,” he said. “Everyone’s kind of asking a lot of questions right now about how we are doing things.”

The new album was completed before the ‘craziness’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said they were already starting to think about the bigger picture, such as where their food comes from, how to live a more balanced life, be good parents and stay in Horsefly, and pursue the life they really want, Jason said.

“A lot of that came out in the songwriting. Pharis is the wordsmith, I’m more of the sounds guy. That’s how our songwriting works. I’ve always been drawn to the sounds of things, more than the actual lyrics and the words.”

If it doesn’t sound right to him, he doesn’t care how great the words are.

“I think she’s always thinking about how to write an interesting line, how to tell an interesting story, and not be too on the chin about the words and be a little esoteric.”

He’s busy building banjos and has a five-year wait list after taking on 15 new orders in January. They had to write to 80 people and tell them ‘sorry,’ but he couldn’t make them a banjo in 2025.

“Having lost all these gigs means I can double down on banjos. Usually the banjo production goes down quite a bit in the summer because we are gone playing festivals and lots of gigs. Now it will be the opposite.”

He’ll make more banjos, stick around the Cariboo and fish a lot more and do more camping in B.C. Building a root cellar is on the agenda also.

“The banjos are great and were kind of what came first and allowed us to buy our property and our house and decide to even live in a place like this. We ship them all over the world so we aren’t really tied to the economy of this place so right now that’s a major blessing for us. So many of our musician friends are scrambling to pay their bills, like a lot of people.”

Pharis said they decided to release songs from the new album in pairs. The first pair was released in March, the second pair in April, and the entire album will be released on May 15.

“Often the music industry focuses on singles and about the impact of singles. But when we sat down and thought about making the record we thought about the order of the songs and the overall feeling of everything.”

Local photographer and filmmaker Rick Magnell shot some videos of the new songs and Williams Lake photographer Laureen Carruthers did stills for the album.

“It’s cool to have such amazingly talented people in Williams Lake,” Pharis added. “It’s so great we can work together.”

The Romeros were in Hawaii with their children when COVID-19 precautions began to ramp up.

“We got the last four seats off the island before WestJet shut down all their flights close to a month ago,” Pharis said.

Normally their daughter is going to school in Horsefly and Pharis said while she misses the school community it also feels good to be at home as a family.

“This has been a gift of time for us. With releasing a record we are just trying to figure out how to do that creatively at a time when we aren’t doing concerts. We cannot do livestreams out here because our internet connection is not good enough.”

The new album will be in the form of vinyl, CDs and digital download and Jason said he knows it’s the best one yet.

“I’m super proud of it and super proud of Pharis. She’s such an amazing songwriter and I want her to be known more for her songwriting.”

Read more: CACWL celebrating 50 years serving the community with the Romeros

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