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Esmerine: Canadian classical collective prepare for Sheffield Cathedral

Esmerine is the musical project of Rebecca Foon and Bruce Cawdron. Both have been involved in some of the most exciting bands to come out of Canada in the last couple of decades, including Silver Mount Zion and the legendary Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Esmerine engages with a more classical aesthetic, favouring a softer palate to the post rock of the latter. After La Lechuza, a very personal third album, commemorating the passing of a close friend, Dalmak, released in September on the pivotal Constellation Records, is a different affair altogether – written and recorded in Turkey with local artists alongside the band. Ahead of their upcoming gig at Sheffield Cathedral, we spoke to cellist Rebecca. Your new record has a very different sound to previous ones, how did it come about? We were very inspired when we played in Turkey. I think we felt like the stars aligned and met some really interesting musicians and promoters. While we were there, out of the blue I guess, we had this idea that we'd like to come back and wouldn't it be crazy and amazing if we could actually compose and record a record here. We started to think about the logistics and spoke to some of the musicians we'd met. We had some idea of the instruments we'd use and what would sound good so we started asking around. We rented a whole building in the centre of Istanbul, a floor for the band to sleep in and the top floor was basically an open loft which we turned into a recording studio. We were very lucky to have met Hakan Vreskala, who plays all of the percussion on the record and was able to be a facilitator between them and the musicians. We were very worried because we didn't want to create a fusion record necessarily. We mixed it back in Canada, which was really fun too because we got to use people that we work with here and take those ideas and try to bring more of our sound into the record. Although you have two core members, you always work with lots of different people, particularly on the last two releases. How do these other musicians take part in the creative process? For the last record, we began touring with Brian and Jamie and so we kind of developed into a tight cohesive unit for that tour. It just made sense. They came to Turkey on that tour with us and were super inspired as well, so the music that's on the record was definitely composed by the four of us, some with the Turkish musicians and some without. I think this is the record that makes sense to come out of the last record, because La Lechuza was very personal and based on events that were occurring in our lives, a bit of a healing record for us and a very touching one for us to make. It’s kind of hard to figure out what to make after doing a record like that. Is Esmerine more of a studio project or a live project these days? The first two records were more recording based as it was just Bruce and I and we did tons of overdubs, so you could never re-create that same record live without bringing other people to help flesh them out. But with this record, because it’s such a huge band we toured it in Canada and it was honestly one of the most fun musical tours I've ever done. There's something about the energy of all those insane instruments that you never see together. The energy of the percussion especially took me out of this world to an extreme that I've never felt performing before. What about the places you play – do they have an impact on what you do? Definitely. We asked our booker to book us in special spots because it’s so much more interesting for the artists and the performers to be inspired by architecture as well with this combination of instruments. Just looking at them all from the audience’s perspective to the stage is quite stunning, because there's a lot of wood and acoustic instruments, which is very beautiful. I think playing interesting art spaces makes for a better show, and it’s more interesting for us too. We've done a lot of shows in bars and clubs and it’s nice to have the opportunity to play in different spaces. How important is the Constellation Records community to what you do? It feels like it’s more about musicians working in different permutations than actual bands sometimes? I love that aspect of it and I definitely feel that to some extent. Maybe some people feel this more than others. I'm a kind of hippie I guess, but I love the notion that music is about community and that we're all inspired by each other. Montreal and especially the Constellation family of artists are so open and supportive of each other and willing to contribute to other people's records and go to shows supporting each other's trajectories. I think it’s a beautiful thing and I like the notion that we're all contributing to every project, whether you’re on it or not. Maybe some people would argue that but I love the philosophy that we're all interconnected. What are the highlights for you of working with these different projects? I joined Mount Zion when I was 21 and it has deeply affected my overall aesthetic and shaped my playing as a cellist in rock bands, which was kind of a weird thing to do, especially at the time. Also, because of the close association with Godspeed, its sound and philosophy is a huge influence. I think part of working in Montreal means I've had the privilege to work with so many artists. I'm also very influenced by Patti Smith, who Zion collaborated with, and I think all of that gave me the confidence to develop my own voice as a creator. That’s why I decided over the last few years to take the time to compose my own record, Saltland. That was a really fun opportunity, to have the guts to try and write songs on my own from beginning to end and write lyrics and sing. I'd done group singing for years but actually composing my own lyrics and having the balls to sing and record them by myself – I don't think I could have done that without that whole trajectory. Esmerine has been an opportunity for me to really explore the cello. Saltland is about creating songs and lyrics and interweaving some of my sustainability work into the lyrics, whereas Zion is more about creating an epic – the sound being greater than the sum of its parts. Esmerine will perform at Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday 7th December. Tickets are available from )

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