Sidney York is a trio of self-described “former band geeks” from Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Together they create indie pop incorporating oboe, bassoon and horn. If you haven’t heard them yet, you soon will.
The talent and hard work of singer Brandi Sidoryk, oboist Sheryl Reinhardt and bassoonist Krista Wodelet have earned them awards such as Best Untapped Newcomer at the Calgary Folk Fest, and plum gigs including a performance at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
Last month they were part of “Tracks on Tracks,” a passenger train travelling from Vancouver to Toronto with ten bands on board; Sidney York was one of three voted in by fans.
Their songs are played on CBC Radio One and Three, and on local stations across Canada. The incredibly catchy single “Dick and Jane” from their album Apocalyptic Radio Cynic made Vancouver’s Peak 100.5 FM top 30 playlist, and its playful video is closing in on 30,000 hits on YouTube.
How did three musicians from Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto end up together, and where did the name Sidney York come from?
SHERYL: Brandi and I met in grade 11, playing together in the Alberta Honour Jazz Band. We’ve been friends ever since and it was Brandi’s idea to pull the oboe and bassoon into the pop music she was creating. Time commitments prevented our original bassoonist from being able to continue with us, but magically Brandi met a fellow flight attendant whose sister just happened to play bassoon! Definitely serendipitous to say the least! I’ll let Brandi explain the name…
BRANDI: I started out as a solo artist, but was heavily involved in classical music when I started in the pop realm. I wanted to separate my two lives (sort of a Peter Parker/Spiderman vibe), so I used the name Sidney York, which is a pseudo-anagram of my last name.
I love that you describe yourselves as band geeks! How does that background influence your music?
KRISTA: The most obvious way is that we constantly use bassoon, oboe, and French horn – three instruments that you almost never see in pop music! We come from very similar classical backgrounds, and I think part of the energy you see in our live show is just what happens when you let three classical music nerds out of their boxes and tell them they can do anything they want on stage. The classical background also can’t help but influence the way we orchestrate our songs Yep, I just used the word “orchestrate.” Doesn’t get any geekier than that!
SHERYL: Not only are we all band geeks from high-school, but we all have post-secondary training in classical genres. Add that up, and it’s a lot of geekery! The instrumentation we use is an obvious example, and I think our chord and song structure is shaped by our training. We’re always trying to push the boundaries and explore different possibilities with our sound.
BRANDI: I think every sort of music we grew up living and loving influences us, but in particular, the classical “band geek” background really influences how we rehearse and create our music. We often write and rehearse with a certain classical flair… our backup band members often make fun of our use of classical musical terminology to describe what we want! Although it may be dorky, it is a pretty efficient way to get our musical point across in rehearsal.
I love looking out and seeing people enjoying our music. Maybe they’re dancing, maybe they’re singing along (or both!) but being able to connect with people and create a moment in time with them is pretty amazing!
- Sheryl Reinhardt
Was it a conscious decision to form an all-women group, or did it just happen that way?
KRISTA: I think it just happened that way, although maybe Brandi and Sheryl had a master plan that I wasn’t aware of at the time! I’m the newest member of the group, and if they had found a guy bassoon player (instead of me) who was a good fit I don’t think they would have turned him away. The fact that we’re three girls has definitely become a Sidney York signature, though, especially from a vocal harmony standpoint, and now I can’t really imagine it any other way.
SHERYL: It was a conscious decision for sure! When Brandi and I were looking for a bassoonist to fill out the group, our ideal candidate was a female who also had some vocal training so we could add to the vocal harmonies we were already creating. And amazingly, we found Krista! I think it’s awesome to have a band with three women rocking the stage!
BRANDI: It was mostly a conscious decision because the all-female harmonies is a central component of Sidney York. We didn’t do it to be exclusive or “Woman Power!” We did it for the sound.
As women, do you think you are treated any differently by booking agents, record labels, audiences, etc. in comparison to male performers?
KRISTA: I think ALL self-managed indie bands struggle to get noticed, regardless of gender. It is a male-dominated industry – not only are agencies and labels staffed largely by men, but I think there are way more male-fronted bands out there. We just came off Tracks on Tracks – there were over 40 musicians on that train, and only about 10 women! I think it helps set us apart.
BRANDI: I would agree with Krista–there are times when I have felt a subtle notion of being treated differently, but it’s very hard to attribute that to being women in the industry. And, depending on the situation, it can be advantageous (such as having it set us apart), or it can be to our disadvantage. Other than having a handful of conversations about this with other musicians, I try not to think about it. I think getting caught up in thinking that we are being treated differently perpetuates the action. We make the music we love, despite what the industry around us thinks.
You’ve already performed over 150 live shows across Canada, does this kind of dedication come naturally or has it been hard work? What energizes you to keep going?
KRISTA: I LOVE touring! I would be on the road all the time if I could. Sure, it might be nice if we managed to fit in a little more sleep… but I’ve actually never been happier than when I’ve been on tour. We always travel as a six-piece (we add drums, guitar, and bass), and I can’t say enough good things about the band we bring along – they are the nicest, most hard-working people ever. Whenever we have setbacks on the road I am definitely motivated and energized by the people around me. We joke about the “Sidney York family” but it really often does feel that way.
SHERYL: I think our love of the music and of each other are the biggest motivators to do what we do. I’ve always had a crazy schedule, so touring hasn’t really seemed much different than the rest of my life except that it happens in lots of different places and sometimes it seems like more things can go wrong!
BRANDI: I would say touring is a combination of natural dedication and hard work. Touring is hard. That is a fact. But it is also one of the most rewarding and epic experiences you can have as a musician. Touring misadventures such as vehicle problems, illness, robbery (and yes, all of those have happened to us!) sometimes get us down, but then you play a great show and all of a sudden touring seems worth it again. That’s what energizes me.
What are the best and worst things about all the travelling?
KRISTA: The best thing is that I get to spend time in so many cool cities! I’m starting to feel almost as at home in Vancouver as I do in Toronto or Calgary… there’s something pretty great about having three hometowns! The worst is that after too many cross-country flights followed by ultra-wacky schedules, your body just gives up and stops trying to adjust to time zones. You no longer have any clue how early or late it is and you have to start taking cues from other people on when it’s probably time to go to bed.
SHERYL: I love seeing new places and meeting new people. It can be tough living out of a suitcase though – I’ve definitely run out of clean clothes on more than one occasion!
BRANDI: Best – learning to feel at home anywhere. Worst – losing your toothbruth, sunglasses, razor, hair straightener, favorite sweater…
What’s your songwriting process like? How do you handle the challenges of being based in three different cities – provinces, actually?
KRISTA: Brandi wrote all the songs on the last album, but for the next one, we’re experimenting with a more collaborative style. When we’re apart, we’re all singing ideas into the voice memos on our phones to share with each other later. I just downloaded Garage Band for my iPod, which is now my favourite app of all time – I wrote half a song last weekend in the tour van as we were driving through Saskatchewan, and Brandi has put together demos using the same app that she emails to the rest of us. When we get a chance to meet in person, we share what we’ve been working on and help each other flesh things out. Sometimes I definitely wish we were closer… but we make it work.
SHERYL: We’ve just started working on songs for a new album, and living apart definitely makes things interesting! We have to be super-efficient with our time when we’re together, but also take ideas that we’ve been working on and develop them on our own so that the next time we meet we’re further along in the process.
BRANDI: Writing collaboratively for this album has been a very interesting and eye-opening experience. I am definitely the band control freak, so it was hard to come to terms with the idea of writing with others…until I actually did it! Now, the ideas that we each bring to the table become something so much bigger than each of us could have done on our own.
Who are your creative influences?
KRISTA: Brandi will say Hawksley Workman! He’s definitely one of mine also. I’m also influenced by The Submarines (an LA-based band), and I think we’re all influenced other Canadian indie bands – some of which we’re proud to call our friends. The Belle Game, beekeeper, Honheehonhee and the Zolas are just a few that I’ve been listening to lately.
BRANDI: haha, yes, Hawksley Workman for me. I also love the New Pornographers, and the Odds. Drawing from my more classical influences, I also find that the music of German-turned-American composer Kurt Weill is something that I am continuously inspired by. Krista and Sheryl are right though – our contemporaries and friends in Canadian music always influence and push us – in our music, our attitude, and the way we run our careers.
SHERYL: I listen to a lot of CBC radio and I know hearing so many other fabulous Canadian artists definitely shapes the way I hear music. It’s wonderful being motivated and inspired by friends and future friends in our own backyard. As well, I’ve always been drawn to groups that make use of choral arrangements, or instruments in unique ways. Hey Rosetta is a favourite of mine, and I love Arcade Fire’s use of organ on their second album.
What has been your most exciting achievement so far?
SHERYL: Green Couch Productions/CBC’s Tracks on Tracks train from Vancouver to Toronto was definitely the trip of a lifetime! Not only did our fans vote us there, but it was something I never dreamed I’d actually do.
BRANDI: this is such a hard question! I feel like every achievement is the most exciting in that moment. Being an independent artist is a roller coaster ride: you have to make the most of the exhilarating moments, when you are at the very top and looking over the entire amusement park – that way the point of the ride when you are inundated with nausea doesn’t seem so unbearable. That being said, playing at the Vancouver Olympics has been one of my proudest moments with Sidney York. And hearing our song on the radio for the first time!
What defines success for you?
KRISTA: Right now we all work day jobs to help pay the bills. If I could make a living by just playing, recording, and touring with Sidney York, I would be the happiest girl in the world.
BRANDI: Creating a great song, a great album, a great live performance that is bigger and better than I could have conceived; something bigger than ourselves.
SHERYL: Success can be measured in a lot of different ways, but I love looking out and seeing people enjoying our music. Maybe they’re dancing, maybe they’re singing along (or both!) but being able to connect with people and create a moment in time with them is pretty amazing!
Thanks Brandi, Sheryl and Krista for such a fun interview!