Article by: Lee Fraser
Phoebe Ryan knows every note to every track on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Jesse Kranzler is obsessed with the Cooking Channel. Stefan Weiner learned to throw a Frisbee in a cemetery. Together, they are Town Hall. On a beautiful sunny afternoon, Phoebe, Jesse and Stefan paid a visit to virtual Toronto. With a backdrop of Queen Street West, a conversation over Skype was the perfect chance to get to know the background of this young band and discuss their imminent debut in Toronto.
Sticky: First things first; how did Town Hall come about?
Stefan: I wanted to make a band with Jesse back in 2010. I'd gotten into this music festival thing at this place that I was working. I wanted to bring Jesse on board for the show. I was going to have a band, it was going to be really silly; the name was going to be Stir Fry because people call me Stir Fry because my name is Stefan. Ste-Fan. Stir Fry. We were practicing for the show and we had this other girl that we were playing with and it wasn't really meshing. We both knew Phoebe and loved Phoebe.
Phoebe: I was their second string.
Jesse: She was my number one choice, but…
Stefan: She was in a rock band with a bunch of soap opera stars. So we had to force Phoebe and make her be in the band.
Jesse: She's just a rocker chick at heart.
Stefan: That's the story.
Sticky: How did you accumulate all those instruments?
Jesse: The house that we're in right now, that Stefan lives in, is also a studio and that's where we recorded our album and shot all those videos. Stefan collects instruments and a lot of the other people in the house have way too many instruments.
Phoebe: Yeah, it's nine people that live here and everybody throws all their instruments downstairs to make a big collection.
Jesse: So ya, there's just… too many instruments downstairs! And we figure, well, might as well utilize them.
Sticky: So the EP and the LP, you recorded downstairs?
Phoebe: All done here, yeah.
Jesse: Except, we did our strings and winds in an apartment on the upper west side, but everything else was down here.
Sticky: Well, strings and winds should be on the upper west side, I mean, come on!
Sticky: What do your parents' record collections look like?
Jesse: I guess I can start with that. When I grew up, I always listened to avant garde music. My Mom doesn't like music. She listens to music for the words and I used to only play instrumental music. My Dad pretty much only listens to Broadway show tunes. And they had never heard any of my music until this band, or pretty close to this band. They have very different musical taste than I do.
Stefan: My parents record collection is pretty eclectic. My Dad has – it's mostly my Dad's – but there's classical and some old blues like Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith. A bunch of jazz, Thelonius Monk. But then he also has a bunch of Joni Mitchell. My parents would always bring me to folk festivals when I was a kid.
Phoebe: My Dad is obsessed with Miles Davis, so every night for the past… well, literally every year of my life, for every single night, my Dad can't fall asleep unless he listens to Miles Davis Kind of Blue. The same record over and over again, every single night, to fall asleep. And so that's the one that I listen to all the time. My Dad also listens to, like, Janet Jackson, those powerhouse women; he loves that music. And my Mom loves Lauryn Hill, so I listen to a lot of that. I know her music backwards and forwards. We have select artists that we like in our house; we know the whole catalog, like James Taylor.
Sticky: Who is Mary A. Longden?
Stefan: I grew up next to a cemetery, in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was basically my playground., as weird as that sounds. That's where I learned how to ride a bike… a lot of things. I probably learned how to throw a Frisbee in there.
Jesse: You can throw a Frisbee?
Stefan: I can throw a Frisbee. I mean, if it's windy, I can't. But… there's a grave in there: Mary A. Longden. My Dad would always point it out to me when we were walking through there with my dogs and we would formulate stories and make up reasons for why there's no death date on this grave. Yeah, she's real.
Phoebe: Born in 1865. And it didn't have a date where the number was where she died.
Sticky: Well, good to know. She really exists and she could be walking around out there somewhere.
Stefan: She's going to be on our next album.
Sticky: If you could spend an afternoon with anybody, dead or living, to hang out with them and be able to get their opinion of your work and some advice, who would you choose?
Jesse: Can it be two? Okay, for me, that's really easy; it would be Alton Brown and R. Kelly. Those are the two people who I care most about in the world. Besides music, my main interest is food and food science and things like that. So I've always wanted to replace Alton Brown. And my favourite songwriter of the twentieth century, and twenty-first, is R. Kelly. So that's why we have an R. Kelly cover that just came out.
Stefan: Wow, this is so hard.
Jesse: Just say you would want to hang out with us for the afternoon.
Stefan: That would be very nice but I'm not going to be nice.
Phoebe: This isn't even an artist thing; I wouldn't really want their opinion of my art or anything, but I would like to meet my great-grandparents. Just to see what they were like, living in Ireland. Knowing about their experiences and to know where my family history is, a bit further back. I've been reading a lot of books about ancestry lately and it kills me that I don't know where I came from. I think it would be cool to know.
Stefan: I guess it would be Billie Holiday. I love Billie Holiday and she sounds like she was a great, fun lady. So I'd like to hang out with her. And I just think that she's amazing. She's a big vocal influence for me.
Sticky: Are there any Toronto musicians that you really admire and that you're hoping to be able to play with at some point in time?
Phoebe: Yes. Well, I'm pretty sure they're from Toronto because they're always playing in Toronto whenever I look them up on their web site. But I love the Great Lake Swimmers.
Sticky: They just played here Saturday night!
Phoebe: I love them. I always email their manager and their booking agent and I'm like "Please let us play with you" and they always send back these emails saying "No, thank you." No big deal because they're obviously so popular. They seem like such nice people, too.
Stefan: Julie Doiron! I think that she's so awesome and I really want to meet her and play with her some day. She's so cool.
Jesse: I'm not very "in" on the music scene in Canada. I know some bands from Vancouver. I like Patrick Watson a lot – is he from Quebec?
Sticky: That's right, he's from Montreal.
Jesse: Yeah, I like him. I'm not in on the Canadian scene as much as I should be.
Sticky: Speaking of Canadian things, what are you guys most looking forward to on your up-coming trip to Canada?
Phoebe: Montreal has really good bagels.
Jesse: That's where Chuck Hughes, from Chuck's Day Off, on Cooking Channel is based. Actually, that's where all of the Cooking Channel is based.
Jesse: Yeah, the Cooking Channel is Canadian. They had this show on Fine Living called Made to Order about the Rubino Brothers – they're Canadian. They're awesome.
Phoebe: I've never been to anywhere in Canada except all the way in Vancouver
Jesse: I've only been to Vancouver and Whistler, and I've been there a bunch, but I've never been on this side.
Phoebe: But we're coming!
Jesse: We're ready.
Sticky: There must be at least one thing about Toronto you're looking forward to!
Jesse: I'm going to have to look at my Frommer's Guide. We usually just open Yelp when we get into a city, or if it's a food place, I probably know about it when we come in, but yeah, we just research in the car, find all the places to go.
Phoebe: We like eating so we're looking forward to eating Toronto food.
Jesse: And North by Northeast - is that Toronto?
Sticky: Yes, it's this week.
Stefan: I was going to apply this year, but then our tour schedule was just a little bit later, so...
Jesse: So next year. I hope so.
Town Hall will be in Toronto on Thursday, June 21st, opening for New Country Rehab at the Cameron House.