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Artist Q&A

Q&A: Geoff Berner

Vancouver native Geoff Berner is a musician who is not afraid to mix things up in order to find his own unique style. His international tours, memorable performances and uncompromising lyrics have resulted in a cult-following for this world-renowned artist.

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By Anne Franklin (Contributor) – Email

Date Posted: September 26, 2011
Print Edition: September 21, 2011

Vancouver native Geoff Berner is a musician who is not afraid to mix things up in order to find his own unique style. His international tours, memorable performances and uncompromising lyrics have resulted in a cult-following for this world-renowned artist. He will be playing at the Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver on September 23 as a part of the Maria and the Shower and the Accordion Noir Festival’s presentation of Panstereorama.

Describe your musical style.
Fucked-up klezmer.

How did you get your start?
My first big break came when the Be Good Tanyas covered my song “Light Enough to Travel” on their album Blue Horse, which went on to sell over 100,000 copies.

What’s your favourite place in the world?
I can’t tell you.  It’s a secret.

You get to play a gig with anyone you want, living or dead. Who do you pick?
The people I’m playing with these days.  Wayne Adams, Diona Davies, Brigitte Dajczer, Benji Fox-Rosen, Michael Winograd.  Josh Dolgin.  But Tom Waits would be fun to play with, too.  And Bjork.  And Tanya Tagaq.  They’re all invited.

What influences your music?
Art that is full of specificity and free of cliché.

What was your childhood dream?
To be a jet fighter pilot or a Rabbi.  Or both.

What’s been the defining moment of your career so far?
No one moment can define a career.  But it was fun recently when I opened for the Norwegian band Kaizers Orchestra, at the Oslo Spektrum Arena, and got 9000 Norwegians to shout “Fuck the Police” very loud.  The Kaizers sing in an obscure dialect of Norwegian and bang on large cans.  The sheer wonderful unlikelihood of it all exemplifies my career fairly well.

What’s your favourite memory from a gig you’ve done?
Hard to pick a favourite.  Got to play to a sold-out punk rock squat in Berlin recently, though.  That was pretty good for a kid from Kerrisdale.

How do you kick back and relax from a hard day’s work?
I drink.  I also do that at work.

Any advice for aspiring musicians?
As Carolyn Mark says, “The cereal IS the prize.”  Play music for the love of playing.  Keep playing.  Do your best to advance your “career”, sure, but mostly just keep playing as much as you can, as many places as you can with people that you like being around, for the love of it.  Don’t get frustrated or bitter if you miss out on this chance or that one.  If you keep playing, the next opportunity will come by.  And you’ll probably miss that one, too.  But keep playing, and there will be more.  Keep playing.

What about advice for the world at large?
Conservatism is a selfish, poisonous, ideology.  Inequality is unjust, and it hurts everyone, even the people on top, though they don’t realize it.  Dr. Paul Farmer says that everything that’s wrong with the world stems from the problem of thinking that some people are worth more than other people.  Also, the world is a more interesting place than you’ve been led to believe.

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