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INTERVIEW: Greg Herriges

Hi Greg, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thanks! It’s nice talking with you. I’ve been living the starving artist dream, and loving it.

Can you talk to us more about your song “Sevivon, Sov Sov Sov”?

It’s a Hanukkah song; the title means “Dreidl, Spin Spin Spin.” I arranged it first for bouzouki, then recorded it with my trio, StellaRoma — Michael Bissonnette on percussion and Rundio on Chapman stick. We played it in a kind of neo-klezmer style, speeding up as we go, then stumbling to the finish line. It’s really just a children’s song about the joy of Hanukkah, nothing sacred about it — so I felt like we could play it very irreverently.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

I didn’t write it (it’s a traditional Jewish folk song), but I was inspired to play it after asking my friend, a Hebrew school teacher, what her favorite Hanukkah song is. She said, “Lots of them are terrible, but Sevivon is kind of fun!” I thought it was a lot of fun, and a great alternative to the Christmas material that gets overplayed this time of year. Songs like this are like a breath of fresh air for me, and I hope they are to others as well.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

I’d like to shoot a live video of all the material on this CD, and I just might do that this December. (There is a basic video out there of me playing the song solo, too.)

The single comes off your new album Revel & Ritual: Holiday Music For The World – what’s the story behind the title?

I wanted to give people a holiday album that was not all about Christmas — an alternative to the shopping-mall standards — so I collected and composed traditional and original music for holidays of many faiths and seasons, including the Hindu Holi festival of colors, the Muslim holy day of Ashura, the Japanese Cherry Blossom festival, Chinese and Ukrainian New Year, Hannukah, and some lesser-known Christmas music. So it is “holiday music for the world,” not just the Western Christian world. Some of it is from religious holidays, some secular celebrations, so the words “revel and ritual” seemed right as a title.

How was the recording and writing process?

I developed most of this music over the last few years, and I played a lot of it at holiday shows whenever I got the chance. Because of that, the recording process was really quick, and the band was musically really tight. I got a grant for recording from the MN State Arts Board, so we had the budget to work with an outside engineer in a great studio. Most of the basic trio tracks were recorded live in the studio, and special guests like Tatiana (the bandura player), Pooja and Abhinav (the Hindustani singer and percussionist) were added later. We recorded Tatiana in her farmhouse, where we kept getting interrupted by a woodpecker hammering away at the side of the house! I recorded my solo acoustic tracks at home in St. Paul. The recording just took a couple months altogether.

What aspect of the holidays did you get to explore on this record?

Keeping with the theme of Revel and Ritual, we explored some of the spiritual and meditative aspects of the holidays, but also the revelry and plate smashing and fireworks. The CD cover represents this nicely, showing a scene from the Holi festival in India with colors flying everywhere and hands raised as if in prayer and celebration at the same time.

There is also a little conflict in there, like in my song for Ashura, which is a day of peace or mourning or self-flagellation or war, depending on which of the many Muslim traditions it’s celebrated in. So it’s not all holly-jolly, but the common theme of light runs throughout. We got to play very sweetly but also make a lot of noise to capture all these moods.

Was there like a selection on which holidays you will be taking down on this material?

I wanted to play music from some of the places and traditions that are influential to me as an artist, and cover a good variety that recognizes and includes a lot of people from different traditions. Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Balkan, and European music are all very inspiring to me, so it was natural to include songs for holidays from all those places.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

There is one song on the CD called Bright Night, that I wrote about appreciation of winter for its natural beauty, and the opportunity it gives us to be with each other, celebrate, light up the darkness… I actually started writing it years ago, after driving through a snowstorm and being stranded with my girlfriend in a rural town. “The darker the skyline, the brighter the starlight.” After growing up through many cold winters, I finally learned to appreciate the season!

On another song called Shchedryk, our guest singer Pooja Goswami Pavan sings a poem about an oil lamp, the flame representing love, that is in danger of being blown out by the whirlwind of conflict that is all around us. It reflects the current state of the world perfectly, and we take that song on a musical journey through darkness and back into light.

Any plans to hit the road?

All the shows for the rest of this year are in the Midwest — Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Rockford, etc. — but I’m always booking mini-tours wherever I can. I try to keep my web site (gregherriges.com) updated with dates.

What else is happening next in Greg Herriges’ world?

I have lots of musical projects ongoing. I play with a Turkish group called Uskudar Eclectic, and I’m doing music for a play called Narrow Passages, among other things. I accompany a dance group, and occasionally write and edit music books for Hal Leonard publishing. But playing my music is my lifeblood, and that happily takes up most of my time!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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