UAlberta musicology grad charts new path with The Provincial Archive
The stars must have been aligned. Somehow, at eight in the morning, I convinced musician Stephen Tchir to sit down to discuss his past four months or so of activity. “It’s too early,” he jokes at one point on an outrageously cold Edmonton morning, trying to recall the details of a past project over coffee.
Timing aside, one could expect him to be a little road-weary. He’s been a busy guy. On the heels of recent tours through Germany and Canada with acclaimed local band The Provincial Archive, Tchir has been balancing duties as bandmate, music teacher, and administrator for the University of Alberta’s Department of Music.
“It’s an interesting time now, because a lot of things have changed in recent months,” Tchir relates thoughtfully.
In the span of five months, two of his ongoing projects with local acts Dead Red Pine and the Trevor Tchir Band went on hiatus, as band members left Edmonton to pursue opportunities out east. But another project with longtime friend and collaborator Craig Schram, who founded The Provincial Archive back in 2007, got a reboot.
Tchir’s addition to the Archive’s lineup coincided with a surge in activity for the band, as they hit the festival circuit at the Calgary Folk Fest and Pop Montreal. As summer came to a close, the Provincial Archive saw the release of their third full-length album, Its All Shaken Wonder. They went on to play numerous dates across Canada and toured Germany and Switzerland throughout the fall. By early December, the band had barely touched down on the Edmonton International Airport tarmac in time to accept the second annual Edmonton Music Prize
But despite his hectic schedule, Tchir is taking the quick pace in stride. While he looks forward to revisiting Europe and writing and recording an upcoming release with the Archive, he is clearly focused on his musical development in the here and now. A talented multi-instrumentalist (guitars, electric bass, mandolin, banjo and piano/keys), Tchir describes his approach to continuing onwards with his musical evolution.
“Sometimes, as musicians, I think we hit a bit of a learning plateau…and when that happens, I just go to a different area. I always like to be growing somewhere. So with a certain instrument or genre, if I’ve reached a plateau, I might turn somewhere else.”
Such was the case during his final year of BFA studies in Music at Montreal’s Concordia University, when Tchir opted to shift gears from jazz guitar to classical piano, an instrument he studied from age six to 17. He toggled between the two instruments finding a particularly rewarding balance between these rich musical expressions.
Genre is also a hot topic for Tchir. After returning to Edmonton in 2009, he chose to pursue a degree in musicology at the University of Alberta. His thesis examined the concept of musical genre and more specifically, Tom Waits’ seminal albumRain Dogs
“I chose [Waits] as an artist because he is so eclectic…his ability to move from western art music to Americana — that drew me to him. And Rain Dogs is my favourite Waits album, and perhaps his best one. It’s the best of what he does.”
Tchir cites a long list of musical influences, from baroque to blues, classic rock to chamber-folk, citing Miles Davis and the Beatles as the obvious ‘canonic’ artists he’s looked up to over the years. Currently his ear has been bent to the tuning of new artists such as Bill Callaghan, Joanna Newsom, and Sharon van Etten. A range of influences is also present in his collaborations with local artists Colleen Brown and Karim Gillani
When asked if he has a preference of genre, he explains that variety trumps genre in his book.
“Lately, I’m doing rock ‘n roll with the Archive, listening to and practicing Bach on the piano at home—this month, it’s all I want to do—and still maintaining my bluegrass chops on the mandolin, whenever I teach at the Acoustic Music Shop,” one of Whyte Avenue’s popular teaching studios. “One [genre] isn’t enough—they all inform each other.”
Photos by Craig Schram (singer and song-writer on The Provincial Archive)
Hear Stephen play with The Provincial Archive in support of The Roxy Theatre:
Event title:The Roxy Theatre fundraiser
Featuring: The Provincial Archive
with Joe Nolan, Peter Stone, Unwed Mothers & Mark Davis
Date:Wednesday, January 21
Time: Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Venue: The Artery
Tickets: $10 advance available through Yeglive