Yes In My Backyard: Download Guignol’s “Branks” (Featuring the Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay)


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.

Brooklyn’s Guignol is the best bet for Barbez’s crew of hard-working, hard-playing world-music mutants to finally party crash the art-punk party at Death By Audio. With a line-up that includes Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay crushing an accordion and local clarinet rock star Peter Hess (World/Inferno, Slavic Soul Party, Balkan Beat Box, etc.), it’s a crew that truly understands punk rock energy and Eastern Bloc flutter–nailing the rapidfire bluster of Taraf De Haidouks and the one-two-one-two blast of klezmer, Guignol has the speed and energy of your favorite hardcore band. For their second album, Fight Dirty, they teamed with Philadelphia gypsy-crusters Mischief Brew to beef up their sound even more–an unrelenting burst that includes the occasional raspy pop song next to their usual annihilating klezmercore. “Branks” leans towards the Guignol side of the equation, a Bulgarian hyperjazz stutterstep that includes dueling accordian-and-clarinet and a solo from Hess that practically takes off into the heavens.

Guignol’s Peter Hess on “Branks”

What is this song about?

“Branks” isn’t exactly about anything related to the title. It comes from working on the sort of perpetual motion of Bulgarian Wedding Music and Turkish lines. The “Branks” is a medieval torture device that holds the body in a severely uncomfortable position… but I can’t say that was very important to me at all, maybe I just liked the sound of the word. It was really fun getting Erik [Peterson, Mischief Brew frontman]’s input on these tunes we threw at him, and right away he copped a great oud kind of feel on banjo that kind of brings out the Turkish influence of the tune too.

When you play this particular clarinet solo, do you picture any visuals?

I have to say, I almost never visualize places or people or scenes when I’m improvising. Rather, I’m trying to build a kind of dramatic timeline of anticipation and then consequence, a dialogue with the listener. There are so many solos on Serbian and Macedonian brass band recordings that are max four phrases long, but they read like the big bang followed by the expansion and contraction of the universe–super taut with energy and then resolved. So I try my best to build an arc, tell a story.

Tell me getting into Eastern Bloc music. What was the initial appeal?

In ’92 I was dating a Turkish woman whose grandmother took us to a party in Middletown, Connecticut, and the band blew me out of my seat. I had been up to my eyeballs in jazz and classical music at that time. A couple years later, through following the New York downtown scene and the klezmer revival coming out of Boston, it was in the air that a lot of musicians I admired were drawing inspiration from Balkan sources, bands like Tiny Bell Trio and Pachora. After moving here in ’97, Dave Fiuzcinski gave me a cassette of Kocani Orkestar from Macedonia, and I started looking for more authentically Balkan sources on my own, and I found recordings from Selim Sessler, Boban Markovic, Ferus Mustafov… hearing all this incredible music that was all about the instruments I played was incredible, this massive door swinging open. It was the same strong attraction I felt when I was 13 and heard Sonny Rollins for the first time, like a total compulsion to make these sounds. It’s got exactly zero to do with my own cultural background. Recently I spent some time in southern Serbia with Matt Moran and Slavic Soul Party, and if I could play like the 16-year-olds I heard there by the time I’m 50, I think I’d be satisfied.

What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?

My favorite place to eat in New York has got to be Gen Sushi on Washington Avenue. They keep the specials changing all the time, the standards are really top rate, they import seasonal sakes. And it’s a block away from my apartment.

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