Four-piece band Haolin Munk are one of the most unique acts in the city right now with their blend of jazz and hip hop. They just released a new single “Blood Banker,” featuring Mike Simon of The Pucumber Sasssquash Family Band.
I chatted with Chris Ferguson to get the scoop on the band’s history, Hamilton’s jazz scene, their collaborations with the local arts scene, and the Steel City Jazz Festival, which Chris is bringing back for its second year this November.
Catch Haolin Munk at I Heart Hamilton’s third annual fundraiser next week – I’m excited to have them!
I Heart Hamilton’s The Playlist 3.0 (Fundraiser for Food4Kids)
Saturday, June 7th / 8PM
This Ain’t Hollywood
$10 Advance / $12 at the door
IHH: How did the four of you first meet and start playing together?
Chris: We all met at McMaster. One time our friend Noel asked Connor and Josh and Aaron to play jazz at a house party he was throwing. Me and Aaron lived together at the time so they were practicing in our basement and I came down and played with them and ended up going to the party with them too, and we had a great time and decided to keep on doing it.
The four of you have such a fantastic musical chemistry – how does song-writing work for you? Do you jam together and see where it takes you?
Ya that’s essentially it. We’re usually all on the same page in terms of what we think sounds good, so we’ll jam on something for a little while and pick out whatever we think sounds cool and start structuring the song. If we disagree ever it usually goes to a vote. There’s never been a time when someone comes in with a song full formed, it’s always something we work on as a group.
What’s Hamilton’s jazz scene like? It seems like there might be a generational gap, or at least people tend to associate the genre with an older crowd. Have you found you’ve introduced people to jazz who maybe weren’t into it before?
Hamilton’s got a great jazz scene! There’s a bunch of venues putting on jazz regularly. Everyone should go to the Wednesday night jazz jam at the Cat n Fiddle, you will be blown away. There’s actually a lot of young jazz groups too, in part because of the jazz program at Mohawk College. Artword Artbar features a lot of younger jazz musicians. That said, obviously you don’t hear a lot of jazz at places like This Ain’t Hollywood. But a lot of great groups that do play there have musicians with a jazz background, so it’s kind of ubiquitous in that way. I would feel real honoured if someone checked out jazz because of us!
Obviously there are big hip hop and funk elements in the band too – what are some of your influences?
Personally I’m pretty obsessed with anything on Stones Throw Records. They put out all kinds of great music, hip-hop, soul, funk. Jonwayne, a rapper/producer on Stonesthrow, has been a big influence I’d say. We cover a tune of his called “Turkish Medicine” and I eat up everything he puts out. Josh is a hip-hop encyclopedia, so a lot of the older hip-hop tunes that we’ve covered have been his suggestion. He really got us into covering hip-hop tunes in the first place, he suggested we cover “Passin’ Me By” by the Pharcyde. The Roots were my first introduction to hip-hop and they still push the idea of a live hip-hop band, so they influence everything we do one way or another.
I always love seeing you perform with Canadian Winter as part of their extended ensemble – The Snow Beach Players. How did you come to start collaborating with the band?
Kobi first heard us on our Soundcloud, and then got in contact with us to see if we’d be down to work together. We were super stoked. Everyone in that band is rad, both musically and personally. Our first show was at the Brain, which is definitely not made for a 10-piece band, but somehow we made it work and it was a great night. The first time I ever saw Canadian Winter was actually at The Playlist 1.0, so thanks to I Heart Hamilton for making the Snow Beach Players happen.
Oh wow, that’s awesome! I didn’t know that!
You’re also all very involved in Hamilton’s arts scene. How have you found collaborating with that community?
We’re all a part of the Hamilton Audio Visual Node, which we co-founded two years ago as a collaborative, interdisciplinary arts space. HAVN has allowed us to get to know and collaborate with a lot of great people in the Hamilton arts community. Before HAVN existed we used to play on the second floor of the Sonic Unyon building, at an arts-space called Temporary Projects. And before we ever played shows as a quartet we played music together in a larger group at an art show under the name Histeria Siberiana, so pretty much from the very beginning we’ve been collaborating with the arts community. Some of my favourite shows (at Temporary Projects, at our first Supercrawl at HAVN) have been a direct result of that collaboration so it’s hard for me to picture Haolin Munk without it.
Last summer you organized the first Steel City Jazz Festival – an awesome idea! What was the reaction like from that? Are you bringing it back for a second year?
Working on the Steel City Jazz Festival was a really amazing experience. I got to meet a ton of great musicians and jazz fans from the Hamilton community and it was really a dream come true. I think there’s a huge appetite for jazz in Hamilton. The community was very supportive of the festival and I’m currently working on getting the 2014 Steel City Jazz Festival ready. I’m planning on holding the festival in November this year, and hopefully we can get even more local musicians involved and really shine a spotlight on the great jazz music that gets played in Hamilton year-round.
Favourite place to eat in Hamilton: Bread Bar
Favourite breakfast food: Waffles
If you were an alcoholic beverage, what would you be? Beer.
Your go-to karaoke song: “It’s Tricky” – Run DMC
If you could speak flawlessly with any other accent, what would it be? Scottish
Favourite word: Mathematics
Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen: Wayne Shorter Quartet
What is on your playlist right now: Madlib and Freddie Gibbs – Pinata
If you could detour to anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? New York
Favourite mode of transportation: Train
What’s one thing on your bucket list: Learn piano.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to chat! Get down to This Ain’t Hollywood next Saturday, June 7th at 8PM to see the band in action.