It’s almost impossible to classify The Whiskey Jerks by a musical genre.
They describe themselves as a “klezmer, country-blues, gypsy-punk, rock and jazz with clever lyrics,” but that almost seems too limited to describe the musical diversity that the six-person Saskatoon-based ensemble brings to the table.
Or to put it differently, vocalist and accordion player Gillian Snider said one of the band’s crowning achievements was when they were asked to frontline a heavy-metal music festival.
“We couldn’t figure out why, but the organizer of the festival loves us,” Snider said with a laugh. “When we got onstage, all the bands who were at the festival created a mosh pit … that was not any kind of festival we ever would have expected to play.”
It would likely be one of the first (and only) times a head-banging heavy-metal concert had a headline performer that featured an accordion, clarinet, violin, and upright bass.
Their instrumentation lends itself much more closely to a classic folk or folk-rock style of music. But their instrumentalists come from a variety of different backgrounds — Snider said her experience is mostly in jazz, while guitar player Peter Abonyi has more of a pop/rock background, and violinist Anna Bekolay is classically trained. Clarinet player and vocalist James Diakuw, drummer Aidan Weiman, and double bass player Nevin Buehler round out the group.
And since everyone in the band is encouraged to write music for the group, the resulting mix of songs produced is fairly eclectic. Even the band members aren’t totally sure how to classify their ensemble.
“Take Eastern folk and pop music, and stick it in a freaking blender,” Peter Abonyi said with a chuckle. “Basically, you have a music smoothie.”
Folk-rock music on their album? Check. Jazz? Check. Some pop-style songs? Absolutely. A speed-metal ballad? They’re in the process of making more.
“There’s always neat ideas,” violinist Anna Bekolay said, before giving Abonyi a pointed look. “We just have to record them in rehearsal before somebody forgets what they wrote.”
The band has been playing together for close to six years now, and they’re all close friends (and Snider and Weiman have a familial bond as mother and son).
Despite having an incredible assortment of music in their repertoire — or perhaps because of it — The Whiskey Jerks have gained notoriety in Canada and overseas. Snider said the band has been requested for shows simply because venue owners have been curious to see how a six-person ensemble can travel for gigs, and thanks to some well-travelling fans they’ve seen a number of downloads of their album in Poland.
Snider attributed the band’s success to that musical mosaic they’re able to create. It’s something that certainly sets them apart from the other folk and rock groups in Saskatoon, and she said it allows them to keep mixing things up if they want to.
“The music is really eclectic and diverse,” Snider said.
“We’re not afraid of stretching out and experimenting,” Abonyi added. “On this (upcoming) album we’ve got euphoniums and flugelhorns.”
It’s been a strange and somewhat tough year for The Whiskey Jerks. Their normal rehearsal space was in Snider’s home on the west side of Saskatoon, but a surprising fire did a significant amount of damage to the house.
Snider is back in the house, but the fire damage is still apparent around the main floor. But Snider and the band joked that it’s made the house a favourite place for recording songs and music videos for performers in the city.
And the fire didn’t slow down The Whiskey Jerks’ production. Their newest album titled Baba Was A Bootlegger will get an online release at a party on Friday, Dec. 14 at the Bassment, with local group Oscar’s Hollow opening for the ensemble.
Like their other albums, this one will contain The Whiskey Jerks’ trademark mix of styles and sounds. It’s different, it’s fun — and judging by their output, there should definitely be something for everyone.
“Our weirdness works for us,” Abonyi said. “There’s been a constant onward and upward sort of trajectory.”