Hot off the release of their debut album, You Will Land With A Thud, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia nine-piece band Tom Fun Orchestra stormed their way into Toronto, playing a show for Canadian Music Week at the Dakota Tavern. Amidst all the alcohol, snowstorms, and old west imagery, I manage to find time to sit down with lead singer and guitarist Ian MacDougall for a chat.
How long has the band been together?
Ian: About three years.
Was it always the size it is now?
It started big, and then it got smaller, bigger, smaller – as small as five and as big as thirteen or fourteen.
Was the intention all along to create a big sound?
I guess, yeah. It was…to put on a spectacle. It wasn’t supposed to be a long term project; just a one-off let’s put on a show’ with a bunch of unusual instrument arrangements.
I noticed on stage that it almost looks better when there’s less room for you guys. There always seems to be something happening.
Yeah, there’s a lot of bumping into each other.
Do you find as you tour around you get a lot of that, where there’s a small stage to fit all of you?
That one’s pretty small out there, but we’ve played on smaller.
What would you main influence be as a group?
All kinds, all over the place. There’s a guy named John MacQueen that most people haven’t heard of, he’s got an EP out….but it’s all over the map.
The first thing I heard when I listened to your music, and it’s partly because of your voice, is the resemblance to Tom Waits. I’m sure lots of people pick up on that. Is that a conscious thing or is something that just happened?
It’s how I learned to sing. It’s just something that works…something that appeals to me.
Is this your first time in Toronto?
No, we were here last year for Canadian Music Week. And we did a tour on a blue school bus a couple of summers ago. There were like 20 of us from three bands.
How does touring work out for you as such a big band?
It’s kind of ridiculous, but we’ve worked out a system. We have to be organized, but having such a big band makes it easier because everyone has a task that they have to take care of.
In Toronto, we’ve seen a large band mentality in the indie scene, with groups like Broken Social Scene. Is there the same mentality in Cape Breton, or are smaller groups the standard?
I think in Cape Breton, and in the east coast in general, there’s just sort of a tradition of playing music. Most people associate it with Celtic music and traditional music. It’s just that everybody plays music so everybody is sort of a multi-instrumentalist. It wasn’t really the idea to start this big band thing, it was just I wanted to do something with unique arrangements.
If you had to add one more instrument to the band, what would it be?
Oh, that’s a tough one; maybe a hurdy-gurdy would be interesting. [laughs] That’s my answer.
I noticed that the crowd really got into the music, and with the tempo and style you play, it’s pretty hard not to dance around. What has been the general audience reaction to your music?
People just, you know, like us all over the place. I was expecting, because we come from a punk rock and indie rock background – a bunch of the guys in the band played in punk bands before this one – so we were just kind of surprised at the variety of people that started to pick up on it. I’ve seen seventy-year-old ladies at the shows, and metalheads, and shit like that.
What is one album you couldn’t live without?
That’s a tough one…I’d say John MacQueen’s EP which doesn’t have a title.
Thanks for your time and congratulations on a great show and album.
You can buy Tom Fun Orchestra’s album Tom Fun Orchestra’s album You Will Land With A Thud from their website, here