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Interview Wed Feb 01 2012

Next Stop: Mongolia (Canasta Heads East...Way East)

CanastaMongoliaPressPhoto1web.jpg
Canasta prepares for their journey (photo courtesy the band)

Some bands tour via car, van or bus, but Chicago indie band Canasta is going to have to manage their upcoming tour with some planes and a convoy of trucks and jeeps. As part of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' Arts Envoy Program the band will be performing in Mongolia next week. They'll begin their tour on Friday, February 3, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and also play in Tsetserleg, Harhorin, and Arvaikheer, finishing up in Ulaanbaatar on the 12th. Canasta will play similar sets to what they usually break out for evenings at Schubas and the like, but admit that there might be some changes in their normal format. They'll not only give live musical performances, but also give workshops and lead jam sessions with the locals. Canasta is comprised of Matt Priest (lead vocals, bass, trombone); Elizabeth Lindau (violin, vocals); Jeremy Beckford (guitar, vocals); Brian Palmieri (drums); Ryan Tracy (keyboard, piano, bass, vocals); and Sarah Kneebone (piano, keyboard, vocals).

Perhaps some pre-trip inspiration can be gleaned from a song from their latest album:

[mp3] - Canasta - "Reading the Map Upside Down" from The Fakeout, the Tease and the Breather

While they're away, we've asked the band to live blog their experiences for Gapers Block's readers. Look for more from the band while they're in Mongolia (if they can find some wifi) and once they're back home.

In the middle of packing this week, the band's keyboard/piano player Ryan Tracy was kind enough to share his thoughts on the band's upcoming adventure.

Gapers Block: How did you become involved with this U.S. State Department program?

Ryan Tracy:Well it turns out that the State Dept. sends artists and musicians to U.S. embassies all over the world. But like most people, that was news to us until an old friend of Matt's - who works for them - brought it to our attention. In fact, he has been stationed in Mongolia for the past four years and was trying to convince Matt to come visit on his own. But once it became clear that Matt wouldn't be able to swing it on his own, he suggested that Canasta try applying for their Arts Envoy Program, which we did. And though it took almost a year and a half to come to pass, it's finally happening.

GB: Has any member of the band been to Mongolia before? Or to Russia or nearby parts of Asia?

RT: For all but one of us, this will be the first time any member of Canasta heads to Asia. In fact, for our drummer Brian, it will be the first time he leaves the country (what a way to start). Elizabeth is the most well-traveled of the group having spent time in Japan, Fiji, and Thailand, though that last one was just a stop-off on the way back from Antarctica.

GB: How does one prepare for a Mongolian adventure?

RT: First, look up the capital of Mongolia so you don't look like a fool when people ask you (it's Ulaanbaatar). Second, apply for a new credit card and buy absolutely anything that looks like it could be warm. This includes winter boots graded to -30F, long underwear, wool socks, a coat that weighs more than you, the most ridiculous looking hat you can find (the ridiculous ones are always the warmest), and if you haven't maxed out your credit limit yet: a balaclava. After that, it's just a flurry of big suitcases, immunizations, and some crossed fingers that no one sleeps in and misses their flight.

GB: Are you worried about the instruments reacting to the demanding climate? Or to the difference in voltage for the electric stuff?

RT: The instrument we're worried about most is the voice of our lead singer, Matt Priest--cold is torture on the voice. We've toured the US in winter before, and typically if we limit Matt's talking and make sure he's never 30 minutes away from a hot tea, we're good to go. But in a country where the air is so dry they don't recommend wearing eye contacts, we're a little nervous. The rest of the instruments we're hoping survive the haul over the Pacific, but the State Department has been nice enough to provide us with most of the amps we'll need thus eliminating most of our voltage problems...most...

GB: Are you preparing yourself mentally for some serious artistic influences?

RT: Definitely. We've started to write some new music in the last few months and we're hoping this experience might elevate those songs to a new level where Canasta fans are going "whoa, didn't see that coming." If 10-day tour of Mongolia doesn't catch the fans off guard, hopefully the new songs will.

GB: What do you think will be the strangest part of Canasta's performance in the eyes of future Mongolian audiences?

RT: Canasta's very proud of the lyrics we've written for our songs, and we make sure they're featured during our live show. Also, occasionally we like a little crowd banter to keep the non-musical energy going and get a feel for the crowd. With the language barrier though, it certainly feels like both of these might get lost on the audience, but who knows, maybe Mongolia is just as raucous as Iowa City.

GB: What are you most looking forward to?

RT: I think we're all incredibly excited for the exchange between us and the Mongolian culture that you wouldn't get on a typical travel excursion. Most of the time while traveling, it's a lot of driving around looking at this famous thing or that famous place, but with this experience we really get to be a part of everyday life in Mongolia from Q&A sessions at local schools to packing up a Jeep and driving 4 hours to the next city. We'll still be visiting as many famous things as possible, but the experience of playing and listening to music is what we'll always remember.

GB: Will there be any dares based around eating or drinking local cuisine?

RT:We have a fairly ambitious group of eaters in the band so I don't know if members will have to be dared to eat stuff, or if they'll voluntarily get the weirdest things possible. A friend of ours sent us some videos of a TV show in which the host samples some Mongolian delicacies including sheep's head and goat innards. Our vegetarian in the band is probably not too interested in that, but for the rest of us we stand by the old cliché of "when in Rome..."

GB: How many sweaters are being packed?

RT: All of them. Even the ugly Christmas sweaters.

 
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Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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