The unique sound of collaboration
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The unique sound of collaboration

“There’s something in three voices singing together that goes back to our earliest musical roots,” says Joe Jencks of Brother Sun, performing January 11 as part of Folk Night at the Registry.

“There is something that goes back long before electronic music, long before the microphone, long before theatres. … Three male voices singing together creating a triad, three notes in a chord.”

Jencks, Pat Wictor and Greg Greenway, already made their reputations as singer/songwriters before forming Brother Sun in 2011, but Jencks says the group dynamic brings a sound that none of them could achieve on their own. Is it possible to evoke such a sound in words?

“The sound that we create together is the sound of hopeful discovery,” he says. “It’s the sound of ancient history, woven into one place. There is something powerful in that sound all by itself, and then we add the instruments to it.”

He continues, “We have blues, gospel, R&B, rock, folk, Celtic, jazz, classical influences that are all swirling around in side the space that we create. It doesn’t really matter if we’re singing a jazz or blues or gospel or poppy song – it still sounds like us. What’s unique is not the style of music or the instrumentation, but those three voices together. So anything we arrange correctly is going to sound like us, no matter the source.”

To further articulate this point, Jencks quotes his bandmate Greg Greenway: “The music of Brother Sun is not resident within any one of us, but rather it exists in the space between us.”

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around that concept, here are some less abstract facts: Wictor, Jencks, and Greenway hail from Boston, New York and Chicago, where they base their active solo careers. Longtime friends, they put out their first self-titled CD in 2011 and watched it climb to #2 on the Folk DJ Chart (their follow-up, “Some Part of the Truth,” spent two months at #1).

While they record and tour together regularly, they maintain their homes in three separate states, which Jencks believes helps the dynamic. “I think the temptation to never step away from the work would be pretty persistent if we lived in the same region,” he says.

“I wish we were closer together so when we were working out recordings it would be easier, but when we hit the road, it’s very focused time, and then we go home.”

As such, the band’s chemistry (and perhaps its novelty) has remained in place. “Every night we take the stage is a new experience. Even when we’re singing a particular song night after night, there is some foundational joy present in the harmonies that we create together that exists only in the present time.”

He elaborates: “We’re creating these little sonic sculptures that can only ever exist with the three of us together in the present moment, each of us very focused on riding that razor’s edge of consciousness in our musicianship. That’s very exciting every time we do it.”

Whether it’s Brother Sun or the Traveling Wilburys, the idea of several well-established entertainers joining forces can seem counterintuitive. At this stage in one’s career, would one have the patience of collaboration?

“I think for all of us, the truest joy in music is collaboration,” Jencks says. “All of us have spent years exploring the boundaries of what is capable of being accomplished as a solo performer. For sheer raw energy, we can create more and better sound, and affect people more immediately with that sound together, than a soloist can ever do.

“It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of energy to put your own agenda aside to make room for the group process … but it’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

Back to the less-abstract facts: Brother Sun performs as part of Folk Night at the Registry Theatre (122 Frederick St., Kitchener) on January 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door or $18 in advance at the Centre in the Square box office (www.centre-square.com).

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