Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Artist Interview: The Wires

What a great feeling it is to discover new Christmas music!  Even better, when said Christmas music is absolutely killer, AND from local musicians.  That's a holiday tunes trifecta, friends.  Der Bingle hit that jackpot with Winter by the Kansas City strings duo The Wires.

The Wires are Laurel Morgan Parks (violin) and Sascha Groschang (cello).  Laurel and Sascha have been composing and performing together since 2009.  Their music "inspired by imagery found in the natural world, folk styles and modern string techniques" is rich, dynamic, textured, with an extraordinarily full sound.  In addition to performing across our city and region, The Wires are involved in local radio, music education, and many other endeavors in the community.  Good people, The Wires are.

Winter, released in 2020, is a gorgeous, brilliant album of holiday songs arranged and performed by Sascha and Laurel.  They chose eleven familiar holiday songs, although some ("Once in Royal David's City", "Wexford Carol") are deeper cuts than others ("Silent Night", "We Wish You a Merry Christmas").  Rounding out the album is their original composition "Campbell Street".

What a pleasure it is to share this interview with The Wires about Winter, the arts scene in Kansas City, and other seasonal musings.

Listen to Winter on Spotify

The Wires website

Merry & Bright Interview with The Wires

Merry & Bright: Hello Sascha and Laurel! That sounds so much better than “Hello, The Wires”. Thank you for this Q&A about your album Winter.  Winter is your third album, following The Wires in 2012 and Wilder in 2019. Can you tell us the story of how Winter came about?

TW: Sascha and I (Laurel) have always found a lot of musical inspiration in the wintery months. We get inspired by the contrast of cold and snow and ice with the warmth and crackle of a fire. We used to play a lot of Christmas gigs, but found that arrangements for duo could sound very thin. That coupled with our winter time inspiration led us to recording our third album of holiday music.

Laurel Morgan Parks and Sascha Groschang

MB: Your song selection for Winter is fantastic. A few true Christmas song standards (Silent Night, The Christmas Song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas), but many are not quite as familiar to many, such as Coventry Carol, Wexford Carol, and Once in Royal David’s City. How did you decide what songs to record?

TW: We just loved each of those songs individually - some we had grown up listening to, and some were newer favorites. We also wanted some variety to the record. Some of the tunes have a more celtic feel (like Greensleeves), whereas we had more of a jazzy arrangement with The Christmas Song, and a more Americana sound with The Holly and the Ivy. We're drawn to different folk styles in our original composition, and I think we wanted to showcase some of these styles and their differences in our holiday album.

MB: Sascha and Laurel, your arrangements are amazing. What is your process for transforming these songs, some of which are centuries old, into arrangements for cello and violin?

TW: It's actually easier than how we usually compose - which is from scratch. It was kind of a "relief" to have the melodies all ready written. One of us - Sascha usually- would come up with the secondary chords we were going to use and we'd go from there. We always write together, sitting across from each other. When we come up with something we both like we record it as a voice memo on our phones.

MB: “Campbell Street” is an original composition on Winter. What is the story of “Campbell Street”?

TW: Campbell Street is actually the street I (Sascha) live on. I have two small girls, and Campbell street is kind of an homage to the wonder and awe and joy of seeing and playing in snow for the first time each year. It's the magic of watching them experience winter for the first times.

The Wires

MB: Luckily for me, you are Kansas City based musicians, so I have had the pleasure of seeing you perform live, and hope to again many more times in the future. How has the Kansas City music and arts scene changed in the 12 years that you have been performing together?

TW: The biggest thing that has changed has happened due to the pandemic. It's harder to predict things like concert attendance, COVID outbreaks, and our own illnesses - hahaha. But seriously, the music scene in KC keeps expanding and evolving. We have amazing musicians in this town and have had the privilege of working with many of them. We hope to keep collaborating because that's how things in this city keep fresh.

MB: Winter was recorded at Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City. Why did you choose that location to record?

TW: Well, we love the Pilgrim Chapel - we've been doing an annual Winter Solstice program for the past several years there, and these songs were first arranged for those shows, so it felt like a perfect fit. Plus it just looks like a storybook! It's so charming and cute and so perfect looking in the snow.

MB: What are some of your personal favorite Christmas songs and/or records?

Laurel: My favorite Christmas album would have to be Amy Grant's "Home for Christmas." I also love Sufjan Stevens' holiday albums. 

Sascha: Growing up, I loved the John Denver Muppet Christmas album - but now, I'm with Laurel, I listen to all of the Sufjan Stevens' Christmas tunes - they have such a fun and folky feel. I also have a new favorite, from an album I actually played on last year from a local band, Barnaby Bright called "Bleak Midwinter".  I've been working with Barnaby for a long time, since before they were even Barnaby Bright!  Their winter album is magical and worth a listen.

Do you have any favorite Kansas City Christmas traditions?

Laurel: I love going to Union Station and Crown Center to see the giant trees and decorations. Gotta go with children though because they see the magic! I also love driving around and looking at Christmas lights and any ostentatious displays. And, of course, I love playing with Sascha - we usually play a lot of concerts in December and I always look forward to those. 

Sascha:  I also love taking my girls to Crown Center and Union Station - they do it up right! I just like making fun crafts with my girls. The season leading up to the holidays is usually one of the busiest for me as a musician, so it's like a breath of fresh air to have a few weeks off to re-center and just relax.

MB: Winter is an extraordinary record of Christmas and Winter songs. You have given us an album that is both spirited and soothing, and full of happiness. Any final thoughts for the readers of Merry & Bright?

TW: Thank you so much!! If you'd like to find out more about our music and current season check out our website at www.thewires.info

MB: Thank you again for your time, and have a very happy and safe holiday season!

Thanks so much for the interview!  Happy Holidays!

1 comment: