He’s canoed on remote Canadian lakes, tried organic cattle farming in the Kootenays and tilled the soil with a horse-drawn plow in Romania.
It’s no big surprise to anyone familiar with accordionist Ian Griffiths or his Victoria-based band, The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, that the group’s latest “gypsy-roots-bluegrass” album is heavily influenced by the outdoors.
In fact, the title to the 2012 CD Follow my Lead, Lead Me to Follow occurred to Griffiths as he was canoeing one summer on a lake near Quesnel, in British Columbia’s interior.
Griffiths recalled paddling at the front of the boat while the group’s drummer, Paul Wolda, paddled at the rear. “I realized that if I wanted to lead, I would have to follow what he was doing at the back,” recalled Griffiths, who plays at the FarSide Bar and Grill at Red Deer College with the rest of the band on Tuesday.
“The whole idea of leading and following is like give and take: there needs to be consent in both roles.”
Canoe Song on the new album, which was created over nine painstaking months in Toronto, was inspired by that same expedition on Bowron Lake. At the end of a long day, Griffiths and Wolda stumbled upon an abandoned trapper’s cabin in the woods, where they spent the night.
“I lay there and looked at the silhouette of the trees and I felt like it was my ancestors looking down on me,” recalled Griffiths.
When he later described this scene to his parents, the 28-year-old was startled to learn that, not only had his dad come across that same cabin on Bowron Lake, but his aunts and uncles and grandparents had also found shelter there in years past.
“It was an amazing coincidence. I didn’t know that my dad had even gone there! It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck,” said Griffiths.
The Hinton native didn’t set out to be a musician. He moved to Victoria to take Spanish and Environmental Studies at university. But one thing led to another and from studying Spanish, Griffiths drifted into learning the flamenco guitar in Spain.
Upon returning to Victoria, he began attending open-mic jam sessions in a basement club, where he met Wolda, who played with an African hand-drumming ensemble.
Noticing a lot of other guitarists at the jam, Griffiths taught himself to play the accordion, starting on a kid-sized one he’d picked up in Barcelona. “You had to smile when you played. It only had major chords,” he recalled.
By 2006, Griffiths and Wolda had joined up with bassist Peter Mynett and guitarist Kurt Loewen, who’s now one of the group’s main songwriters, and The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra was born.
The group recently recruited Cape Breton fiddler Jacques Mindreau, who brings an East Coast vibe to the band’s music. “He’s classically trained, so has a different flair,” said Griffiths, who still predicts the band’s outdoors-related themes likely won’t change.
“We’re pretty heavily inspired by the wilderness, partly because we tour so much and spend so much time in rural areas — which is the majority of Canada.”
Griffiths is also a proponent of organic produce, having worked on farms in Romania, Australia, Hawaii and Nepal. He even unsuccessfully attempted an organic livestock operation for a few years in the Kootenays. “My idea of making money has been being a musician and a farmer” — possibly the two most difficult undertakings, he said with a laugh.
But the band continues to support the cause by occasionally inviting organic food sellers to set up at their concerts. The orchestra has also taken a vocal stand on environmental issues and conducts free music workshops for at-risk kids.
For more information about the show, call 403-356-4978.