Sometimes, when you get the ball rolling on a creative endeavour, it can kind of get away from you. What starts out as writing a couple songs for a friend can snowball into a full-blown stage show of musical theatre, rife with neo-noir cowboy songs and Greek mythology.
Don’t believe it? Actor and musician Jeff Gladstone and his Travelling Band of Bad Ideas are living proof, as what started out as a simple project of penning a couple of tunes for his friend, jazz singer Terra Hazelton, resulted in the making of the album, Hell of a Girl, which then resulted in a gigantic, lavish stage production using the album as a springboard.
Needless to say, things got out of hand quickly.
It started innocently enough, with Hazelton wanting to work with Gladstone on some of his new material. “I would just play songs for Terra and she would take notes on which ones moved her, or which she heard something in that might inspire other musicians. We would record guitar, upright bass and a scratch vocal, and then she started bringing in the other musicians. So the arrangements happened on the fly, based on what the musicians brought to the table.”
The musicians he speaks of were all pretty heavy-hitters in the jazz scene, brought to the studio by Hazelton. “Some I’ve gotten to know fairly well over the years, like Drew Jurecka, Nathan Hiltz and Sophia Perlman,” says Gladstone. “Some of the players on the record I barely knew and a couple I’d never even met before. We were all connected through Terra, who is awesome, so we trusted each other.”
However, things started to build shortly after that, as Gladstone started to assemble a narrative as he assembled the album, and he stumbled across the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – which seemed like a perfect fit.
“I don’t actually recall how I came across the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, it may have been a dream. He is a songwriter. They get married, and she goes dancing in the woods where she is bitten in the ankle by a viper, and dies. Orpheus travels to Hell, singing his way past certain challenges to find her. Hades says they can go back, but if he looks at her before they are out of the Underworld, the deal’s off. Which, of course, he does, she spends eternity in Hell, and he is torn to pieces by witches,” he explains.
“The myth has a few variations, but what interested me most was how it seems to be missing her perspective. I wanted to fill in her part of the story as best I could. Like maybe she goes dancing in the woods because he’s playing his stupid lyre and not spending his wedding day with his wife.”
Following that, Gladstone, along with about 50 or so performers debuted a live stage version of the album – with a drastically expanded repertoire of songs and complete with a chorus – at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver. It was such a blast and a rousing success that Gladstone wants to take it on the road, though at the moment he’s just touring the songs with a three-piece band – the stage show comes later, with a bit more preparation and funding.
“This has been an experiment, and we are definitely going to take it further,” he says.
“A lot of the new songs are more clearly in this ‘Cowboy-Noir’ aesthetic I’m going for. I’ve started conceptualizing a retelling of the ancient story Tristan & Isolde for the next album and live show.”
Catch the Travelling Band of Bad Ideas at the Palomino on May 30.
By Nick Laugher