Flowers of Hell’s Greg Jarvis (centre) is grateful for synesthesia.
FLOWERS OF HELL at the Music Gallery (197 John), Friday (April 3). $10. 416-204-1080.
Greg Jarvis is busy reinventing the rock band. Modelled after a chamber orchestra, his transatlantic 16-member experimental space-rock ensemble actually functions more like two loose confederations, with Jarvis shuttling between his two Flowers of Hell musical franchises in London, England, and his native Toronto.
Next week Jarvis, along with nine or 10 members, launches Come Hell Or High Water (Benbecula), the band's second full-length. Recorded in Toronto, London, Texas and Prague, Come Hell features appearances by members of Spiritualized, Primal Scream, Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Jarvis's expansive compositions have won him a cult following in post-rock and shoegazer circles. My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields and Spaceman 3's Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom) are fans.
After tooling around Guelph in various punk bands in the early 90s, Jarvis travelled to Prague in the years following 1989's Velvet Revolution. "It was basically a black square on the map," he says over the phone, "and there were rumours it was beautiful, so I went."
"It was a country run by poets and playwrights and massive Velvet Underground fans," he recalls of the city that inspired his classically informed approach to experimental rock.
"Culture in Prague at that time was all about existing in the present moment, a breath between Communism and Western commercialism."
After songwriting there on his own, Jarvis migrated to London, England, where he put together the first live incarnation of Flowers of Hell. There, he discovered that he has synesthesia, a neurological cognition affecting 3 per cent of the population (including Duke Ellington and Pharrell Williams) that causes people to involuntarily visualize sounds.
"Every sound has a timbre to it," he explains, "but somewhere in my brain my optic nerves and my ear nerves are intertwined, so different timbres cause different shapes to move around in my field of vision.
"For the song White Out, I recorded each member of the band playing three or four tracks, leaving me with a wall of roughly 40 layers. Then I started carving away, eliminating tracks to sculpt a picture out of the music."