SAFFRON SECT CD release party with MORESCA and COUNTY KENT at Rancho Relaxo (300 College), Saturday (July 15), 9 pm. $6. 416-588-0307. Rating: NNNNN
It's been a couple of years since Gaven Dianda was last seen with the Flashing Lights, but there was never really any doubt that the caped psych crusader would make a triumphant return. The only question was, would he favour his amped-up freakbeat or stripped down trippy folk inclinations.
From the sound of the Saffron Sect's delightful new Phosphorous Flash EP the first release on the Montreal-based Fig Records label founded by radio personality Sara Saljoughi (former host of CIUT-FM's Tender Parade) it's a little of both. The songs developed over a period of years and eventually were recorded in a series of living room sessions with flautist Katie Iarocci and the moonlighting rhythm section of Matthew MacLaren and Jay Anderson from the Old Soul.
The upfront use of dulcimer, recorder and crumhorn (see Gryphon) suggests that the group is heading into freak folk territory, but Dianda wants to make it clear that the Saffron Sect wasn't formed to cash in on the semi-popular trend.
"That whole freak folk thing is kind of weird," he says. "It seems to be a reaction to the sickness that comes with consuming too much indie rock. A lot of it sounds to me like the same old indie rock being played on acoustic instruments with a little extra psych vibe thrown in. There's probably some interesting music being done, but I try not to listen to any of those bands."
Dianda's parents were hippies who were into the folk thing and used to play Mississippi John Hurt records all the time at home.
"Being a rebellious teen, I turned to punk and garage instead, but eventually I came back to that stuff. Now I'm listening to a lot of pre-war blues like Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers and British folk, which has all fed into what we're doing with the Saffron Sect. I'm even getting my dad to show me some guitar licks.
"When the Flashing Lights broke up, I'd accumulated a large back catalogue of songs that I'd been working on for years in my small apartment and didn't really fit in with what we'd been doing with that group or any other band I'd been in. So we began getting some shows playing that material on acoustic guitar, flute and autoharp at first, and then I kidnapped Matt and Jay from the Old Soul to play double bass and drums respectively, which is where we're at now."
That still doesn't explain the Saffron Sect's strange fascination with early music instruments that, when mixed with a flamboyant rock 'n' roll aesthetic, can sometimes lead to disastrous results. So far there have been no sightings of fanciful codpieces, colourful tights or frilly bodices.
"I went back to school last September and took some courses in medieval music and had some lessons in playing the crumhorn with a local early music guru, Michael Franklin (of the early music band called Moresca, opening the show on Saturday), which sent me down a different path.
"I wound up channelling all the energy I was investing in collecting records into figuring out song origins. That took me back through the centuries to the late medieval period.
"As soon as you say "medieval,' I know people immediately think of Jethro Tull or even worse, Blackmore's Night. Have you seen what they wear onstage? I mean, Ritchie Blackmore is a great guitarist, but it looks like he got stuck with the worst costume from a Renaissance fair.
"There'll will be none of that shtick going on with Saffron Sect."