TUNNG with guests at the Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen West), Sunday (October 28), 9 pm. $10. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The term "folktronica" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. It's an ugly verbal amalgamation of two genres that never wanted anything to do with each other, a shotgun wedding of opposite philosophies about music's conception.
But beards and beats go hand in hand these days, and East London's Tunng are further proof the marriage can work. The only problem for co-founders Sam Genders and Mike Lindsay, hailed as folktronica linchpins by Brit media, is that they feel they're over it. They've moved on.
"I don't think folktronica really suits us any more," says Genders from a club in Bristol. "It sounds a bit contrived. [Tunng] are more experimental pop I think. But people always come up with labels for music. It's a natural process, and some people get wound up by that."
The folk half of the equation speaks more directly to Tunng's roots, when Genders and Lindsay holed up in a basement studio/laboratory underneath a women's clothing boutique, nurturing their homegrown debut, Mother's Daughter And Other Songs (Ace Fu). A beguiling and primitive piece of electro-acoustic ditties, Mother's is full of pastoral imagery and mystical lyrics about English countryside paganism. Think the original Wicker Man score but with laptops.
But when Tunng became a six-piece after their loftily titled follow-up, Comments Of The Inner Chorus (Full Time Hobby), they played down some of Genders and Lindsay's fantastical eccentricities and began moving in a more straightforward pop direction. Yet they've maintained the endearingly oddball character that originally set them apart.
"In some ways the songs on this album are a bit more direct than our previous stuff," allows Genders about their recently released third album, Good Arrows (Thrill Jockey). "It has a pop influence and maybe more immediacy about it, something a bit more direct, in theory.
"There's fantasy stuff is in the lyrics on the earlier albums, so you can see how people expect that now. But the new album is more about everyday things, urban life and how people think as opposed to make-believe."
Genders and Lindsay haven't completely lost their inner freak-folkers yet. For example, on one Arrows track, a whispery acoustic plucker called Arms, Lindsay crafts a rhythmic beat from the sound of crackling fire. It's the sort of mix between pop convention and innovative thinking that keeps Arrows unpredictable and immersive.
"Mike's always had this ability to create a world for ideas and songs to sit in," praises Genders. "Whatever ideas we throw in get filtered through Mike's production, so we can be really creative. It takes a bit of time, but I like the results."
Genders is also quick to credit added members Martin Smith, Phil Winter, Becky Jacobs and Ashley Bates for expanding Tunng's vision.
"Being constantly surrounded by these creative people, our work's definitely becoming more collaborative. You start to write with the whole crew in mind because you get certain ideas about what people can do. "
And even as Tunng grow into a proper band rather than just a collection of Lindsay and Genders' left-field influences - and their new disc of cerebral pop further widens the gap between present Tunng and their stripped-down, classical beginnings - Genders admits that the folktronica tag has assisted the band on their journey thus far.
"Being associated with that scene has done us a lot of favours. We got invited to play festivals and certain gigs and met a lot of people who really helped us on our way, " he says. "We just try not to let ourselves become influenced by that [label].
"As long as we get to do our thing, and are inspired by it, I don't care what people call it."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On being a folk band playing rocks clubs
On lyrics being too British
On their new video for "Bullets" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI1NgFYJCN4