Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League gathers a wide range of influences under its musical tent, though gypsy jazz remains one of the most prominent occupants. Born from a longstanding friendship between guitarist Daniel Rosen and violinist Jonathan Halquist, the group makes its first Wichita appearance Friday, Feb. 9, at Barleycorn's with Carrie Nation and The Speakeasy.
Jedd Beaudoin: When this band came together, did you have conversations about the musical direction?
Daniel Rosen: Starting out, none of us were really into the traditional music in any sense, from jazz, swing to any of the other influences that come in, the Latin and the world music. I was really into mopey, echo-y rock music. One of the musicians — who's my best friend and have known for a long time, he's the violinist, Jonathan Halquist — we decided to get together and go out West and learn some Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz tunes. We went out there, played in coffee shops and did a lot of busking up and down the coast, from Portland down to San Francisco. It was an awesome experience. It was really incredible and when got back to Minnesota, we decided to round some people up and see if we could start playing.
Tell me a little bit about that going West and sort of seeking the music.
A big part of that was experimenting with what we were doing. At that time, four or five years ago, I wasn't into jazz at all. I wasn't into traditional music, it was sort of an exploration both across the landscape and concerning the tunes we were learning.
We learning these jazz standards and traditional gypsy tunes as we made our way out West, staying at parks. I guess it was the whole young, road trip experience but with maybe a little more purpose.
I'm sort of imagining this adventure, the two of you, but that you're also encountering other players. That has to be a kind of fabulous thing for a musician, to have these other conversations and sessions.
That was really an awesome part. One, with buskers, you run into buskers when you're playing. We had a spot where we had to get there really early if we wanted to get a spot rather than this other guy. We ended up playing really near some of these other guys and playing together. I remember another night. We were in Idaho. They had an open jazz jam and that was the first time I played, improvisationally, with a stranger probably ever. It was a unique experience to hear all these new songs in new settings with new people.
There is this element of drama within your songs. A sense of the theatrical. Did that appear immediately or did that develop over time?
I think that's always been a thing. My day job is writing fiction. I write novels, short stories, flash fiction, various stories. I'm always about telling that dramatic story. I realized recently that a lot of the music I listened to growing up was musicals. I remember listening to Sweeney Todd and West Side Story on repeat on vinyl. My parents had those. I think a lot of that is filtered into the way that I tell stories and the way that I write songs.
Does that also carry over into the presentation of the music itself in the live show?
That was a really early thing we figured out when we were busking: You play the same music but if you're dressed up, you make twice as much money. People stop way more often. They're always much more amenable to paying a stranger for music if they are dressed the part. That is something that we just went with as soon as it started working because we needed the money because we were on the road.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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