The Sons of Temperance describe themselves as “The 19th Century sound of ringing banjos, clacking bones, rhythmic bass and the jolly tambourine playing somber murder ballads, jaunty minstrel tunes, Celtic drinking songs, and tunes superimposed into that time with reckless abandon.” The duo of Ezra Parker and Benjamin Byron responded to a few questions by e-mail.
1. How long have you been playing music?
Ezra: For about 25 years.
Benjamin: I’ve been playing music for about 12 years.
2. How long have you been performing together?
Ezra: Since last summer in some form or another but the S.O.T was hatched last fall.
Benjamin: We have been friends for a while but we didn’t start performing together until last year, when Ezra needed me to fill in with the Hot Rod Hucksters. After that weird, unrehearsed, sleep deprived show, we did some other impromptu projects. One of which resulted in The Sons of Temperance forming at civil war reenactment last October.
3. What goes into choosing a song for the Sons of Temperance?
Ezra: Well, we gravitate toward songs about murder, tobacco, women, and drinking AKA intemperance. We also try and keep the time frame of the songs pre 1870 although we are not above performing a song that was written later and reworking it to sound like it’s from that era. It also allows us to present 19th century “minstrel” music to a modern audience and have them relate to them a little more. Keeping the music period correct even in a modern setting is important to us. We are putting the steam back in Steampunk.
Benjamin: Ezra pulls a lot of the songs from memory. He’s been reenacting about as long as he has been playing music, so he is wealth of knowledge on the subject. Being memorable is usually a good gauge of whether or not it’s worth doing. The rest are things that sound like fun and work in the context. It’s funny how much songs from back then and songs today share a lot of the same themes. Keeping it all in the context of a 19th century minstrel group is a fun challenge, you have to restrict yourself from bringing in more contemporary elements, but you can delve into even older elements or add things from around the world in that existed at that time.
4. I’ve been with you when you’ve saved the day with your gear. Playing acoustically, what kinds of issues do you face?
Ezra: In the 1800s, a minstrel band or show would have a captive audience and volume was not a problem. In a bar, saloon, or party setting back then the music was often a parlor band and that meant that they were more background music because singing was not practical over all the noise. We are bringing the minstrel show into the parlor, so it’s a challenge sometimes to mic up everything and still keep the freedom of movement. It can be frustrating.
Benjamin: Its challenge to play this music in an environment its not meant for. Feedback, muddy sound, distortion, etc. are always bad but we really need the audience’s attention for it to be meaningful. A lot of the songs are more about the story than the instrumentation. Bad sound will push them away from the story like tiny fly buzzing around their head. So we try to get that captive audience. If they are not, then its just same song going on for an hour. It places a lot more weight on stage presence. We wouldn’t get away with this stuff if we didn’t look and act the part as honestly as possible.
5. Do drinking songs promote wayward morals?
Ezra: I sure hope so, LOL. I think people enjoy hearing about drunken adventures and bad things like murder because it’s not something they are necessarily going to go out and do. I guess it’s the entertaining guide of things not to do.
Benjamin: Wayward morals? Drinking songs promote the use of critical thinking skills! A lot of folk songs are moral stories. Usually the drunken brawler doesn’t win, unless we forget that part.
Bonus question: How much liquor can you put away?
Ezra: I’m not sure, but we use a 75-gallon horse trough for beer at my house.
Benjamin: I don’t know. I get distracted and start climbing things after awhile… How much can a giant six-foot squirrel drink?