In the past eight months since Sofiella Watt and the Huckleberry Bandits released their debut song “Junkyard Bettie”, the popular gypsy folk band has made a name for itself touring through the Rockies, making regular appearances at local events, and taking home a Kootenay Music Award. All of this before even releasing their six-song self-titled debut album, which is available now.
“Sometimes I ask myself, you know, how did we end up playing country music?” Watt told the Star. “I used to do a lot of solo work, and I travelled as a duo, but I hadn’t played in a band for years. Then this all just sort of came together.”
The Australian songstress was initially brought to Canada by her partner Jimmy Maher, aka Huckleberry Jim, because he wanted her to experience snow for the first time. Now they’re sharing the stage with hand-selected Kootenay musicians.
“It was a telling moment when we both went out and bought banjos. We should’ve had a good idea where things were going then,” said Maher.
And Watt couldn’t be more pleased. It was only last year that she was working at Itza Pizza, day-dreaming about assembling a band, when local musician David Reid came in to buy a slice.
“I was determined to put together a band, so I harassed everyone I met. One day I was serving at Itza and talking about my banjo with one of my coworkers. Dave said ‘oh, I play mandolin’. I said ‘really? Here’s my number. Come to my house and be in my band,” said Watt.
Reid is joined by drummer Lee Campese and upright bassist Jakob Simek—who recorded their album at his home studio in Argenta. The quintet admire bands like the Tallest Man on Earth, Tiny Ruins and Rapskallion, but their sound has a unique Kootenay vibe.
Watt said the album—illustrated by Lauren Herraman—has a mix of silly, high-energy tunes and more thoughtful tracks. She’s invented a number of characters, including Junkyard Bettie and a caravan follower named Gypsy Green Eyes.
“This one song, ‘Old Man Trouble’, we wrote that while Jimmy and I were doing a tour back home. We had about three nights to ourselves in a month and we went camping in this national park where it was just us and the birds. That’s where I wrote it, and I think it really translates on the recording. It’s about finding one spot where you can detach from everything and find a place where trouble can’t find you.”
And though there are only six songs on this album, the band already has more they’re working on. Online they describe their sound as a “motley mix of winsome folk, bruised with blues and infused with banjo, with heady jazz notes, a hint of country and spicy gypsy undertones.”
Watt and Maher hope to extend their stays in Canada. Both have temporary visas.
“It’s a constant battle for us because we’ve absolutely fallen in love with the place. We’re from small communities back home and Nelson’s got a great spirit. I love walking down Baker Street and running into all the fantastic characters all the way down.”
And those characters all come out in droves for their performances, such as their concert last Friday at MarketFest. Watt said she loved seeing the dancers in front of her mimicking her signature Elvis-style leg wobble.
“It’s the biggest gift. It’s so nice when you see people out from enjoying what you’re doing. It was so lovely,” said Watt, who noted that some of her hardcore fans come out to see their performances multiple times a week.
Their next show will be at the Kaslo Jazz Festival.
“We feel really lucky to be here,” said Watt.