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The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra returns to Nelson

The band is well known in these parts — three of the members have lived in the area.
The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra plays the Royal in Nelson on Thursday.

The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra is no stranger to the tour bus.

The Victoria-based gypsy folk band has been on the road for at least eight of the past 12 months, between their regular summer touring schedule and CD release tours through eastern and now western Canada. The quintet rolls through the West Kootenay next week, promoting their third studio offering My Lead, Lead My to Follow.

The band is well known in these parts. Three of the members have lived in the area, including accordionist Ian Griffiths who spent two years living on a Winlaw farm and just moved back to Victoria last fall.

There's a lot of Kootenay influence in the new album, particularly in the song "Mountain On Fire," which was inspired by the night that followed their first time playing in the Slocan Valley.

After their show they were invited to a private birthday party at Little Slocan Lodge.

"We'd never seen anything like it," Griffiths said of the remote lodge on the edge of Valhalla Park. "It was so good and there were so many freaks, in the best possible way. We ended up staying up all night and just having this amazing time."

It was winter 2009 and the group trudged through the snow and dipped their head in the Slocan River. At dawn they piled into their tour bus and drove to the shore of Slocan Lake.

"To see the sun rising over the Valhalla mountain range and the epicness of that lake, combined with the energy of the night before and meeting amazing people in this crazy environment we had never experienced before — it was just crazy," Griffiths said.

The band has made the West Kootenay a regular tour stop ever since, playing here once or twice per year.

"We really love playing to a sweaty bar like the Royal and with all our friends dancing," Griffiths said.

That's a scene The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra is seeing less of these days.

This tour has landed them in a lot of sit down theatres and folk clubs, a token to the older audience that is starting to discover their music.

"It's an interesting level we're at now, where we'll play a pin drop quiet theatre where half the people are over 50 and they're just watching and listening intently," Griffiths said.

Their new album is getting some major media attention. Before speaking to {vurb} they had a CBC radio interview and they've seen some ink in urban dailies like the Calgary Herald and Montreal Gazette.

"Our reach is much greater with this album, I believe, because we took our time doing it," Griffiths said. "Other albums we spent maximum three days on, this album we spent nine months. The other albums cost us $3,000, this one cost us $30,000. So the scale of it is just different.

"It really took everything we had financially, physically, emotionally — we put everything into this record."

They received a government grant through the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records, and also crowd-sourced $10,000 through Indiegogo.

"Our fans and friends and family all pre-bought albums and also just donated money up into the thousands," Griffiths said. "That support was so heartening, to see people wanted to hear what we wanted to do and they were ready for it, not just with their word but with their pocketbook."

They recorded the album in Toronto with producer David Travers-Smith, best known for his work with The Wailin' Jennys. It was the band's first time hiring a producer.

After putting so much into the album, Griffiths said they're working their butts off to get it out to people.

"You're basically just making the most expensive promotional tool in the world and you want to make sure that your effort wasn't in vain," he said.

The new album is available at their shows and through iTunes or Bandcamp — "Bandcamp being the preferable option to purchase from, since they take a lower percentage off the sale price," Griffiths points out.

The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra rolls into the West Kootenay next week with shows at Sleep is for Sissies in Winlaw on Tuesday, BlueBelle Bistro in Kaslo on Wednesday, and The Royal in Nelson on Thursday.