Soul - 20 Years of Great Music
Gypsy Soul, the husband and wife duo of Roman Morykit and Cilette Swan, augmented by an assortment of musicians, just announced the North American release of their new album, simply titled True. It is their thirteenth recording and the songwriting, instrumentals, vocals and production capture the essence of this superbly talented and equally congenial twosome. There are no weak links with this collection of eleven songs.
When asked to reflect upon the fact that Gypsy Soul has established a musical legacy that has endured for almost twenty years, Roman Morykit says, “It is interesting, because I have never even given it a lot of thought. It is just one of the things that we do, it is like breathing. It’s like it is time for another record, we have enough material. It is part of who we are and what we do. It is only when people like yourself who are friends and fans point out that we have made thirteen albums that we realize we have had a career of (almost) twenty years as Gypsy Soul. It will be twenty years next year.
Back to Cilette’s earlier point, it is short and time flies by and all of a sudden you are on number thirteen. It is astonishing to us actually that we have managed to keep doing this for this long.”
For the Oregon couple, the story of Gypsy Soul begins twenty-seven years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“That would make us twenty-nine now,” says Roman.
“I know we met as toddlers right,” chimes in Cilette, before recalling how they met, “I was in a band with Roman’s brother and that is how it all started. I had been living in France and I moved to Edinburgh. I went there on a little weekend trip and I fell in love with Edinburgh. I said to myself, I must live here and I made it happen.
I met Roman’s brother in a recording studio. We started writing together. We never were performing out, but we started writing arrangements. Every time he would mention, you really need to meet my brother Roman, he is an amazing bass player and you will just love him. There was a dinner party and Roman was already there playing with his brother. He (Roman) was on his fretless bass and I remember thinking oh my God how do we get this guy up here for good? He is an amazing player. We had a lovely conversation and then we just became friends.
It started off very organically and then we branched out on our own. Roman moved (from London) up to Edinburgh and I was trying to find him a girlfriend. I thought this guy is a very fine catch. He is a lovely person. He is very talented and I need to find him a girlfriend (she laughs). I was never really thinking that it could be me.”
When the question was posed to Roman Morykit and Cilette Swan as to what things have brought them the most satisfaction during their careers, Roman started with, “I think for me it is a mixed bag. It is having control of your career, because I was in a bunch of bands. I was in a band when I was one of (many) voices and then we had a management company and the voice got drowned out a little bit more. We got signed to A & M and it was like, who are you again? I think my greatest enjoyment is steering our career where we want to go both good and bad. (It is) having the ability to have a studio in the house. That has been one of the great things about technology and the advancements that have happened within the music industry. I think the downside of that is the difficulty, by which it is to get your voice heard (Cilette and Roman say in unison, “The lack of access.”)
Artists have a lot more autonomy now and that is one of the good things. You don’t have the access that you had when there were a bunch of record companies. The sixties, seventies and eighties were the golden era for record companies and then everything started to change in the nineties and certainly in 2000.”
Cilette says, “For me it is the experiences that we get to have, because of the music. It is the people that we get to meet and the places that we get to go to, the relationships that we have developed over years and years. We barely stay in hotels anymore. We used to at the beginning of our careers, because we needed that privacy, as we were doing a lot of art and wine festivals when it was a three day weekend. You are up at six and you are tearing down at seven o’clock at night. You are socializing. I was exhausted and I couldn’t talk and sing the entire weekend. Now because we do mostly theaters (such as) a musical venue in Scottsdale called MIM, Musical Instrument Museum and we just don’t go for the show, we make it a little vacation. We do maybe two or three or four shows in Arizona, but we’re gone for about three weeks. We love the drive, we love the people that we stay with and we go back to our favorite haunts. It is a lifestyle and I think that being able to live an artistic lifestyle trump 99% of the disappointments that come with being an independent musician (she laughs).
When I look back at our lives, my dad used to always tell us don’t wait for this grand event to happen to feel successful, you have to remind yourselves that you are successful. You are making art. You are the ones who define success, not some outside entity or some public perception of success. I remember that all of the time and that we have to remind ourselves that we are successful and we have chosen this lifestyle and we have chosen this path. Thank God people still buy our records and come out to shows.”
In unison they both say, “We wouldn’t have our careers without our fans.”
Roman continues, “That’s the best part of it; I think a lot of major label artists don’t get to have the same interaction, because they are always being kept at a distance from their fans. One of the great things that we get to experience is talking to people whose lives we may have touched and hearing their stories.
Cilette adds her thoughts, “We know their kids are going to college and Johnny is picking up drumming, because he saw our drummer at our last show. They share stories and we are a part of their lives. It is not just thanks for coming. We have exchanges with people after every show. I don’t think there has ever been a show where we didn’t go out and chat. I tell people that I want to be able to see their faces and to thank people personally. We both want to do that and we require that of musicians that (we hire). We have a lot of different musicians that we play with, but we tell them part of your job is to go out there and to thank people. That’s part of the gig and we like to see that.
We have been incredibly blessed with loyal people who have grown with our sound and who have grown with our experiences. Roman and I were separated for three years, but we still did Gypsy Soul. Everybody loved and supported us.
Roman interjects, “They didn’t take sides.”
Cilette continues, “We made it very amenable. We weren’t fighting. We did it pretty professionally and then we got back together.”
As for the new album, Roman says, “Strangely enough the reason that we called the new album True is because it is the truest representation of who we are and all of the different aspects of our sound. I think over the last two or three albums we have trusted who we are as musicians instead of trying to second guess what we think the market might be good for. As musicians you kind of look at the trends and see what is going on. A lot of that has changed within the music industry, because music now is a lot more niche, there are a lot more areas and there is a lot more diversity. If people want to find that music they can because of Facebook, YouTube and (other websites). We have really settled into whom we are and what we are good at. We have stopped trying to second guess ourselves.”
“We have also had managers, lawyers, agents and publishers who said to us I love what you do, but could you do it a little bit more like this, because this is what the market is interested in right now? Honestly, it has never really worked if we tried to write in a certain fashion, because we are very organic writers. I don’t have a skill set that is to just sit down and to write a national crafted hit. That’s not how I work as a lyricist and Roman doesn’t work (that way). We are really grateful that we have a sound that (makes) enough people seem to want to come to our shows and they want to come back year after year,” says Cilette.
Roman expands upon this part of our conversation, “I think we have embraced that sound over the last two albums. The reviews that we have been getting in Europe have been about how unique our sound is. We have always embraced what makes us different. It has also been one of the challenges of getting our music to fit into what is mainstream music.”
“It is a blessing and a curse,” says Cilette.
“I would still rather be this way,” Roman says.
Cilette agrees, “Exactly, we are remaining true to ourselves and our vision of what we want our future to be. I think the music industry, streaming and all of this has become more and more marginalized. I watched the Billboard Music Awards with my sister and I could barely get through it. It was so homogenized and it was the lowest common denominator that it really made sad for what the younger generations are being exposed to. They are not getting Zeppelin and they are not getting Queen and U2. They are getting a lot of bands, but they all sound the same, because that is how they are instructed to market their music.”
The album True was engineered and produced in collaboration with Dennis Dragon.
“Two friends of mine told me about the studio, so we went out there and we took a look. He has a live room and we wanted to record the album as live as possible, but we didn’t want to make a live album performance record.
On “Hallelujah,” it is Cilette and I am on fretless acoustic, (plus) drummer, Michael Forney and we played that live. “Amazing Grace,” “Your Kind,” “6000 Miles,” and “Mirabelle,” we also played that way.
I wanted to play this old school and I wanted to work with an engineer
that really understood sound. Dennis works completely old school. He
listens to what it is that you are playing and he selects the mics
accordingly. That is how I grew up recording. It is mic placement and
the type of mic that brings out the characteristics from whatever
instrument that it is. Just working with him in the studio was great for
me. I was able to be a
musician and a producer. I was able to concentrate on that and not have
to be the engineer as well, which really splits your energy a lot.
I think we were able to capture some really great performances
and that is what I was going for with the record. I wanted to capture
what it was that people really love about us. It is that energy that we
have and the way that we dance when we are playing live. I wanted to
capture that on the record,” Roman explains.
The song “He Wore Sandals In The Snow,” is a fine example of how well Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit compliment each other. Roman’s guitar is more like another voice, as he elegantly accompanies Cilette’s hauntingly beautiful vocals and cellist Michal Palzewicz is superb.
Palzewicz often plays with Gypsy Soul during their concerts and Roman talks about him, “He is a fabulous cello player. He really is and he has a spectacular tone. We just wanted to have him on the record. The same goes for our friend Mikey Stevens who played the horns on “Gotta’ Be Real.”
I love the surprise element of them. Every song has something that happens that is a little unexpected. I love that aspect of that and we were trying to find a place for these guys, because they have been playing with us for years. We wanted to have them on the album, so we made sure that we wrote songs that would fit them.”
As for “He Wore Sandals In The Snow,” Cilette says, “It is based on an event when Roman and I were driving up in the mountains about an hour from where we live in Jacksonville. We saw this gentleman walking on the side of the street who clearly by his attire was homeless.
It was snowing and we were going for a drive. We were frustrated about something and that is generally how Roman and I work through issues, we go for a drive. We talk about it or we don’t talk about it at all and just listen to music and by the time that we get home we feel much better about whatever it was that was troubling us that day. It was shortly after my father had passed.
I looked at him (the man on the side of the street) as we drove past and he turned his face and looked at us. This was on a mountain road and there was no one around and there wasn’t anywhere that he could have been walking to, so we couldn’t figure out his story.”
Roman recalls, “And it was snowing and he was wearing sandals.”
Cilette picks up the story again, “He had older man clothing on and it was too big for him. Anyway, a long story short I was so struck by him and I thought that could be any one of us. It could be my dad reincarnated, it could be anyone.
A couple of weeks later we had written this song about homelessness and the plight of people. We were in a café back up in that mountain place and we started talking to a couple who had attended a concert (of ours) and they said ‘We really liked that “Sandals In the Snow,” song. I said well it was inspired by this guy that we saw up here, a couple of weeks or a couple of months, a while back and he really struck us. They said, ‘He was called the Goat Man. We know who he was. He passed a little while ago.’ I said what do you mean he passed? We just saw him. They said he passed a couple of years ago or something. We said we really saw him. It really struck us. Was he just an apparition to make us pay attention and to be in the moment? I had very complicated emotions seeing this man.”
“This song (“He Wore Sandals In The Snow”) was on another record. We did a different version of it on a live record. We recorded it a number of years back and I never really liked that version. I didn’t like what we did with the music, because it seemed too jolly. There was a cognitive dissonance there for me and it made me not want to play the song or listen to it. We reworked it entirely and we made the music fit more what the subject matter was and Cilette completely changed the melody as well,” says Roman.
Cilette explains, “We kept the lyrics, but we changed the melody and the music.”
“We basically rewrote the song,” says Roman.
“It definitely was haunting,” says Cilette.
Roman adds, “It seemed worth of writing a song about it.”
“We literally drove home that day and we wrote it in the studio that day. It moved a lot of people and it means different things to different people. To me it is back to life is precious and short and we need to appreciate people in our lives and to make the most of our time here. Whether he was real or not, he was our reminder,” says Cilette.
“6000 Miles,” is a beautiful love story and one that we would not be surprised to see show up at weddings for many years.
Cilette talks about the story behind the song, “6000 Miles,” “It is the first song that we wrote and it helped to determine the direction of the record. It is our love song to each other and it is about having to travel 6,000 miles to find each other. Sorry it was 5,800 and something, but it sounded more poetic as “6000 Miles.” It is our version of the movie Sliding Doors. It is about how if you make one or two different decisions your life could turn in a different direction. We were meant to find each other, even if it took a few years and a few relationships in between.”
The song “Mirabelle,” has a different story behind it.
“Mirabelle was a gift. The entire story came to me in a dream. I woke up and I told Roman the story and I wrote bits of it down. It wasn’t that kind of a dream when it is in and out of your mind and you are trying to grapple with pieces of it. It was really clear. This woman came and told me her story in the dream. She said we need to remind people to speak the truth and that it is the greatest act of bravery. I thought how interesting that you are choosing me to tell this story. I feel a responsibility here,” says Cilette.
“I started writing the music and we finished it to go around…you had a very clear idea when I was playing this song and I ended up adapting it stylistically to what you were talking about,” Roman says.
Cilette recalls, “I shared the Mirabelle story with a friend of ours named Lisa and she is quite the historian. She started to look up the name Mirabelle and Mirabelle was killed for speaking the truth.
It turns out that there were three Mirabelle sisters who were slain in the Dominican Republic for speaking out and for being politically active to empower women in the early 1900s.”
Roman then goes on to recount how three Mirabelle sisters became symbols of popular and feminist resistance.
“We knew nothing about this beforehand,” says Roman.
“…and it seems that the story so lined up with their story,” says Cilette.
True is truly a very good and a very beautiful album by Gypsy Soul, perhaps their best yet.
This interview by Joe Montague published August 14, 2016 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.
All photos are the the property of Gypsy Soul and
protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved.
This interview by Joe Montague published August 14, 2016 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved. All photos are the the property of Gypsy Soul and all are
protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved.