Surgeon emerged from the ashes of St. John’s instrumental rock group, NARROWS, back in 2008. Where Narrows paved the way with intricate guitar layers, massive grooves and infectious melodies, Surgeon draws inspiration from a darker, more twisted sound world. Taking cues from contemporary classical music, horror movie soundtracks, prog-rock legends and post-rock aesthetics, Surgeon “seamlessly flows through multiple genres while still offering audiences music that’s easy to digest” (Bandsoup blog). Members of Surgeon have been touring the globe for years as soloists or members of the esteemed NL-outfit Hey Rosetta, yet the group has only ever played within St. John’s. Rare performances combined with the consistent addition of new material make every Surgeon show an event to be seen. In 2018, Surgeon will record their third album with the addition of bowed strings. It will include original material as well as epics from the classical canon, re-imagined for rock band.
Steve Cowan, electric guitar and aux percussion
Andrew Wicks, electric guitar
Josh Ward, bass guitar
Phil Maloney, drumset
Maria Cherwick and Carole Bestvater, violins
Maria Peddle, viola
Romesh Thavanathan, cello
This interview has been edited for length and concision.
Annie Corrigan: It’s incredible to see that Surgeon has only ever performed in St. John’s. How do you maintain the group’s music chi when everyone is so busy with other projects?
Steve Cowan: This band is able to exist with minimal rehearsal time because of our natural chemistry and the professionalism of everyone involved. Josh and Phil were always on the road with Hey Rosetta in the early days, and I haven’t lived in Newfoundland since 2010 – so we have always played sporadically, and with very little time to rehearse. The songs are usually mapped out with demo recordings in advance, and then we bring them to life and alter some details within a quick rehearsal or two. It is not simple music, but everyone always does their homework and it’s pretty easy to get a great set happening the few times a year when we are all in St. John’s. We always make sure that there is at least some new material every time we play, so we never lose our enthusiasm through overplaying the same tunes. We do believe in the music and I hope one day we will take it on the road – but until then, it’s also neat that we have this project as a little secret unique to the St. John’s scene.
AC: The new album will include “epics from the classical canon re-imagined for rock band.” What’s one classical tune you’ve remade for rock band?
SC: As I am primarily a classical guitarist, I borrow and re-arrange lots of excerpts from the guitar repertoire — music by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer or Spanish composer Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, for example. Newer tunes involve an arrangement of a piano work by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, as well as the Berceuse from Stravinsky’s Firebird suite. What’s funny is that around the same time we began performing this, I discovered that St. John’s legend Duane Andrews had also re-imagined this piece for a small ensemble on his album Conception Bay. We both had simultaneous urges to play that sweet oboe / bassoon line on guitar, albeit in very different styles!
AC: I imagine all the musicians of Surgeon have performed at The Ship Pub a bunch. How it a show at the Ship different when it’s part of Sound Symposium?
SC: St. John’s and the Ship has always had an extraordinary amount of experimental-music lovers for its size, and we are lucky to have experienced that love for nearly a decade. The Sound Symposium brings out all of these local folks, as well as a ton of like-minded individuals from around the world. As we are a band that doesn’t really tour, the Sound Symposium is a perfect opportunity to bring that target audience to our front doorstep! The improvisation element following our set will also allow us to connect with our audience in a more free and intimate way. We are very excited!
Surgeon At Sound Symposium XIX*
- Night Music — Friday, July 13 at 10:30pm (The Ship Pub)
*Times and locations subject to change.