by Hannah Heimbuch
The name “Mothers Superior” may not immediately bring to mind a varied cast of Homer musicians, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Alice’s this weekend. Led by guitarist and producer Steve Collins – a staple of local band Holy Santos Gang – the group of 17 musicians is taking on the Beatles’ acclaimed White Album. All of it.
When Collins was listening to the album this summer, he realized it would be perfect for the big band project he’d been kicking around for the last year.
“It spans so many different genres,” Collins said. “There’s so much different music on it.”
The song styles jump between rock, pop, orchestra, sing-a-long and other genres, Collins said, something that’s been a challenge, but fun to duplicate.
That’s where the big band comes in.
Featured on a wide variety of instruments are local musicians Tyler Munns, Dylan Smith, John Bushell, Jeff Szarzi, Nancy Chambers, Catherine Stingley, Atz Lee Kilcher, Shane Monroe, Kathleen Gusta, Gabriela Husmann, Rick Foster, Jon Sharp, Megan Murphy, Dave Aplin, Peter Norton and Laura Norton. Several of the performers are members of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.
“It’s been really cool mixing this rock band with all these string players that are used to playing with an orchestra,” Collins said.
Violinist Nancy Chambers is playing on four of the songs, and this departure from her usual musical work has been interesting, she said. While she was familiar with the songs, as a classical player, she’d never approached this music in any way other than as a typical listener.
“It’s kind of been a learning experience for me, even though I grew up in the age of the Beatles,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Collins said members of this interdisciplinary mix all approach music a little differently, from how – or if – they use the notes on the page, to what genre they feel comfortable in. He said it’s been great having them all in one room, working toward one shared performance. And, there’s only been a little friendly ribbing between the rock and orchestral sides of things.
“(We’re) finding a common language,” Collins said. “And a way to work it out.”
Collins, Dylan Smith and Tyler Munns make up the core band, sharing lead vocal roles and harmonies.
“The Beatles’ harmonies were so intricate and so spot-on,” Collins said. “That’s been the biggest challenge musically.”
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the double album. It was one of the Beatles’ last. The legendary group released three more records in the 18 months after the iconic White Album came out on Nov. 22, 1968. In many ways, however, this record marked the beginning of the end.
“It was definitely a period of a lot of conflict in the band,” Collins said. “They were writing their own songs, and a lot of the songs on the album are performed as individuals.”
In fact, all four Beatles perform together on only 16 of the 30 songs that make up the White Album. The result is a juxtaposed set of individualized songs that speak to one another, at times compete, and tell a humanized story of the group.
This makes for a unique collection of groundbreaking musical work, Collins said, one that fits together in an eclectic but magical way that resonates with music lovers of many kinds.
“That’s the other reason it kind of had to be done as its entire thing,” Collins said. “You can’t wait for the next song to start because that’s where it belongs — like a puzzle.”
Well-known tracks include “Dear Prudence,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “Helter Skelter” and many others.
The group name, Mothers Superior, is a reference to the lyric “Mother Superior jump the gun,” in Happiness Is a Warm Gun.
Homer’s all-ages shows are this weekend, Friday and Saturday, at Alice’s. Both shows start at 8 p.m., and the $10 charge at the door includes a beverage.
The Mothers Superior will also be traveling to perform at the Tap Root in Anchorage on Jan. 4.
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