FRINGE 2012: Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir Interview

Here’s a not so secret confession for you: there’s nothing I love quite as much as planning out a busy festival schedule. The anticipation of looking through the program book for the first time, the excitement that builds when you find a show that catches your interest. Over the past few years I’ve casually seen some of the free shows in the festival, but this year I am thrilled to be full out Fringing for Forget the Box.

After seeing the secular gospel band Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir at the Edge of the City Live Podcast this spring, I was definitely excited when I noticed they were headliners for the opening night of Fringe Park on Thursday. I was even MORE excited when I discovered I’d get the chance to interview the lead singer from the band, aman simply known as The Profit. We talked about why he likes to be anoymous, why gospel is his favorite kind of music and where he sees his band headed in the future.

Stephanie Laughlin: You call yourself The Profit instead of giving your real name; why do you feel its important to separate yourself from your music?
The Profit: My alias is a satirical jab at the showmanship innate to all organized religion. The frock, the titles, the speechifying, the ceremony; it’s all just an elaborate show. In some cases, it can inspire awe and empower spiritual awakening. But in most cases, it merely extorts funds from well-meaning people. It’s big business! We thought we’d bring attention to that by emulating it. Getting people to recognize prophets for what they really are is no easy task. So we spell it out.
SL: I’ve read elsewhere you liked gospel because you felt it was the most most joyful kind of music.  What are your thoughts on the importance of music during a time of political unrest like we have now in Montreal?
TP: When done right, music can get one’s message across in a pacific and yet highly charged way. Montreal’s tintamarre [pots and pans protest] against Bill 78 is proof of that. And gospel music covers similar ground. The beat of it is a pulse, the melody and chords are the emotional core. But as with any music, the message, the rallying cry, those are things that can only come from words. That’s where our subversion of traditional songs comes into play. And it’s how any music will be either made relevant or insignificant. Take Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? – the music may touch the soul, but it’s the lyrics that spur the revolution.
SL: Where did the idea to have the audience as “the choir” part of Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir come from?
TP: The Mississippi Delta. Nobody does interactive like old-school all-black Southern congregations. The pews don’t just listen, they are the show. Not merely in their singing along, but in their interjections, hallelujahs and amens. We wanted to find a way to engage our audience in a similarly inspiring fashion. There’s simply nothing like it. The Critical Mass Choir is in effect an attempt to force people out of their shells by planting keen participants among the greater audience and getting everyone in the room involved.
SL: You guys are getting some pretty high profile gigs these days; NXNE, Tedx Montreal, The Jazz Fest; how do you see yourself evolving as a band? More records? Dream venues?
TP: We have an EP in the works that we’ll be releasing before 2012 is up. Then a full-length album in 2013 and hopefully a quick swing down to the Bible Belt to kick at the hornet’s nest. Our dream venues? Any tiny, sweaty, packed room with a real upright piano and lots of avid folks to belt back the answers to our calls. That, and the Ed Sullivan Theater.
SL: Thoughts on the Fringe Festival? Have you guys played Fringe before, what kind of impact do you think The Fringe has on the Montreal arts scene?
TP: We are huge fans of the Fringe Festival and of thinking outside the box in general. Fringe offers a rallying point for all the disparate works that keep being conceived, built and produced under the radar. It’s a showcase for artistic expression in its purest form. The furthest thing from corporatism, theocracy and fascism. It’s messy, confused and gorgeous. This will be our first time participating and we consider it a privilege. We’re in some pretty outstanding company.
SL: Any other thoughts, things you’d like readers to know?

TP: Elvis Presley isn’t dead. He lives in Simi Valley, California and may very well be the Second Coming. Or so tells me the Internet.

Make sure to check out Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir when they headline the opening night Fringe Park Thursday, June 14th. Check out the full 2012 Fringe Schedule here

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