Genre rebel Karrnnel Sawitsky says pigeonholes are for birds

by Chris Morin


The Fretless
The Artful Dodger
Monday 17

Saskatchewan-born, Toronto-based fiddler/violinist Karrnnel Sawitsky isn’t quite sure what genre label to pin on his string quartet band The Fretless.

Their lineup features multiple fiddles, viola and cello, but their sound also carries an unexpected percussive stomp. And while the quartet focuses on tightly knit, fiddle-based folk songs, their latest (and self-titled) album isn’t simply a collection of east-coast-style Irish or Cape Breton tunes.

Diverse tastes makes for diverse music, says Sawitsky.

“All of us individually have very different musical tastes, even outside of the fiddle music that we do. Like Eric, our cello player — one of his biggest musical influences is dubstep, and he’s also a rock drummer in a band. So that influence has found its way into what we do as a band.

“All of us grew up in the world of old-time music and that sound is so far gone from mainstream radio,” he says. “I mean, how many [mainstream] songs actually have a fiddle as an instrument? So that was something that we wanted to focus on, to modernize the sound and reintroduce people to the instrument that their grandparents used to play.”

The Fretless recorded their latest release in Victoria, at the same studio where they laid down their first album, 2012’s Waterbound. This time, the group also worked with Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys, who provides guest vocals on a cover of Radiohead’s “Airbag.” (Moody and Oliver Swain of The Duhks also teamed up for a duet on “Lonesome Scene of Winter.”)

Adding vocals was a welcome change of pace from the group’s usual instrumentals, says Sawitsky.

“It’s really fun for us to take a mainstream pop song and transform it completely,” he says. “But having Ruth on as a vocalist and us as a backing band was fun as well.”