Sunday, April 4, ArtRat Gallery hosts this month’s second concert in it roots music series curated by The Stableford AgencyAmericana Sundays: An Afternoon With Whorled runs 3-5pm at 46 Division Ave. S in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. (Admission $20; tickets available from Eventbrite.)

Described in Local Spins as “a road trip for the ears,” Whorled transports their audience around the globe as they fuse together various genres of world folk. Audiences find themselves on a journey of musical discovery, whether it be jazz-infused Celtic, Ukrainian dance rhythms, flamenco or a dimly lit 1920s French cafe. 

In true collaborative fashion, the members of Whorled — Thom Jayne, Keala Venema and Mariko Venema — teamed up to answer ArtRat’s questions ahead of Sunday’s show. 

Whorled's sound comprises a multicultural blend of influences. What components and experiences does each of you bring to the table? 

Each member comes from a slightly different music background. Our common ground is probably Celtic and classical, but each member listened to many different types of music growing up. 

Thom spent 10 years of his life in Africa and that obviously has influenced the way he plays guitar, but he was also classically trained too, and he now has integrated a Celtic vibe into his playing, so he's really got a lot of different styles going on. Thom also plays didgeridoo on a few of our tunes, an instrument that originated in Australia but its droning sound can work in some of our Celtic tunes and even simulate the qualities of bagpipes. He also is the guitarist for the traditional Celtic band Trillium.

Keala and Mariko (mother and daughter) grew up with similar tastes — but not quite. Mariko grew up in the suburbs of Osaka; flavors of her mom's home island (Tokunoshima) drift in sometimes, as well as her couple decades of classical piano training. She usually kindles the Brazilian music interest in the band as well and recently has even gone to France to study under French accordion master Jacques Mornet to explore the French musette.

Keala grew up here in West Michigan, where she studied classical piano for several years before going on to study and explore the different sounds of the fiddle in many genres. She had studied Celtic music first and foremost, before expanding and exploring old-time, bluegrass, jazz and more by visiting fiddle camps around the country. She also performs in a six-piece jazz fusion band (Pocket Watch) and usually brings an element of jazz and bluegrass-oriented improvisation.

How did you meet, and how has your collaboration evolved since then? 

We met by chance at a Irish traditional session and after hearing each other play got together afterward to jam as a trio to see what happened -- we've been together ever since. We started mainly with Celtic tunes (and that is still our wheelhouse), but as we played together, we started to integrate the various cultural influences in our individual musical histories to arrive at something difficult to pinpoint but, for lack of a better word, could be called "world music." 

What's your process for creating new work? Do you collaborate from start to finish, or will one member come in with an idea the others extend?

All three of us write original compositions. Someone will come in with an idea that is more or less developed and then the others help him/her to refine it and/or offer new ideas. Recently, Keala and Thom have been working on new tunes that they each came up with but are helping each other flesh out. Besides originals, we often mash up different songs that may seem unexpected but we feel fit together great, like putting Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue together with the Simpsons theme song.

What's your relationship with West Michigan's roots music scene? What are some of your favorite events and performers here?

We love the local music scene of West Michigan — very collaborative. Other bands reach out to us to collaborate and vice versa; Whorled has played local venues with other groups ranging from classical to Celtic to indie rock to belly dancing, 

It's been great meeting and hanging with local musicians of all ages. We've collaborated with Samuel Nalangira (African World Music); Folias Duo (classical); and Djangophonique (French jazz), and we’ve even worked with the Grand Rapids Ballet to have them choreograph two of our songs to perform in their Jumpstart show. We just love collaborating and think that is the highlight of the West Michigan music scene.

In order to foster this in the best way, we found that playing in listening rooms like The Stray in GR, The Starlight Room in Muskegon and The Robin Theater in Lansing ended up being our favorite experiences, along with a couple house concerts where people open up their homes and invite friends and guests — those are always wonderful experiences, too.

What does Whorled have in the works? Are there new projects you can tell us about? 

We're currently working toward building a new and diverse repertoire for the festival season. We've got some pretty exciting festival announcements coming up here; you can find out about them by signing up for our newsletter via our website or find us on Facebook or Instagram. ... It’s also very possible that we’ll have all those songs ready for recording on an EP of some sort! 

What do you like best about playing in Grand Rapids? 

One thing that comes to mind right away is having WYCE and Local Spins in the area. They've done so much for us and so many other local musicians and groups in the area. We've actually recently received two awards from their award ceremony The Jammies this last February, which is essentially the Grammys but for Grand Rapids. How cool is that? There's so many amazing community building events in this area that make us feel truly blessed to be here making music for a truly supportive, arts-loving city.


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