Birds of Bellwoods Really Rock the Rink
While figure skating has usually kept its music pre-recorded, Rock the Rink is changing that. With alt-rockers Birds of Bellwoods playing on ice, the show sees pro skaters like Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue, Patrick Chan and more dancing to something more lively. We caught up with Stephen from Birds of Bellwoods ahead of Rock the Rink's November 7, 2019 Ottawa stop at TD Place to discuss adjusting to their new gig, what we can expect from the show and how tour friendships have bred plenty of fun shenanigans.
OTTAWALIFE: So first thing's first, for a rock band like you, how did you get involved with Rock the Rink?
Stephen Joffe: It's definitely an unusual opportunity. The way we got involved was through the production company putting on the event, who are connected to our label. The production company essentially wanted to do something different. Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue had been fans of our band for a bit which was an incredible honour, and the production company reached out on their behalf, so we absolutely jumped at the opportunity.
Considering you only put out your debut last year, how jarring has the change of pace been with this kind of unique tour?
SJ: It's been mind-blowing and life-changing, and obviously it's unlike anything we've done before. We have an incredible crew that have made the transition for us really simple. We've managed to avoid getting in anyone's way. They know it's our first arena tour too, so they're open to any questions we have. It's been pretty incredible every night. We're a cog in a larger production this time, so there's less leeway to mess around and we have to meet bus times etc.
How has it been changing your show to be engaging while still letting the skaters take focus too, especially given your doing pre-show and during show music?
SJ: The opening show we do ahead of the skating is a bit closer to what we're used to. The stage for our solo-set is centre ice, which is a 360-stage. That's been interesting because we're used to the kind of power-line across the front instead. Adapting our set has been a learning curve and a transition for us. It feels like it will be more of a journey for us to adapt back to the club after than it was getting adjusted to the arena. As for playing with the skaters, it's been interesting just based on the choreography. We have to really make sure there's a consistency in the way we play every single day. We also just have to make sure we're not in Scott Moir's way as he busts out of the tunnel. Once we got our feet down and saw what was in front of us, it's just been seeing some of the greatest skaters in the world performing choreography to our song "Let You Go." That visual is going to stick with us the most.
How has it been working with the skaters like Moir and Virtue, and how has that exchange evolved over the tour?
SJ: The first couple weeks of any tour is just figuring out who everyone is. As the opening band we're trying to be on our best behaviour and not piss anyone off. We came to find we're on tour with some of the nicest and kindest friends, and the most talented people we cold share a rink with. We've become pretty tight with some of skaters too. Some of the band has started a kind of joke side-project called Alaska Highway, and they put out a song last week. Kaetlyn Osmond and Patrick Chan have become great friends of ours, I think we're meeting them later tonight for a drink. Scott and Tessa too of course. Elvis Stojko has taught us martial arts breathing techniques, so we've truly become this happy, little touring company.
And just so our readers know, you aren't also skating around while playing right?
SJ: No we are not, that would be absolutely terrifying. We're alright at skating but can you imagine skating with an upright bass? We come out of the tunnel and then we're standing. It's not impossible but you have to walk like a penguin.
Have there been any other challenges to playing the shows on ice and adapting to the dancing?
SJ: There's a lot that can happen, as with any live performance of course. They usually use the tracks I assume to reduce the margin for error and focus on the skaters. I think the live music is one of the most exciting parts of this show though, because the more risk you have, the more reward is there too.
What else has happened just touring with all the skaters that has been the most memorable tour moment so far?
SJ: We have an Xbox in the back of the tour bus, and Patrick Chan has been going on an NHL 2012 tournament with us. The Alaska Highway project putting out a single was certainly pretty cute. Me and Elvis went out once for a meditation on a hill which was pretty magical. But in Dawson Creek, B.C. we had some fun learning the "Dawson's Creek" theme song. When Tessa overheard us practicing she insisted we make a video. We made a video of us playing the song while recreating the end of the show with her staring out a window like in the show. We also incorporated it into the set that night, which was funny.
Do you have any plans for the band beyond the Rock the Rink tour, new music or just hitting the road?
SJ: We are hopefully recording over the next couple of months following the tour. We have some new songs and we may work towards a whole album too. We have that and we'll be doing a few select tour dates in that time too. We never stop haha.
Photos: Courtesy Rock the Rink and Birds of Bellwoods