Thursday February 7, 2013

NORTH BENNINGTON -- Coalesced from musicians in the Portland, Ore., area, Romani-inspired folk rockers Vagabond Opera come to the Vermont Arts Exchange this weekend in support of their new album "Sing for Your Lives."

Their music combines influences from Klezmer, opera, and various European countries.

"We're coming from a fine arts tradition and a cabaret tradition," Vagabond Opera composer and singer Eric Stern said. "(Our music) can be loud and stompy, but it can also be refined."

The band came about 10 years ago when Stern, who was working in opera at the time, wanted to expand the work he was doing.

"I was in the world of opera, which is a lovely, lovely world, but I wanted to break out and extend the tradition," he said. "(I thought,) ‘Why couldn't I just distill the best essence of opera and have it more in a band format.'"

He added, "I got into it from the Klezmer end. But once you start exploring that world the Romani influence is pervasive."

Stern partly credits the band's success to the area in which they started.

"Portland is a great music laboratory," he said. "It's like Paris in the 1920s."

"Sing for Your Lives," is the band's first full-length album of original music. The songs swing in mood from the dramatic "Red Balloon," which brings steampunk themes into the music, to the cabaret ode to body hair such as "Beard and Mustache," and the somber Irish-influenced ballad "The Last Dance."

The title song, "Sing for Your Lives" is one of Stern's favorites on the album.

"It encapsulates a lot of what we do musically, and comes from a real experience that happened not that you would necessarily know that ... there's kind of a juicy story behind it," Stern said.

Previous albums were longer and the style was much more eclectic than "Sing for Your Lives."

"We're going back to the traditional idea of album," Stern said. "We want to make this a cohesive journey."

The band comes into town on the heels of what promises to be a massive snowstorm. But the cold doesn't bother Stern.

"I like the cold I first realized this when we were in Canada up in Newfoundland," he said. "Walking outside in the cold all my stupid worries went away I like the way cold strips things to the bone like that."