The Flying Sheep Problem

According to a government Web site, New Zealand has a human population of roughly 4 million and a sheep population of approximately 40 million. Some, namely environmental and animal rights advocacy groups, see this as a threat, or even a problem. The ethical questions and environmental hazards that arise from the ubiquity of the impossibly fluffy Ovis aries have inspired activist crusades and, in some cases, policy changes.

But for others, namely a Maui jazz-funk-rock operation called The Flying Sheep Problem, sheep don’t pose any issues—unless one involves a catapult, plane, spaceship or any other mechanism that can render them airborne. Including your mind.

The conundrum of gravity-defying livestock may have inspired the band’s name, but the guys are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to specifics.

“We don’t like to let on what it means,” says bass player Carey Jolliffe. “It could refer to insomnia.” Or genetic modification. Or misuse of cannons.

Those who count sheep in pursuit of unconsciousness may find solace in the first explanation. Those of us who can’t fall asleep—or do much of anything, really—without music should find comfort in the fact that whether the name came about randomly or was inspired by fear of the coming of the sheepocalypse, it’s the music that matters.

Their sound: Take Tool. Add Herbie Hancock. Mix in some Morphine and top it off with Coltrane. To the uninitiated, this mix may seem somewhat discordant. But with the right combination of musicians wielding the right kind of vision, it could actually work. It does for these guys.

“We all had the same idea of the kind of music we wanted to make,” Jolliffe says.

Jolliffe, saxophonist Marshall Scott, drummer Phil Rummings and percussionist Adam Moor all arrived on Maui within months of each other. Each was a musician seeking a band. They came together by way of Craigslist, and discovered that their musical visions were very much in line. It took them nearly six months to fine tune this vision before they were ready to play out (roughly a year ago).

The result is a lively, quasi-jammy, near-jazz sound that gives equal weight to structure and improvisation. Theirs is a careful yet highly whimsical brand of musicianship.

“We try to play tight but we let ourselves go off on tangents,” Scott says. “Sometimes the tangents turn into something of their own.”

Highly improvised tangents are a double-edged sword when playing live: They are at once conducive to some impressive on-the-spot maneuvers and the thing that could derail an entire set. Yet they’re integral to The Flying Sheep Problem’s sound.

“We really do try and make things different every time,” says Jolliffe. “We go out to the edge and then we report back.”

To say you’d be hard-pressed to find an even vaguely similar band on-island would be a supreme understatement, but these guys would be an anomaly pretty much anywhere. Not many bands are likely to have set lists containing standbys like “My Favorite Things” next to songs written about dumpster divers. Their originals are mostly instrumentals, and aim to tell stories by way of things like melody and momentum, moods and textures.

They’re one of those bands that’s clearly having fun, which probably makes their stuff appeal most to musicians and others hip to the process of making music. Yet their sound, which teeters between catchy and dark, should appeal to anybody whose appreciation for music goes beyond treating it like wallpaper. MTW

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