The best harmony in music traditionally comes from siblings and lovers. It is an intimately personal sharing experience for the performers and for the listener. When pure harmony happens it elicits grace. As a temporary alignment with perfection it is a religious experience without the obligation of worship.
Sweet Old Religion, the new record by Pharis & Jason Romero, investigates that common cohesive quality of song, community and family, which is also often referred to as love.
The album was composed during a chaotic time in the couple’s life. A disastrous fire took away their banjo manufacturing workshop while they were building a new house and adjusting to life with a new baby.
“We put out a record in 2015, and we just thought we’d take a year off the road, and suddenly the shop burned down. We weren’t doing any music or writing any songs. It just wasn’t a big part of our life. We got focussed on rebuilding the banjo shop,” recalled Pharis. “It threw this creepy element of chaos into what was already a pretty chaotic world. We were so focused on building the house and rebuilding the banjo shop, and our house was in lockup, and in October, about two weeks after everyone left, all these songs started coming – some days two or three of them. The outpouring of support and kindness, it was just an incredible experience to be on the receiving end of. So when the first song came, it was about love and gratitude. From that evolved this album.”
“The over-arching themes are about light and love and resilience and a sense of just how truly amazing this world is,” Pharis said. “The feelings that came after the fire, the very, very large feelings, were more of what I needed to process, and that’s more what came out in the songs. There’s a lot of light in the lyrics. That’s constantly on my mind these days.”
Translating their drastic and vivid life experiences somehow became music that is effervescent, with an awareness of the positive and beneficent streams of worldly existence. Carefully-engineered and recorded, the effects of their harrowing year reach out to the heart for any listener who may be going through their own catalogue of catastrophes.
“If you can find a way to see the lightness in life,” Pharis explained, “I find that helps me to get through times when I’m questioning or doubting or just feeling stressed, if I can see the lightness and the goodness and just the overall picture that life is good.”
Much of the medicine that helps to produce this philosophy is the environment of Horsefly, British Columbia where Pharis and Jason live and work.
“Yeah we carry that with us all the time. We always need to take time to climb in the mountains and swim in the lake. We live out in the big open spaces, and it’s quiet and beautiful.”
Sweet Old Religion is Pharis and Jason’s first all-original collection of songs, and it contains the familiar clarity and warmth of their former work. But the songs have sparks of joy and hope that carry from the title tune throughout the heart-swelling testimonies of “You Are a Shining Light,” “Come On Love” and “You Are The Best Thing,” to the wistfully metaphoric “Age Old Dream” and “The Salesman” and on until the final shimmer of “Babes Mothers & Fathers,” which is filled with parental adoration and guidance. “Shine all the way,” they sing, reaching into a new future.
Check out the video for “Sweet Old Religion.”
Correction: A previous version of this story included the wrong name of the town where Pharis and Jason live.