Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Tzivia Gover, Staff Writer
(Dec. 29) TURNS out there’s a hip-hop band based less than two miles from my rural Ashfield home.
I listen to The Ostrich Farm’s new CD, heard the heat duty urban rhythms and songs about giant squid, prehistoric birds and guerrilla love, and got curious.
So, on my way home one evening, on a night when the group was meeting to practice, I drove up the long dirt driveway to the 12-acre farm where I met the men known on the CD liner simply as St. Mix, Bion and Some Guy on Drums.
I was disappointed that there were no ostriches in sight. But the setback was only temporary. I found that there were several unusual birds including emus (Australian Ostriches) and rheas (the South American version) longing in the barn. Most of these birds are taller than I am. One is 6 feet - most of that being neck and legs. They wander in pens outside the cluttered garage where the band gathers Wednesday nights to play.
The birds are not just part of the scenery, although there certainly make the snow-covered scene more intriguing. It turns out they have music of their own: an air-thumping bongo beat that echoes from the feathered breast of the two emus, and a low bellowing like a fog horn which mergers somehow from the endless throats of the rheas.
During practice sessions, “You can see the birds, you can hear them, “ said drummer (sic) Chris Millner of South Deerfield. The birds influence the band, but “I don’t think we influence the birds,” he said, as he plugged patch cords to amplifiers, preparing to make music.
Under the tinted blue and orange lights in the garage practice studio the band swung into action. The took a song or two to warm up, but then Tony Jillson’s guitar struck a friendly rhythm which soon turned into a haunting melody, like a trip through somewhere mysterious. Millner and Jillson breathed noises which may or may not not have been influenced by the breathy outbursts of the birds. Meanwhile, drummer J.j. O’Connell’s arms and elbows flew infall directions, kicking up a storm of sound.
They Call their unique mix of contrasting musical styles “Half-machine mutant tribal disco metallic space-dub meltdown.” “Tribal Industrial Hip-Hop,” thats the short version,” said Millner.
Translated, that seems to mean that the band counts its influences from all corners: from Steely Dan to radical experimenters from New York and San Francisco’s who challenge the definition of music - and what stands between it and just plain noise.
The lyrics to “Life on the Ostrich Farm” tell a bit of the band’s story:
“...When I got the call he said, “Hey Man can you come up now, I got got some bad news brother and I need you up here right now/ ... Now I got a farm.../ ain’t no ordinary farm, ain’t no doubt about it/ ....Big birds running round jumpin’ in the sky/ Big birds stretchin’ up about a mile high.”
Basically, Jillson, who had been living in New York for eight years, trying to break into the music scene there, was called home to the family’s Ashfield farm after his stepfather died two years ago. Jillson, 31, was charged with helping his mother care for the birds. He now lives in an open-plan loft above the garage with his girlfriend.
He rekindled a musical alliance with Millner, 31, his high school buddy who had been spending recent years in the Bay Area delving into alternative music and exploring “musical abstractions.” He’d been disillusioned by the urban music scene and also recently returned to the area.
Soon after they began playing together, Jillson and Millner heard O’Connell, 28, playing in a band called Free Weed. They invited him to be their drummer, and The Ostrich Farm was born.
Jillson and Millner had envisioned a hip-hop band. But O’Connell, whose Top 40 tastes run more to Elton John and Arrowsmith (sic) shook up their preconceptions.
“We’ve found a common musical zone where the three of us can come together.” Said Jillson.
The band is just past two years old, and have already released a CD this year on which they refer to themselves collectively as The Brothers Barnyard. The disc, which has a clean, professional sound, was self-produced with engineering help from Mark Miller.
They hop to break the boundaries that classify styles of music. “You go hear a band and the first song is completely cool. Then the next song is the same. Then the next song is the same,” Jillson lamented. “Why cant one band cover several different bases?”
Ostrich Farm definitely does that. One minute they’re covering a Led Zeppelin tune, and the next they’re tossing off street-savvy raps.
Hear them play Jan. 24 at The Bay State Hotel or Feb. 8 at Grandstands in Northampton.
© 1997. All Rights Reserved.
A CD of new original music, in memory of photojournalist Cynthia Elbaum. Marking the 20th anniversary of her death in Chechnya, this collection seeks to honor her memory, while marking a new direction for composer Tony Jillson.
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