When Ximena Violante met John Cole on the Broad Street Line, neither of them knew what fate was working on.
Their improv-fusion band, Interminable, returns to Philly Friday for a show at The Rotunda before heading back to the studio to record an album — an event two years in the making.
Their story begins in July 2015.
In South Philly, Violante was teaching community music workshops in the son jarocho style of music, which is traditional music from Veracruz, Mexico, when she was asked if her new “group” would open for Viento Callejero, a cumbia-style group from Los Angeles.
Everyone in the workshop was just learning how to sing and play the jarana, a Mexican instrument, and they were nowhere near being a performance group. So Violante attempted to take on the task alone.
“I kept calling people and I kept talking to musicians, and I was like, ‘can anyone play with me?’” she said. “Everyone was busy with their own stuff, and I was like, ‘Do you know anyone?’”
After being turned down by several unavailable musicians, and as she made her commute home from a workshop in the days leading up to the gig, she was carrying a jarana with her when a man on the train asked her if it was a violin.
The question came from Cole, who was making his way home on the train because he’d locked himself out of his car.
The two kept talking, and Cole mentioned that he plays drums and had been looking for a band to join.
Cole ended up playing the gig at the Upstairs Balcony at The Trocadero in Chinatown with Violante a week later. And that’s how fate created Interminable.
The band is constantly in flux, but there are four core members right now, including Violante and Cole, along with Marty Gottlieb-Hollis, who joined last December; and Becca Graham, who joined just a few months ago.
With Violante on jarana, violin and vocals; Cole on drums; and both Gottlieb-Hollis and Graham on trumpet, these four Philly musicians make up the band the city never saw coming.
Rooted in Mexico but made in Philly
Born in Mexico and raised outside of Philly, Violante grew up listening to everything from classical music to rock, but started seeking other styles. “Once I got into college, I started exploring [more of] the possibilities of Mexican music and of Mexican traditions,” she said. “I never really had the opportunity to learn about that.”
Prior to starting Interminable, Violante had the vision of creating a band that she originally wanted to take in a punk direction. That changed when she met Cole.
“I realized that it actually made more sense to kind of fuse [son jarocho] with more improvised musics,” she said. “[That music is] about bringing people together and improvising together.”
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But Violante said she wouldn’t describe this band as a son jarocho group. There are already plenty of those kinds if groups from Veracruz, and they’re more deeply routed in the tradition. “For me, I want to learn from them, but I don’t necessarily want to do that myself because I come from all these other musics that are also equally as important to me,” she said. “I feel like that’s the strength of forming a group like this in Philly.”
Bass, cellos and trumpets
Violante and Cole began as duo, but they’ve collected other musicians along the way. Since Interminable currently only has four members who play specific instruments, Violante said that if they need a bass player for a show, they just go get one. They even had a cellist in the group for a while.
For instance, St. Clair Simmons will sometimes play trombone and Paul Horner on bass, when need be. These are two of Interminable’s “changing” members, photographed with the band in photos above and below.
“We’ve played with lots of different folks, and so it’s been cool to see how that takes on different shapes,” she said. “I’m always [looking] for folks that are good musicians, good improvisers and are down to be a part of this.”
Gottlieb-Hollis and Graham played together in the Philly music scene for quite some time prior to joining Interminable, including in a live hip-hop band called Hardwork Movement, which is still around. Gottlieb-Hollis joined that band in 2013, then invited Graham to play about two years later — around the same time Violante and Cole met on the subway.
The ever-evolving membership of Interminable allows for the band’s sound to change as needed.
“I think that the trumpets have given it a completely new sound that I really like,” said Violante. “It’s definitely a sound that we haven’t done before.”
And since the band is rooted in improvisation, every time a song is performed, it’s different. Songs have a general structure, Violante explained, but there’s room left within the structure for members to improvise.
New music and an album
Interminable’s new single, Consecuencia, which literally translates to “consequence,” is the first time the band has ever written out designated parts for members, Violante said. But, there are still parts left open for improv.
The song was recorded at Weathervane in Fishtown, where people can buy tickets to watch artists’ recording sessions.
The tune is about six minutes and plays with the idea of cycles. Violante explained that most non-western music is nonlinear, so there is no beginning, middle and end to the song. Interminable’s songs continue until they end and go on as long as they need. But this new song is one of the band’s most structured compositions.
With the release of this new single, the band left for a mini-tour, which made its way to Boston on Sunday for the first show. The group returns to Philly this Friday to play at The Rotunda in West Philly alongside Jakeya and Mixed People, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary as a band.
The band will head to NYC Saturday before returning to Philly to play the final date of the tour at Icebox Project Space in Kensington for the second day of Time Camp 001, a two-day event including interactive installations that explore time, time travel and so much more.
After the week-long tour, Interminable will head back into the studio to record its very first album.
Why this could only have happened in Philly
Philly has been a great place for this band to flourish, as the city — and West Philly especially — is a great fertile ground for creative projects, Gottlieb-Hollis said.
“I think West Philly is a really unique place [for that] because there are so many different people that come from different backgrounds,” he said. The city creates opportunities to create community around music.
“It’s a great town,” Cole said. “You get the benefit of having all the music and the liveliness, and it’s affordable, which should definitely not be underrated or undervalued.” This and Philly’s vibrant music scene are what allow Cole to keep playing.
The idea behind Interminable is that everyone in the group comes from a variety of different experiences and musical backgrounds, which gives the band a lot of strength and reflects Philly’s diverse music culture, said Violante.
The history of music is told through migration and how it comes in contact with rhythms, and then changes, she explained, “This is just an extension of that.”
Interminable will take the stage at The Rotunda at 40th and Walnut streets on Friday night at 7 p.m. and tickets are still available. The show costs $10-15 at the door, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The show will end with a fandango, which is a “communal celebration of son jarocho,” like a jam session.