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What’s it take to be a Bill?

Bill Guitar was reached at a Kelowna health food store on Thursday afternoon.He was buying chocolate and tea.

Bill Guitar was reached at a Kelowna health food store on Thursday afternoon.

He was buying chocolate and tea.

And was counting his change as he talked music.

His real name’s not Bill Guitar.

It’s Chris Frye.

But as a member of The Bills, he’s developed an alter ego.

So have the Reverend Bill Bass, Bill Fiddle and Bill Mando. And although Richard Moody has kept his name, he admits he’s a Bill through and through.

These four guys are world-class virtuosos and heavyweight musicians, said Guitar.

“And I’m just the folky singer-songwriter guy who’s learned a lot about musicianship from these guys,” he said.

But songwriting’s not easy.

Especially when the band’s musical influences roam from jazz though bluegrass to gypsy.

“The foundation of the band was that everybody wanted to play in a group that didn’t have any boundaries,” said Guitar as he walked down some BC street with his cellphone cradled to his ear.

“Then we could sort of do whatever we felt like trying.”

There are only two qualifications to be a Bill — you have to be open-minded and play an acoustic instrument.

“This brought the band together, and since then we’ve been going in whatever direction our inspiration takes us,” said Guitar.

On October 22nd, that inspiration earned The Bills entertainer of the year honours at the West Coast Canadian Music Awards in Winnipeg.

“It came as a huge surprise,” said Guitar.

“We were up against people like Jann Arden — it was a long shot and we feel pretty lucky.”

But given The Bills widespread appeal, it’s not that surprising.

“Over the years, we’ve found we can make just about any demographic happy with the music we play, from little kids to grandparents and teenagers,” said Guitar.

And part of the appeal comes from the fact that the band is generally upbeat, he said.

“I think everybody gets turned on by the level of playing they hear and the level of the arrangements.

“When you get a bunch of jazz and classically trained musicians playing all these global folk styles, it creates a very exciting stew.”

The Bill’s musical tastes, although eclectic, share one significant trait — bluegrass, jazz and gypsy music is all riddled with soloing opportunities.

Although there’s not much sonic similarity between these styles, there is a lot of similarity in their approach to making music, said Guitar.

“All those different styles create very powerful energy. But there’s also this improv thing that goes on, where they open up the songs and people play solos.

“And it’s a very big part of what we’ve always done.”

  The band’s acoustic instrumentation also helps tie its various musical genres together.

“From song to song, we don’t have suddenly a whole bunch of different sounds, we have the same singers and violins and mandolins, guitar, bass and accordion,” he said.

“So, we explore all these different things, but with the same instrumentation, so that kind of gives it a thread — something stays true.

“And when we make a CD, we try to make it so, from song to song, it’s not shocking to the ear — we try to create a journey that makes sense to the listener.”

The Bills, who’ve been touring heavily for the past six years, have been all over Canada and Europe.

The band has even taken its tunes up past the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

“It was the deep of winter,” said Guitar.

“And they told us they booked us this show just down from the ice hotel.”

When The Bills got to the chilly, snowy town, it was told the club booked it an opening band.

The Bills didn’t think twice about it. But that night, when a seven-piece African band took the stage, it was blown away.

“All these refugees had come to Sweden from various war-torn nations in Africa,” said Guitar.

“The government places them in various towns to help them become Swedish, and they put these poor Africans above the Arctic Circle in Kiruna.

“So, they all found each other and thought, ‘We might as well form a bloody band here, since we’re above the Arctic Circle.’”

The Bills had a great night with these guys, “playing crazy west coast Canadian music.

“It was really an international summit,” said Guitar.

Although touring is great, this year The Bills found it was taking a toll on the band’s musical creativity.

“We’re starting to realize we have to make sure we give ourselves room,” he said.

“We’ve learned to give ourselves space from the band to clear our heads and leave room for inspiration.

“The project will have a little more life if we don’t overdo it.”

As he spoke, Guitar was on his way to a band meeting.

“It’s a five-way democracy,” he said.

“It has its challenges, but we’ve done it for the last 10 years, so we’ve figured it out.”

All from Victoria, The Bills write lots of songs about the Pacific Coast, to give its audience a taste of where the band’s from, said Guitar.

“We bring a little bit of our place wherever we go,” he said.

“And really, we just try to create an exciting, positive environment, where we and the audience share in a good experience.

“There’s a lot of reasons in the world to not necessarily feel happy or positive all the time, and I think The Bills are just a shot of good vibes. And we ourselves as musicians, and the audience members, can always use a shot of that.”

The Bills are playing the Yukon Arts Centre on Halloween. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and are available at the arts centre box office and at Hougen’s.

Everybody is expected to dress up and dance.