Beverley Staunton, Colleen Coadic, Jennifer Hershman, Jennifer Baldwin, Jody Quine, Kristy Thirsk
Balligomingo-Beneath The Surface
vocalists (L-R): Beverley Staunton, Colleen Coadic, Jennifer Hershman, Jennifer Baldwin, Jody Quine, Kristy Thirsk
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interviews, editing and coding © Russell W. Elliot 2002-2003 | reviews © Justin R. Elswick 2001-2002
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Balligomingo is the new electronic/vocal musical project of producer/programmer, Garrett Schwarz and co-producer/guitarist, Vic Levak. Similar to the Canadian group Delerium, Balligomingo combine pulsating rhythms, sonic string textures, synth vibes, and some of the best female vocalists on the North American continent to create a mysterious and haunting listening experience.

Our feature includes reviews of Balligomingo's debut album and pre-production promotional edition and incorporates interviews with Garrett Schwarz and Vic Levak as well as all seven of the album's vocalists and co-writers. Learn about the artists' backgrounds, how they became part of Balligomingo and the making of the album. Photographs of the artists are included within their interviews. An interview with and biographical sketch of Garrett Schwarz, our album review, the label's press release and our review of the pre-production promo are found below.

Beneath The Surface features the vocal work of Beverley Staunton on four of the cuts. Two tracks are sung by Jody Quine and two more by Colleen Coadic. Coadic like Jennifer Hershmen didn't join the project until after the pre-production promo was published. Hershmen and pre-production singers/co-writers Jennifer Baldwin, Camille Miller, and Kristy Thirsk each provided just one track to the finished result. Remixes of several of the album's tracks will be included in singles released during the album's run.

Click on the links below to read our interviews with each of the vocalists. Each will open in an individual window surrounding the main page.

Link to Artist Interview Balligomingo Tracks Sung
Beverly Staunton "Falling" "Beyond" "Marooned" "Lust"
Jennifer Baldwin "Wild Butterfly"
Colleen Coadic "Escape" "Being"
Jennifer Hershman "Sweet Allure"
Camille Miller "Lost"
Jody Quine "Purify" "Privilege"
Kristy Thirsk "Heat"

Be sure to read our exclusive and in-depth interview with Balligomingo producer Vic Levak as well.

Interested readers will want browse our reviews of the vocalists' solo and related projects published in a special edition of the album review digest.

Garrett, who hails from Los Angeles and Vic, a resident of Vancouver, B.C. first met during a Kristy Thirsk show at the 1999 NewMusicWest conference in Vancouver. Garrett was in Vancouver at the time working on a track with the group Delerium (Poem review | Odyssey review) and with singer Kristy Thirsk. Vic Levak was then producing Kristy Thirsk's solo material. Upon meeting, the two discovered that they shared a similar creative musical vision.

  Garrett Schwarz
Garrett Schwarz (Composer/Producer)
Photo © 2002 Zoren Gold

Garrett Schwarz

Composer, programmer and producer Garrett Schwarz draws upon a myriad of influences to create the atmospherically rich, melodically lush and percussively intense sonic world of Balligomingo. On Balligomingo's RCA Victor Group debut Beneath the Surface, he designs a lush soundscape of electronic, acoustic, orchestral and world beat textures layered with hauntingly seductive vocalists, including Kristy Thirsk, well known to ambient-pop fans as lead singer of Delerium and the Juno Award-winning ensemble The Rose Chronicles.

Schwarz chose the name "Balligomingo" for its exotic sound, which not only parallels the global flavors in much of the music, but its ethereal and ambient qualities as well. "The idea is to create music that takes you there and I wanted a name to convey that message," says Schwarz. "Balligomingo (translating in Welch as Valley of the Mingo) is that destination."

"The idea behind the title Beneath the Surface refers to one's personal journey of self discovery," he says. "Though each song has lyrics and a basic theme, the songs aren't designed to make direct statements but rather to function as metaphors for moments in life. To me, music is about being picturesque and metaphorical rather than telling precise stories. When I was younger, I'd make tapes of all my favorite songs to play on trips, designing a musical soundtrack for my experiences. With Balligomingo, I wanted to create my own sonic experiences with hopes that others might enjoy them as well."

Balligomingo's female vocalists deliver an ethereal Delerium-esque sound which weaves beautifully through an Enigma meets Massive Attack style soundscape. In addition to Thirsk, Balligomingo features the ethereal vocals of Camille Miller (Vancouver), Jody Quine (Calgary), Jennifer Baldwin (Dallas), Colleen Coadic (Anchorage), Jennifer Hershman (Vancouver), and Beverley Staunton (Vancouver). Each woman brings a unique emotion to every track.

"Recording the vocals was a very spontaneous process," says Schwarz. "The idea was to let each singer make each song their own. I conveyed the overall vision to them, while encouraging them to create original vocal ideas or expand upon mine. Singers and tracks were matched based on the vocalist's ability to convey the overall vibe I was after - sexy voices with a touch of ethereal. Working with a variety of vocalists gives each song a unique sound and provides a fresh start to producing each track."

To achieve his musical vision, Schwarz recruited guitarist/producer/writer Vic Levak, string arranger Graeme Coleman, drummer James Kaufmann, engineer/mixer Greg Reely, and the string section of the Mark Ferris Orchestra. "The importance in creating music to me is being inspired with a vision and knowing what you want the end result to be. That inspiration makes working with other people easy because it becomes clear what you need help with and whom you need to work with. It also allowed me to push people for creative input in a very specific direction adding to the pool of ideas and challenging the validity of my own."

The mood-swinging adjectives that come to mind while listening to all of the songs on Beneath the Surface include moody, melancholy, ambient, funky, cool, trip-hoppy, dreamy, sweeping, joyful, optimistic, motivating, and inspirational. Each track delivers its own emotion and unique story.

Garrett Schwarz's incredible journey from life outside the music world to the realm of Balligomingo is all the more fascinating because he has no formal musical training and only started to seriously create Balligomingo in mid 1999. "Balligomingo was just an idea I carried with me for years," he says. "I never thought it could be possible until I found out what I could do on a computer!" Working with Vic Levak, Bill Leeb/Chris Peterson (Delerium), and Bryan Miller, Schwarz created 14 tracks (recording all instruments and vocals into his computer and then mixing most in Levak's studio), from which 7 were chosen for the demo that ultimately led to his deal with the RCA Victor Group.

"Now that Balligomingo is a reality, it's very gratifying to hear a recording of the same music I had always heard inside," says Schwarz. "Producing the album has been a crash course in musicianship, music programming and producing. Working with so many talented people has been a wonderfully draining experience because I had to restrain anxiety about my lack of specific musical skills while at the same time conveying a musical vision. It was like learning a new language as you're actually in a new country."

"For me, pursuing music required completely changing directions to do what I felt I should be doing with my life. I didn't know how I was going to do it and I didn't care. I just knew that I wanted to go hoping I'd figure it out along the way. When I first started, I told everyone I was diving in and wouldn't come up until I was on the other side as I secretly hoped not to drown; which is why I named the album Beneath the Surface."

Balligomingo's music was featured on the compilation albums Underwater Vol. 1 and Elevation 3. A followup is in the works. Garrett remarks, "Already have half of it finished-code named Deeper, it includes some new singers. It's sounding like a continuation of the first CD, though some songs are a bit more upbeat than anything on Beneath The Surface."

He commented about the impact of the web, "The internet has been HUGE for us. We've been able to post music so people all around the world can hear it. Without the net, there would be no questions here for me to answer!" He says, "The new website has been designed by Flash guru Jason Coleman. It will expand upon our first site, which was really good. Jason's a great designer."

Vic Levak

  Vic Levak
Vic Levak (Producer/Songwriter)
Photo © 2002 Alister Eagle

One often wonders what the fate of the Beatles would have been had they not connected with producer extraordinaire George Martin, who is often touted as the fifth Beatle. Likewise, without Vic Levakís influence and impact the Balligomingo project might have literally remained beneath the surface. Levakís sense of musical dynamics, songwriting expertise and production skills were critical to the success of Beneath the Surface. Not only did Levak make integral contributions to nine of the albumís twelve cuts, he also served as a musical and production mentor to Balligomingoís founder and programmer Garrett Schwartz. In a recent interview, Schwartz remarked, "I knew about programming; he taught me about musicianship." However, Levakís talents didnít surface overnight.

A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Levak always had an affinity to music. He was raised in a rich musical environment and studying music as a child came naturally. For much of his teen years, Levak began cultivating his craft by writing songs, practicing guitar and performing with various groups. His first professional musical experience came at the age of 18. After a year of jazz study at prestigious music college in Canada, Levak toured throughout Canada as a professional musician for over five years and in that time he continued to develop his songwriting skills. Over this period, Levakís recording and producing interest grew strong as he began to lay down many of his own compositions. Ultimately, he founded a private recording facility, Hush Sound Studio, and developed a reputation as one of Vancouverís up and coming producers (See MIX Magazine January 1997). By the time Vic Levak was introduced to the Balligomingo project, he had close to 10 years of production experience and over 25 years of guitarmanship. Levak is also the featured producer in the Recording Notes section of MIX Magazine, February 2003.

Early in 1999, Vic Levakís work lured and captured the talents of Vancouver vocal diva Kristy Thirsk to Hush Sound. In May of that year, Thirsk introduced Levak to the Balligomingo project at the New Music West Conference. It was during that initial meeting when Garrett Schwarz expressed his interest in creating an electronica pop-based group. "Although Garrett isnít a musician," says Levak, "his drive and vision sparked my interest in seeing Balligomingo brought to life." Shortly after that meeting, Levak climbed onboard and infused his musical and production expertise into the soundscape of Balligomingo. Vicís touch breathed a human element into the original programmed ideas that were presented to him as he introduced traditional instruments like guitar and piano into the soundscape. His contributions are clearly evident in songs like "Lost," with its fluid captivating classical guitar, "Wild Butterfly's" lyrical piano accompaniment, and "Sweet Allureís" pulsating acoustic guitar arpeggios.

"Purify," through its infectious melodies and harmony, is another song that fully exemplifies Vic Levakís musical genius. A song that was the brainchild of Levak, "Purify" features lush synthetic pads and rich, inviting tones, which morph to create an elegant backdrop for the seductive vocal stylings of Calgaryís Jody Quine. Further, the Levak-Quine collaboration of "Purify" was elemental in propelling Balligomingo to the next stage as "Purify" attracted the attention of A&R representative, Jonathan Miller. Millerís excitement compelled him to present "Purify" and five other Balligomingo tracks to former RCA president Bob Jamieson. This ultimately led Balligomingo to a major recording contract with the debut CD release opening with "Purify," which was subsequently released as the CDís first single. "Purify" was also featured as the second cut on a Virgin Records Music compilation CD entitled Pure Moods IV, which includes other electronica superstars such as Moby and Enigma.

Vic Levak, musician, songwriter and producer, embraces a simple musical philosophy: "Playing from the heart and delivering from the soul are key elements in presenting a musical statement that will carry an artist onto his next plateau." Indeed, Vicís sonic perspective has added heart and soul to Beneath the Surface. Balligomingo programmer Schwarz remarks, "He was absolutely key in the making of this record." Levakís trademark musical approach of infusing acoustic and electric guitar textures, coloring with moody/melodic piano and writing pop sensible chord progressions take the listener on a sonic journey of musical enlightenment via the Balligomingo soundscape. Read our complete interview for further details.

Album Review

Beneath The Surface
Image © 2002 BMG Music

 

Aural nectar ... sonic ambrosia ... how to best describe the new full-length release--Beneath the Surface (BMG (USA) 01934-11606-2, 2002) from Balligomingo--auditory nirvana ... celestial soundwaves?

Whatever words fans ultimately select, it is likely that all will agree that this long-awaited full-length debut release by Balligomingo sets a new benchmark in the genre of electro-pop music. It may even be fair to say that, in terms of sheer listenability, Balligomingo's Beneath the Surface surpasses Delerium's more recent efforts.

Without question, vocalists Jody Quine, Colleen Coadic, Beverley Staunton, Jennifer Hershman, Jennifer Baldwin, Kristy Thirsk, and Camille Miller have elevated Beneath the Surface to a higher plane by contributing some of the most lush and rhapsodic singing ever recorded. This album is simply a "must have" for any fan of female vocal-based music.

Part of the joy in listening to Beneath the Surface stems from the superb sonic aspects of the recording. Each of the instrumental and vocal parts blend uniformly while retaining their own distinct character. This has much to do with the skill of the mix-engineer, Greg Reely, who has masterfully mixed this album to enhance every auditive element. Our track-by-track review of Beneath the Surface lists both title and vocalist for each song for the benefit of our readers.

"Purify" - Jody Quine: Balligomingo wisely chose this most radio-friendly song to open the album. Recalling the production and texturing of a William Orbit (who produced Madonnaís "Ray of Light") number, "Purify" is the embodiment of melodic, ethereal electronica. Importantly, Jody's assertive and effortless vocals keep the song well-grounded and accessible. Listeners are hooked from the outset by this hopeful melody.

"Escape" - Colleen Coadic: Slightly slower and more measured than "Purify," "Escape" takes full advantage of Colleenís haunting, plaintive voice. In fact, one almost senses an element of danger in the way that Colleen stretches the lyrics over the beat. The mesmerizing percussion and pumping bass-synth provide a few perfectly chilled-out moments on this journey.

"Falling" - Beverley Staunton: This languorous and heavenly piece marks one of several high points on the album. Fans of Balligomingo may notice that this album version differs slightly from the promotional version. Beverley's voice has been mixed so as to allow listeners to more fully appreciate her sublime and passionate vocal phrasings. In addition, newly layered orchestration has replaced the synth-strings featured on the original version. Finally, a beautiful piano track has been incorporated, punctuating the harmonic line. This is rare and lovely music-making at its finest. Simply incredible!

"Sweet Allure" - Jennifer Hershman: If Suzanne Vega and Delerium could be sonically merged, the end result might be something closely akin to the sounds found in the song, "Sweet Allure." Featuring folksy acoustic guitars and a riveting percussion line, "Sweet Allure" presents another unique foray into Balligomingoís world. Jenniferís unique style of signing also helps set this song apart from other tracks on the album. We especially like use of the tribal, timpani-like percussion during the intro.

"Wild Butterfly" - Jennifer Baldwin: Evoking images of beautiful seascapes, meadows, and flowing water, "Wild Butterfly" is a transporting interlude. An arresting piano track propels the melody, which is accompanied by Jenniferís exquisite voice. This is that rare song that makes the listener feel as though he or she were in flight enjoying a vast panoramic view of the earth below.

"Beyond" - Beverley Staunton: "Beyond" is a luxurious, ambient track that makes the most of Beverleyís aching vocals. If fans are seeking the sounds of warm summer nights and pulsating ocean waves, this is the song for them.

"Privilege - Jody Quine: Hands down, this reviewer's favorite track on the album, "Privilege" opens with an inspired and majestic string arrangement reminiscent of The Verve's widely played "Bittersweet Symphony." This noble introduction quickly merges into a sensual melange of mid-tempo percussion, light piano accompaniment, and blended synths. Most impressive is Jody Quine's penetrating vocals--this reviewer can hardly recall hearing a voice so elegant and controlled. The lyrics to "Privilege" also make this track especially enjoyable. Certainly gets the vote for most likely to be a "hit."

"Heat" - Kristy Thirsk: Kristy Thirsk has long been recognized as on of Canada's most talented female vocalists. After listening to the mechanistic "Heat," it is obvious that such recognition is highly deserved. In her trademark way, Kristy purrs, croons and takes control in this highly seductive foray into sensory pleasure. The grinding rhythm and Kristy's recurring angelic keening are darkly compelling. Mysterious but beckoning, "Heat" is sure to beguile both Balligomingo and Kristy Thirsk fans alike.

"Lost" - Camille Miller: "Lost" provides another subtle shift in the listener's journey. Much of the credit here can be given to Camilleís dense and commanding voice. Crossing into Dead Can Dance territory, "Lost" is the most "ethnic" styled song on Beneath the Surface--and it works perfectly. Glimpses of Persia and the Orient appear through use of guitar and dulcimer. Enchanting throughout.

"Marooned" - Beverley Staunton: Esoteric and elusive, "Marooned" categorically succeeds as one of the outstanding tracks on the album. The gentle and melancholic reverbed B-Tribe-esque guitar picking backed by Beverley's masterful vocals are incomparable. This newly mixed version includes additional lyrics and some surprises including the subtle modulation of Beverley's voice at the 0:40 second mark and the wonderfully epic bass-strings introduced at the 2:07 mark in the song. "Marooned" will certainly appeal to fans of Enya, B-Tribe, and early Sarah McLachlan.

"Lust" - Beverley Staunton: "Lust" illuminates Balligomingo's more industrial, darkwave qualities. Again, Beverley Staunton provides vocals, enlivening the music with her gripping performance. More ominous, "Lust" is nevertheless a clever shift in the albumís tone.

Bonus Track - "Being" - Colleen Coadic: Attentive fans will note the hidden track, "Being," at approximately 6:13 into track 11. And a pleasant surprise it is. Leaning towards a sound closer to Vanessa Daou, Morcheeba, or Zero 7, "Being" actually incorporates the chorus from "Escape," providing a nice tie-back to the beginning of the album. One is instantly impressed by Balligomingo's ability to move in a somewhat different direction musically (this time, a more trip-hop/downtempo vein) while maintaining continuity. A genuinely satisfying song that demonstrates Balligomingoís earthier side, "Being" is a fabulous conclusion to a fabulous recording.

One of the finest albums released in recent memory, Garrett Schwarz, Vic Levak, the contributing vocalists, and all others involved in the realization of Beneath the Surface deserve the highest praise for creating such an exquisite release. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Thank goodness that RCA saw the wisdom in signing Balligomingo to its label. We, the fans, are the fortunate recipients of such foresight. More, please!--Justin Elswick

Press Release

Strong word-of-mouth anticipates Beneath The Surface, due out June 11, introducing the ambient electronic music of Balligomingo--CD blends electronic, acoustic, trip-hop and world textures with seductive female vocalists including guest appearance by Delerium's Kristy Thirsk. Remixes of the first single "Purify" by Fade and GusGus to be distributed at WMC.

Balligomingo's RCA Victor Group debut Beneath The Surface won't hit stores until June 11, but the buzz on this ambient electronic alternative soundscape event--think Delerium meets Enya in a Massive Attack frame of mind--is already intense.

Based purely on global word-of-mouth and website downloads, enthusiastic e-mail has been pouring in from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, South America and India. Alternative Press hails Balligomingo's multi-textured, stylistically eclectic ensemble "one of the 100 bands you need to know in 2002." Listen.com notes its "worldly effects swirling around grounded beats like high winds in slow motion." MTV's Nina Blackwood calls Balligomingo "a sonically seductive snake charmer, hauntingly hypnotic erotica and quite entrancing!"

Drawing upon composer/producer Garrett Schwarz's myriad of sonic influences--from Enigma and Deep Forest to Enya and Nine Inch Nails--and his own desire to capture elements of those vibes within a more aggressive percussive framework, Balligomingo blends electronic, acoustic, orchestral and world textures layered on each track with haunting and ethereal vocals by one of seven exciting Beneath The Surface features a guest appearance (on the trip-hop seduction of "Heat") by Kristy Thirsk, well known to ambient-pop fans as lead singer of Delerium and the Juno Award-winning ensemble Rose Chronicles.

Balligomingo also includes collaborations with acoustic guitarist/songwriter Vic Levak, string arranger Graeme Coleman, drummer James Kaufmann, programmer Jerry Wong, The Mark Ferris Orchestra and the Taiko performance of Uzume Taiko. "I've always loved what I call mood music, and I've enjoyed the way modern groups like Nine Inch Nails, Crystal Method and Prodigy have combined ambient textures with more aggressive and upbeat rock ideas," says Schwarz.

"Balligomingo is something of a melting pot of all of my favorite groups and sounds, pulling interesting ideas together and finding a happy medium between pure ambient electronic and hard rock alternative music," he says. "A lot of music in this genre is based on the ambient textures, but I'm into fluctuating notes with bass lines and chords to create interesting melodies within these moods. Balligomingo is more bass-heavy than some of the other groups and those darker edges are balanced by the ethereal vocals. These are sexy voices, not too R&B and not too overpowering. The idea is to incorporate the vocals into the soundscape to convey the individual vibe of each song."

Schwarz co-produced Beneath The Surface with Vic Levak, recording all instruments and vocals into his computer and then mixing in Levak's studio. RCA Victor Group's set-up of Beneath The Surface begins at this years' Winter Music Conference in Miami with "Purify" remixes by Fade and GusGus being seeded to key DJs. A full Billboard club and CHR mix show campaign began in April 2002.

Pre-Production Promo Review

  Promo CD Cover
Image © 2000
Experience Soundescape Productions

The promotional album reviewed here is a eight track preview of the full-length release. Initially, Balligomingo expected to release a full-length album in April 2001 on an independent label. However, after word of the band got out, Balligomingo were signed to a major label deal with BMG. Currently, Balligomingo plans on re-recording some of the tracks so as to incorporate live strings and other instrumentation. Although the future full-length release is highly anticipated, the promo album provides an exciting taste of what's to come.

"Falling," the first track on the album, features chilling classical-based string arrangements, a seductive mid-tempo groove, and Canadian singer, Beverley Staunton's devastatingly beautiful voice. Balligomingo leave no doubt as to their ability to create amazingly heavenly music with this opening piece.

"Heat," featuring Juno Award-winning vocalist Kristy Thirsk of The Rose Chronicles and Delerium is a driving yet languorous track that recalls Madonna's "Justify My Love." As with her performances on the Delerium tracks "Heaven's Earth," "Wisdom," "Enchanted," and "Incantation," Kristy again demonstrates why her voice has frequently been compared to that of an angel's.

Alt Promo CD Cover
Image © 2000
Experience Soundescape Productions

 

Jennifer Baldwin's lovely vocal contribution makes "Wild Butterfly" possibly the best track on the album. The sound of soothing waves at the beginning of the track are quickly replaced by a trance-like percussion line that is likely to inspire listeners to get up and dance. Samples from Enigma's "The Rivers of Belief" and a vibrant piano accompaniment make for a blissful and radiant aural journey.

Closely resembling a slightly slower version of the Delerium song "Incantation" in both melody and texture, "Lost" showcases the dynamic and assertive voice of Camille Miller. Again, Vic Levak's guitar work adds an exotic flavor to the music while Garret Schwarz's synth and rhythm arrangements are near perfection. Probably the most radio-friendly song on the album, "Purify" is a lush, warm number that features Jody Quine on vocals. One cannot help but be reminded of a more upbeat version of Madonna's ballad, "Rain" when listening to "Purify."

"Marooned" is another ambient masterpiece. Particularly impressive is Beverley Staunton's brief vocal phrasing which may be one of the most deliriously beautiful 25 seconds of female singing ever recorded. While "Marooned" deceptively starts out with an epic and portentous melange of guitar and strings, it quickly settles into a gentle and thoughtful mode making for a wonderful contrast of sound. Beverley Staunton once again appears as vocalist and lyricist on "Beyond," a slightly groovy uptempo track. Here, Beverley's stark voicings are penetrating while remaining pleasing.

Perhaps what is most impressive about Balligomingo is their ability to merge the electronic and organic in a way that is enlivening yet intimate. The use of a variety of talented female vocalists is also a brilliant stroke, as each singer brings her own measure of character and distinction to each song through her own voice and lyrics. This is late night, voluptuous melody-making at its best. Furthermore, while each song on the album is distinctive, the tracks weave themselves seamlessly in the ear of the listener. Their preview is certainly a must listen!--Justin Elswick

Excellent production, stunning female vocals and rich arrangements make Balligomingo's album Beneath The Surface worthy of a a trans-Atlantic journey. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. One of 2002's best albums, it is certainly a must listen!


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