Based in Toronto and London - and perhaps one of Canada's best kept musical secrets - the Flowers Of Hell are a trans-Atlantic orchestral psych group who've established themselves as an 'artist’s artist' over the past decade, with praise having come from members of The Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, The Fugs, and The Patti Smith Group, amongst others including Laurie Anderson, Owen Pallett, and fans on NASA’s ground control team who've combined the band’s music with space shuttle mission footage. The group have recently completed their fifth studio album, Symphony No.1. Six years in the making, it seeks to combine the epic bombast of romantic era classical music with sounds from the experimental edges of indie rock.
The Flowers Of Hell’s founder and leader Greg Jarvis is a self-taught musician who has a rare neurological condition called synesthesia (a fusing of the senses) which in his case causes him to involuntarily see all sounds as abstract shapes surrounding him. In creating and arranging music for the Flowers Of Hell, Jarvis uses his synesthesia to craft moving sonic paintings. “When it looks right, it sounds right,” he explains.
The project nearly came to an early end after Jarvis was held by a rebel army who'd mistaken him for a spy while he was holidaying in Papua New Guinea, seeking out the music of cannibals. Knowing the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) fighters’ history of kidnapping and killing foreigners, and fearful for his life, Jarvis gained his freedom by playing a ukulele to convince them that he truly was a musician not a foreign operative (an incident that made headlines at the NME, Pitchfork, and Espionage.com).
Returning to Toronto, Jarvis's resolve to complete his symphony was strengthened by the feeling that he owed his life to music. Creating and mixing an album with over 150 simultaneous layers of sound was a daunting task. To tackle the chopping, ordering and structuring of over 70 hours of melodies he’d demoed, Jarvis isolated himself on the Fort St. Louis, a cargo freighter making a two week crossing of the Atlantic. He returned feeling the record needed an opera soprano, and began to restructure it all again after tracking down Danie Friesen, a Toronto soprano he’d met in a local cafe. At one of the most formidable points, Jarvis decided to abandon making music altogether but dove back in with renewed vigour a week later when his musical hero Lou Reed kicked off his final BBC6 radio show playing three Flowers Of Hell recordings in a row, showering praise on the group in-between and declaring their work to be “amazing”, “beautiful”, and “great”.
"When you devote your life to making music that doesn’t sell a lot, you start feeling you’re crazy and egotistical to think your work’s any good - but when someone like Lou Reed comes along and gives you a big thumbs up, you know you're not nuts, just obscure," says Jarvis. “We’ve always focused more on recording than touring, which is a problem in today’s music business. But like Brian Wilson and The Beatles, trying to push recorded music forward interests us much more than being a fun night out for people.”
The Flowers Of Hell began as a London based studio project in 2002 and expanded into a live act in 2005. Spacemen 3’s Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember mentored Jarvis through the creation of the Flowers Of Hell’s debut album and the group have since collaborated with members of many of their favourite bands including Spiritualized, Death In Vegas, the Patti Smith Group (Ivan Kral), British Sea Power, Broken Social Scene, The Earlies, The Plastic People of The Universe and others. With Jarvis’s 2007 re-location to his native Toronto, they became a trans-continental act with the addition of Canadian musicians to their line-up. Key members from the UK and Canada combine for their infrequent tours which have seen them recently perform at Austin Psych Fest and Liverpool Psych Fest.