Hardcover band

Winnipeg folk group Sibyl is heavily inspired by literature

Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

A few years ago, Winnipeg folk group Sibyl set out performing renditions of Sufjan Stevens and Nathan songs. Although the band soon made the switch to original material, one could argue it’s still a cover band. A hardcover band that is.

Sibyl takes its name from Sibyl Vane, the main character of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. In fact, the Winnipeg folk group originally went by Sibyl Vane, shortening its handle after discovering there were at least five other bands with the same name.  

And that’s not the band’s only literary reference. Sibyl member Daniel Guezen (guitar, slide guitar, harmonica and percussion) is writing his master’s thesis on French poetry at the University of Manitoba, a fact that is evident on the band’s debut recording Basement Sounds, a five-song EP released in December. 

“The one song, ‘Half Moon’, part of the chorus is inspired by a poem by Sylvia Plath,” says Guezen, 23. “We recently wrote a song where we’ve had the chords for a year and a half and we loved the feeling of it, but had nothing to put on top. There was a few tries to put some words on top of it and it just wasn’t working, so we took a poem by W.B. Yeats and put it on top and it works beautifully.”

“It’s always good to have a resident poet in the band,” adds Jeremy Penner, 32, a former member of Hope Atlantic, who now plays guitar, piano, glockenspiel, snare, spoons and accordion in Sibyl.

Sibyl is well-versed musically, as each member plays multiple instruments. Guezen and Penner are joined in the band by lead vocalist Tesia Rhind (bodhrán, flute and shaker) and Jeremy’s sisters Melanie (banjo, guitar and flute) and Roslyn Penner (guitar, piano and glockenspiel).

“I feel like we will all dabble in different instruments,” says Jeremy, who holds a music degree from Canadian Mennonite University.

“Our dad was really big into playing trumpet and our mom plays the piano,” adds Roslyn, 30. “And we all grew up taking piano lessons.”

From You Know I Know (formerly Inward Eye) to the Lytics to the Bros. Landreth, it seems like every band in Winnipeg has a set of…

“Penners,” says Roslyn, finishing my sentence intended to say “siblings.” 

“Mennonites are all pretty musical in my experience,” she says. “We have another sister and she did sing with us once. She’s also a really good flute player.”

“We were going to call ourselves as a joke ‘The Mennos and the Mennonot’,” says Rhind, who started the band with Roslyn and Melanie.

There’s also another Penner in the Sibyl fold. Jeremy’s baby son Judah is simultaneously Sibyl’s biggest and smallest fan.

“He came to our EP release [at the Times Change(d) in December] and he was just jumping and smiling and laughing the whole time. He just loves music,” Rhind says.

“I don’t know how many babies have been in the Times Change(d), and he only cried when we stopped playing,” Guezen says.

“During band practice he sits in his highchair and dances along,” Roslyn says.

“It makes it so much more fun,” Rhind adds.

Check out Basement Sounds at bandsibyl.bandcamp.com.

Part of the series: The Uniter Fiver

Published in Volume 68, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 15, 2014)

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