Broken Social Scene/Do Make Say Think’s instrumental mastermind Charles Spearin and Swedish violinist Josefin Runsteen have released an avant classical album made together in a tiny chapel in northern Italy in summer 2019 entitled Thank God, The Plague Is Over via Arts & Crafts. The songs on the record were inspired by the elimination of the bubonic plague and the relief that came from its end.
Spearin and Runsteen, two complete strangers from different spheres of music, met at a 12th-century castle in northern Italy in July 2019. They were invited by Feist and Damien Rice, among a handful other fantastic musicians and artists from various countries, to a week-long residency to collaborate on music, poetry and ideas.
Castel Campo, once owned by the Von Trapp family (yes, from The Sound of Music), is nowadays owned by the Rasini family, who warmly opened up their hearts and home to this small group of artists. Near the castle on the grounds is a little chapel; anyone who enters this chapel, religious or not, cannot help but sense a humble sacredness emanating from every corner. The Renaissance frescoes that adorn the plaster ceilings are beautiful, but what connects one to the heart of the place is the ancient graffiti covering the walls. Hundreds of years ago, scrawled in Latin, are the words “Please, God, save us from the Plague” and then, over top, are various symbols of gratitude painted once the Black Death had finally moved on.
On the first day of the residency, when Charles and Josefin had barely exchanged a word to each other, they went up to test the acoustics in the Chapel, and began improvising on their instruments. Charles, the Canadian, brought his nyckelharpa, a Swedish folk instrument, while Josefin, the Swede, brought her violin. Immediately, they were astonished by colourful explosions of sound, and they felt an instantaneous, profound musical connection.
They decided to meet there every day and record their improvisations. These explorations are collected here as their debut album, Thank God the Plague is Over, a title that proved even more prescient and relevant than they could have ever imagined for the year 2020. It is an album of not just hope and beauty, but — like the topic that inspired it — one of survival and fierce gratitude for making it through to the other side, for making it back to life.
They walked back and forth to their chapel every day in complete silence except for the crunch of the gravel under their feet. The walk, the nearby collection of new friends, the kind Rasini family, the mountains, the chirping sparrows in the rafters—and, most important, the sacred tiny sanctuary of the Chapel—were all direct contributors to the creation of this album.
They still don’t actually know each other.
Produced, in a sense, by Damien Rice.
Josefin Runsteen- violin
Charles Spearin- nyckelharpa
Gyða Valtýsdóttir – cello