Esmerine was co-founded in early 2000s by percussionist Bruce Cawdron (Godpseed You! Black Emperor) and cellist Rebecca Foon (Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Saltland) soon after the two met while recording the first Set Fire To Flames record Signs Reign Rebuilder (2001) at the old brothel at 10 rue Ontario Est in Montreal. Esmerine released two critically-acclaimed albums of modern chamber music in the first half of that decade: If Only a Sweet Surrender to the Nights to Come Be True (2003) and Aurora (2005). These albums have have one foot in the new music/experimental terrain of contemporaries like Rachel’s or Town And Country and the other in a more visceral and lyrical landscape populated by the likes of Dirty Three (and GY!BE themselves).
Beckie’s activity with Thee Silver Mt. Zion increased through the mid-2000s and Bruce deepened his study and practice as an acupuncturist, but the duo continued stoking the Esmerine fires with occasional live performances and special events in Montreal in the latter half of the decade – often bringing in guest musicians to collaborate with the group on one show or another.
While Esmerine had made deft but sparing use of guest players on their first two albums, collaboration has become the new mantra for the duo as they returned to intensive writing, recording and touring in 2010. La Lechuza (2011) expanded the group to a quartet, with the addition of harp-player Sarah Pagé and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Barr (both of The Barr Brothers and the Lhasa de Sela band), who came together around their dearly departed mutual friend Lhasa de Sela during the period when Lhasa was working on her third and final record in Montreal in 2009-2010. La Lechuza was predominantly tracked by Patrick Watson at his Montreal loft, and Watson sings on two of the album’s songs. Other musical guests include Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire), Colin Stetson, Mishka Stein and Robbie Kuster. Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Unicorns) mixed the bulk of the album’s tracks.
With Pagé and Barr increasingly occupied with Barr Brothers duties, Esmerine solidified its touring line-up as a quartet with Jamie Thompson (Unicorns, Islands) on drums/percussion and Brian Sanderson on various instruments. This quartet gelled around the Esmerine back catalogue through several dozen live performances and began writing new material in 2012, culminating in an artist residency and recording session in Istanbul at the end of that year. These sessions included four local Turkish musicians and yielded the bulk of the bed tracks for Esmerine’s fourth album, Dalmak (2013), which the group completed in winter 2012-2013 with engineer Jace Lasek at Breakglass Studio in Montreal.
Esmerine frequently tours with live, manually-manipulated lightbox projection visuals by renowned artist, puppeteer and light designer Clea Minaker (Feist, Atom Egoyan).