Hearing Grandma Sparrow & his Piddletractor Orchestra for the first time, I immediately thought this would be the perfect soundtrack to Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, one of the world’s largest metal sculpture gardens that houses steel imaginary birds and iron rod castles placed in Sauk City, Wisconsin. Think industrious, but innocent and abstract.
Grandma Sparrow & his Piddletractor Orchestra is a musical conglomerate that takes you on an orchestrated ride of psychedelic overtones and child-like exaggerations of instrumentation and persona. Many articles describe the music as, “Beach Boys meets Charles Ives walking through Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.” Off Grandma Sparrow’s debut album, Grandma Sparrow, are two songs titled, “The Pigsmilk Candycane,” and, “Existential Mothersnakes.” The track names are sure indicators of the absurdities Sparrow cordially invites you to enjoy.
Joe Westerlund carries on the alter-ego of Grandma Sparrow, a goofy, intricate, and charismatic leader of the Piddletractor Orchestra. Westerlund is a composer, vocalist, and percussionist who based most of his time growing as a musician in Eau Claire, WI. He is the drummer of the band Megafaun and has played alongside Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Grandma Sparrow performed at Alverno College March 7th at the Pitman Theatre. The orchestra was complete with a twenty-piece band including strings, horns, and a children’s choir. Our very own Amelinda Burich, web coordinator of 88Nine played viola in the Piddletractor band along with Group of the Altos and Raleigh's Canine Heart Sounds.
I had the chance to interview Joe Westerlund virtually and thought I would add a few questions just so you can get a sense of who Grandma Sparrow, (Joe Westerlund), really is.
Q: What’s the story behind the origin of Grandma?
Grandma: The story is really very vague. I really don't know if there is a story, but Alewishus, who is the Clown Prince of Piddletractor may or may not have been abducted by Grandma Sparrow. Alewishus's father, Tinkleminus, is looking for him. Most of the songs on the record serve as introductions to each character in the town of Piddletractor.
Q. What is Grandma Sparrow’s favorite food?
Grandma: Why, a Pigsmilk Candycane, of course!
What is Grandma Sparrow’s most favorite place on Earth?
Grandma: Earth? Earth? What is this earth? Oh, yes, yes my child….I will visit your earth sometime!
Q: Have you ever heard of Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron in Sauk City, WI? (I think this would be the ideal place for a Grandma Sparrow concert after watching your YouTube videos.)
Westerlund: No, I haven't but thank you for the tip! I've actually been very inspired by The House on the Rock for many years. It's one of my favorite places in the world, and I wrote to them last year trying to start a dialogue about having a Grandma Sparrow performance there. Still haven't heard anything back from them!
Q: You have played with Justin Vernon, have you played with or been influenced by any other Wisconsin musicians?
Westerlund: Yes, definitely. My brothers in Megafaun have influenced me a bunch. In 2003, I started playing in a band with Tom Wincek, who introduced all of us E.C.[Eau Claire] people to Collections of Colonies of Bees, and all their related projects. There are countless others, but for the most part, I'm very inspired by my friends and collaborators.
Witness some of the psychedelic whimsy here:
Follow Grandma Sparrow’s Twitter here to stay updated on their performances.
Check and “like” Grandma Sparrow’s Facebook for the latest updates.