Tom Fun Orchestra serves up a shot of country-rock

The Tom Fun Orchestra are just like a shot of cheap whiskey: their music goes down hard and burns up the listener’s insides. An eight-piece ensemble with horns, guitar and violin out of Cape Breton, they’re a blend of countrified rock, hard-hitting bluegrass with the liquor-infused emotion of a Nova Scotian dock worker.

Crowned the best new artist in the Galaxie Rising Star Awards, Tom Fun are now on their first cross-Canada tour sponsored by the folks over at CBC Radio 3. Ian MacDougall, the raw-throated frontman for the group, invites comparisons to Tom Waits for his gruff and scotch-soaked lyrical delivery. On the phone from Ontario, MacDougall explains how an eight-piece manage to get along well enough to record an album, let alone tour together for a month.

“It’s pretty insane to do what we do logistically,” says MacDougall. “It works out pretty well. We’ve got a system down at this point for rehearsing, playing and travelling. It’s definitely crazy. If someone has played in a three- or a four-piece band, it might take them a little while to adjust.”

Not only is eight people a large amount of egos to control, it’s a large amount of egos to move from point A to point B. MacDougall was quick to point out how Tom Fun Orchestra cruise down the Trans-Canada in style.

“We have a string of gold-coloured Austin Minis and we just drive one after another,” laughs MacDougall.

He quickly confessed to the real way that the Cape Bretoners get themselves the hell out of Dodge after a show. Not with some wimpy Austin Minis, but with a real, big boy band vehicle: the mighty van.

“We have a 15-passenger tour van,” he says. “We just got it a little while ago. The former owner used to take it on tours of the United States. I guess he used it for going to NASCAR, so the van was covered in these NASCAR stickers when we got it.”

MacDougall stressed that the group didn’t keep the race car decor for long. With a quick bit of destructive redecoration, they had finally made the van their own, but it was a bittersweet victory for the band.

“We took some of them off,” he recalls. “There’s a couple kicking about still. It felt a little sad to take them off– they were so gaudy and awful-looking. But they grew on us.”

With the spirit of stock car racing behind them, expect the Tom Fun Orchestra to be pulled over numerous times by traffic cops the country over. MacDougall admits the tour might be a little influenced by their transport’s dark past.

“It’s more of a NASCAR tour for us,” he says. “We’re the Cape Breton race team.”