By LUCY WORMALD
Musical improvisation duo Liz Butler and Ben Jardine are bringing lyrics and laughs to Queenstown tonight with their comedy show ‘Brothers & Sons’.
The Fringe-nominated pair take on the personas of Minnesotan folk musicians Montgomery and Endicott Sons — brothers, sons, and Sons.
Centre-stage in stick-on moustaches, Butler and Jardine take cues for conversation from questions and thoughts jotted by audience members, before soon springing into completely improvised song.
Butler, who hails from Massachusetts, says the show’s content is based on whatever the audience gives them.
‘‘So the show, it will be completely unique based on whoever’s in the room.
‘‘We make the audience feel super included … we ask them to write something down, write a question for the ‘‘band’’ in the beginning, and that’ll inspire the majority of the show.’’
For Butler, who studied opera singing and theatre, and Auckland-born Jardine, music has always been a through line in each of their lives, and meeting in 2019 at an improv class, it became a binding force in their relationship, too.
‘‘I think what really got us off on to a nice connection at the beginning was our shared love of music,” Jardine says.
“We were just sharing music all the time; whenever we hung out we would trade headphones … trade songs and playlists.”
Falling in love, the two locked down together in 2020 and, armed with Jardine’s guitar, aimed to record an EP, but they ‘‘just kept starting all these songs”, never writing them down.
‘‘There would always be a new song to sing or to make up so we just realised, oh maybe we’re good music improvisers,’’ Jardine says.
He has long been a musician, in and out of bands, and Butler says Jardine’s skills with the guitar complement her 16-year long love affair with improv perfectly.
‘‘I always had the music and I had the improv, but I never really merged it and then I met Ben, and because I don’t really play instruments, he really slots in well.’’
Inspired to move to New Zealand and become a comedian by watching Flight of the Conchords, Butler says comedy improv is all about the chemistry between the comedians and committing to characters.
‘‘Improv is like a bungy jump — the best feeling is when you dive in having no idea, but you’re fully strapped in and committed to whatever’s going to happen.
‘‘And then you just fall and it feels really good because everything’s working out.’’
For Jardine, the magic moment is when ‘‘everything connects’’ and he ends up on the same page as his counterpart.
‘‘Because you’re not sharing a strategy in the middle of the show with fellow players, when you end up on the same path … that gives me an electrical feeling.
‘‘In music, when we suddenly land on the same word, or even [have] the same cadence … it’s like a mind meld.’’
The pair say their act is dependent on knowing song structure inside out and ‘‘being able to feel’’ where the other person is within the improv.
‘‘In folk music there are very clear structures … so musically, we are kind of locked in,’’ Jardine says.
‘‘We kind of know based on the chord progression what melodies we can bring in, and then it’s all about what kind of lyrics can we just pull out of the conversation we just had.’’
Developing ‘Brothers & Sons’, they would hold ‘‘a lounge show’’ every weekend, where friends could give feedback afterwards, Butler says.
‘‘It was just this intimate way of performing to our friends … and that was really special, the community was a part of helping us develop this.
‘‘We want people to feel just pure joy that they’re witnessing songs being made up on the spot, that we are incorporating things that they’ve brought to the show,’’ Jardine says.
‘Brothers & Sons’, Sherwood, tonight, 7.30pm. Tickets, $20, via Eventfinda