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Exclusive: X is for Xylopholks

I’m not sure that gorillas were playing ragtime in the Roaring Twenties, but that’s what the pink one in The Xylopholks is doing these days. Doing their thing illegally (for now at least) on New York City subway platforms, The Xylopholks wear costumes to play up the novelty of their music… and to make people happy. The costumes make it tricky to avoid getting nabbed by the coppers; it’s not like they can just slip into the crowd like those pirated DVD sellers or the dudes who sell churros. But it’s a risk they’re willing to take if their unique performance will bring commuters a smile.

Flavorwire: Who are The Xylopholks?

Jon Singer: The Xylopholks is:
Jon Singer, Xylophone
Bridget Kearney, Bass
Jared Engel, Banjo
Carmen Staaf, Piano
Michael Winograd, Percussion (and a lot of compositions!)

FW: When did you start playing together?

JS: We’ve all been musical collaborators for a while. The Xylopholks itself started fairly recently in November 2008.

FW: So, what’s with the costumes? Is it a way to pick up chicks?

JS: Well now that we have a banjo playing chicken there’s no need for more chicks! We started out playing novelty ragtime music from the 1920s. The costumes support the novelty aspect of the music. It also seems to be a combination that makes people happy. We play to make people happy.

FW: Summer’s coming. Will you nix the gorilla and cookie monster for something a little less… furry?

JS: Hah! When we first started out, Pinky (Bridget) thought about doing a swimsuit version for the summer. I might invest in some “cooling vests.” If we can manage to keep it up, we will.

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FW: Are The Xylopholks one of the MTA’s sanctioned bands or are you not-so-subtly sneaking around off the books?

JS: We have an audition for Music Under New York coming up on May 5. It’s at Grand Central Terminal’s Northeast Balcony. The auditions are open to the public and should be a lot of fun. We’re really looking forward to this one and go on at 1:15 PM. Come check it out!

FW: What are your favorite subway stations to play in?

JS: Any station where we can catch folks smiling as they pass by on their commute. We’ve also taken to playing in various bodegas around town. Stay tuned for the 5 Borough Bodega Tour!

FW: Where else in the city might someone see The Xylopholks?

JS: We have upcoming shows at Southpaw (April 14 @ 8:30 p.m.), National Underground (April 16 @ 10:00 p.m.), and Rockwood Music Hall (April 30th @ Midnight). Also, the Bodega Tour will be happening soon — but you might just have to be in the right place at the right time. The other day we set up in front of the basketball courts at West 4th. We’ll pretty much play anywhere cops don’t give us a hard time.

FW: What do you love most about what you do?

JS: This is a hard one. I love everything about it. The other day a woman was listening to us for a while, almost in tears because she was smiling so much. She told us she was just laid off and that this was exactly what New Yorkers needed. That made us feel incredible! I’m also happy to lead a band where the main objective is to HAVE BIG FUN!

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