Igor Koyfman is a Russian-born mathematician who was so inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island that he taught himself to play guitar and wrote a song cycle about Ben Gunn, his favorite character from the book. In 2000 he joined forces with Zarina Silverman, a multifaceted artist from Los Angeles. The Ben Gunn Society was born in 2003, a playful, quirky ode to pirates and cheese, produced, engineered and mixed by Glen Laughlin, best known for his work with the Dickies. The songs were arranged and co-produced by Elliott Marx, a CalArts music graduate.
Thanks to the excellent musicianship of friends who joined the project for the pure fun of it, the album became surprisingly popular and even went into a second printing. Astonishingly, Igor and Zarina discovered a well-established underground pirate rock scene in Portland, and found themselves sharing the stage with Captain Bogg & Salty at Festival de Piratas.
Fortuitously for the Ben Gunn Society, only months after the release of the CD Johnny Depp starred in Pirates of the Caribbean and a tidal wave of pirate-mania swept the globe. Their fun and upbeat songs were heard on radio programs worldwide, including Eyes of the World Radio, Greasy Kid Stuff and the Dr. Demento Show.
The Ben Gunn Society also became the unofficial mascot of The Enchanted Deva's, an upscale pirate-themed boutique and art gallery in North Hollywood, where they held the record release party for their 2007 album Sovereignty. This time Igor, Zarina and Elliott all contributed songs. Zarina and Igor read stacks of books for inspiration, on subjects ranging from the history of the Golden Age of Piracy to the habits of rats, and Elliott turned to rock classics. While their styles were distinctly different, a common thread emerged. The group had reached a new level of creative expression, a heavier and darker vision, lit from within by colorful reflections of the psychedelic era.
The project seemed to take on a life of its own, and Zarina and Igor turned to Jungian philosophy to understand the archetypal characters conjured by their imaginations. Inspired, Igor began writing again. Around the same time Bilgemunky, a DJ featuring non-traditional pirate-related music, put out a call for futuristic pirate songs. Igor immediately thought of space operas, particularly Joss Whedon's Firefly, while Zarina focused on an environmental theme. The Ben Gunn Society, now a duo, teamed up for the third time with Glen Laughlin, who produced, performed on, engineered and mixed the new EP. Joe Bulum, who played piano on the second album, once more offered his enthusiastic contribution.
No Stars is the Ben Gunn Society's most intimate and evocative work yet. As catchy and irreverent as ever, the six songs reach beyond the original concept, touching upon deep questions. After all, pirates are not really about pirates.
Photo by Frank Vincze.