Fishtank Ensemble | Friday, February 21, 2014

Fishtank Ensemble returns for another energy-packed evening at the Schoolhouse featuring music from their new album “Edge of the World.” Influenced by an extremely wide variety of musical styles including ranging from world, pop, and rock to Flamenco, folk, jazz, gypsy, and rockabilly, one source of unending inspiration for Fishtank Ensemble is a love for the music of the Romani people, otherwise known as the ‘gypsies’. Their music is an amalgam of all these diverse influences, plus our own unique individual experiences and perspective on the music.


WHAT: Fishtank Ensemble — Balkan gypsy music you can groove to
WHEN: Friday, February 21, 2014. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for drinks and desserts; music begins at 8:00 p.m.
WHERE: The North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center on the San Juan Ridge, 17894 Tyler Foote Road, Nevada City, CA, 95959.
WHO: Ursula Knudson (vocals), Fabrice Martinez (violin), Doug “Douje” Smolens (guitar), and Djordje Stijepovic (bass).
PRICE: $18 advance; $20 door. $12 kids 12 and under.
INFORMATION: To sample the music, visit For more information about the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, visit, call (530) 265-2826, or email [email protected].

Parked next door to a sandwich truck sits a hand-built, mule drawn “Gypsy wagon,” like an apparition from a bygone era, in the driveway of a contemporary hillside home in Hollywood, California.

Belonging to the band Fishtank Ensemble, it embodies the wild and wooly journeys of the band’s eclectic and eccentric members—vocalist Ursula Knudson, violinist Fabrice Martinez, guitarist Doug “Douje” Smolens, and bassist Djordje Stijepovic—who share a vibrant passion for unbridled creativity and music with Roma roots.

Following their award-winning 2010 album “Woman in Sin”, the quartet with a quirky name blazes new trails this Friday, February 21, at the North Columbia Schoolhouse featuring music from their soon-to-be-released album, “Edge of the World”.

“We all met at a performance space called the Fishtank,” explains Knudson, who often finds herself explaining the group’s unusual moniker. “It had lots of windows, so passers-by could peer in on the activities inside like a fish bowl.”

The budding ensemble then spent the weekend learning an entire repertoire of Romanian folk music. They quickly got a local gig, when someone asked the name of the band. Caught off guard, Knudson recalls, “I just blurted Fishtank. It doesn’t fit, and I actually like that.”

Their journey across traditional and original sonic landscapes began in Europe, with serendipitous inspirations, irresistible urges, and love at first sight. It stretches from the echoing caves of Granada to the bombing of Serbia, from rollicking Venice to brooding Transylvania. “We were all guided by unseen forces and random acts of fate,” Knudson reflects.

As a teenager and promising musician, Fabrice Martinez hitchhiked to Istanbul, collecting a treasure trove of instruments along the way. As jeeps with armed men patrolled the city, Martinez played illegally on the streets to collect enough money to fly back with all his instruments.

“One day out of the blue I heard this music near a theatre,” recalls Martinez. “It was just one old guy playing violin and singing in an alley. Nothing more, and I loved it!”
Inspired, Martinez returned home to Paris and immediately sold all his instruments, leaving him only with a violin that had been in his family for years. “I wasn’t interested in other music anymore, just the violin,” he says. “I resurrected this long-neglected family heirloom.” His fiddle led him to learn from some of the finest Roma players in Europe.

Smolens also found himself tracing a Roma route of his own thanks to some Flamenco recordings he could not get out of his head. He had grown up in the L.A. rock scene, playing drums and hanging out with Billy Idol and Slash of Guns ‘n’ Roses, and had no intention of picking up a new instrument.

“I tried to resist for years,” Smolens laughs, “but in the end, I had to learn to play Flamenco guitar. It grabbed a hold of my heart.” This unexpected calling led Smolens to the heartland of flamenco—learning from Gitano flamenco masters in the caves of Granada, Spain—and inescapably shaped his musical future.

Along the way Knudson and Martinez fell in love and eventually teamed up with Smolens. While traveling they soon added exceptional Serbian bassist Djordje Stijepovic, who has taken the upright slap bass to another level.

Stijepovic has lent his trademark slapping style to some of the best rockabilly, Gypsy, bluegrass, and blues acts around the world. Growing up in Serbia, he got his hands on recordings by Elvis and the Stray Cats despite bombs, sanctions, and political upheaval. After moving to the United States, he fulfilled his rock and roll dreams playing in a band with Lemmy from Motorhead and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats.

All these diverse roads led to California, where Fishtank Ensemble has become an egalitarian society of like-minded musical overflowing with talent that lend to its rich and varied sound. Each member contributes his or her own aesthetics and experiences to the collaborative creative process.
“I like to start songs,” Smolens notes, “but I really love when the band helps finish them. We all end up shaping them and creating something unexpected.”

With a new emphasis on original material and old-school skills, Fishtank Ensemble has matured into their distinctly odd yet remarkably apt name, performing a self-aware selection of twisting timbres and tempos that capture an ineffable joy.
“We are very much looking forward to performing at the (North Columbia) Schoolhouse once again. We want to produce music that people have never heard before, taking audiences to new places, so they can experience a range of emotions that we transmit through song,” muses Knudson. “That is the best thing we can offer: our heart.”
Advance tickets for the performance are available at BriarPatch, Yabobo and Mother Truckers. For more information visit