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[FAT] Interview: DJ Daniel Wilson

Posted by art On April - 28 - 2009
DJ Daniel Wilson in action.

DJ Daniel Wilson in action.

Interview and photos by Helen Fylactou

Performing both on the second and the third nights of [FAT], DJ Daniel Wilson kept the mood of the room vibrant and sexy. The perfect soundtrack at a fashion show propels the audience from feeling good about the show, to feeling fabulous about the show. DJ Daniel Wilson is that perfect soundtrack. Prior to the big nights, MONDO had a chance to interview him about life, music and fashion.

MONDO: How would your describe your sound?

DJ Daniel Wilson: A little all over the board, but a lot of electro. For [FAT] I will be changing it to suit the theme of the night, so Planet will be a little more ethereal house and vocal-based electro, while Gutter will be more glitchy with some punk and rock — I’ll be able to let loose a bit more.

MONDO: What DJs/musicians have inspired you?

DJ: Oh gosh, a lot. Everything from Princess Superstar to PJ Harvey. Little Boots, Nick Cave, Fritz Helder and the Phantoms, Kids on TV, Tiga, Ladytron, Barbi & Syntonics, Leonard Cohen, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Robyn, Sigur Ros… really all over the map.

MONDO: How do you read the mood of the room? Is there a special trick to it?

DJ: I just try to see how people are reacting and what makes them move, but I still play what I like. DJs get hired for their taste in music, so it’s a balance of responding to the crowd but not listening to that one drunk person that makes terrible requests.

MONDO: Do you find it difficult finding a balance between having your music heard and not having your music overpower the room at a fashion show?

DJ: During the fashion show, the clothes have to be the focus. That’s the reason people are there. The music complements the mood of the fashion and gives the models a beat.

MONDO: You’re a stylist yourself. Are there any designers you’re are excited about seeing at [FAT] this year?

DJ: Walk Tall, which I was blown away by at Mass Exodus (the Ryerson fashion program’s graduating show), Christabel Couture always does amazing, jaw-dropping stuff. The Deadly Nightshades are going to totally kick ass, and I’m curious to see Youth.InAsia. Caitlin Cronenberg is also such a brilliant photographer, I’m looking forward to seeing her work.

MONDO: If you could choose a song title to best describe yourself, what would it be and why?

DJ: I very often finish my sets with The Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Cracking Up.” Enough said.

MONDO: Last question. Right Said Fred’s “I’m too Sexy”: a prophetic critique of the world of fashion  or a just a damn good song for practicing your runway walk?

DJ: A little bit of both!  Fashion likes to be taken dead serious, but also likes to make fun of itself.

Toronto Alternative Arts and Fashion Week ran April 21-24, 2009 in the Distillery District.

An interview with Storyteller

By Nathan Hoffmann

When a rock star opens his bank book and realizes his stash of cash is starting to dwindle, it’s time to go back on tour. Playing to the masses is how bands obtain their fortunes. But, for an independent band, touring isn’t the same lavish party the big boys get to enjoy. Instead of the luxury jet, a sold-out crowd at the ACC, and trashing hotel rooms, it’s a crummy old van, a show for six scene kids in a town whose name you can’t pronounce, and using up all the toilet paper of the nice emo girl who’s letting you crash on her floor.

Storyteller, a post-hardcore band from St. Catharines, left for their first cross-country tour on October 17th. I recently sat down with three of the members to discuss the obstacles that face an independent band as they get set to embark on a month-long journey together.

MONDO: You guys are about to depart on a four-week tour from Ontario through BC. Is excitement the only emotion you’re feeling?

Eli: No, there is also fear, confusion, sleepiness, malice, hunger, and jaundice.

JJ: It’s a big build-up of anxiety. I like it and I don’t. It kind of puts an edge on things and keeps you on track.

Dave: I’m very excited but, at the same time, worried. Anything can happen and we’ll be miles and miles away from home.

MONDO: How did you guys hook up this tour? Did you go through booking agents or did you book the shows yourself?

Eli: We are touring with two other bands. We divided the show-booking responsibilities.

Dave: We booked mostly the Ontario dates; The Fallacy (the band we’re touring with) booked from Calgary to Ontario, and another band booked the BC dates.

MONDO: Is it difficult booking out-of-town shows yourself?

Eli: At the moment it is: as we are still a newer band, we had to collect as many show promoters’ contacts as possible. We haven’t played the majority of these cities before, so promoters had to take something of a chance on us. But I think our tasty licks speak for themselves.

JJ: It is pretty much the only thing that can hold us back. Exposure is key and it is very hard to obtain.

MONDO: What are you hoping to accomplish on this tour?

Eli: Have fun, meet new fans, see the country, and see how long I can fend off my body’s desire to bathe.

Dave: As of right now, my goal is just to play my heart out, have fun, and see a part of Canada I’ve never experienced before.

MONDO: How hard is it to balance working and being in a band, in regards to getting time off for touring?

Eli: Well, a month is a long time to take off work. Luckily I have a lot of dirt on my boss. After presenting him with the evidentiary footage from some cleverly placed video cameras, we came to an understanding and he wished me luck.

JJ: I work in a gas station, so work is very flexible for me to book off.

Dave: Not too hard; I booked it in advance and if they didn’t like it, I was going to quit.

MONDO: Tours cost money. Are you concerned about the financial strains a long trip can have? How have you been preparing for this tour?

Eli: I just sold some of my personal artwork, mainly pieces from my hand turkey collection. So I should be good.

Dave: Yes, the band has been saving money from our shows, selling CDs and merch. Each of us also has to bring our own money for expenses on the road.

MONDO: What vehicle are you guys are taking on tour?

Eli: We have a band van. It’s in pretty good shape. The only real problem occurred while driving back from an out-of-town show. Our van stopped working and we were forced to call a tow truck. After explaining the problem to him, the tow truck man attempted to start her up and concluded we were out of fuel.

JJ: We took care of all the necessary needs of the van in regards to repairs, tune ups, and CAA to make sure everything will be the best that it can be.

MONDO: What kinds of stuff are you guys packing to help survive the tour?

Eli: Cold cuts, clothes, movies, baby wipes, sleeping bag, and daily devotionals.

JJ: Clothes, baby wipes, beer, maybe money.

Dave: Other then the necessary clothing, we’re bringing canned food and soup, crackers, and most likely some Kraft Dinner.

MONDO: Four weeks is a long time to be stuck in a van with four other guys. Any worries about getting on each other’s nerves? How do you plan to combat cabin fever?

Eli: That is probably my biggest concern. I have a low tolerance for most of my bandmates, so I told them straight up that if any of them pushes my buttons we are going to throw down.

JJ: We hug it out.

Dave: It’s going to be tough, but I’m sure we’ll get through it.

MONDO: What kinds of things have you learned while being on “weekend tours” that you think will help you during this trip?

Eli: Weekend tours are a joke in comparison.

JJ: We have learned to handle each other a bit more. This tour will definitely help with just getting to know the other members. We will probably have bunch of pow-wows so nobody lashes out on each other. Try to act like a family and all that neat stuff.

An Alchemist’s Dream: The Element Choir

Posted by art On October - 3 - 2008

By Kerry Freek

I had no idea what to expect when my friend Isla said she was singing in a choir that mimicked the four elements. But last week, when I finally caught Christine Duncan’s Element Choir at a TRANZAC Wombat Wednesday, things came together like an alchemist’s experiment gone right. About 20-25 very different voices, ranging from several walks of life, took part in what I thought could be explained as “directed freedom.” (I later discovered it’s called “structured improvisation” — pretty close!) As the conductor cued her singers, the back room filled with intriguing, ethereal, and sometimes odd sounds, all coming together to make a one-time-only performance. Earlier this week, I interviewed the choir’s conductor, Christine Duncan, a five-octave-ranged vocalist with involvement in jazz, R&B, gospel, improvised music, sound poetry, new music, and musique actuelle.

MONDO: The choir seems to work sort of like John Zorn’s Cobra. It’s participatory and improvisational, and involves giving cues. How do your cues work? Is it up to the performers to interpret your gestures? What makes your movements (and, as a result, the choir’s sounds) “elemental”?

Christine Duncan: I’ve developed a system of hand cues which outline certain parameters for primarily vocal sound making, moving from very basic (e.g. sustained sound, talking, whistling, loops) to more complex and even conceptual ideas (eg. mini group compositions which represent some of the elements — air, water, fire, etc., and others which are music genre related — funky, jazz, devotional, etc.). In my research, I checked out some existing systems of Conduction, a term coined by Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris who has a system of about 20-25 hand and baton cues which are used by different improvising collectives, including the London Improvisers Orchestra.

Apart from the Morris system, I also looked at John Zorn’s Cobra, another system of cueing called Soundpainting taught by Sarah Weaver (who directs an improvisational performance group called Weave), and took a Feral Choir workshop from amazing voice artist Phil Minton. I also worked with some wonderful Canadian composers in advisory capacity: Peter Hannan from Vancouver, Juliet Palmer from Toronto, and Jean Derome from Montreal, who has developed his own unique system of conduction in the form of a musical game called Canot-camping. From the different systems, I borrowed certain cues which seem idiomatic for vocal expression, then made up some others to expedite certain sonic environments. All of the above mentioned systems use something called structured improvisation. The Element Choir is no different in that regard. The cues give a basic and very loose idea of structure to the performers, but what they do within that is completely their own choice. We do go over the cues in advance, so people know what I’m looking for when they see the cues. It’s not completely interpretive.

The main reason I named this group the Element Choir is because of my affection for and interest in what I call the music of elements. By that I don’t mean the wind and the rain, etc., although these things have found their way into our group expression through some of the more conceptual material. That was more of an afterthought, actually. Rather, I’m talking about a situation in which a group of different people can be making music together in the same space all at the same time, and what one is doing may or may not have too much to do with what anyone else is doing in an active sense, but the fact that it all exists in the same place at the same time creates something that is truly made up of all the parts and becomes something else entirely, as it is experienced — you know, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

MONDO: Do you ever come to a performance with an idea of how it might turn out?

CD: Not really, no. Sometimes I have an idea of where I’ll begin, but that’s about it. I’m improvising in terms of what cues I use and in what order they are given. What I’m hearing back from the group really influences the decisions I make and the direction things will go. I try to be as open as possible to what is happening in the moment and to my reactions and impulses. Hopefully the performances feel honest as a result — that’s really important to me.

MONDO: From what sorts of backgrounds do the performers come? Are they all trained singers?

CD: The Element Choir pulls participants from a lot of different places. We have everything from professional singers and instrumentalists, opera singers, jazz singers, singer/songwriters, composers, dancers, poets, visual artists, actors, and music students to people with choral singing backgrounds and some without much musical history at all.

MONDO: What kinds of reactions and responses have the choir’s performances elicited from audiences (and the singers themselves)?

CD: A lot of times I hear from people that they’ve never heard anything quite like this before. People are usually pretty excited about the choir; it’s quite wild and experimental sounding but with a very definite sense of structure. Some people find it a little scary. My first priority is always music, but my definition of the word may seem pretty open. Sometimes I get people coming up to me and telling me they make these kinds of sounds in the shower. The choir members generally indicate that it’s lots of fun, and that it feels pretty liberating to vocalize in this way. There’s something visceral, beautiful, and a bit frightening about the sound of a bunch of voices raised together in unexpected sound making. Also, it’s pretty funny sometimes and people laugh.

MONDO: What motivated you to start the choir?

CD: I’ve been a vocal improviser for years, and the idea of having a giant polyphonic vocal instrument to play with is pretty attractive. My first experiences conducting groups of improvised voices were in Vancouver with my friend, vocal improviser and performance artist DB Boyko, who has been doing this kind of thing for a long time. She and I do tandem conducting — that’s a trip — two conductors, one choir. I became interested in developing a vocabulary of conduction cues geared toward the voice. I wanted to refine my ability to improvise with this kind of multi-voiced instrument. The Element Choir grew out of the need to workshop some of these ideas with real voices. It was such a great experience for everyone involved and became obvious very quickly that it needed to be an ongoing project.

MONDO: What’s next for the choir?

CD: One exciting thing is that we will soon be recording an improvised album at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Toronto with the choir, Eric Robertson on pipe organ (this church has one of the largest pipe organs in Canada), Jim Lewis on trumpet, Jesse Zubot on violin, and Jean Martin on drums. This album will be released on Barnyard Records and produced by Jean Martin.

The Element Choir is part of this year’s Nuit Blanche. Check out Sound Forest, twelve hours of a capella vocal improvising in and around Queen’s Park, starting at 7 p.m. on October 4.

Evren — “The Celine Dion of Hip Hop” — In Interview

Posted by music On August - 12 - 2008

By Quincy Jones

I first crossed paths with Evren a couple years back at a friend’s place —  a low-key Friday night of spinning records. He was passing through on a mission: to walk around Queen West with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a camera, trying to get people to reveal their most embarrassing moments. He got mine.

Evren’s rhymes are often politically charged; his beats and melodies often incorporate his Turkish roots. His work as an artist, writer, and producer has led to the release of two independent albums — Conflict of Interest (2002) and Unknown MC (2004) — earning him credits on many international compilations including with MGM Australia, Sony, and Universal Music Canada. He has also had enormous success writing and producing music for national advertising campaigns by Telus, Nike and Toyota, as well as developing original tracks for TV shows such as Instant Star, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Billable Hours.

We caught up recently and he couldn’t resist the chance for an interview.

MONDO: So E, let’s just start at the beginning: what got you into music in the first place?

Evren: Definitely my mom. She had a vast collection of LPs: funk, soul, jazz, rock, and pretty much every genre available at the time.

MONDO: How long have you been at this, then?

E: I first started rhyming at the age of 13. I remember a DJ friend of mine who lived in our building at the time told me that he was gonna start making beats. He was almost seven years older than me, and had been spinning records for quite some time. I was a hip hop dancer then, dancin’ at parties and events and such, and I told him, if he starts makin’ beats, then I would start rhymin’ and soon enough he had bought a sampler, and shortly after that I wrote my first song called “Sad Song.” I made my first beat using his gear within two years of that, and have been writing lyrics and music ever since.

MONDO: So describe your style/vibe?

E: It depends. It’s kind of a hard thing to define as I do a lot of different types of music and projects. I write songs for other artists as well as for myself — but for my own songs, the ones I perform, I would describe it as hip hop for the masses. Music for all people — a bit of party, a bit of deep thought, a bit of humor —kind of a well-rounded style that remains true to who I am as a person and artist.

MONDO: How has your Turkish background influence your music?

E: I was born in the city of Istanbul, but came to Canada when I was ten-months old, so I pretty much grew up here. Musically, I’d say it has influenced me in a big way. Rhythmically and melodically, Turkish music has always been a big part of my life, lending itself to play a big role in a sound I would later define as my own. I used to sample my parents’ records, finding the best samples that no one else had access to. My friends used to be, like, “Lemme guess — another Turkish sample!”

MONDO: What’s you favorite place to perform in Toronto?

E: I’ve played at a number of places in the city. The Reverb, the Kathedral, Healey’s, Lee’s Palace, Super Market, the Gladstone and many more — to date, though it’s not one of my favorite venues, I’d say the sound, both on and off stage, at The Drake Underground was one of the best places I’ve played. I’ve had a number of great shows at all kinds of venues, but for T.O. I’d have to stick to the Minority/Rhymestone show at the Drake Underground.

MONDO: And who are your biggest musical influences?

E: Naturally hip hop — everything from ‘91 to ‘94 had a huge impact on me in regards to hip hop. I’m a huge Tupac fan — but there were so many wicked artists from the time. Tribe Called Quest, NWA, the Ghetto Boys, Eric B and Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Souls of Mischief, the Fugees, and the list goes on and on. My favorite artist of all time, hands down, would have to be Bob Marley. Musically, his songs are complete to me. So to answer the question, anything with a happenin’ groove, including Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Meters, Gloria Gaynor.

MONDO: What annoys you the most about the Toronto scene?

E: I’d say what troubles me most with the hip hop scene in Toronto is how disconnected we all are as artists and producers. People are into reppin’ one part of the city and not the other, and that can only keep us divided as a unified music scene. There is so much talent here, yet crowds at shows can be so standoffish when it comes to supporting local talent. It seems people here only support there own once they’ve been validated in another city, like New York, or LA, or London — that will always be an issue that hinders our growth as a scene. Once we learn to support our own, only then will we begin to grow as a scene and create enough of an environment that makes people wanna stay here and become successful. That’s what bugs me the most about The Toronto hip hop scene.

MONDO: What do you love about rap?

E: I love all of it! The beats, the samples, the grooves, the rhyme and flows! All of it! I love the amount of info you can jam-pack into the lyrics and the way you can take any ordinary topic and make it sound awesome with the right rhymes. I love the attitude and energy you can express with it — the passion, the power, the anger, the love — I love how I can understand the lyrics to every rap song I’ve ever heard, like it’s another language. Seriously, I really do love it all.

MONDO: What projects do you have on the go?

E: I currently have a record what has just been completed entitled I Think Not, which will be available in the fall of 2008. Two of the songs on this album have already been featured in advertising campaigns, the song “The One” for a Telus spot, and the other song, “Do I Go,” which was featured on a Toyota Matrix spot. I’m really excited about this record and I hope that people dig it as much as we do. Many more records to make and I hope to keep working with artists as talented as the ones I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

MONDO: Cheers ya E!

E: Peace, Q!

An Interview with The Paper Makers

Posted by music On August - 5 - 2008

The Paper Makers are fun.

By Beej

The Paper Makers, currently working on the follow-up to their debut EP Sergeant Matthew, are one of the most instantly likeable and original acts on the Toronto club circuit. On the surface we have two fresh-faced youngsters, Katie Plant and Anna Mernieks, poised to make a racket with guitar, vox, and drums. They are the duo of nervous, talented teens that pulled weeds for strings at the local guitar shop; the kids who played their first big house at their high-school talent show.

Beneath this youthful veneer lurks a sound that belies their ages, that any rock snob in attendance discovers mid-way through the first song of their set. There’s an on-stage confidence usually found only in seasoned and jaded veterans, a unique and unaffected understanding of what makes people drop the wary mistrust and adopt a set of open ears.

They have the feel of a middle-school sleep-over, lacking the pillow fights and scary movies, but none of the unrestrained enthusiasm. In short, The Paper Makers are fun, and they want you to be, too.

MONDO: So how did it start? How did you meet?

Katie: Anna was in my grade nine geography class. And she knew what distortion meant, which was a good sign.

Anna: I called it feedback, but you knew what I meant.

Katie: And then this girl came and sang “Mushaboom” to us and asked to be our singer, so we said okay.

Anna: And then we had, like, three drummers, but they all flaked.

Katie: That one guy really loved basketball.

MONDO: I want to touch on Dave Kirton (producer and mentor on Sergeant Matthew) being Katie’s guitar teacher and Anna sneaking in and stealing lessons.

Anna: I still sorta do that.

MONDO: How often do you guys see him?

Katie: Well, at least once a month.

Anna: Yeah, I don’t feel right if we don’t at least touch base.

MONDO: So you guys have played lots of great clubs at this point.

Anna and Katie: THE HORSESHOE!

Katie: That was a highlight.

Anna: And the El Mo.

Katie: Yeah, they have an amazing sound guy.

Anna: Sometimes it’s unfortunate when they have some loud rock band going upstairs. A friend of mine saw Joanna Newsom there and there was a loud rock band upstairs.

Katie: That is unfortunate. I love her. She’s so magical.

MONDO: How is the new record coming along? The new songs sound great!

Katie: We told you we brought copies of some of the songs so you could hear.

I put the CD in and press play. “Anything” is the track and it’s the best thing I’ve heard from them so far.

MONDO: This is a number-one hit single right here.

Katie and Anna: *looking at me like I’m blowing smoke*

MONDO: No, I’m serious. It could be a Zellers jingle!

Katie: We would never do that.

MONDO: You don’t ever agree with it?

Anna: Only if we believe in the product.

Katie: We’d do Mahalo Ukuleles!!

MONDO: What if Target offered you a million dollars?

Anna: Well, I guess we’d have to see if we like their clothes.

Katie: Joel Plaskett did it.

MONDO: Did that make you lose respect for him?

Katie: Oh no, we love him.

Anna: He’s great. I think it’s okay for other people, but not for us.

MONDO: So what’s next for you guys?

Anna: Well, we’re playing an acoustic show at Coffee Culture in Brampton.

Katie: And all of our shows are listed on our MySpace. We’re focused on recording right now.

Anna: What else did you find when you Googled us?

MONDO: Oh, your MySpace, and some stuff on the CBC website.

Katie: Oh yeah. That thing with “Pineapple Man” on it.

MONDO: Yeah, I really love that song! I love the cute nonsense lyrics!

Katie: Those lyrics are not nonsense!

MONDO: Really? What’s it about?

Anna: The Pineapple Man, you see, he went to the island.

Katie: Yes. He was going to paint the flowers blue.

Anna: Mhm. And the suns rays overpowered his blueness because happiness overpowers sadness every time. It’s about how people should just do what they really want to do instead of worrying about money and their bodies and the expectations others have of them. People would be much happier that way.

MONDO: That’s a very serious message for such a silly-sounding lyric. Do you think you have a responsibility to make statements with meaning outside of the context of songwriting or did you guys start this for fun?

Katie: We don’t really think about anything outside of the music, but we didn’t form a band just because it’s a fun thing to do. We did it ’cause we needed to. We are both passionate about music. It’s not all fun and games.

There are things we really don’t love about it. Trucking our stuff from city to city, bus to subway to bus. I don’t really enjoy working in the studio, being so particular and playing the same song over and over again. I don’t like booking shows or self-promotion.

Sometimes I forget why I am even in a band. But then I sit behind the set and start tapping. Then I tap a little more. Then I wail on the thing, my bones rattle and chatter and my lusty lust asserts itself with every strike of a drum.

It’s a way of secretly telling our secrets. We are mothers at 18, birthing songs of honesty and experimentation.

There’s really no other person I’d rather play with. Anna and I have a special connection on and off stage. Our ability to complete each other’s sentences off-stage, which is commonly referred to as cute or endearing, translates into a telepathic energy exchanged only between the two of us onstage. We have a special type of trust for one another, which, despite its giddy teenage girl origins, has proved itself to be real, and effective during our performances.

That’s why I am in a band. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do but it’s also the most rewarding.

Chromewaves’ Frank Yang in Interview

Posted by music On May - 20 - 2008

Interviewed by Eva Bowering

Frank Yang is the creator of, one of the most prominent indie music blogs around. Frank began the blog in 2002, an experiment that soon developed into a second full-time job. He covers just about every major music event in Toronto, and brings a wide variety of music news and reviews to readers every day. Frank took the time to answer a few questions about his visit to Austin for SXSW, as well as some of his favourite venues and artists that have graced Toronto’s landscape.

MONDO: Who are some of your favourite artists, in a nutshell?

Frank Yang: If we were to go “all-time,” I’d have to say R.E.M., Wilco, Belly, Ride, Luna… Of more recent acts: The National, Okkervil River, Shearwater, The Radio Dept. But I like so much stuff it’s impossible to narrow down.

MONDO: Who are some of your favourite artists to see live?

FY: Okkervil River are a better and better live act every time I see them. Wilco always put on an amazing show. Patrick Wolf is tremendously entertaining and so are The Hold Steady, but in completely different ways.

MONDO: I know you recently went to South By Southwest in Austin. How did that go, and what were some of the highlights?

FY: It went really well. Despite the artist lineup being somewhat weaker than the previous three years I’ve gone, I had the best time of all of them. Can’t rightly explain why. Highlights were seeing R.E.M. from ten feet away, Trespassers William, Frightened Rabbit, and Peelander-Z. And the Mexican food.

MONDO: Do you feel the Toronto music scenes pales in comparison with other cities, such as Austin?

FY: I don’t know that you can say it pales. SXSW is an event that’s one-of-a-kind and could probably only happen in Austin, if for no other reason than every building in the downtown is a bar/venue. But if you put that aside (and avoid comparing it to the much smaller CMW and NXNE), Toronto has an incredibly healthy scene that I feel very fortunate to be part of. Mostly all touring acts, large and small, come through here; the local scene is turning out some incredible stuff; and the clubs and bookers here, relative to other cities, do a terrific job of keeping things affordable and accessible. Toronto’s a great place to be.

MONDO: What are some of your favorite music events in Toronto?

FY: Just the regular influx of touring bands keeps me super busy. I’m really happy that we’ve got an international-scale festival like V Fest happening now, just because, even though it’s no Coachella or Lollapalooza, the festival vibe and experience is always a lot of fun. But I’d have to say that my favourite thing is that I get to see so much great stuff year-round and close to home.

MONDO: What are your favourite and least favourite venues here?

FY: The Horseshoe is like a home away from home for me; it’s not unusual that I’m there three nights in a row, though I’m trying to scale back on that. Mod Club usually has great lighting and sound. Once you get into venues larger than the Phoenix things start to go downhill, though. Places like The Kool Haus and Sound Academy are just depressing places to see shows — lousy sound and sight lines. It’s still possible to have good shows there, but it’s so much more of a challenge. The exception is Massey Hall — a brilliant venue and worth the premium price that tickets run.

MONDO: What are you looking forward to seeing most this summer: Radiohead, R.E.M., or the Virgin Mobile fest?

FY: Well, I didn’t get Radiohead tickets so at best I’ll cover it as a photog and get to see three songs… So that’ll be at the bottom of the list. The R.E.M. bill has two of my favourite bands, past and present, so that’s pretty exciting, though I’ve seen both bands very recently. Virgin Fest is definitely the most anticipated of the three — not so much for the lineup, though it’s pretty solid, but just for the vibe (as I alluded to before). And it’s the best concert photography experience of the year, for sure.

MONDO: You take plenty of photos at each of the shows you attend. Who was the most interesting to photograph?

FY: Most interesting? Peelander-Z at SXSW has definitely taken that title and you only need to see my shots from that show to understand why. Of less insane performers, Nicole Atkins & The Sea always give a good photo, as do Drive-By Truckers and Patrick Wolf. And I would love the chance to shoot The Yeah Yeah Yeahs again.

MONDO: Why do think music blogging has prominence on the internet? How does it differ from your run-of-the-mill music publications? What do you think are some assets to having a interesting music blog?

FY: Blogging has prominence because it’s new, novel, immediate, and cheap. It differs from traditional media in that it’s very grassroots-y, but it also suffers from terrible signal-to-noise — so many blogs, shouting about so many “next greatest thing in the world,” often sends me running for my old Guided By Voices CDs. And there’s not necessarily any of the journalistic credibility or ethics you could take for granted with much print, to say nothing of quality. You don’t need to be any kind of writer to have a blog, you just need opposable thumbs. The best thing I’ve found about having a blog is getting to know your audience — most of mine have better and broader musical tastes than I do — as well as discovering new music and being able to share that with like-minded individuals.

Hawksley Workman in Interview

Posted by music On March - 18 - 2008

Hello, readers, welcome to my interview

Interviewed by Jake Shenker

At the beginning of March, homegrown icon Hawksley Workman began the Canadian tour in support of his new album, Between the Beautifuls. I caught up with him in Montreal, and we talked about his new record, his old records, his production style, and why The Beatles’ Revolver was so damn good.

MONDO: Well, first of all, welcome back. It’s been a while.

Hawksley Workman: Yeah. It’s weird how two years can just go past.

MONDO: But you’ve been working. You were in the studio, writing new material, recording two new albums.

HW: That’s what I mean though, you’d think it would be sooner. Writing and recording is the quick part. But once the record’s finished, that’s when the slowness begins.

MONDO: Between the Beautifuls shows a pretty different side to your music, and it strikes me as needing a special kind of treatment to play live. What kind of show will you be playing tonight, and who did you bring along to back you up?

HW: I really like Between the Beautifuls, I like how refined it sounds, and in some ways it’s the most straightforward album I’ve ever made. But I made the record last May. It’s just not where I am now, and I didn’t want to take that sound on the road. So I just put something together: I’ve got a guy from Halifax playing the bass clarinet, and Jesse Zubot playing violin, and of course [keyboardist] Mr. Lonely, and they’re all switching off — they’re playing guitar and bass, and I’m playing some drums. It’s a really fun show.

MONDO: Between the Beautifuls is your first record that wasn’t self-produced. How was it working with Andre Wahl, and what was it like to not produce your own record?

HW: Oh, it was great. Andre let me just be the artist. I wanted not to have to worry about how the drums were going to get edited, what we were going to use to mic amplifiers, I didn’t want to worry about a schedule. It wasn’t so much for stylistic direction, more that I could let go of a lot of the bad work involved in making a record. You know, sitting in front of the computer stuff.

MONDO: I noticed Andre’s also credited with mixing the record.

HW: That’s just it. I got to come in everyday and play and sing, and then at the end of the day he would take the hard drive home and sort things out, and I didn’t once think about how or when it was going to get done. When you sign on to be the producer, you effectively sign on to take the shit for anything that goes wrong. You also get to take a certain amount of accolades for things that go right.

MONDO: You know what it’s like to be a hands-on producer. Did you find it difficult to step back and let somebody else do some of that work?

HW: Not at all, because I feel pretty clear about who I am. I think for younger artists it’s more troubling to think that, uh-oh, somebody’s going to come in and change me, or somebody’s going to come in and take credit for things.

MONDO: Well, there are two kinds of producers: the kind that lets you do what you want to do and gets the best out of you, and the kind who tells you what to do.

HW: See that’s Andre, the first kind. [laughs] I’m kind of the second one, a little bit. It depends on the project, but I used to be worse than I am now. I have the wisdom now to get out of the way.

MONDO: You just finished producing a record with the young Newfoundland band Hey Rosetta! What kind of producer were you for that?

HW: That was a big “get outta the way.” They’re one of the best young bands in the country. And when we were recording, that’s the product we were making. We were making a great record. So I was there as just like, [cheering] “You’re the best! You’re the greatest!”

MONDO: Besides confidence and energy, is there a distinctly “Hawksley” sound to that record?

HW: For me, what I know that I brought out was just simple details, stuff that you maybe don’t think about when you’re first starting out.

MONDO: That’s one thing about your records, too. Over time your attention to detail has gotten better, and on your new record, you’ve got tons of texture and detail.

HW: As a musician, you never stop learning. But there’s something to be said about the naïveté and pure lusty inspiration of earlier records.

MONDO: Is that why you’ve been selling some of your older unreleased records at shows? Is it more for you, or for the fans?

HW: Both. It drives me crazy having that stuff sitting there. I know what kind of music fan I am, and I’ve always made my records for people who I think would be sort of like me, who would be in used record shops looking for European releases of Smiths’ albums and stuff. To me, that’s what’s fun, that’s what’s always been fun about music.

MONDO: Earlier records can often be pretty experimental, and for a music fan, that’s some of the most interesting material.

HW: Agreed. All my unreleased early records were really trials, experiments.

MONDO: But the energy is there. That “pure lusty inspiration” you mentioned.

HW: Absolutely. And with Hey Rosetta!, I think I just had to ensure that their energy was always 100 percent plugged in, that all the viewmeters in the studio were clicking off the scale. You can hear that kind of madness in young punk music. This is the first record I ever made where I never played anything on it, I would just listen, and the most fascinating thing was that I could hear the energy start to dwindle. Like, to feel the momentum of the song start to teeter and then realize that you can’t settle for that anymore, because you’d built this energy pattern, and that all of a sudden you’d feel something dragging on the record. And I never would have understood any of that because I usually sign on as the producer more because I want to be the drummer in the band [laughs]!

Hawsley Workman in lounging

MONDO: Now I know Between the Beautifuls is a Canadian-only release, and you’ve got another record coming out soon in Europe?

HW: Yeah, it’s called Los Manlicious.

MONDO: Was that the record company’s decision?

HW: Yep.

MONDO: Did you make both records separately as two distinct records, or did the record company split them up?

HW: Yeah, they’re both records I deliberately made. Los Manlicious is a big hit pop-rock record. It’s a bit of a smoke show actually. I’ve got the new master in my car, and it’s really good. In some ways it’s modelled after [my 2001 album] Delicious Wolves. It has a certain obviousness. And I love it, it’s incredible. However… things happen. I don’t always get to make the decisions.

MONDO: Will it be available in Canada eventually?

HW: Well, it’s released in Europe, I would imagine it’ll be available that day online.

MONDO: But without the CD artwork and the physical box.

HW: Yeah, which is sad. I’m nostalgic for the good old days. You know, with record companies re-introducing new formats to sell, it really is a greedy kind of thing to re-sell Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and The Who.

MONDO: If it’s remastered though, it can sound better. I mean, they haven’t remastered The Beatles catalogue yet, but when they do, imagine being able to listen to Revolver with the same kind of clarity as Between the Beautifuls.

HW: But that’s the way the record is. Remastering is a farce, in my opinion. You’re looking for a crisper picture of what The Beatles probably sounded like than on the tape, but that’s not what Revolver is. It’s mushy. Anyway, that record changed my life.

MONDO: So what’s next for you? You’ve got a European tour coming up for Los Manlicious, and then what?

HW: Well, the life never changes, it’s always the same: make a record… same old same old. I’d really like to have a hit record before North America collapses into economic ruin, but it might not happen in time. [laughs] Maybe if I wrote it for someone else. That’s what I’d like to do.

In Interview, Kenna

Posted by music On November - 6 - 2007

By Todd Aalgaard
Photos by Tavishe Coulson

Coming down off the high of Live Earth and a North American tour with She Wants Revenge, Universal recording artist Kenna and I took fifteen to talk about life, music, passion, the challenge of facing down the 21st century, and our culture’s deficit of intensity.

Well, after we geeked out for a minute about Halo 3. The picture of chill, he pointed to the XBox 360 resting on the couch.

Kenna: My friends from all over the world — literally all over the world — are on Halo 3. All our friends are hanging out, killing each other.

MONDO: Well, you might as well do it from the road.

K: And we were in Detroit yesterday.

MONDO: Nice, how did that gig go?

K: It was dope — Detroit people are amazing. You know what it is? Justin Warfield from She Wants Revenge said it from stage. He said that you don’t want to step out of line, but if you do a great show, they’re with you. You don’t want to step out of line, though, let me tell you.

MONDO: So is this your first time playing in Toronto, or have you played here before?

K: No, I’ve played here before. I came here with Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. I played Koolhaus a long time ago, and then I think I came here one other time and I can’t remember where we played. It’s been a few years. Toronto, specifically, is a very musical and creative place. I would say they’re more like a New York crowd but maybe a little more varied in their interests. They’re very open, a very kind of interestingly European openness to music and to art as a whole.

MONDO: Yeah, there’s a real eclecticism around here.

K: Very eclectic, yeah.

MONDO: And I would imagine that you really speak to that crowd a lot, because that’s what I noticed when I was listening to you — and a lot of people have apparently noticed this as well — that there’s a real eclectic sound. What influenced that?

K: You know what? It’s the journey of music that interested me in the very beginning. The first record that I listened to was [U2’s] The Joshua Tree, the first full album that I listened to, and I think, as an artist, you’re always influenced by the first thing you listened to. For me it was this expansive, cinematic, you know, passionate, intense album that spoke of literally the journey — just the journey itself. It was this album of journeys: they came to America, they were pursuing the knowledge of a new place, and at the same time they were in search of themselves and stepping out of, you know, their history of sounds and things they were creating before and trying to be something new. It’s so indicative of how I feel all music should be and that’s what moves my music, and so that’s how I started; and then the DNA of who I am, and the history of my life, and the inheritance that I have as being Ethiopian, as well as being from the suburbs, as well as living in inner-city Cincinnati and having experience with all different types of people — all my life fuels the premise of everything that I write — the beats versus the rock versus the… it’s just a travelled mentality, you know?

MONDO: The lyrics, “All this pressure is building up/And there’s a chance it’s gonna explode/I can’t promise you when or where/(but) I can tell you it’ll happen for sure” really jumped out at me. What were you trying to express that way?

K: Oh man, you know, my albums, my songs usually have fifteen meanings, and what I try very hard to do is write loosely so they can breathe, all their meanings can breathe. For me that had significant personal reference but at the same time it was a very worldly statement, lyric, because I felt like, you know, we try not to acknowledge what’s happening in front of us. Maybe we’re de-sensitized, maybe it’s just happening so much that we just can’t take it on — call it post traumatic stress disorder of life, you know? But we have this trauma that keeps hitting us and so we just literally numb ourselves to it, and I felt like, “It’s cool, you can pretend it’s not happening, but it is….” For me, at the end of the album — the song “Wide Awake” — is like me trying to wake myself up. You know when someone’s pushing you, when you’re trying to wake up, someone’s like, “Wake up, wake up, we gotta go,” and you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m awake, I’m awake,” but you’re really not?

MONDO: …You’re just rolling back over.

K: That’s where I am at the end of this album, where I’m trying to wake up — I really am. I’m not trying to sleep through this, I want to sleep because it’s easier. But I’m trying to wake up.

MONDO: I guess if anybody — and like you said, there’s fifteen different meanings that you could imbue your music with — but if I were sitting down to listen to your album for the first time and you wanted me to take one thing away from what you’ve got to say, what would that be?

K: I couldn’t do one thing.

MONDO: Good answer.

K: I couldn’t — it’s not possible. I think it’s to be open, be willing, and be unabashed. I think those are the three things. You have to be open to hear this music and you have to be open to accept the things that are around you. Be willing to take it on because it’s going to be yours, and be unabashed in your response to it, because there’s going to be a lot of ridicule for you being strong about something. Be strong about something. Because without everyone being strong and being focused on things that are important, we end up being de-sensitized like I said earlier. We just end up being empty and feeling so lonely, when in actuality there are so many people who feel the same way. You know? I would say: be open, be willing, and be unabashed.

MONDO: And that’s a really valuable message to impart right now, because, like you said, things could turn in any direction at this point in history. But I think the one thing that none of us can afford is to not be passionate. Would you agree with that?

K: Yeah. What happened to intensity? What happened to being invested? What happened to that? There’s so many people now that I watch listening to things and they’re doing it with one ear, but their other ear’s someplace else. That’s because artists, number one, aren’t doing anything that matters. I mean, I’m up on stage and I do everything I possibly can. I go to the nth power and I come back and some people think that it’s disingenuous or that it’s weird, but I don’t spend a minute of my life not being genuine and not being as electric as I possibly can. And it doesn’t mean that they have to fall in love with my music or buy my CD — I could care less about that. I just want them to walk away, going, “I gotta do or be different, or better, because I felt something.” I’m here to give everything I have. The secret to life is giving, anyway.

You can check you Kenna’s website here.

She Wants Revenge

Posted by music On October - 30 - 2007

Darkwave for your parents.

Interviewed by Todd Aalgaard
Photos by Tavishe Coulson

Two missed streetcars and a last-minute cab ride from hell left me loitering in front of the Opera House, drawing a complete blank.

The MuchMusic-happy use of the word “darkwave” left me loaded with assumptions about She Wants Revenge. I expected to be dredging up question after question in a desperate attempt to keep these aloof darkwavers on my level. Preconceptions of goth-y indifference and gloomy reticence had me trawling my brain for something — anything — interesting to ask. I had, after all, listened to SWR for the first time about four nights earlier.

Though by talking to Adam 12 I learned that not only are these guys more club-land than casket, but that you can ask three or four really, really simple questions and an interview will damned near write itself.

MONDO: This is your second time coming through Toronto, right?

Adam 12: That was two thousand and… one? Two? I was working with a girl named Esthero. I met her in Los Angeles and we became friends and then she invited me to come here to finish our songs that we had started in Los Angeles and, uh, I came and lived with her for about two and a half months.

MONDO: Was this while She Wants Revenge was coming together?

A12: Way before. I’d say, like, almost two years before me and Justin hooked up.

MONDO: So how did this whole thing take off?

A12: We have known each other since we were kids, although we never really kicked it, we weren’t really friends, we just knew the same people. … So I’d seen him out at clubs and stuff where I was spinning and I became a producer, and we just kept hearing about, like, what each other was doing and our one mutual friend kept on trying to hook us up but the timing was always bad. We finally hooked up through that mutual friend who kind of told us one day when she knew we were both free, she said, “You guys need to go and hook up right now and go work.” So we did.

We both come from hip-hop backgrounds, so we thought what better way to get started than to go into the studio and make hip-hop beats? … After about four of five months of making hip-hop beats together — like I said, we come from hip-hop backgrounds, and around that time it was kind of, like, hip-hop to us just was not the same. We come from maybe the early 90’s…

MONDO: … sort of the Run DMC scene?

A12: Run DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and then like Tribe and Jungle Brothers… we consider ourselves coming from the “golden age” of what we consider hip-hop. When we were making beats, we were finding that it wasn’t really about being creative as far as the beats were concerned, it was more, like, what else is out there? We didn’t want do what everyone else was doing. As far as people wanting to buy beats, the marketplace at that time for hip-hop was like, you know, “This song is a hit and this song is a hit, so give us a beat that sounds like that,” instead of where hip-hop comes from and that is just being creative, doing whatever you want to do.

So we were feeling really frustrated with the way hip-hop was going and, at the same time, I had met Kenna who’s on tour with us through Esthero. … So I did a beat for Kenna and I played it for him over the phone and he freaked out. He was, like, “Dude, you have to e-mail that to me as soon as possible.” And as I was finishing it up, Justin came over to work on some hip-hop and whatever and he heard it, and he said, “Dude, what is that?” I said, “This beat I made for Kenna.” He was, like, “hold him off for a couple days — don’t send it yet, let me take it home and let me try and write with it for a bit. Maybe play bass or guitar.” So he took it home and he brought it back and that would be our first song. It was indirectly thanks to Kenna that we came up with that first song and we were like, “Wow, there’s something there….” The feelings we were getting from this first song really were kind of reminding us about how we felt about a lot of the music that we grew up with — Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths. … We just kept on going through it and going, “Wow, now we’ve got two songs that make us feel that way. Let’s do another one, let’s experiment, let’s research what keyboards and equipment they used when they made those albums that we loved so much, and let’s go buy that gear.”

We have a friend in Los Angeles that owned a shop that basically sells all that vintage shit so we asked. We were like, “What did they use on that?” And he said, “I’ve got a couple of these things in the back; I don’t normally like to tell people about them, but you’re my friends so I’m going to hook you up.” So we’ve got like a couple of secret things in there that people don’t really know about, that come from like the late ’70s/early ’80s. We just got into, like, that part of it, finding really cool vintage keyboards and letting the sound of those keyboards and drum machines kind of dictate where each song would go, and we were just, like, having a ball. Sooner or later we had eight or nine songs and we were like, “We have something here. Let’s give it a name.”

MONDO: So do you figure your appeal has to do with the way you came together, being from a hip-hop background with such diverse influences?

A12: I think it’s a lot of different things, really…. You take my experience as a DJ, you add in the fact that we both come from a hip-hop background — and there a lot more hip-hop elements in what we do than people actually realize or search to discover. Take that, and the fact that we were influenced by a lot of ’80s bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure and that (Justin) writes a lot of catchy things…

But then you get the people our age and older, you see them out there at the shows that grew up listening to the same shit. We get young kids at shows coming up like, “I didn’t know about you guys until my dad played this for me.” Then we’ll meet the father and he’ll be like, “Yeah, you know, I grew up listening to the same shit you guys do and this really reminds me of it and makes me feel…” You know, one thing we hear is “it makes me feel” a lot from people that really, really dig it. That’s something they say more than “it sounds like.” “It sounds like” is more like a journalist’s kind of thing to say. Add all those things up and it kind of describes why those people on the dance floor are there.

Sister Suvi

Posted by music On May - 21 - 2007

Liberating the uke from annoying Hawaiian sing-alongs.

By Daniel Ian Taylor

Montreal’s Sister Suvi have accomplished plenty in their short lifetime as a band, most recently the North American tour that closed with their Wavelength show here in Toronto. In addition to amassing a collection of catchy and off-kilter songs, they’ve also done what few dare to do: they’ve rescued the much-overlooked ukulele from music’s kennel of forgotten underdog instruments and have gone on to feed, groom and nurture it into the admirable canine, capable of winning the Kentucky Derby. In the midst of their tour, Sister Suvi printed off MONDO’s questions and answered them in the car as they wound their way through the States and back home to Canada.

MONDO: The first thing that struck me when listening to the band was instrumentation. The ukulele goes a long way towards defining the band’s sound with the tone it creates and the chord phrasings that get used. Was the band built around the instrument, or is it a layer that is added to the songs? Are songs typically written on/for the uke, or written on guitar for it to be added later? Apart from helping to give the band a unique sound, do you ever feel limited by it, or that it dictates the feel of a song you’re working on?

Merrill: Well, Patrick and I started the band as a duo of nylon-string guitar and tenor ukulele, so it’s always been a part of the sound. The uke was particularly problematic when Nico came in with drums; we did a lot of work to figure out how it would even be heard in a louder context. We cut a bunch of songs from our repertoire that weren’t working anymore. We’re still figuring it out, and trying to make sure that the uke is never there arbitrarily, but only if it adds to the whole sound. Someday it might stop working, at which point I’ll break it into a million pieces and set it on fire, live, onstage. Be there for that show.

Beyond the instrumentation, I was also drawn in by the band’s use of rhythm. It comes across not only in the drums, but the instrumentation, and even the vocals. There’s a lot of creativity in the rhythmic presentation of the lyrics, and it adds as much to the songs as the melodies that are being sung. Does rhythm carry a special importance when you’re composing?

Merrill : Yes, rhythm is of utmost importance to me, especially since playing instruments is a relatively recent thing for me as a musician, as opposed to singing. I often use the uke as a percussive instrument rather than a melodic/harmonic one. I also have experience in arranging for vocal ensembles, in which there is great attention paid to the intersection of varied poly-rhythmic parts. So I tend to view the voice, even when singing lyrics, as a percussive texture. Sometimes I derive lyrics rhythmically instead of conceptually, so that might be why they come across as bizarre and nonsensical at times.

Does the band get put on hold when Patrick is needed with Islands?

Patrick: Merrill has a solo project called tune-yards with uke and looping pedal. It’s sort of a mixed blessing to have other commitments, because it means the time that we have for this band is sacred. When we can dedicate a month to Sister Suvi it means a lot to all of us, and it’s something we look forward to and cherish.

Nico: I also play with a number of other bands in Toronto, including Pterodactyl, God’s Gift to Yoda and The Lost Boys.

Though I’ve never seen you live, I’ve been to YouTube and that is close enough. It looks like a lot of fun. Do live shows rate way above recording for you, or are they about even?

Merrill: Live shows are where our focus is these days, and it’s just a completely different experience from recording. For us, being a relatively young band, it’s a priceless experience to go play our music for six people in Kalamazoo, and learn infinite amounts about listening to each other as musicians, how and when songs work or don’t work, and how this music can sustain us on a pretty grueling DIY tour.

Montreal has had a lot of success in recent years with bands and artists reaching lots of international success, but it’s also brought a lot of attention to acts whose music isn’t as immediately accessible. What’s your take on the Montreal buzz from the last few years? Any Montreal acts you feel have been passed over?

Merrill: Montreal is an ideal city, in many ways, for artists; as with a lot of cities which have been overlooked or marginalized economically, there’s a period of time where rents are cheap, food is cheap, and small art and music venues pop up all over the place. Montreal is also a small city, so pretty much everything is walk-able or bike-able, and there’s a culture of people going out to shows, and appreciating not only the headliner but the whole bill.

It makes sense that a lot of great bands have come out of this scene, and also that they end up being bands that have had a freedom of experimentation, using atypical instrumentation, collaborating with visual artists in the creation of a total band aesthetic, etc. We’ve been really lucky to reap the benefits of the city. If you want to talk about overlooked, you should talk first about the entirety of the Francophone music scene in Montreal.

Patrick: Probably 75% of what goes on in the city is in French and has been exempt from coverage in the hype over the last couple years. It’s also worth acknowledging that a huge portion of the musicians representing Montreal to the world over the last couple years are actually from English Canada and the States. This has to do with the magnetic pull of the city’s culture, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but should definitely be looked at. Anyway, a few bands making great music that haven’t gotten much press are Torngat, the Coal Choir, Alden and Adam, Sharcut and Is That the Sound of My Voice?

Maybe I should have asked this question first because it’s been the one occupying my mind the most, but oh well. Will there be puppets at any upcoming shows?

Patrick: Incorporating puppetry into what we do has been a long-time ambition of ours, but the spatial constraints of touring in a Chevy Prizm have killed that dream for the short term. We’ll see though.

Sister Suvi can be found at

Rebekah Higgs

Posted by music On March - 12 - 2007

In Interview; candid, a little strung-out and slightly violent.

By Daniel Ian Taylor

Haligonian songstress Rebekah Higgs is touring her way ever-inland, introducing old followers and new fans to the catchy electro-folk music that has brought her fame and friendship across the East coast. Rebekah took some time this week to talk with MONDO about her new album, her cross-Canada tour, and which Canadian musician she’d most like to force-feed a sandwich and then punch in the stomach.

MONDO: Your new album is an interesting mix of acoustic and electronic elements. How did you arrive at this decision? How do you decide when to flesh out a song and when to keep it more organic?
Rebekah Higgs: The style in which we recorded the album really allowed for a lot of creative freedom on my part. Each day Thomas (Rider Payne) and I sat down with a track to work on, so each track became a little artistic project on its own. Because we didn’t have any specific ideas about the tracks before the day in which we sat down with the track, we were able to just do what sounded and felt right in the moment.

MONDO: You work in a genre where you either have to share a big part of yourself with complete strangers or get the hell off the stage. Is this difficult? Is there a division between Stage Rebekah and Everyday Rebekah? Would you avoid writing about an experience or person or moment even though it would make a kickass song?
RH: I don’t hold back when I write, and I have never been very good at separating a stage Rebekah from an everyday Rebekah. I think being honest and genuine on stage is what captivates my audience and what intrigues the listener on the record.

In my side trip-hop project, Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, I have built up a little alias for myself, taking on my grandmothers’ names Ruby and Jean and creating a stage name. I love performing as Ruby Jean and as Rebekah, but in both projects I let the music bring out what it will in me. Being real and present in each song allows the audience in.

MONDO: Canadian music still has its Celine Dions and Nickelbacks to live down. If there was a famous Canadian artist or group you could get in a dark alley and take a swing at — closed fist, one good shot in the stomach, no consequences — who would it be?
RH: I wouldn’t necessarily like to hit someone, but I would love to shove some food down Kalan Porter’s throat. He looks like he hasn’t eaten since he won Canadian Idol.

RH: …

RH: Fuck, where do I start! Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Kalan Porter, Eva Avila, Hedley. Need I go on?

MONDO: No, that will do nicely. As a touring musician, you get to see a lot more of Canada than most Canadians (excluding truck drivers and Rick Mercer), and you get to do it in a context that is both professional and social. Where does this rate on your “why I love my job” scale, and how has it changed how you perceive Canada?
RH: By the end of my tour in December my body was rejecting me. I broke out in a rash from sleeping next to a bunny, then my neck seized up from couches and lugging my 26-pound Gretsch guitar on the public transit in Vancouver. Although my tours are far from glamourous, for some reason as soon as I get home I can’t wait to get back on the road again. Being able to travel so frequently definitely ranks at the top of my list.

Touring hasn’t changed my perception of Canada; it has just confirmed what I already knew and love about this country. Our country is built on hospitality, and musicians have embraced this quality; I can tour solo and pick up a drummer or a bass player to fill in. There is still this overwhelming element of “I do this for the love of music” that keeps us all going.

MONDO: As you get farther from the coast, does it change how you approach a crowd you’re performing for? Are Toronto shows a tough sell compared to other crowds?
RH: As much as I love the Halifax music scene, I thoroughly enjoy experiencing other music communities and playing to a new crowd. The last time we played in Toronto for Wavelength, my drummer didn’t even make it past Fredericton. He started coughing up blood and we spent the night in the emergency room watching all the late night party incidents come through the hospital doors.

Despite this, my experiences in Toronto have all been great. I hope that people will leave feeling like they experienced the music with us, that the music was moving and challenging and enjoyable. I never perform the same way twice, so there is a component to the music that can only be experienced live.

A Simple, Modest, Evil Vision.

Posted by music On January - 28 - 2007

An interview with The Phonemes.

By Daniel Ian Taylor

In the bewildering world of Language, a phoneme is the subtle addition of a single letter that can affect a drastic change in the meaning of a word or sentence. Observe: “My ex-wife is going to kill me! I was supposed to send her my monkey, but I lost it at the racetrack.”
Here in Toronto, The Phonemes are gaining momentum with harmony-driven songs that share the same quiet understatement and stunning impact of the band’s syntactical namesake. Soon to release some new material through the Blocks Recording Club, The Phonemes took some time to discuss their band, their city and their plans for the future.

MONDO: For many a reader, this will be an introduction. How would you like to introduce the band?
Magali Meagher: Introducing Matias Rozenberg on drums and details, Liz Forsberg on bass and books and Magali Meagher on guitar and grammar. Sometimes we have special guests like Shayna on saw, James or Paige on drums, Bob on accordion or Owen on violin. As Cab Williamson once so eloquently put it, “The Phonemes are great.”

MONDO: How did the band come about in the first place?
MM: I lived in a warehouse space at King and Portland that was home to lots of cultural and political activity. Treasa Levasseur, who was my neighbour, organized a show that featured women musicians called Uteronomy. Matias saw me play and afterwards we started playing in my kitchen, he on a tiny palm-sized cymbal, and me on guitar. Liz and I have known one another since high school in Guelph and a year or so after casually playing with Matias, I asked Liz if she’d be interested in playing with me too.

MONDO: After playing in a larger band like the Hidden Cameras, how does playing with The Phonemes compare? Do you take more control over the songs and their arrangements, or is it still collaborative?
MM: My experience of the Hidden Cameras was that a veneer of collaboration existed only in the sense that Joel appropriated the combined energies and contributions of the members of his band and went out of his way to take credit for all of it. Compensation was forced and communication was stunted. Having said this, I think that being responsible for a band can be really hard, especially when your fear of having people mad at you dominates the way you operate. I’m definitely not immune to this. I’m afraid and nervous most of the time. It’s really difficult to negotiate competing needs and desires between friends. I write a song on guitar — melody and lyrics — and then bring it to the group. Once Liz and Matias listen to the song, the arrangements are a collaborative effort. Liz and Matias write their own parts.
Matias Rozenberg: Magali is a communicative, straight-up, compassionate band leader who takes responsibility over her own words and actions.

MONDO: How does the city come into the equation? Are you in Toronto specifically to play music, or do you play music and just happen to be here?
MR: My parents brought me here from Argentina as a kid and I never left.
MM: I came to Toronto for Casa Loma.
Liz Forsberg: Our unrehearsed aesthetic is the result of a lack of free basements to practice in.
MM: Yes. So if we ever sound bad it’s TORONTO’s fault. Seriously. I mean… we should probably get some people together and organize a viable shared rehearsal space. I think this sort of thing happened in Spain once. Of course, there is always that dream of the enchanted, all encompassing building: venue, recording/rehearsal spaces, art studio, roof top garden, water slide, gelatin-free jujube factory.

MONDO: Do you have a specific timeline or plans for this band?
MM: We’ve got a record coming out (likely in February) on Blocks and I will be playing those songs during a spring tour in western Canada and the U.S.A. with Jason (the dad in the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players) and Bob Wiseman. We’re also recording with Steve Kado in a few weeks for a 7″ that will be coming out as part of the Tomlab Alphabet series.

MONDO: Are there any milestones or goals where you’ll feel you’ve made it, or done what you’ve set out to do?
LR: We’ll be happy when Mini-pops puts out a version of our EP.
MM: This would be sooo good. Channel 4, are you reading this?!

MONDO: From what I’ve heard of your music, it focuses more on melody and vocal harmony than filling a room with noise. Does a smaller venue suit you as a band?
MM: I was chatting about this with Steph, who does projections for Final Fantasy, after a show we played in Edmonton. We were playing a large campus bar and the feeling of the place was distinct before, during and after the show, but it was still the same room. This is part of what is both exciting and terrifying about performing — it can be unpredictable once a space is filled with people — so it isn’t inherently about the space but the weather systems that pass through it.

MONDO: What about the show itself? What would you like people to wander away from your performances saying to themselves?
MM: Hopefully they will have received the spirit of Zoltanius in their hearts, the wisdom of Toofgog and the courage of Lakaria and will pass these messages on to the rest of the residents of Tawrana.

MONDO: Uhh…. (backs out of the room)



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