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Artist of the Week: Michal Majewski

Posted by art On November - 20 - 2007

By Kerry Freek

Known for his metal tendencies and great fluffy chops, Oshawa’s Michal Majewski is a welcoming, down-to-earth show promoter, band member, label owner, and graphic designer, among other titles. Last week we had a conversation through email which began with the Polish word for “hi”. Ladies and gentlemen — Michal Majewski, friendly printmaker.

MONDO: Cześć Michal! Do me a favour and describe your style.

MICHAL MAJEWSKI: What is style, but a visual idea presented to a viewer, mostly generalized into a category for easy reference. Sure. However, classification has many outlets that form the overall picture. In my case, the line, image, and type make up the backbone of most designs. Photo collage, humour, the abstract, and the bizarre fill in the gaps. Awkward sensations are kindly welcome too.

MONDO: You’re kind of manic, Michal. Your prints range from very clean to very messy-but-detailed designs — you try out a lot of different media and styles. What happens inside your head when you start doing a show poster? How do you arrive at a final design idea — what’s your process? Do you take into account the bands on the bill? The type of music? The venue?

MM: The bands involved play a major role in the concept of each poster. There’s certain ideas that work with one act and won’t fit another. Lyrics, song titles, the general band image help me shape the overall piece. A good brainstorm session is key, accompanied by a pencil and a sketch book. There are always wild ideas floating around in my head, weird visions I want to bring out into the open. Medium used reflects the final scheme, but image and type usually dominate. That’s what pulls you in.

MONDO: How did you come to be making show posters?

MM: It began when I started booking shows, around 2001. To promote the gigs, I started making really poor cut and paste flyers. As time went by, my craft improved and a certain recognizable style developed. I didn’t start screen printing my posters until a year or so ago. Before, it was mainly photocopy, digital and stencil work. Fun, nonetheless.

MONDO: Tell us about your metal label. How did that come about?

MM: Music is a big part of my life. Record trading has been an avid hobby of mine that first sparked the interest of releasing music; my own band’s, as well as others’. The label became another way of reaching music enthusiasts entwined in the metal, grind, hc, punk underground around the world. For example, trading music with someone from the Canary Islands! The first record was a collaboration between two bands I really liked and knew well (Ontario vs Quebec). The result was a split 7″ that got the whole affair off the ground.

MONDO: Describe your studio/workshop.

MM: It’s a marvelous space of clutter; unfurnished with scattered tools, scraps of paper and hardened paint. Portioned on one side with the digital links, while the adjacent half is a print-friendly, hands-on kind of environment. Books, supplies and my music collection hold the middle ground. All fitted nicely into bare, white walls, looking westward onto a semi-busy residential street.

MONDO: You’re currently set up in Oshawa. I haven’t been living in town since the early days of Cuff the Duke and The Mark Inside. What’s the music scene like there now?

MM: It’s a thriving scene with filtered quality, where solid individuals work wonders under limited conditions. The lack of cheap, all-ages venues has always been a problem. Most bars, on the other hand, only cater to a certain music style. A confusing city, with an interesting music, past and present. Bands move on and move out, some choose to remain. The Velvet Elvis keeps the right spirit alive within the live forum; The Dungeon is still kicking, too.

MONDO: Got any future art-related plans? Do tell.

MM: Other than the ongoing art/design work I’m involved with, there is a plan for a small expo in the new year. A series of art prints, mixed with rock posters and some wacky t-shirt designs. I have thought about inviting other poster artists from around Ontario to participate in this event, here in Oshawa. Should be a slice!

Want to check out more of Michal’s prints?

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.

J. Bone Interviewed: Embarrassment-free Gay Space Men

Posted by Comics On October - 9 - 2007

An interview with J. Bone

By Owen K. Craig

“It started out as a birthday invitation,” J. Bone explains, “I drew a space guy and loved how he looked.” That was the beginning of Jett Vector, J. Bone’s new character who will star in his own series, currently seeking distribution. “I want it to be a light, fun, gay comSaving the universe...and looking great doing it!ic that a teen can pick up and not be embarrassed by it. As a kid I would pick up He-Man or Neil Adams’ Batman and find things before you’re ready to express what you want to see. I want to have a gay-friendly, discovery-friendly book.”

As he explains his concept, J. Bone’s passion for the character and drive behind the project become clear. He’s excited to talk about it. His eyes light up as he talks about how he came up with various plot points and how these plots all come from his perception of the world as a gay man: “I keep seeing guys I believe are gay, but they talk about their wives and I scratch my head. So I took that and I put Jett Vector on this planet of all women where they have kidnapped men and forced the men to live among them.” He laughs as he explains the concept, “Jett’s co-pilot is one of the kidnapped men and Jett has to foil the plan.”

J. Bone has his share of famous friends he can call upon to get help with his projects (at one point he worked heavily with Darwyn Cooke), but this time the project is so personal that he wants to work on it himself. “Originally I called in B. Clay Moore and asked him to help with the writing. We worked out a loose plot and an opening scene. But then I realized that I wanted to do it on my own. I talked to Clay and he was okay with it, but I still did some drawings of his character Hawaiian Dick as a sort of quid pro quo. You know, to make things even-steven.”

After being briefly distracted discussing how great Arrested Development was, J. Bone wrapped it up with some final selling points about Jett Vector: “I love 50’s cheesecake. I’ve got a spaceship of female pirates, a villain with a mail-order groom business, all that great stuff, but in a discovery-friendly comic book.”

Darwyn Cooke

Posted by Comics On October - 2 - 2007

A New Frontier for DC

Interview by Owen K. Craig

If you haven't read it, head to the store now.

If you haven't read it, head to the store now.

With his jaunty hat and cigarette hanging loosely from his mouth, Darwyn Cooke looks as though he may have leapt from the pages of one of his comics. He could easily have stepped out of his revival of Will Eisner’s The Spirit or his miniseries DC: The New Frontier, which is now being adapted as an animated film.

Cooke has been a fan of The Spirit since discovering the character at the age of 14, uncovering the reprints in Warren Magazine. “Eisner’s ability to tell a story was so advanced compared to the rest”, Cooke describes. “I became obsessed. I spent most of my high school years immersed in Eisner’s work.”

The Spirit was an industry legend. For almost fifty years, Will Eisner would not let anybody use the character in ongoing publication, nor would he revive the character himself. When DC approached Cooke with the opportunity to follow in his idol’s footsteps, it was an understandably daunting task. “It took a while to convince myself.” In approaching the character, Cooke and his co-artist J. Bone looked at what the original series was truly about. “If I were to sum up the series in one word, it would be humanity. Everything and anything that might entail. Eisner was far more concerned with the human condition than with feats of daring do.”

Speaking of his working relationship with J. Bone, he says “it’s hard to pin down why it works so well. We’re very different people: he’s cute and I’m ugly, he’s gay and I’m straight, he likes chicken and I like beef. But when it comes down to it, he’s the only guy I know who brings the same sensibilities to the table that I have. J is also the embodiment of what it means to be a professional, which is almost an out of date notion in this day and age. His work is always on time and always at a high level of quality. He is a perfect friend and collaborator.” Then he quickly jokes, “he pays me to say that.”

 

The Spirit is about to do something awesome.

The Spirit is about to do something awesome.

Now that Cooke and Bone are moving on fromThe Spirit series after issue 12, they will be sorely missed. But Cooke will be keeping an eye on the character: “I don’t know where DC is going. I hope that the creators approach the title with the same commitment and passion that we have.”

 

Recently, Cooke’s Eisner- and Shuster-award winning miniseries DC: The New Frontier has been getting renewed publicity due to a feature length animated DVD adaptation being made. “People who enjoyed the book will be pleasantly surprised by how much of the story we were able to maintain. The crew worked hard to maintain the flavour of the book and source material.” The miniseries won fans through its depiction of a more idyllic time in DC’s stories, without glossing over what a complicated time it was, as well. It was a reaction to the books of the day and an acknowledgement of the world the characters were created in. “With New Frontier we wanted to remind everybody that you can tell a compelling story about heroic characters without raping them or turning them into drug addicts or really bringing them down to our level.”

What’s next for Darwyn Cooke? I’m glad you asked. In addition to some creator-owned graphic novels he’s working on, there will be a DC: The New Frontier one-shot comic released to coincide with the DVD movie. Plus, he is currently working on a top-secret project that he can’t speak of yet. But rest assured, for fans of Darwyn Cooke, it’ll be worth the wait.

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 myspace.com/sistersuvi

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.

MONDO: ANSWER THE QUESTION!!!
RH: …

MONDO: …
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.

Mike Parsons’ Comic Book from the Pavement

Posted by art On February - 4 - 2007

Burnt muppets and other dystopic visions, as inspired by the streets of Toronto.

By Leo K. Moncel

Mike Parsons is an artist who works on the streets, drawing about the streets. You can often find him drawing on Queen St W, near Spadina. Parsons’ black and white cartoons are bold attacks and direct satires on the way we live in the city. Appropriately, the art is vicious, sometimes hellish, but through it, Parsons finds the fun.

When I meet Parsons, he is having a party to say goodbye to his old Kensington Market studio. The unit has been completely cleared out minus a few essentials, but the space is crowded with ideas, wall-papered in Parsons’ art. Parsons is smooth-faced and shaved shinily bald. He is a small man who is soft-spoken. Immediately after introductions, Parsons jumps into interpreting one of his larger pieces, which dominates the hallway.

“It starts with two kinds of people. There are people who are wired up or on cell phones and they’re drooling and a little bit out of it and there’s people who are not wired up and they’ve got extra eyes. They can see a little bit more than everybody else.” He brings attention to the center of the piece.

“The hero is based from the novel [Harrison Bergeron] where everybody has to wear handicaps so everybody stays at the same pace, nobody accelerates. And there’s a comparison between them and all the wires everybody wears and that’s the future,” Parsons laughs nervously.

“That’s what I see on the streets everyday, everybody putting headphones in their faces all the time – can’t pay attention to what they’re doing.” He gestures across the whole page, “From there all the way to here is all the ideas in one big piece.”

Parsons leads me into a large, windowed room and points to a quiet, lonely piece on the back of the door. “That was [one] of the first things I ever did. Really abstract buildings, faceless people just spiraling over and over again. The more time I sat on Queen Street drawing, the more the characters started to have faces.” He points to a radically different piece, a chaotic jumble of faces in a crowd, “This one is an illustration when I’m sitting right in the middle of it. It’s exactly what I’m seeing everyday,”

Parsons takes me out to the sidewalk where he works on a sign for the party.

“How much time do you spend down there on the street, in a week?”
“Probably about 40-50 hours. Almost everyday, but weekends are the fun time. I like to do lots of drawings when it’s the busiest. You’re not in a gallery where people are looking for art. You’re just sitting in the middle of all these clothing stores – what you need is volumes and volumes of people to find those people who are actually interested, and the more people that are out there, the more exciting it is, cause you’re catching them offguard.

“On the street-” Parsons becomes impassioned, “you’re meeting all kinds of people who never thought they were ever gonna see your drawings and all of a sudden you’re sitting there. And after a while, people have started to come back to find us and see what we’re doing, so it’s pretty cool.

“It’s totally different from any time I’ve ever exhibited – when it’s a lot of very rich people with a lot of money but not necessarily buying – it’s not as much fun, you don’t meet people.”

“Have you always worked in this style, drawing about the same sort of things, same sort of themes?”
“Yeah, this is almost an ongoing project for five or six years and each time it changes and adds to itself but it’s always sort of the same comic book. Little bits and pieces are all upstairs there; they all are part of the same story.”

“So, far from getting redundant for you, it’s getting deeper and bigger as you go?”
“And it’s getting more fun. And a lot of times, looking back on things that I thought were redundant, you put it away for a while and look back on it and it’s fresh and new again. It’s always exciting and lots of fun. LOTS of fun.”

He finishes the sign and we head back upstairs. The party is filling in. “The fun thing about [art] is making it, people watching it being made and people’s reactions to it. Sometimes they are scary stories, but it’s totally smiles, it’s never like, people going home to cry after they look at these horror stories. If it was all serious, I’d probably be insane. Like, the most depressed, horrified person. These guys, people often told me,” he gestures to a wall of small, monstrous faces, “they look like Muppets that’ve been burnt. So that’s very childish. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

You can check out Mike Parsons’ art at www.heyapathy.com.
His studio is currently located at 75 Kensington Ave. #303, in Kensington Market, and is open to the public on weekends.

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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MONDO is a non-profit, weekly, Toronto-based, online magazine that focuses on arts, culture, and humour. We’re interested in art of all kinds (music, theatre, visual art, film, comics, and video games) and the pop culture that we inhabit.The copyright on all MONDO magazine content belongs to the author. If you would like to pay them for more content, please do. To contact MONDO please email us at editor@mondomagazine.net

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