Adam White of Some Party in Discussion 28 Oct. 2020
Interview and Illustration by Raymond Biesinger
Welcome to 2020, a year in which live music is in an indefinite coma, a Canadian music email mailing list puts out compilations, and a weird record label-type thing interviews people between projects. Pretend it's a decade earlier and the preceding sentence seems nonsensical, but here we are; Pentagon Black is interviewing Adam White, Punknews.org's unofficial managing editor and founder/sole contributor of the Some Party weekly email newsletter, a publication that has shared information about "the latest independent Canadian rock'n'roll" in about 170 instalments. Given we’re all sitting around on computers, it feels like a good interview to conduct right now. Things discussed in this article include:
1. Some Party (http://someparty.ca) 2. Flemish Eye (http://flemisheye.com) 3. Punknews.org (http://punknews.org) 4. “E-mail Newsletters are the New Zines” (http://medium.com/email-newsletters) 5. Under the Circumstances (http://someparty.ca/store/under-the-circumstances) 6. Bloodstains Across Ontario (http://mammothcave.bandcamp.com/album/mcr017) 7. Constantines (http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantines) 8. Niagara Falls (http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Niagara_Falls) 9. Warehouse Concert Hall (http://warehouseniagara.com) 10. Motorists (http://motorists.bandcamp.com) 11. the Beguiling (http://beguilingbooksandart.com) 12. Tough Age (http://mintrecs.com/artist/tough-age) 13. TJ Cabot (http://tjcabot.bandcamp.com) 14. Deathsticks (http://buysomedeathsticks.bandcamp.com) 15. Barnacle (http://facebook.com/barnaclemtl)
RB. A long, long, time ago I had a discussion with Flemish Eye founder Ian Russell in which he said there were 500 people in Canada who could be interested in the kind of music he was making, deeply enough to commit to buying a record of his or go to a show. It wasn't a defeatist thing, so much a practical consideration when pressing records, doing media, booking tours, etc. Has Some Party broken the "Russell Barrier"? Can I ask how many subscribers Some Party has, or is that secret?
AW. It shouldn't give me any pause to reveal the subscriber count. There's a privacy-focused, anti-commercial, sentiment to the whole project that should spit in the face of the entire notion of privately held audience metrics, yet here I am. Pausing…. I suppose just for the sake of my own fragile vanity. It's a kingdom built on layers of sunk cost fallacy and my stubborn inability to walk away from things. I'm hesitant, perhaps wrongly, to shine too much of a judgemental light on my wasted years.
As of writing this, Some Party is four or five subscribers shy of 700. There's relatively little churn in that list, as well, just a slow but constant creep upwards. There's some more of an audience that looks at the website without subscribing to the mailer, but I don't know their number. They have their reasons for hiding, I'm sure.
That said, Ian's hypothesis feels pretty damn close to reality, particularly if you're looking at it from an underground rock standpoint. It's probably safe to assume that number becomes a lot less meaningful if you expand into other genres, but the idea of that limit is kind of neat and relevant to what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
Like, it makes no sense, geographically, why a festival like Ottawa Explosion (RIP) would pull the bands in that it did, (with people driving in from Halifax or flying in from Calgary and Vancouver just to play tiny bar shows over a weekend) unless the community surrounding this music really is that small and tightly bound. I remember watching people shouting along to Needles//Pins outside of Club Saw at Ottawa Explosion a few years back and being floored how many in that crowd knew those lyrics. That's not a big band, by any means, and they're from 3500 kilometres away. I could wander that crowd and recognize the same faces you'd see at Sappyfest in New Brunswick or showing up to watch Fucked Up play the Horseshoe. Shit, I was flown seven hours north to Rouyn-Noranda once to cover FME, and I ran into familiar faces even there. It's not that big of a community, but I relish pointing out the connections between the people within it.
RB. How did Some Party start?
AW. Existential crisis on a cruise ship! I used the name back in 2012 for a little Canadian punk podcast that went nowhere, but the real germ of it came together on a lounge chair of a Royal Caribbean boat while my wife and I were on vacation. I was burnt out on what I was trying to accomplish with Punknews.org and spent much of that trip trying to figure out a way forward.
There was a time, let's say in 2004, when I could sit on a couch at my parents' house and churn out 8 or 10 good Punknews stories a day, genuinely engaged with the comings and goings of Fat Wreck and Epitaph, Hopeless and Asian Man. It absolutely felt like the work we were doing was helping the bands and labels we covered. It's a vast genre, though, and the more I tried to keep up with Southern California and Chicago, the more I found myself gravitating to the music I could see locally, punk or otherwise. Exclaim and CBC Radio 3 grew essential to me. I was gushing over the New Pornographers and the Sadies and the Three Gut Records roster when everyone else got into emo. As the years went on, I was increasingly and exclusively using Punknews as a means to shoehorn in stories about weird, not-exactly-punk-except-maybe-in-spirit bands like Jon-Rae and the River, Bruce Peninsula, or the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir.
There was also a lingering issue with Punknews from a responsibility standpoint. I was the longest-serving contributor, other than the owner (who's spent the better part of the past decade in a hands-off capacity, editorially). I was nominally referred to as the site's managing editor. My time was increasingly devoted to fighting interpersonal fires from label owners or PR vets who felt that their long-running past relationships with the site inferred a certain amount of reciprocity in coverage. Staffing issues started to feel uncomfortable, as well. Punknews is and was entirely volunteer-run, myself included—in many ways, it's a holdout from the wild west of pre-social media hobby blogs. It was one thing for us old-timers to keep it going, but I couldn't bring myself to farm new contributors into an environment where they'd have those relationships thrust upon them. Not for no pay, not these days. While I never felt my labour was exploited by Punknews, at the same that time I couldn't just naively run HR and ops management for a publication I ultimately have no real control over. That's too fucking fraught, even if everyone has the best of intentions.
So I found myself wanting to do something I had ownership over—that would live or die by my own biases and require nothing of anyone else. All that's predicated on the fact that I couldn't just recognize that 15 years was a "good run," quit, buy some video games, and live my life like a goddamn normal person.
RB. How did you settle on the format? Email lists are usually a branch of something bigger, rather than a thing in themselves.
AW. Before I settled on email, the plan was always to do something weekly. I wanted to free myself of the pressure to have news posted when it was fresh and relevant. I'd often stumble across some song I wanted to share on Punknews, but we fancied ourselves a journalistic organization, so if it wasn't something I could frame as “news” I'd have to set aside. We were always scrambling to react to things as they happened, and if we didn't, we'd get blowback. Heaven forbid someone notable die, and our unpaid contributors wait a few days to post about it. We'd get eaten alive by the commenters.
After that cruise, I stumbled across a blog post on Medium.com titled "Email Newsletters are the new Zines." It used photocopied punk zines as a colourful analogy for the resurgence in newsletters. It was actually arguing that newsletters were filling the long-form writing itch previously occupied by personal blogs. I'm not that sophisticated, so I guess I took it at face value.
The cool thing about newsletters is that they free you from much of the Search Engine Optimization bullshit that's homogenized the rest of the Internet while catering to big tech. All that nonsense prose you have to sift through to find a good cooking recipe online is the direct result of publishers over-applying these Google-fostered practices at the expense of the reader. A newsletter is so old school that you have to reject much of contemporary content strategy to do it right. That's freeing for me.
RB. Tell me about the Under the Circumstances compilation you put out in the Spring.
AW. I grew up mainlining ‘90s punk compilations, the Punk'o'Rama, Give ‘Em The Boot, and Fat Music standards, of course, but also Canadian sets like Stomp's All Skanadian Club. Hell, the freebie comps you used to get with magazines introduced me to more essential music than I'd care to admit.
The Bloodstains Across Ontario 7" that Mammoth Cave put out in 2011 felt like the pinnacle of the form, in terms of aesthetic, and I can't deny that the Pentagon Black comps were top of mind as well. Not to kiss too much ass here, but the role those collections play in sonically documenting a time and place in the scene are pretty much unequalled. From my perspective, ever on the journalistic end of things, releasing a record is like creating a primary source when all you've ever done is cite others' work. That there's a Discogs entry for Under The Circumstances feels almost salacious. It'll exist in some collectors' database long after I've burnt myself out on the newsletter itself.
The format was very much a result of me attempting to navigate a way to do this fairly and cheaply. While I'd love to do vinyl, that's not something I wanted to gamble on with an entirely new property. Cassettes are cheap and fun, very much in the spirit of the kind of scrappy underground bands I tend to write about. Only looping in five bands allowed me to give each a big enough chunk of the run that it felt substantive.
We did a few over-the-top silly hip-hop styled mixtapes with Punknews over the years, full of dumb skits and shout outs between songs. I didn't go overboard with that aspect, but I definitely dipped my toe in that. Steve Lambke from You've Changed Records graciously appeared on the intro, in which I retroactively ask him for permission to name the Some Party newsletter after the Constantines song. Steve's public persona's pretty strait-laced, so that he chose to take part in my dumb little joke was wonderful.
I'll do more of these at some point, but they're certainly not paying for themselves. The 500 people interested in what we do divides down to a pretty small number when you add "cassette comp" to the Venn diagram.
RB. How has the COVID changed what you do? I'm asking that on a few levels. Have you been able to dedicate as much time to Some Party as before? Have other people become more (or less) interested in what you're doing, or changed how they respond to the newsletter?
AW. I am fortunate enough to have a day job that can stay open remotely during a lockdown. I'm a software developer, so I could quickly transfer to working from home, although having two bored kids at my heels all summer wasn't ideal. I imagine that Some Party certainly would have benefitted from a bit of isolation and idle time, but I'm hardly going to complain about how good I've had it.
What absolutely fell apart during the lockdown was any sense of a rhythm I had. Even with the weekly schedule, Some Party takes a fair bit of time to assemble. I figured out where to steal a half-hour here or there before the shutdown, but since I've been home all the time, everything's been a blur. My Sunday column's oozed out to become more of a Wednesday-or-Thursday thing as a result, and I'm continually racing the calendar. With the letter focused more on media than touring, my inflow of content hasn't dwindled one bit with the lack of shows. Those Bandcamp artist support days have, if anything, made for some long nights trying to capture it all.
RB. Even pre-COVID, I didn't get out too much on account of two kids and being a bit of a depressive. I have a theory that a lot of musical institutions are operated by old people who feel the need to stay engaged with music but can't stay awake past 9:30 PM. Anyway, you're in Niagara Falls. You've been writing for Punk News for two decades. I suspect you might be "old" too, just like I am. How often would you go to shows before this virus thing happened? What did you tend to check out, when and where?
AW. It's been a struggle. The early Punknews crew used to joke with each other using this #oldpunx hashtag. Figuring out how to navigate music while ageing out of youth culture is undoubtedly a central theme in my life. If I had to guess, I was hitting up on average just a couple shows a month before the pandemic.
Living here shows always involve driving somewhere, 90 per cent of the time solo. The notion of being part of some hyperlocal bar scene where one could see live music with a regular social circle then transit on home afterwards always felt like a decadent fantasy to me, even before I had two kids. That's the road I didn't take after university. That's “Toronto Adam White”, but “Toronto Adam White” doesn’t own a house either, so it cuts both ways.
Niagara can be a bit of a cultural desert for the kind of music I write about. From a touring perspective, it’s in between two markets, so most bands don't stop here even though they drive through it. If a show's not happening in St. Catharines (about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls), that means I've got to commit to getting myself to and from Hamilton or Toronto. For years I would absolutely do that: truck up to see a band play the Horseshoe or the Garrison a few times a month, then hop in the car and cruise on home. I can't do it anymore. The notion of dozing off on the Queen Elizabeth highway just feels too irresponsible and too damn likely as I get older. If I'm up to Toronto for anything these days (pre-COVID "these days"), it means I'm there for the night, and that gets expensive.
The Warehouse Concert Hall in St. Catharines, run by Erik Dickson of the old IndoorShoes label, is home base for me. It's the only game in town most nights. In the past few years I've also found myself up at This Ain't Hollywood in Hamilton. While it’s now, sadly, shuttered, I still foresee a lot of Hamilton in my future. The artists who've been priced out of Toronto all seem to be setting up shop there.
Even for shows in St. Catharines, though, I'm always fighting inertia to get out of my house. By the time we get the kids down at night, I'm pretty much obliterated. It's a struggle, to be sure, but a primary motivator for me is that I've not once regretted a show that I've dragged myself out to. I suspect, post-COVID, I'll appreciate those opportunities all the more.
Festivals have become more essential for my wife and I as we get older. By making the trip to Sackville for Sappyfest or Ottawa for Side by Side, we can responsibly binge our way through as many bands as possible over a weekend without needing to worry about the commute. Last year we even took the kids along with us to Beau's Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill, and they had an absolute blast watching dumb punk bands and taking part in that carnival atmosphere. I'd love to make more of that happen.
RB. What was the last show you attended?
AW. Early March. It was to see Motorists, a slick little power-pop group featuring Feel Alright's Craig Fahner on vocals and Jesse Locke of Tough Age drumming. They played a release show for their first cassette in the basement of the Beguiling, a Toronto comic store where Jarrett and Penny from Tough Age work.
In a lot of ways, it was an ideal "last show" for me. I had just started taking my 7-year-old daughter to a few Beguiling gigs. I'm pretty sure I reached the pinnacle of cool, in her eyes, and it's all downhill from here on, as she gets older and realizes how out of touch I am. We'd leave my son and wife at home, drive up in the afternoon and make a whole day of it. The ritual was to hit Sneaky Dee's for a big plate of nachos and an irresponsibly sized milkshake, go people-watch in Kensington Market, then buy some comics from upstairs in the shop before the show. Both times I've taken her, she's fallen asleep on her feet while the last band played, but she still talks about these outings constantly. I can't bring myself to tell her that Sneaks may not be long for this world. So if that's it—if the last live music experience I have until who-knows-when was playing Cool Dad—I’m ok with that.
RB. Wow. I know the overlap between my kids and my music has been limited, but I’ve found a few golden moments like that. Thanks for sharing yours. And well, this feels like a very cheap question to follow up with, but here goes: what are your go-to sources for new music?
AW. My sources are entwined with the fact that I've been with Punknews for 20 years. My inbox there is an unusable mountain of mostly-ignored PR garbage and coverage reach-outs, but I'm so used to it being in my life I take for granted that ordinary people don't have that. When I started the newsletter, I forced myself to get back into the habit of skimming Exclaim daily. My Some Party inbox and the general ambient chatter of my music circles on social media are where I see most things, though.
RB. A few years ago the Famines were on a long drive and dissected an issue of Exclaim. We estimated that more than 85 per cent of the bands covered in their print edition were represented by professional publicists or accompanied by a paid advertisement. Gross. How does a band get covered by Some Party?
AW. I certainly can't deny that publicists impact my output, but it's usually a matter of them catering to a niche I was already following. I saw The Dirty Nil open Niagara shows for five years before any label gave a shit about them, so their inclusion in what I cover was baked in from the start. That’s Dine Alone money making my job easier, but it's not creating intent. A group like METZ fits that bill too. Sonically, and given their history, they're hardly a band I can ignore, but that Sub Pop PR representation certainly makes getting a pull quote easier.
I'm not sure that most publicists know how to work with me, though. Their whole system is tuned towards maximizing the impact of new media as part of a time-focused campaign. I publish weekly, in giant unsegmented columns, and often run things a week or more after their initial push. I also have this stubborn habit of ignoring Spotify links. I don't feel it respects my audience to assume they subscribe to this-or-that walled garden, however ubiquitous it is. Whatever numbers the publicists are trying to gauge likely get chewed up by the newsletter's rhythm and my general intransigence.
Now I feel like I'm giving away a secret here, but I'm subscribed to literally hundreds of Bandcamp mailing lists. That "follow" button on each band's page is invaluable. I'm often writing about a new song before the band's even started pushing it, and often they don't. Musicians can be remarkably poor self-promoters, even with the free tools at their disposal.
Here's a direct example: through the Ottawa Explosion, I became online acquaintances with Matty Grace (of Halifax's Future Girls and a dozen other groups). Through her, I assume, I saw mention of a bedroom demo compilation of east coast bands credited to “Martha Stewart's Prison Cell” (whatever that is). I blindly followed every group involved, and some weeks later, in my pile of emails, there's a Bandcamp notification of new music from TJ Cabot (whoever that is). Cabot puts out this EP of wild Ramones worship that's so low-fi and gnarly that it almost sounds like Spits outtakes. To top it off, they're mostly written about this absurdist Boularderie Island independence movement. You couldn't invent a more Some Party-relevant piece of strange Canadian punk art. So that week, the Some Party led with TJ Cabot. No publicist involved. Vancouver's Industrial Priest Overcoats, an Indigenous-perspective weird-punk solo project from one of Bedwetters Anonymous' members, took a similar route. I do the same thing with the support acts playing with bands that were already on high my radar. If you really want Some Party's eye, open for Tough Age.
RB. Can you name three people in Canadian media who would actually listen to a "Some Party" kind of band if they were emailed a link? LOL. I know. Kind of a bleak question.
AW. That's funny because there's a surprising number of people from the major newspapers with Some Party subscriptions. So while I'm reasonably confident I could convince someone who writes for the Star to listen to PEI's Antibodies, I'm not sure they'd have any mandate to do anything professionally with that information. As soon as you start tying money to eyeballs, there's little business case for anyone to cover this stuff.
By and large, the media people in my circle all fall within that 500 person cohort we were talking about. They've already congregated on ventures like Dominionated or the New Feeling co-op, that or they're pulling double-duty in the bands themselves. So, no? Let's say no. I can't name three.
RB. What does the rest of your life look like? Outside of Some Party, I mean.
AW. What a terrifying question. These days, in particular, I have no idea. But let's face facts: even without the pandemic clipping my wings, with two school-age kids, a day job, and the newsletter, there's not much left to go around. I take a fair amount of solace in cooking and tend to plan our lives around these once-a-week, high-effort, dining room table meals. If I could spend all day in the garden or the kitchen, avoiding the Internet at all costs, I'd be perfectly content. I suppose I'm on a long-term journey to become an old Italian grandparent.
RB. If you had to join a Pentagon Black band, which one would it be?
AW. From a practical standpoint, I feel like Deathsticks would have room in the van and could use some low-end, but I've not touched my bass since high school so I'm probably not of much use. You know that guy who's nominally part of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones but just dances on stage in a suit? I reckon I could do that for Barnacle…. With a snorkel, of course.
Dr. Kelly Shinkaruk in Discussion 27 July 2020
Interview and Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger
Dr. Kelly Shinkaruk isn't a COVID-19 specialist or an epidemiologist. She is, though, a few other things: an MD in Medicine from the U of A, a person who started playing in angular hardcore bands in the late '90s, and the person who introduced me to zine-making when I was still a little DIY baby in Alberta. She's modest about her qualifications, but we think these things all qualify her to distribute very educated guesses about COVID-19 and what it might mean for Canadian musicians in the present and the near-ish future. Things discussed in this interview include:
1. COVID-19 (http://who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019)
2. Loyal Orange Hall (http://edmontonmapsheritage.ca/location/loyal-orange-hall)
3. Foothills Medical Centre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foothills_Medical_Centre)
4. Calgary Chronic Pain Centre (http://cumming.ucalgary.ca/centres/anesthesiology)
5. Chi Pig (http://vancouverisawesome.com/vancouver-news/canadian-punk-legend-mr-chi-pig)
6. PPE (http://cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/healthcare-us/ppe/guidance.html)
7. “bubbles" (http://cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/social-bubble-messaging-lost)
8. Martha Wainright (http://youtube.com/watch?v=HPjm13y5flk)
9. fomite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fomite)
10. saxophones (http://medicine.uiowa.edu/iowaprotocols)
RB. Last time I checked you were playing a StringRay bass at Orange Hall off Whyte Avenue in Edmonton and it was 1999. Things have changed. What were you up to back then, and what have you been up to for the last two decades?
KS. Great memory, considering I only played a few shows with that band. That was an exceptional show; we opened for Ottawa’s Weights and Measures and By A Thread from Vancouver, and that was one of those shows that goes down in the the memory books. A few things have changed since then. Summarizing twenty years can be tricky, but here’s the short version:
After finishing medical school in Edmonton, I headed to Ottawa to do my anesthesia residency and actually split my time between Ottawa and Sudbury. Both of those cities are amazing hotbeds of musical talent—I had the great fortune of playing music with some extremely talented musicians there. I switched to guitar, synths, and vocals in those bands, but the bass was always near and dear to my heart. I had some amazing opportunities, including playing the Ottawa Bluesfest and going on a couple of tours with f!ghtf!ghtf!ght, but my professional career took priority and that band dissolved.
I finished anesthesia residency in 2009 and then spent an extra year doing a fellowship in Chronic Pain Management, and then moved to Calgary in 2010. There, I took a job at the Foothills Medical Center and the Calgary Chronic Pain Center and have worked at both for the past ten years. I also was involved in starting the University of Calgary Pain Medicine Residency Program, and have been working on a never-ending Master’s Degree in Medical Education.
In Calgary I stumbled upon an amazing drummer, Troy Fleischhaker, who I knew back when he played in Mico in the late ‘90s. We joined up with a couple of other super-talented guys (David Tkach and Steven Duggins) and made some music for a stint. Then life went to hell in a hand basket when my partner, Mitchell, and I welcomed our tiny bundle of joy in March 2019. Adding “mom” to my resumée has been, by far, one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had.
RB. What were your three most important records in the 1990s?
KS. Superchunk’s On the Mouth was the first indie record I bought back when I was 13, and it pretty much started me on the road that I ended up on musically. I mean, Laura Balance on bass! Fugazi’s Repeater. What can I say, I literally followed Fugazi on their Western Canada tour. I was a Fugazi head. And SNFU’s Last of the Big Time Suspenders. With the unfortunate news of Mr. Chi Pig’s recent passing and everyone reflecting on how influential he was for several punk generations, it’s clear that discovering SNFU when I was in my early teens in Edmonton was nothing short of mind-blowing. I saw SNFU at the Bronx in 1992 and it was such an incredible and high-energy show. I knew I wanted to find a place in that world.
RB. What have you been doing during Covid-19?
KS. As an older first-time mom, I made the uncommon (among physicians) decision to take a full year off for maternity leave. That means I started back at work at the end of February. As you can imagine, within three weeks our world was flipped upside down. In the anesthesia world, we were pulled in extremely different directions. On the one hand, we were being told that we would be forming the airway/intubation teams that would be responsible for putting breathing tubes in all of these highly infectious and extremely sick individuals, and that we would be redeployed to work in the intensive care units. On the other hand, all the elective operating rooms were shut down, so most of us weren’t working. It was a strange position to be in.
I enjoyed the extra time at home with my son but, there was a constant stress that came from needing to work on the frontlines and then needing to isolate from my family. Fortunately, we didn’t end up needing to form those teams, but the possibility of having to was (and remains) in the back of our minds. Now that we’ve restarted doing elective surgeries, we have to work thinking that every patient has the potential to be COVID positive. We have to be extremely vigilant about personal protective equipment and making sure we protect the operating room staff (and ourselves) from potential exposure. It’s a very strange time.
RB. Wow. I know your time is tight, so let's talk about how bands can function in the Covid-era. I know different provinces have different situations, but in general, what do you think would be the safest way for a four-piece band to practice together in the same room right now? Or should they just not do that?
KS. I’ve heard and read different suggestions for this. Of course, there are the obvious things like having only a small “bubble” of people you are exposed to, social distancing during practice, wearing masks, and frequent hand-washing, but there are finer points like using your own equipment (including dedicated microphones) and not sharing equipment that might become contaminated, especially if you’re in a shared practice space or studio. And enclosed spaces with poor ventilation are much higher risk for transmission of COVID-19, so I suppose bands should make every effort to ensure they practice in larger rooms with good ventilation. Maybe practicing outdoors would be preferable? Also, I was just thinking about how sweaty bands they get, and the moist singing that occurs when belting out the vocals over amps that are turned up full blast. Perhaps everyone should turn down their instruments a few notches.
This is difficult, though, and I really need to think about this one a bit more. I suppose it’s largely about harm reduction and mitigating the spread of this virus, but I think it would be extremely difficult for a typical punk rock band to limit the spread of the virus if someone in the band was unknowingly infected. Sad but true, but it’s probably best just to practice virtually.
RB. It seems hard to decide exactly where the “danger” lines are, and when there aren’t firm guidelines people are going to try to live within their own risk tolerances, for better or for worse. But it definitely seems like the era of the shared microphone is over.
KS. Yep! And as someone who has had the misfortunate of using a spitty gross microphone at various venues, I have brought along my own for a long time!
RB. Clubs in Quebec are being told they can operate at half capacity with social distancing. Already, folks I know are being asked to play in those clubs, and a few weeks ago I received my first show invite since March. This feels ridiculous to me. But maybe I'm overreacting. Should putting crowds and live music indoors together be a thing we wait on?
KS. If your Spidey-sense is tingling, it’s too great a risk! There’s a lot to be said for intuition and for having insider knowledge of how specific venues work. How likely is it that people will maintain social distancing when you need to lean over to your friend to shout in their ear during a loud set? How likely is it that patrons remain vigilant after having a few beers? Will people wear masks continuously at a venue, when it’s already stuffy and poorly ventilated? Will cleaners be able to sanitize all the surfaces in these venues? I think there is a massive difference between a folky acoustic set or an outdoor festival with less capacity, compared to a sweaty, alcohol-infused show in a dank venue. I love those types of shows more than most people, but I can see this as a bit of a hotbed for virus transmission. There have already been viral transmission in gyms that took appropriate precautions and restaurants where people were probably not jumping around on stage and spitting all over their audience.
RB. How bad of an idea are sweaty packed-basement house party shows right now?
KS. Bad idea!
RB. Bands are doing live-streaming shows, of course, and they're also doing outdoor shows. We've all heard of the Italian balcony musicians, Martha Wainright doing the same in Montreal this March, in Saint John the city has acoustic duos playing sidewalk shows, Alberta allows outdoor singing and wind instruments, etc. Is there a medical downside to outdoor performances, other than noise complaints?
KS. Outdoor shows are going to need to be the way we go until we find a better solution for ventilation and maintaining distance and sanitary conditions in enclosed spaces. The summer is a great time to be outside and enjoying some music and entertainment in a park with your bubble. Not sure what’s going to happen here in Calgary come October when it snows, though!
RB. Canadian bands generally spend long hours between distant cities in small vans and sedans. With a few provinces opening up it seems technically possible to play in other cities, but every piece of news I've read suggests that being confined in small places with people not from your home bubble is a bad idea. Are long band drives something we should be putting off?
KS. Yep. Unless you are willing to keep your bandmates as your main bubble or wear a mask continuously with the windows rolled down, it’s best to avoid enclosed spaces for long periods. I’m really worried about what’s going to happen with increased air travel.
RB. Please rank these four options by level of danger: a band sleeping on a stranger's floor, a band sleeping in a hotel room, a band sleeping in their van, and a band just staying home and recording a rock opera.
KS. Oh wow, this isn’t a simple question—I have so many questions. Where is the recording happening? How clean is the stranger and van? How much alcohol has been imbibed and did it splash all over high touch areas? Since experts still have limited understanding of how COVID is transmitted, and a lot seems to be from unknown sources, you never know who or what fomite could have virus particles on it. We don’t know how much virus is necessary for transmission to occur. That said, from lowest risk to highest risk: stay at home and record a rock opera, a band sleeping in a hotel room (assuming it was properly cleaned), a band sleeping on a stranger’s floor (assuming there is some ability to social distance), and a band sleeping in their van.
RB. What's the correct thing to say to someone who insists that, as a young and healthy musician, they don't have to worry about Covid-19?
KS. I don’t want to come across as preachy, but I have seen some crazy shit as an anesthesiologist. We all think we’re invincible and low risk, but you never know if you’ll be the one person that ends up needing to have all of your limbs amputated because of complications from a critical illness. Or, that you’ll be the one that spreads the virus to someone, and that someone will end up dying. And you might not even be aware of the people you have harmed, because it spread through inanimate objects you’ve touched.
RB. I think I need to wash my hands right now. This has been amazing, Kelly. I’m going to leave you with one last important question… True or false: saxophones are aerial virus fountains.
KS. True. And as a final thought: what about the French horn?
Bonnie Trash in Discussion 31 Jan. 2020
Interview by Raymond Biesinger and Photo by Kate Killet
We’ve described Bonnie Trash as “Guelph's art-wave horror menace-synth act centred by intelligent twins,” but that’s only a glimpse of what they're up to. Add the following to the list: they’re involved in Girls Rock Camp Guelph, gig around their region, festival-hop like grasshoppers, steer something called FPOP, play in local supergroup cover band the Frosted Pits, perform as “Bonnie Sabbath,” collaborate with unexpected collaborators, etc. Additionally, they recorded “Goodnight, My Dear” for Pentagon Black Compilation No. 4 in 2018 and it’s currently being rerecorded for an upcoming BT full-length. Given that Guelph’s dear-to-us-and-many Kazoo! Fest is closing after its 2020 instalment, we thought it was a good time to check-in with one of our fave Royal City exports. Things discussed in this interview include:
- Bonnie Trash (http://fuckpop.ca/bonnie-trash, http://bonnietrash.bandcamp.com)
- PB9 (http://www.pentagon.black/product/pentagon-black-compilation-no-4)
- Pearle Harbor (http://www.pearleharbour.com)
- Guelph Lake (http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Guelph_Lake)
- Tall House Recording Co. (http://www.tallhouserecordingco.com)
- Kazoo! Fest (http://kazookazoo.ca)
- Steph Yates (http://stephyates.com)
- Oromocto Diamond (http://www.p572.com/oromoctodiamond)
- Deathsticks (http://buysomedeathsticks.bandcamp.com)
- Nicolette & the Nobodies (http://nicoletteandthenobodies.bandcamp.com)
- POSI VIBEZ (http://www.posivibez.org)
RB: Bonnie Trash is Emmalia and Sarafina Bortolon-Vettor. What roles do each of you play in the band, on-stage, and creatively?
EB: Sarafina is the main songwriter and vocalist. She plays octapad, drums and synth in recordings (sometimes live). She has also directed all of our music videos. Sara is the project manager.
SB: Emmalia is the main riff-writer and guitarist. She works on set design for our music videos and does a lot of grant writing/the nitty-gritty admin work.
RB: How do you two pass your time outside of the band? Jobs? School? Hobbies? Pets?
EB: I am back in school and hopefully starting a Master’s program in the fall. I tutor younger folks with developmental differences and teach guitar and music appreciation with a focus on composition. On my off time, I like to shoot B-roll, especially landscapes and insects. The cover of our latest 10” is a dead dragonfly I photographed in PEI this past September.
SB: My cat, Sydney, is extremely talkative. A funny old little fella. I enjoy listening to records and spending time with my little pal whenever I can. I am currently working on a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, focusing on how creativity empowers womxn. Outside of the music, I am slowly working on a film script. It’s in the horror genre. What did you expect?!
RB: OK. I know that as a live band you bring a few other people on stage. And in Bonnie Trash’s other audio and visual pursuits you’ve worked with everyone from animators to drag performers to “A Sea of Womxn” at Lake Guelph. Who are some of these people?
SB: To name a few of them… We grew up with Justin Miller, who is the creative mind behind drag performer Pearle Harbor. We have helped each other with projects since high school, so of course we would have Pearle on our team and as our muse. We are working with Pearle as their backing band in their show, Distant Early Warning. Another one of our collaborators is Em Damaschin, who is an up-and-coming engineer and producer. They’ve been a great comrade in helping us develop new sounds and experimental recording set-ups.
EB: I am excited to share a project I’ve been developing for a while: I created self-made reverb from the voices of womxn, generated at Guelph Lake. It’s called “A Sea of Womxn.” I tried to catch the reverberation of womxn’s voices bouncing off of the water, but the wind set in. Instead, we circled around three microphones and collectively made sounds that are negatively associated or attached to descriptions of womxn (ie. vocal fry and cackling), along with performing Pauline Oliveros’ Worldwide Tuning Meditation. I created impulse responses from this performance, with engineering help from Em Damaschin, and want to use them to generate new reverbs for our songs. Sara and I did another session at the lake with other local vocalists, to yell and harmonize some of our songs—thank you, Alanna Gurr, Annie Sumi, Steph Yates, Emma Howarth-Withers and Nicolette Hoang!
SB: Our newest song and video (“Shades of You”) is based on a dream I had of a witch trying to take my soul to the depths of hell. I directed this video, my friend Liam Magahay is a fabulous filmmaker who shot and edited it, and our brilliant artist-friend Steph (who was also in on "A Sea of Womxn") created eerie animations. Emmalia and I recorded the song and Em mixed it. What a crew! And, we are all Guelphites.
RB: What are you going to do with this army?
EB: Well, make a lot of overwhelming voices. The record we’ll be coming out with later this year (A Call To Aradia) is about a witch, Aradia, who tips the raft of patriarchy. A sea of womxn will overwhelm and flip this imbalance of power.
RB: You’re making a new LP happen in 2020. What has the typical Bonnie Trash recording session looked like for this record? It seems like the BT studio isn’t just a soundproof room with a door and microphones in it.
EB: The typical Bonnie Trash recording session is never the same. We started outdoors at Guelph Lake with some Rhode NT5’s and an Electrovoice RE20. We bounced a DI signal into three different guitar amps to record a giant tone; then we were somehow able to play with a Manley mic to capture Sara’s voice and improvised cello tracks from Charlotte Moore, which happened in our living room. We borrowed a friend’s acrylic kit and played with a slew of mics to capture that classic ‘70’s sound. We want to go into studio to retouch and polish up some stuff, too. So yeah, the team is expanding and this is our process so far. Em has been one hell of an engineer.
RB: Can you tell us anything else about this upcoming record? When will it be out?
SB: I wrote a song, “Iona.” It’s about a woman burning a field on fire, and another, “Have You Seen Her.” “Goodnight, My Dear” is about letting go, healing after trauma, taking a bath after feeling utterly gross and betrayed. You’re telling the one you loved, “goodnight” for good. We are calling Aradia to help us tip the raft of the patriarchy in her waters. There will be 7-8 songs on the new record. We will be releasing the album like small drops of water, trickling every so often…
EB: It’s inspired by the feminine power of water, and the album focuses on the cannibalistic, social, dynamics of power in relation to how the digital voice is consumed and amplified. We call it a modern exploration of oppression in the context of consumption. It features that sonic sea of womxn.
RB: Wow. OK. That release is in the near future, but about the recent past… I just listened to that Bonnie Trash/M. Mucci lathe-cut four-song 10” split on Tall House Recording Company and it’s incredible. What a good pairing, putting BT’s dark electronics and pulse next to the traditional/mournful electric guitar instrumentals. Who's M. Mucci and how did this match get made?
EB: Right on! Mike Mucci plays in an improvisational group called Snake Church. I was introduced to Mike by Ben Grossman (the second half of Snake Church and a super-cool hurdy gurdy player) for a carpool to a Keiji Haino concert. There were four of us in a car and we hit it off talking about our nonnas. Mike publishes his solo works on split albums with musicians he digs. When he asked us, I was elated. He’s an incredible slide player.
RB: You two work with so many local people, but let’s imagine you two are gods who can give an out-of-town touring band an ideal 24 hours in Guelph. What would that gig-and-stay look like? Where are they playing? Who with? What are they eating? Where are they sleeping? What are they seeing and doing?
(Editor's note: this is a written interview. At this point Emmalia and Sarafina's responses merged into a singular voice. It's a little disorienting, given they'd previously answered everything as individuals, but it's also inevitable, re: the connectivity that comes with being in an artistic duo on top of the "twin connection" thing.)
BT: Alright, so in an ideal situation with some imagination. Here it goes. There is a cut of rock that looks like an amphitheatre out by Stone Road, across from Barber Scout Camp. If there was enough electricity, this would be the coolest venue ever. Buuuut if we are looking at electricity, we always thought it would be awesome to have a show at the Guelph Little Theatre with the band opening for the Melvins, Nicolette and the Nobodies, and the host of the night is Athena McQueen.
Dinner is at Nguyen’s out by Speedvale Avenue or Na-ha-Thai’s on York Road. Breakfast is at Nonna’s house. 10 AM, don’t be late. Lunch/Brunch is at Augusta Louise on Carden Street. Snacks: Fred’s Food Co. and Eric the Baker. And if we had a larger apartment the band could totally stay with us. Or Nonna’s house.
Some things to do and see: hike at Guelph Lake or the Smith Property for inspiration, go to the Making Box for late-night comedy (it’s the only blackbox theatre we have in Guelph), Eat a croissant at Eric the Baker, coffee at the Common, see a movie at the Bookshelf Cinema, enter a time warp at Len’s Mill Store, walk through the Art Gallery of Guelph, then smoke a joint with us around a campfire at night.
RB: Sign us up? Ha. I’m struck by the size of the competent, interconnected, gang of people who are doing things in Guelph, which is maybe a tenth the size of Montreal. Kazoo! Fest has been one of a few centres of that gang for 17 years, but after this year’s fest it’ll will be closing up shop. For the Famines as a band, Kazoo! was an important intro into Ontario’s music scene, and if it wasn’t for the old CFRU Music Director Peter Bradley and Kazoo! we wouldn’t know the first thing about Guelph. What has Kazoo! meant to Bonnie Trash?
BT: Kazoo! took a chance on us. They took a chance on a lot of artists. As soon as we resurrected Bonnie Trash after ending the Folk in 2016, we played at the Cornerstone and then the festival’s anniversary show later that summer. That was the first large audience we played to in Guelph as this outfit. Kazoo! has been an endless support system in representing us at sister festivals, supporting Girls Rock Camp Guelph fundraising, and providing excellent sources of advice.
RB: Every end is a beginning. The festival may be over after this April, but I bet the Kazoo! personnel are up to all kinds of other schemes. Know of any cool things ex-Kazoo! people are working on/dreaming up for the future?
BT: Steph Yates has launched a new musical project called COTS. She has just finished recording her album with Sandro Perri and we can’t wait to hear it. Chris Worden is working on his PhD and writing a chapter in a book. He’s fuckin’ cool.
RB: I know this question is self-serving, but who are your fave Pentagon Black recording artists?
BT: the Famines, Oromocto Diamond, Deathsticks, Steph Yates.
RB: Are there any new music acts or labels or music-related entities we should know about. Coming out of Guelph?
BT: Check out Nicolette and the Nobodies. They’re on fire and our drummer, Dan Paille, is in it! If you are into Gypsy Jazz music, Adrian Raso’s newest album is stellar and he has been Emma’s guitar teacher for close to 18 years. COTS (Steph Yates)! Mark Ferrari (from the Folk) is working on a new album and we can’t wait to hear it. I Feel Sorry is also working on a new album and it’s certainly going to roar. Alanna Gurr is releasing new music, which is pretty darn exciting, too. POSI VIBEZ are based out of Toronto but are doing some really cool curations and dance parties. BANDS & DRAG is also out of Toronto created by Stephen Conway—it is such a pleasure to play these shows.