All The Clubs That Will Have Me

Well this is very interesting. Very, very slowly over the past 8 months or so I have been researching and joining music education professional associations with the vague notion that this will test my bureaucratic tolerance for jumping through hoops and force my brain to consider a little more than the day to day of being home with a 4 year old, cooking, cleaning, laundry – always the laundry – errands, appointments, and teaching beginner piano. All worthy things to do with my time of course. My homemade muffins, soup, and bread have evolved into tasty and delicious treats instead of punishments and my 4 year old is happy, smart, sweet and funny.
My paper trail started with submitting all of my degrees and diplomas, starting way, way back in the previous century with my first foray into music school. Selkirk College was a fantastic experience and obtaining my diploma only whetted my curiosity about music and made me desperate to learn more, do more, get better, study harder.

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so I successfully auditioned for Capilano University, obtained another diploma and kept going for a Bachelor of Music Degree, Education Major

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all of these pieces of paper I had not seen in many years and along the way there were several moves and a legal name change. But I kept going, slowly, writing emails to various school records departments, and paying money, lots of money, for my carelessness and lack of organization.

With all my little duck shaped pieces of paper in a row, I applied for membership to the BC Music Educators Association which is a Provincial Specialist Association of the BC Teacher’s Federation. They took me, and that let me into the Canadian Music Educator’s Association as well. Emboldened, I set my sights on the BC Registered Music Teacher’s Association which is a quasi regulatory body for private music teachers. I had to submit reference letters for this one. It’s a hard thing to ask for (at least for me) but I did and had the unexpected side benefit of reconnecting with former students and their parents, leading to several really fun coffeeshop visits to pick up letters that left me thinking, it’s so rewarding to proactively seek connection with fellow human beings. Why don’t I do that more often?
Anyway, after more deadlines to meet and more money to pay I got this in the mail

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A heartfelt thank you to Sharlene Hertz, Shannon Halkett, Andrea Finch, Ian McDougall, and Danine Griffin for your kind and effusive letters on my behalf. I could not have done all this without your generous help.

I now have my two diplomas, one degree, and three membership certificates within arm’s reach (well I don’t sleep with them next to me or anything) and now…I told myself after that was all done I would start looking into going back to school…here we are. I sort of didn’t think I’d make it this far but I did. And I’ve told way too many people that school is in my plans to stop now. So although I feel quite reluctant to screw up my pretty comfortable life with deadlines and submissions and hunting down transcripts that is now on the agenda. It’s not that I’m unhappy with what I do, it’s that I want to do more. And I need some good teachers to inspire me and show me how to be a better teacher, helper, and human being. So I’m currently combing through Maclean’s university rankings and trying to envision myself in a classroom, 15 years older than all the other kids. Bleah. I think I will slowly, very slowly keep moving forward on this – I have a year and a half before my little one goes to kindergarten, which I think is a good time for me to going somewhere educational too. Hopefully we will both embrace learning, new places, and new people with the same enthusiasm.

CBC Searchlight 2014

Tis the season to enter song competitions. I have done so for the CBC Searchlight contest. It’s a “hunt for the best new artist of 2014”. Ok, so I’m not a new artist. I entered a song called “Every Single One” from a small collection of tunes I wrote and recorded shortly before I entered the all encompassing world of parenthood. It was my first attempt at singing my own lyrics in public, and the first solo project I completed after being in other people’s bands for nigh unto a decade. So in that sense, in the “I am a total novice at this” sense, I am a new artist.
New artists need all the help they can get. You can see my CBC artist profile here and a click on the “Vote For This Artist” button would really tickle me pink. If you love “Every Single One” please tell your friends. I will be doing exactly that, in a classy non-pestering fashion (I hope). Polls are open until April 6, and you can vote for multiple artists multiple times. You can also listen to my songs
here, at my bandcamp page and even purchase them there – a rebellious concept in the 21st century – if you like.

CBC Searchlight Bio

This is a bio I wrote for a recent songwriting contest called Searchlight, sponsored by CBC Radio. My first attempt at putting my songs “out there” after being hit by that wonderful train called motherhood. I really did feel like I had been physically hit by a train after labor and delivery, and this has since mellowed to a metaphorical train that hit my mind, emotions, and personality rendering all parts of me unrecognizeable compared to who I was before. Like most people who have been hit by trains, it has taken me a long time to recover and regain my equilibrium, hence the two year gap in the Music posts.

For a long time I played keyboards and sang in two really great Vancouver bands. The Feminists (2001-2008), which I formed and co-fronted, and Parlour Steps (2007-2010). Cool things happened in those bands. We toured across Canada and the U.S, played at NXNE, SXSW, and Bumbershoot, had an iTunes Single Of The Week international radio play and placements in film and tv.Both bands imploded when it became obvious that real success was on the horizon.

I finally realized it was pointless to blame other people for what I considered to be the greatest tragedy of my life. (Thankfully, I also realized that a band breaking up was not a great tragedy). It was a huge mistake to give my maximum effort to somebody else’s songs and somebody else’s band. I totally believed all that crap about “do what you love and the money will follow” and “if you can dream it, you will achieve it” Now I believe, sometimes things just don’t work out. And that talent has nothing to do with succeeding in music. It’s more about winning a mysterious lottery, somehow attracting someone with more money and power than you to take an interest in what you’re doing.

And so, after a long interlude of snarling “playing in bands ruined music for me”, I decided to start again and do what I should have done from the start: write my own songs, revel in the ease I feel when playing and singing beautiful lines, and make art because it brings me pleasure and it’s fun to do. And forget about being an entertainer and caring about the music industry. That is a time sucker that distracts from playing piano and singing.

Wow, she has a bad attitude you may say. Very well. I have a bad attitude. I do not schmooze very well. I suck at small talk and being fake with people I don’t really know but maybe I could use to advance my career in some way. I am excellent at big talk, but there is not much call for that, anywhere. I am neither a joiner nor an extrovert. I am done with being conventional and playing the game. Art is a personal statement. And it has to be authentic and real. It must reflect who you truly are, not what others think you should be.

I have no expectations. Mostly I operate on the assumption that nobody will read my words or listen to my music. That’s ok, because I love and need to do it regardless of an audience. I create songs, because I have something to say. I want you to listen. I felt something when I wrote the words and music. I want you to feel something when you listen. And that shared emotional experience between you and me through vibrating sound frequencies, that is what I love about music.

The song I’ve entered into Searchlight is called Every Single One, and it’s the first track from my debut EP as a solo artist. The band who performs it with me is amazing. You can read all about them on my enormous blog at http://www.alisonmaira.com.

Don’t think I wouldn’t appreciate getting a few hundred thousand votes and advancing in the Searchlight contest. I would love that. How wonderful it would be to have many ears listening to my songs and make new connections with like-minded human beings.

I can’t say it would improve my attitude, though.

Worth A Thousand Words.

This past week I chose my final photos from over 300 proofs that were generated during my album promo photo shoot earlier this month. It was difficult to narrow it down to ten final choices. Well, ok 11. I just couldn’t cut it down any further than that and wonderful Angela was kind enough to let me have an extra one.

I must say though, I’m pretty tired of looking at photos of myself. Even though these are awfully good photos. I think everyone should have the chance to get professional photos done of themselves once in their lives. It’s pretty refreshing to see yourself portrayed in the best possible light.

The shoot itself was fascinating, fun, and very productive. Angela Fama was the photographer. I had first met her at the Parlour Steps photo shoot for the Hidden Names record and I was so impressed with how she handled the shoot and the resulting beautiful pictures. I never thought I’d get a chance to work with her on my own, but then again I never thought I’d be able to write and record my own songs either. Never say never.

Julie Bavalis, bass player extreme and stylish individual extraordinaire is great friends with Angela and wanted to style the entire shoot. Yay for me! We had a nice meeting at Angela’s house, wrote down some ideas and a few days later Julie showed up with feathers, leather string, and an armload of clothes from C’est La Vie, a fantastically hip Main St. vintage clothing store she works at part time. Julie always goes the extra mile for her friends and I have been the grateful recipient of her largesse many times.

Angela recommended a makeup artist named Marie Pierce. Marie had done makeup for Julie and I at the last Parlour Steps photo shoot and I was happy to work with her again.

We convened at Angela’s house on a Saturday night and six hours later had 300 photos to show for it. I was a little nervous, wondering how it was going to work with the wardrobe from C’st La Vie that was not materinity clothes. I’m 8 months pregnant now and I haven’t considered wearing “normal” clothes since oh, about October or so. The ladies made two chic bandeau tops for me by wrapping me in lengths of blue and white fabric and then taping feathers over top.

I didn’t even have to wear a bra, which shocked me. I thought for sure that would violate all sense of decency (and I didn’t want to take that kind of picture) but Julie made everything look so classy.
We were going for the blue/gray/feathery vibe that the ferociously talented Jim Miller had drawn for the album artwork.

Jim and I knew each other in high school. He was an impressive artist then; he is a seasoned professional now. He’s one of the only people I know who realized early what they were supposed to be, never stopped doing that, and has subsequently risen to a very high level in his career due to years of non stop effort and improvement. He’s now a storyboard supervisor at My Little Pony, for god’s sake (All the pre-teen girls I teach are impressed beyond words that I know someone who works on My Little Pony). I’m so glad Jim and I ran into each other again as grownups, and I’m completely delighted he found the time to design and paint a gorgeous picture for my album cover. Without his asthetic, this photo shoot may not have even happened.

We did a few different looks and included some full length body shots that probably won’t be used for album promo. But I wanted some nice pictures of me as a pregnant lady. It’s been an amazing time in my life and it’s worth commemorating.

It wasn’t all hard work, though. There were some girls with mustaches.

Angela had a studio space set up in her basement and we laughed, ate snacks, drank tea, listened to music, and were relentlessly productive.

It was exhilarating and completely absorbing. I think this was my first work project that was all female. These women and I were on exactly the same page and it was amazing and joyful to accomplish so much, so efficiently, in such a short time.

Angela Fama is truly a creative force to be reckoned with.

I found myself thinking, wow she’s so talented and confident. I will be like that too, from this moment on! I thought it was cool that her vibe was one of inspiration, not intimidation. She was working very hard, but I didn’t feel anxious or pressured. I had decided to do whatever she suggested and trust her professional eye.

This approach has served me stunningly well during the entire process of making this album and it’s getting so easy to shut up and take direction. It’s a relief to work with people who are skilled and confident and know more than me. It’s a joy to relax and learn from them. My record sounds a lot more expensive than it was, due to talented professionals who gave me incredible discounts for their time because of our friendship and their connections to other professionals. My photos look a lot more expensive than they were for the same reason. The final results have far eclipsed anything I could have done on my own, with my own meager resources. I am so grateful. And very impressed frankly, that so many of my friends have blossomed into very high level artists.

Here are some of those final results. Photos by Angela Fama

photo by Angela Fama

ohoto by Angela Fama

Yes well, life in general has an amazing, sparkling sheen to it these days. I think it’s mostly due to the amazing, sparkly incredibly high doses of estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin surging through my body. This hormone bath is picking my brain. But it’s a great pickling and a lovely bath to be in. I see more tenderness, joy, beauty and humor in everyday life thna I ever thought possible. How could I have missed all that before? If it’s a temporary phenomenon of pregnancy, I’ll miss it. And I’ll never forget it.

I see more pain and suffering too. My eyes constantly well up with tears of joy, and sorrow. I feel like my heart has grown ten sizes – not that I was really grinchy before I got pregnant – that my capacity for empathy and compassion has increased to delicious, almost unbearable levels. I’ve always been a sensitive person. But now my body and mind are frequently overwhelmed with how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes.

It’s a gift that has made me a better listener, more affectionate, kinder, more patient, happier, and infinitely more appreciative of the fleeting fragility of life. All traits that might help make me a good mama. Once again, I am in awe of how beautifully the transition to motherhood is designed by nature and a few million years of evolution. Thanks, hormones.

By this time next month, I’ll probably have a baby. After so many months of being pregnant, it’s hard to believe it’s almost over. And that the biggest transition, the most massive changes and adventure are yet to come.

It’s An Album!

Hello World,
The Blackbirds EP by OK Maira is freshly completed and eager to imprint itself upon your lovely ears, much like a baby bird does on the first object it sees. Usually its mother, and I’m not saying you should be my album’s mother…I’m just saying this wee record wants to make friends with your ears. Or something like that.


You can listen to and/or buy individual songs (or all of them!) at my page on Bandcamp. Also on the Listen page is the gorgeous album artwork, created by Vancouver artist Jim Miller. You can see more of his work here. Comment, forward, discuss. perhaps sing and dance. Delve into the OK Maira blog and read the story of recording with some of Vancouver’s finest musicians who play and sing all over this damn record.


I’m seven months pregnant now, feeling good but slowing down a little. It’s going to be real interesting to see how much farther along with the digital album release I can get before the baby makes its debut.

I’ve Been Mastered

I went to Alex Degrace at Suite Sound Labs here in Vancouver for mastering. I’d been to Suite Sound before to master The Feminists records, but I’d never worked with Alex before. And, I’d never really learned exactly what mastering was. I knew it was necessary, but in my younger days I couldn’t be bother to find out why. I never heard much of a difference after a recording was mastered, due to my overall impatience and poorly developed ears.


However, when you’re in charge of a project – and paying for it yourself – you start to become more curious and invested in what exactly is going on and why. At least I did. So here is a nutshell summary of what I have learned about mastering:


Mastering is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix (wave files on Mike Southworth’s ftp site in this case) to a data storage device (the master cd); the source from which all copies will be produced. What’s involved in the mastering process is quite detailed.


Mastering requires critical listening on the part of the engineer; part of their job is to improve upon sound translation on all playback systems, i.e. make the record sound good on your iPod, in your car, on your living room stereo. Basically, mastering “sweetens” audio to maximize the sound quality by editing minor flaws, adding ambience, adjusting volume, and equalizing audio across tracks. Kind of like putting on your makeup and touching up your hair just before you go out for a fabulous night on the town, having already dressed to the nines and made your plans.


Anyway, Alex put some great hair and makeup on my EP. It did seem to sparkle and shine a little bit more after he had applied his critical listening skills. The recording is truly, truly done. It’s time to let you all hear it and release it out into the big world to seek its fortune.



I’m six months into my pregnancy now and I notice some interesting parallels between making art and making babies. I could never understand women who insisted that their ultimate fulfillment comes from having baby after baby. But I sort of do now. It is an amazing process, and unlike most other creative projects, so viscerally physical. Anything that’s grounded so completely in the body will feel incredibly real and immediate. And critically important, which it is. Important to the baby in particular. I feel proud of my album that I made; I feel proud of the person I am making. For me though, I am glad to have had both – creating good works with head and heart and creating a baby with a beautiful man. I could have been quite happy just making art, growing my love and knowledge, and evolving as a human without ever being pregnant. I mean, come on. That’s the lot of all men (and many women) all the time. They seem to do okay. But I’m glad I have a chance to experience this particular kind of creativity too.



I definitely now understand, with the intensity of a thunderclap, that pregnancy takes its meaning from each individual woman and her particular circumstances. It’s very easy to judge when women handle their pregnancies in ways we don’t agree with. But pregnancy at the wrong time, with the wrong man does not feel wondrous and amazing and fulfilling. The complete physicality, the raw immediate-ness of the experience is overwhelming and can be terrifying in a negative context. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to change her mind about a pregnancy that happens in rotten circumstances, that of course happens every day thousands of times around the world. But for the ones who don’t change their mind, their absolute conviction that this pregnancy is a completely unwanted invasion of their body, of their life, is just as powerful as my conviction that my pregnancy is exactly right for me and a welcome, treasured expansion of my life and my body. Knowing it’s wrong for you doesn’t make it easy. Knowing it’s right for you doesn’t make it easy. I have a newfound respect for this fact. It may not solve any problems, but it does enable me to have a lot more compassion towards other women and their struggles.

Mixology 101

My mixing sessions with Mike Southworth had arrived. I’d been so busy growing a human and teaching full time and trying to regain some semblance of normal life that the weeks had passed rather quickly. Mike Zobac and I had flailed around attempting to edit vocals and start the mixing process, but a lack of experience coupled with unfamiliarity with the studio gear gave me the uneasy impression that we were making the songs sound worse, not better.


This was in fact the case. It took Mike a bit of time to undo all the half baked “strategies” and “fixes” that Zobac and I had forced on those poor little songs. But once we were effectively back at zero, things went quickly. A few days later we had a set of first pass initial mixes done.


I popped the cd into my car’s stereo and grinned with amazed delight as I drove home listening. Mike Zobac and I grinned some more when we listened to them together. Mostly from relief, I think. It was deeply satisfying to hear the songs as we originally envisioned. We knew when we were recording that everyone’s parts were really good and the songs had solid arrangements and a decent amount of catchy melodic-ness. It was worrying and disappointing to say the least that after our mixing attempts the songs were missing all of these elements.


In hindsight, it was touchingly naive that we thought we could mix a record. Being decent musicians with decent ears and some computer facility allowed us to engineer, produce, and arrange. But not mix, oh no. And it really came down to familiarity with the studio’s gear and experience. Mike Southworth sat and casually talked to me while he cleaned up, edited, and employed a thousand little shortcuts and tricks to make everything sound rad. Mike Zobac and I sat in mute despair, wondering why we couldn’t hear our keyboard parts, or why we couldn’t line up the vocal parts perfectly, or where the hell was that plug-in that we just used.



We listened carefully for a few days to the initial mixes, and passed our notes on to Mike Southworth. About a week later we had our final mixes. And I knew I hadn’t just wasted a year of my life writing and recording songs.

Here’s Every Single One a la Zobac and Maira. Meh.

Every Single One



Final mix. Yup, I hear a difference.

Every Single One




Blackbirds, pre-awesome.

Blackbirds



Final mix. Warmer, fuller, lusher, more beautiful.

Blackbirds

After a couple of weeks of feeling overjoyed with how my songs sounded, it dawned on me: I am so happy with my art project that I made out of nothing. The depths of despair had completely disappeared. Nausea and fatigue were distant memories. I’m five months now, and I feel fantastic and beautiful. I’m eating well, exercising again, hanging out with my friends, and carefully tending my teaching practice. All the things I couldn’t imagine doing two months ago.

Every day, I am happy to be me. I don’t remember ever feeling like this. I feel my little babe swim and roll around like a goldfish in a bowl and it makes me smile. I’m so, so glad I didn’t give up on making this record. Next, we master.

A New Normal

I’ve achieved what can be considered to be a ‘new normal’, although it’s a normal that I would have scoffed at before I became with child. The nausea is still there, but it’s a small, growling beast that cowers in dark corners. Not the overwhelming enormous tireless monster it was two weeks ago. If I eat small bits of food constantly throughout the day and during the night, it mostly lets me be. Go too long without feeding it however and it rears up and reminds me exactly who’s in charge here. But it’s not like the nausea is in charge all by itself. Fatigue is just as determined to boss me around. That too is improving, as long as I go to bed early and sleep late. Sleeping all weekend also seems to help.
What’s really wild about this new normal is that I ignore Nausea and Fatigue at my own tremendous peril. Too busy to listen? Oh well. A little gasping and retching or falling asleep at work in the middle of a conversation should teach me a little lesson. And by then, it’s too late to turn the tide and I’m down for the count for a few hours, enraged at my new powerlessness but simultaneously enthralled at the beautiful efficiency of this system. You will eat and sleep so this tadpole can grow. Your schedule and preferences and completely, utterly irrelevant.
If I am properly fed and rested, I can have a few hours every day when I feel…normal. And that, my friends, is a vast improvement and a blessing to cherish.
I am trying to use these precious windows of calm clarity wisely. I realized that dear Michael’s last year of full time computer science studies at BCIT and my full time teaching practice and growing a human would pretty much eliminate the possibility of either one of us being able to focus on mixing the album.
I decided to hand over the whole thing to Mike Southworth and asked him to mix it for us. Sometimes it’s best to accept your limitations (such as a 9:00 bedtime) and surrender gracefully to a professional.
To my relief, Mike responded positively to my request. Yes, he would be happy to do the mixing, but it would have to wait for a few weeks until he was finished working with Hilary his lovely wife on this years Peak Performance Project, a massive indie rock contest I had participated in the previous year with Parlour Steps. I knew that Hilary and Mike would have their hands full with the contest, and would probably work harder on it than any other contestant past, present, or future. No problem, I said. I can wait. I’m too busy eating and sleeping to much notice a delay anyway.
Maybe I should go out and see some music, I thought. I suspected that playing in bands had destroyed my love of playing music, and I wanted to see if that sour taste in my mouth was from cynicism and frustration, or just the nausea.

Hilary Grist’s Peak Performance Showcase at The Red Room:
I rested up all day for this one and nibbled on cheese and apple slices on the dance floor. It was worth it.

It was the best I’ve ever seen her. Joyful and inspiring. Mike Southworth on drums, Noah Walker on guitar and Matt Rogers on bass round out this stellar band. It’s amazing how many of my fellow Selkirk College Professional Music and Cap College Jazz Studies alumni have ended up dominating the Vancouver indie rock scene.

One of my favorite songs, Tall Buildings, from Hilary’s 2010 album Imaginings. Alas, I just missed the very beginning. A great, exciting performance. Noah’s guitar solo and Mike’s exquisitely sensitive drumming behind it give me tingles.





The Nificant, Falconett’s.

Dear Michael plays drums in this band, along with his friends Jason Krickler (guitar) and Dan Silk (bass). It’s mostly a side project I think, for all three guys. But with a high level of musicianship and very weird, very good songs.

This is “Two Teeth” a song about drunk guys at a party playing with a bear trap until somebody’s head gets caught. Quirky, funny, and a valid public safety cautionary tale.





The Deep End, Backstage Lounge.

Mike drums in this band too, and the lovely Dawn Pemberton sings lead. They do funk, soul, and R&B covers from the 1960’s to present. I always make sure I get out and shake my tail feather to their delicious get down-ness a few times a year. On this particular night they were in fine funky form. It is pretty great to have so many friends that play in great bands and sound awesome.

I was glad to realize that music could still be fun and enjoyable. My friends’ music, anyway. I’ve been playing in bands for 10 years, and it’s mostly been crushing disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak interspersed with moments of the most exquisite joy and satisfaction I will ever experience.
I was very worried I’d be totally adrift after leaving Parlour Steps. But then I started writing songs and recording my EP, and then I got knocked up. And now I’m starting to think there is way more to life than playing somebody else’s songs in somebody else’s band. There is way more to life than playing music. It feels blasphemous to say that after dedicating my life to music, but there it is. There’s fun and friends, babies, becoming a better teacher and writer, going back to school and learning new things. If I hadn’t had a total hiatus from music forced on me by the tyranny of early pregnancy, I wouldn’t have been able to gain a new perspective and become aware of what else was possible for me.
This week I started to feel the baby move. It’s not just me anymore, there’s someone else on this journey with me. And that makes the new normal totally worthwhile.

The Depths Of Despair

I was, and am a big Anne Of Green Gables fan. As I child, I lost myself completely in the entire series of books and re-read my favorite passages until they were memorized. Anne refers frequently to sinking into “the depths of despair” and I felt like now, as a grown woman I could for the first time truly, deeply empathize.

I’m almost 3 months pregnant and my whole life is “the depths of despair”. Also a “perfect graveyard of buried hopes”, another choice Anne-ism.

Not because I’m unhappy about being pregnant. My sweet husband and I are really, really thrilled to be expecting. It’s just that I had no idea that it was possible to feel this dreadful physically, week after week.

I am nauseous. All the time, constantly feeling like I am about to throw up RIGHT NOW. Sometimes I actually do throw up, like I did today, in the shower. Oh god. A terrible morning. At least it was easy to clean up. Throwing up provides no relief, and I continue to feel incredibly nauseated immediately afterward.

I am exhausted. I can’t get enough sleep and often stay in bed until I absolutely must get up, throw on some clothes and stagger off to work. Or to the studio. Or both. I get home and go back to bed.

But the worst part is, I don’t recognize myself. The things I used to do have completely disappeared from my life. Reading, writing, playing with my band, practicing piano and guitar, daydreaming, socializing, exercising, watering my plants, errands, cooking, cleaning, lesson plans for my students, research about teaching, website maintenance, brainstorming, singing, having ideas, being inspired, listening to music – all gone. I have no motivation or desire for anything beyond staying in bed with a pillow over my head to block out the audacity of the soft summer sunshine and those inconsiderate neighborhood kids with their stupid giggling.

I have a book that I write down ideas about ideas for teaching, recording, writing, whatever projects I’m working on. I’ve filled half a filing cabinet with these books over the past 10 years. I started a new book in July. There is one entry, scrawled rather unsteadily:

“What has become of me? I used to do a lot of things I don’t do anymore. My activities have changed and it’s not
great
challenging
exciting
an adventure
interesting
What does it feel like work on an absorbing project?”

And this is while I’m supposed to be making a record – which I remember being really really excited about when I started it -and now I can’t even force myself to care about it. This would normally cause me great distress. But not now. I’d rather just go back to bed.

I don’t look pregnant yet (just sick). We haven’t told anyone. I’ve dragged myself out a couple of times so my friends don’t think I hate them or anything, and I’m still going to work. The idea of sitting down and focusing on mixing the album is completely out of reach. I’ve realized it is impossible to concentrate on anything when one is constantly nauseous and/or vomiting.

I learned about chronic nausea recently during a quick internet search for nausea remedies. I am horrified, absolutely horrified that such a condition exists. In my case, there’s reason to hope that it’s likely temporary and I’ll soon feel better. I feel deep, deep empathy for anyone who experiences this for months or years at a time.

It would be enough to make you want to stop living I think, knowing that there’s no end in sight. Give these people prescriptions for all the best quality, high grade medical marijuana they need. It works and they deserve to feel human again.

It’s hard to believe that this teeny tiny tadpole is the reason I feel so terrible. My brain understands that if everything goes well, I’ll end up with a baby next spring. My body understands that something seismic is shifting, my entire system has been turned utterly upside down. My heart hasn’t quite put these two things together yet.

Please, please, please let it get better.

Just One More Thing

I don’t quite remember how this came about, but Mikes Zobac and Southworth collectively agreed that adding some synth pads (to thicken and warm up the songs, much like a comforting winter soup is thick and warm) and some percussion would be a nice idea.

When they broached the subject to me, naturally my first instinct was to wail “Oh no! COME ON! I thought we were done recording! When are we ever going to be done? More studio time, more scheduling, are you guys NUTS? What’s next, a timpani solo and a gospel choir?” This record will never be done, why did I ever start it, oh woe betide me. Drama? Only in my internal monologue these days, dear reader. A key difference between my 20’s and 30’s and a welcome one.

My policy these days is to listen carefully, breathe before I speak and say yes to the suggestions offered by professionals who know more than me after they have explained themselves compellingly.

These two Mikes have never led me down the garden path, so I pasted a demure smile on my face and said “Sure. When can we do this?” A few days later, Mike Zobac and I were in the studio for two more short sessions, one for synth parts, and one for tambourine and shakers.

Our keyboard session went pretty smoothly – Mike Southworth has about 100 000 sounds in his hard drive – and miraculously we hit upon the perfect warming and thickening agent. I played some simple chords (with impeccable voice leading) and everything was sounding good. We moved on to find a nice Tom Sawyer/churning of the universe sound and sprinkled a light, tasteful dusting over the last chorus.

Satisfied, we leaned back and listened back to our efforts. A terrible, distorted crackly awfulness came wafted back from the speakers. My heart sank, a little. Mike started adjusting settings and talking to himself. Refresh, reset, reboot, restart, still nothing. My fists began to clench, a little. We messed around with the computer for a couple of hours, and finally in despair we started over and I re-recorded the initial keyboard parts. We still couldn’t listen back to the parts and Mike tried everything he could think of to restore them but to no avail. We went home and made arrangements for Mike Southworth to take a look at our files when he came in the next day.

When we came in the following afternoon, all was well. It was a latency issue that sometimes happens and Southworth resolved it quickly. Not for the first time I observed that deep, intimate familiarity with the gear, the programs and their quirks is totally invaluable. Mike Zobac and I have good instincts and a willingness to troubleshoot and experiment, but that is no substitute for knowing the tools and the gear inside out when faced with a quirky random problem.

Our keyboard parts turned out pretty well. It’s kind of subtle without the tracks being properly mixed and mastered, but it actually does sound fuller and warmer in the verses now.

Every Single One

We quickly set up some percussion instruments and I got to engineer (that is, press stop, record, and restart) while Mike Zobac laid down some tasty rhythmic goodness on short sections on a couple more songs. “Are we really done recording?, I asked Mike. “Yes, we really are”, he said with a grin. All righty then. I was smiling too. On to mixing. How long could that possibly take?

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Recently the OK Maira lineup has changed from the original group who played on the recording. Contrary to many other band member changes, this one happened calmly, efficiently, and with no angry screaming whatsoever.

Mike Zobac informed me that, while the bass playing experiment was fun, if he was going to continue playing in this band he would need to play the drums. He didn’t feel that his bass playing would come along fast enough to be worthy of performing, possibly in public, possibly in front of judgmental strangers.

Besides being a barely adequate bass player, Mike is a great drummer and had the good sense to marry me. I would do anything (not harmful to self or others) for him to increase his happiness. He is my favorite human being. So there wasn’t really any hesitation on my part to agree to his request.

This left the bass playing position vacant, however. Good bass players are very hard to find. Well, good bass players who are willing to rehearse for free are hard to find. I thought of Julie, but she had been pretty underwhelmed about playing the bass for awhile and had no qualms about leaving Parlour Steps behind to focus on her optician/vintage eyeglasses collecting and design/blogging/online business/well-paying and inspiring career not related to music. So I didn’t ask, for a long time.

One day, I played my demos for her. And she said, “Oh, I would play these songs”. “Really?” I said, trying to play it cool. “Well, would you maybe consider jumping in here and there, in case Mike’s not available or something?”She said yes to that. I was emboldened. When Mike asked to be transferred to the drum department, I told Julie this. And from there it was a short leap to her agreeing to join the band.

So, ladies and gentlemen: meet the lovely Julie Bavalis. At first glance, she appears to be merely a very cute woman with impeccable style and amazing glasses. And she is all of these things, as well as smart and funny and kind. But she is also a really good bass player. Julie has such good time and good feel (and great intonation and tone).She and Mike had enjoyed playing together 100 years ago when we were all students in the jazz program at Capilano University. They were stoked to play together again. And I was delighted that I had a solid, tasteful rhythm section that liked and respected each other. Not only that, they speak the same language…they can communicate well about feel and groove and they understand each other. This is a luxury, having a drummer and bass player who actually talk and listen to each other. They really really care about making the song sound as good as possible and they’re willing to try a lot of different ideas to get there. Be still, my heart.

Now I have a delicious, solid lineup of players who like each other and aren’t planning to leave town. It’s ridiculous how awesome this group of people are. Gradually I feel the thick layers of cynicism about music melt away from my heart. Maybe it’s worth it to try one more time, make a band out of nothing and see how far it can go.

Besides, I’ve have found the perfect program at UBC that will educate me for my future not related to music career. Might as well cover all the bases.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Book More Studio Time

I knew as we were recording the lead vocals for the second time that it was much better than my first attempt. A few days later we edited the new vocals and I got to hear them. And I was relieved, very very happy and relieved that yes, they did sound very good. Well, very good for me. I wouldn’t say that I sound as good as Aretha Franklin or anything. Does anybody sound as good as Aretha Franklin?

Here’s a bit of Blackbirds with the initial vocal recording.

Blackbirds

It’s ok, but it sounds kind of robotic to me. No color or life to the words, no story being told through the lyrics. No phrasing, and not a great blend with Dawn and Hilary. Competent but nothing more than that. And mere competence will never do, as my friends have already laid down tracks that are beautiful and tasteful.

Here’s the same excerpt after the vocal re-dos. I like it a lot more. The blend between Dawn and Hilary and me is way better, there’s phrasing and dynamics. Better color and personality in the voice. I hear the story more in this version.

Blackbirds2

Where I really hear the difference is on Every Single One. Here’s the barely passable first version. When I first recorded this, it felt like a really hard song to sing and I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to get through it. And now that’s how it sounds to me. Tense, cautious, and completely devoid of emotion.

Every Single One

And here’s the new version. Lots of bounce and rhythm, better blend with Hils and Dawn, better tuning, and way more life to the story. I think it sounds much more relaxed and dare I say, genuine.

Every Single One2

I’ve learned many things along the way during this recording process. One of the biggest lessons has been, take your time and make it good. At first I just wanted to get everything done as fast as possible and slap it up on the internet. I’m a very impatient person. Always wanting to get shit done and then move on to the next thing. I have a perpetual to-do list that I’m constantly adding stuff to.

And now I think, that really doesn’t make sense. Not with making a record, anyway. You need to step back and listen, lots of times, at every stage of the recording process. And very frequently what sounded fine initially sounds less fine after a few days and repeated listenings. I’m so grateful to the Mikes, Zobac and Southworth. They have repeatedly put the brakes on me and suggested re-dos, fixes, additions and subtractions. I respect those guys a lot so I’ve been gritting my teeth and following their advice. Gradually this EP is becoming something that exceeded my wildest hopes and expectations. So that’s another big lesson. Listen to people who have a different viewpoint and try some things they suggest for the purpose of making the project better. I mean, why not make it as good as we possibly can?

Now we mix! Who knows what wild and crazy suggestions will come about after a few days with the Mikes going over the songs with their enormous ears and impeccable taste?

Give Me Your Head

“Give me your head. No no no. Let me move it. Give me your head.” Why is this so hard, I wondered, lying on the floor in a spare room at Creativ Studios. My head was in Hilary’s lap. We were warming up for the first of two studio sessions to re-do all my lead vocals for the EP. I had now become one of those people who could tell a crazy story about vocalizing (Once I had this teacher who had me lie on the floor while she moved my head around…)

I really wasn’t supposed to be thinking about anything, except completely relaxing my head and allowing Hilary to gently turn it right to left, up and down, around in circles. And I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t let my head fall into her hands. This made no sense. I trust Hilary totally – it’s not like she was going to quickly break my neck and leave me dead on the floor – (I was pretty sure) so what exactly was the problem here?

My brain added its two cents to the situation. Oh great, it snarled. I can’t even relax. I won’t be able to warm up, I won’t be able to sing any better than I did last time and we’re just all going to waste our studio time ALL BECAUSE I CAN’T RELAX JUST RELAX RIGHT NOW MAIRA DO IT NOW! Ah, yes. So helpful. So soothing. Sometimes I would give anything to have a different brain. Mine tends to freak out regularly and needs to be kept on a tight leash.

“Give it. Give it to me. Give me your head”, Hilary kept murmuring calmly as she reminded me to breathe deeply, and practice some vowel sounds. I told my brain to shut up and listen to her. And it worked. With every breath tension flowed out and calmness flooded in. I sank into the floor and began to hope we could just do warm-ups all night.

“And this is the room where we do make-up” said Jim cheerfully as he led the makeup artist for the next popstar video birthday party into the darkened room where Hilary and I were sprawled out. Jim owns Creativ. Hilary and I scrambled to our feet. “Just doing some vocal warmups” Hilary said brightly as I stood mutely, feeling utterly disoriented. “We’ll find another room”. No need to feel sheepish, I reassured myself as we staggered out the door. They probably didn’t expect to see head twisting and lap sitting and dolphin sounds, but no matter. I’m a singer now! We can get away with doing eccentric singer things.

After a few more rounds of “Give me your head”, some visualizing about a deep mysterious swamp of emotion, and a bit of lip flapping Hilary deemed me ready to sing. I felt fantastic. I suspected it was going to be a great session.

We started with Every Single One. “You’re in charge of the talkbalk mic”, I told Hil. “Mike will engineer and push the buttons – you tell us how you want to approach this”.

“One complete pass first”, she said. “Then I’ll know what sections to work on next”. Ok. You tell it, lady. I sang all the way through and it felt way better than my last vocal session. Then we broke it down to Hilary’s specifications. After singing the first half of the song a few times, I timidly said “Hey, is this way better? I think it might be quite good”. “It’s much, much better””, said Mike in the control room. All right then. I wasn’t imagining it.

We did the two hardest songs, Every Single One and Sometimes that night. Hilary was calm and decisive. Mike and I did what she said. I’ve never sounded so good. I was thrilled. “Hilary, I love you”, I blurted out when we were taking a water break between songs. She laughed. “You’re doing great”, she said. ” No, this is because of you”, I gushed. “I could never have had a performance like this on my own”. She laughed again. I knew I was being uncool, but I was so happy with the takes we had done I didn’t care.

Three weeks later we went in and finished the other three songs in about four hours. We got performances that were above my wildest expectations. At Mike’s suggestion I tried a little improvising at the end of Go Away. It turned out excellently. I was dumbfounded. Hilary said I should do a before and after snapshot – actually line up the same clips from the first vocal session against the results from our re-dos, because the difference was so dramatic. I will do exactly that, as soon as we’re done editing, I thought. How cool will that be?

In the meantime here’s a couple of video clips Mike filmed during the recording of Blackbirds. Believe me, it sounds a lot better than our first recording.

Last part of the bridge

Verse and chorus

I Have To Admit It’s Getting Better

I practiced. I sang the songs over and over. At home with my piano, outside while walking in the rain, alone in the car traveling to teach piano lessons. But my first real leap of progress came when I booked a vocal coaching session with Hilary.

“The first thing I would suggest is more bounce”, she said as we sat at her piano with my charts.

“Oh, yes?” I said politely, remembering all the wild and unbelievable stories that my singer friends have told me about crazy voice lessons with crazy voice teachers where they tell students things like “all you have to do is imagine a rainbow, that’s the sound we want”, or they perform the Heimleich maneuver on your diaphragm to help you breathe, set books on your chest while you lie on your back, carry you across the room, say things like “inflate your inner tube”, “think vertically”, etc., etc.

This concerned me. How was I going to get better as a singer if I didn’t understand the instructions on how to do so? I’m not much of a “think of a waterfall” kind of gal. I’m your basic cold fish when it comes to achievement. Explain what I’m doing wrong – clearly, with no extra words – and tell me how to make it better – succinctly and logically- and I’ll go home and practice that until it’s awesome.

“Yeah, like this – WE’re all HUN-gry here/ STARving and SAd/ LOOking for COMfort/ there’s NONE to be had”, Hilary sang the first lines of “Every Single One”. Yes! Yes, of course. Bounce. Bouncy phrases, emphasis on syllables to make it sound more like how you would just say it to somebody. That was what was missing from my initial vocal takes. I was so concerned about singing in tune and delivering a good technical performance that I ended up with a completely lifeless result. And that wasn’t readily apparent (to me) until I heard the harmony vocals, shimmering with life and bounce and emotion. Then I realized, I have to do better. Otherwise it’s going to sound like somebody poured very expensive chocolate over a dry soda cracker and hopes no one will notice the cracker.

I felt a rush of gratitude towards Hilary. She was going to help me, really help me figure this out in a way I could understand. The mark of a great teacher, by the way. If you find a teacher like this, hold on to them. Chances are incredibly high you will learn something.

Things went quickly after that. I dropped deeply into that happy place where everything is clear and easy and time slows down completely. We went through all the songs and mapped out all the phrasing and dynamics. Then Hilary had me explain the story and the feeling behind each song, and had me visualize a setting. Where does this song take place? What do I see around me? I realized I hadn’t considered any of this. But as I started to think about it, the songs became more real to me. The story of each song came to life. The characters gradually came into sharp focus.

Now close your eyes, think about all of that, apply the phrasing and dynamics, and sing.

Much, much, much better. It was obvious, right away. Armed with this new information plus the warm-ups Hilary had shown me, I marched out of her apartment at midnight, afire with enthusiasm and looking forward to the weeks of practice ahead.

A Thick Layer Of Sparkle

Every Single One
Blackbirds

Another weekend in the studio, and this has been one of my most favorite sessions yet. Dawn and Hilary came in to do all the harmony vocal parts. We’d had a couple of good productive rehearsals in the weeks leading up to recording. They composed and arranged all their parts together and I was really looking forward to capturing it all.

And apparently Mike was looking forward to doing some choral conducting.

I realize that we’ve been making this little album on our own, with no outside help or input. Sometimes that worries me a little. Maybe it’ll be terrible. But maybe there’s something to letting a group of really good musicians come up with their own parts and play them together. That is, after all, how an enormous amount of good music has been created over the past hundred years or so. Good musicians have good ideas, especially about their own instruments.

Hilary and Dawn are great musicians. They were very sensitive to each other and thus blended beautifully into one Super Beautiful Singer when they sang together. Individually they have lovely voices and they made me sound much more awesome (thank goodness) when they sang with me. The parts they wrote made the songs come alive. It was like a thick layer of sparkle and color had been spread over the guitars, organ, piano, bass and drums. And I became wildly inspired to learn how to sing better and decided to re-do all my lead vocals. I’d been considering that for awhile, I knew I’d already learned stuff that would produce a better result.

Here’s Dawn recording her part on Every Single One.

And Hilary.

We had one gal record in the big room while the other sang along in the control room to help with balance and blend.

This is Hilary singing along, curled up on the couch with her book. Aw.

There’s still some fixes left to do, but now we have a general idea of how the songs are going to sound. I’ve been listening to them and I can honestly say now, there’s very good moments in all of them. I find the more I listen, the less weirded out I am by hearing my own voice. I’ve got a couple of weeks to practice singing in preparation for my re-dos and this time I’ll be enlisting the help of my dear vocalist friends for some coaching. See, so right there I know it’s going to be better than the first try. Yay for growing and learning.

Sing, Sing a Song

Every Single One
Blackbirds

This weekend we finished all my lead vocal tracks. This is getting serious now, this album-making idea. I feel like we’ve past some kind of point of no return. I mean, any time up until now I could have just pulled the plug and walked away. A bunch of instrumental unmixed tracks, who cares? Doesn’t exactly sound like much of anything. But now I’ve sang the words to all the songs. It’s stored in Mike Southworth’s computer (and a back-up in my external hard drive. Maybe I do want to finish this. At least, I don’t want to lose it). There’s no mistaking it, these definitely sound like songs now.
I’ve never done this before, sang all the words and been the lead singer. Our first vocal session we recorded all the songs in about 7 hours. I was very pleased that I felt fine all day. No sore throat and my voice didn’t give out. So I must have ok technique. I was able sing mostly in tune, yay. We did a few fixes, but they were mostly on Every Single One, which I realized too late (after the bass had been recorded) is a half step too low for me.
I didn’t want to rely on the auto-tune…let me rephrase that, I would have rather died than rely on auto-tune to make me sound good. I’m old school. I’m a musician. I believe in practicing your ass off and playing as excellently as possible, live and in the studio. If you need a computer to take over and compensate for your lack of skill, you suck. And you’re lazy. Too lazy to work and practice and learn how to sound good on your own.
Now, having said that, I realize that I’m not nearly a good enough singer to record a song all the way through with perfect intonation, phrasing, and attitude. Piano tracks, yes. Vocals, maybe in my next life that I devote to singing. I practiced for weeks, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. I still didn’t want to use the auto-tune though. So we compromised. Mike had me do lots and lots of takes, one verse and chorus at a time. As the day went on I was able to sing longer sections and stay pretty consistent tuning wise. We had a massive editing session to piece together the best takes and I was able to (mostly) avoid the dreaded auto-tuner. I think it sounds like a human being singing, not a computerized robot so I’m pretty happy about that.
I must admit though, I’m fairly unsettled. I’ve never heard my voice so prominently, so naked and alone. I felt ridiculously vulnerable the first time I listened though to the tracks at home. I wanted to crawl under the couch. And the lyrics, oh god. They are definitely audible. I’ve taken to listening to bands I dislike on youtube, trying to reassure myself that my songs aren’t THAT bad. Sometimes it works.
Now the only recording left is the harmony vocals. I had to send my vocal tracks to Dawn and Hilary so they can practice their parts until our rehearsals and recording session. And they are really, really good professional singers. I cringed a little as I pressed ‘send’, but whatever. They haven’t called me up to tell me they have to shampoo their hair and won’t be available to record. Not yet anyway.
After this next recording session it will be editing, morning noon and night. I’m looking forward to that – I do love editing – then we’ll mix, and master. I think that’s a big part of why the songs sound so weird to me. Right now they’re unmixed and the vocals are super loud. Plus the harmonies are missing. I’m hoping I’ll feel better about them once things are balanced out a little and Hilary and Dawn’s parts are added. And then I’ll really have to decide. Do I want to put these songs out there for people to hear? Do I want to draw any attention to this album whatsoever?
I’ve been telling great songwriters (who are sometimes plagued with uncertainty) for years that they’re the worst person to evaluate their own work. Let the band, the fans, anybody else do that for you. You can’t possibly be objective about your own work. Just put it out there and be proud you’ve created art from nothing. It’s bound to resonate with some people, maybe lots of people. So just enjoy the journey of creating it and then let it go, blah blah blah.
For myself, I can’t seem to believe that and follow that advice. It’s so interesting, now that the shoe’s on the other foot. I want to push myself, do things that frighten me so I can grow into a wiser, more beautiful little flower. Now for the first time, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that.
And then I’m like, fuck it. Get over yourself, Maira.
These songs aren’t the best in the world, so what? They aren’t the worst either.

Express Yourself

We find ourselves once more in the dark cave of Mike Southworth’s studio at Creativ, this time to record guitar solos. I’ve really been looking forward to this session. I always enjoy listening to Rees play. Unless it’s overpowering my piano solo, in which case I wish his volume knob was closer to me than to him. But that’s pretty typical of every guitar player I’ve ever worked with. I know, it’s wrong to stereotype. I will say that Rees is a very sensitive guitar player, who rarely tramples on others (musically, at least). Sometimes the music sweeps him away though, and he expresses his joy and excitement by playing more and louder. Hell, I do the same thing. That’s why people play rock and roll. Because you get to play very, very loudly all together and it’s so much fun that you don’t care if it’s dynamically sensitive or fits the song or whatever other bullshit detail you’re supposed to be aware of.
There were three big solos to record, and it took all day to do so. As usual there was a ton of good material and as usual Rees was willing to do hundreds of takes to keep making it better. I made sure Mike and Rees both were well caffeinated, which led to a lot of loud excited talking, and a river of swift-flowing ideas.

No E’s, Please

Every Single One

What shall we do this weekend? I know! Let’s record organ parts. Oh, how did you know that would be my favorite thing to do?

Playing organ is an entirely different animal than playing the piano. If you think like a piano player when you’re playing organ, you will sound lame. This is a fact. Although both instruments have white and black keys arranged in the same linear fashion, their physical appearance is about the only thing they share. When recording organ in the studio, using a real leslie speaker is also important. And incorporating the drawbars is a must.

Drawbars are little rods that you pull and push, each one can be set a different length to change the sound of the organ. Don’t even get me started about drawbars. They’re a whole world unto themselves. Here’s a brief summary: (obviously I can’t help myself) Drawbars can be pulled out towards the player, this corresponds with an increase in volume. There are usually 9 drawbars on most Hammond organs. Each one produces a different tone. One will be the fundamental (the pitch of whatever keys you’re playing). The others are: an octave below the fundamental, a fourth below, an octave higher, 2 octaves higher, 3 octaves higher, a octave + fourth, an octave +fifth, and an octave + seventh higher.

Drawbars coupled with the two different keyboards on most Hammonds, in conjunction with the leslie speaker which alters the pitches via the Doppler effect create a vast, endless world of organ sounds which can be specifically tailored for each song, for each different section of a song.

So we set up the leslie and the organ in the studio and I tried to get familiar with the drawbars so I could make a whole bunch of different organ sounds. Keep in mind, I don’t own an organ or a leslie so although I knew what I wanted it to sound like, I was basically flying blind with somebody else’s equipment. But every time I record organ parts I learn more about how to do it better. And I think jeez, I should get myself a real organ.

Mike settles himself in the control room and we begin. Before every take I have to position the leslie speaker in front of the mic. Then I play, turning the leslie on/off with the foot switch while my left hand adjusts the drawbars to a different setting for each section of each song. It’s all very invigorating, keeping track of all that stuff while thinking about notes and chords and so on. Every take was easier and more comfortable until…

“Um, there’s a something really jarring in those chords, try it again?” Mike says. I do. “It’s that E. It totally sticks out, it’s way louder than the others. Can you avoid it?”

Okaaaay. Yes, I can. I think. Sometimes that happens with recording organs, particular notes are way out of whack in relation to the others and you can hear it instantly on playback. Playing it live, probably no one would notice. Except Mike.

I added “avoid the E above middle C” to my mental list of things to keep track of while playing and we recommenced. Soon I was feeling comfortable again, although I had no brainpower left for conversing or assessing the quality of each take. But that’s why you have a producer, right? He’s more than happy to say “Do it again. Nope. Do it again”. So, every single take for me was like a mumbling crazy conversation you might hear from someone on the bus you’d rather sit far away from.

“Ok, set the leslie to mic. White 8, brown 5, brown4, white3, white2, white,5, black2, black4, black6. (drawbars) Foot on leslie switch. C, Am, Em no E’s. Turn leslie on. Turn leslie off. Bridge! White 8, brown3, brown2, leave white, change blacks 4, 4, 8. Leslie on. C, Am no E’s, leslie off.”

Beam me up, Scotty.

After 6 hours of this, we had all the parts recorded. I’m actually a little afraid of the editing session that will have to follow. What if a rebellious E snuck in there and we have to go back and do it all again? The organ sounds fantastic though, and those drawbars and the leslie are always worth the struggle. Hopefully all my burned out brain cells will grow back too.

We Bring Good Things To Life

Every Single One
Blackbirds

This weekend Mike and Rees recorded all the guitar parts, while I was recovering from surgery at home. The drugs were some consolation, although they did not make the awful feelings disappear as effectively as recording piano parts.
There was a great variety and plethora of guitar ideas. It was kind of overwhelming to see how many takes we ended up with. Truly this will require a most tremendous editing session. I have discovered I love editing. Well, I always knew that. Creating the raw material wasn’t really my thing until recently but I’ve always loved to mess with someone else’s raw material that needs shaping, a little snip here, a sprinkling of Maira-fluence there.
But messing with my own raw material is even more fun! It’s been a revelation to create a song out of thin air and then smash it merrily about, adding then editing vocal parts, drums, bass, piano, and now guitars. Once again Mike’s job as a backline tech has come extremely handy in the recording process as his bosses have allowed him to borrow whatever guitar amps and gear he wants from their warehouse for our sessions.
Rees played great. I’d given him charts and demos to listen to well beforehand and I was pretty pleased with what he came up with at the band rehearsals. The volume of takes that he and Mike came up with in the studio was impressive. And I found myself singing along with some of his lines on the second listen. A good indication of catchiness, that elusive and essential quality of all good music. Almost instantaneous catchiness is very encouraging.
For the first time I can get a sense of how these songs might take shape. The guitars have added so much color to the bass, drum and piano tracks. A lot of it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, and for that I am grateful and delighted. That’s why it’s so fun to work with wonderful musicians who are also close friends. I can trust them to think hard and come up with something good that is in their own voice – their unique musical expression that I have come to know and love over the years, as I have also come to know them as friends. It boggles the mind to think how these beautiful people will sound all together.

Oh Loverboy…

Blackbirds
Every Single One

Got some surprise studio time! Somebody’s cancellation is our delightful gain. We recorded and edited all the piano tracks in 8 hours. The piano at Creativ Studios once belonged to the keyboard player from Loverboy, an excellent omen. I loves me some Loverboy. Especially the keyboard parts.
It was really lovely to play an acoustic piano all day. There’s something so satisfying about playing precisely and firmly, feeling the hammer strike the string. I can feel the impact from each hammer travel through my fingers and hand, up my arm, into my elbow and shoulder. It’s jarring, but in a familiar reassuring way. I’ve been playing piano since I was 7 years old and I’ve always loved to feel the notes go twang! into my joints.
So I played for 5 hours and was deeply, deeply calm and mellow afterwards. But also totally refreshed, like waking up after a satisfying sleep. I wish I could do that every day. Play piano until I fall into a waking dream.
We knocked out those songs one by one, very quickly. Sometimes on the first or second take. Well, I’ve been playing those songs on piano for months now. I would have been kind of horrified if it had been super difficult to play the parts well. The piano at Creativ sounds just gorgeous, which helps a lot. The only thing I was remotely concerned about was the one solo I allowed myself (all the other solos will be guitar). But we ended up with a really good one, something I’ll be happy to share with the world.
All in all it was one of the best days I’ve ever had in the studio. Although I can’t help but notice, each day in the studio is a best day. It’s like going on a fantastic weekend vacation, every time. No matter what other horrible tragedies are going on in my life, it’s amazing that being creative and having access to a mode of personal expression affords me some breathing space, some relief from the awfulness of real life.
I think it really comes down to the ability to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Something as challenging as performing and composing music requires every brain cell I’ve got. There’s just no room to spare for anything else. This doesn’t solve problems, but it does make them disappear temporarily. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.

Parlour Steps Ring That Bell Video Release

Wow, we all look so cute in this video! Julie did a great job putting together outfits for Rob, Rees, and I. She borrowed the clothes from the vintage clothing store where she works (Thanks C’est La Vie!) so we had access to much cooler stuff than we would have left to our own meager wardrobes.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this video. Strange, (slow motion chair smashing) unexpected (chair choreography), and funny (Rees’s very skinny jeans).

This video used to be up on youtube, now it’s listed as private:( You can see it on vimeo by clicking the link below.

http://vimeo.com/17101617

It’s great to have an official video of us playing together. What a pleasure it was to perform and make songs with Rees, Julie, Rob and Caleb.

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

Rees, Julie and I drove from Seattle to Portland together. I drove part of the way, in Julie’s silver PT Cruiser (his name is Petey). I was secretly pretty stoked to get a chance to drive her car. There’s a teeny tiny little Main Street hipster buried deep inside my stark minimalist exterior. And that little hipster was pleased as punch to throw on her horn rimmed glasses, thrift store tweed blazer and drive Petey proud and fast.

We stopped for gas and when we went in to pay there was a stack of thick magazines called “Are You Prepared For Armageddon?” right next to the cashier.

“How much is this”, I asked.
“Oh, it’s free”, she said. “That guy’s always in here dropping more off”.
Rees and I promptly grabbed copies for ourselves. I was dying to know who “that guy” was, but I didn’t want to draw any more attention to ourselves.

I thought it was going to be tips and recommendations on appropriate preparations for Judgement Day, like earthquake preparedness guidelines. (“When Armageddon comes, take cover under a sturdy table until the rain of fire stops”) But no. It was pretty disappointing. It turns out to prepare for Armageddon you have to read the Bible a lot, and warn people who don’t read the Bible that they are in for a world of hurt come that glorious day when the Prince Of Peace comes to reign over the righteous.

At least Rees and I had plenty to discuss while Julie slept, though. There was a big accident on the highway coming into Portland and we crawled along in the pouring rain for 2 hours before we arrived at Rees’s cousins’ place where we were staying. I first met Joe and Rochelle 2 years ago when Parlour Steps stayed with them in my first tour with them in 2008. Since then they had reproduced and I was looking forward to meeting their 5 month old son.

We played with the baby – Connor was very friendly and smiley – got changed for the show and arrived at the venue, Mississippi Studios, with just enough time to grab some dinner before we had to play. There was a fast and delicious Thai restaurant right across the street.

I think I’ll always think of Parlour Steps when I eat Thai food. It seemed to be the cuisine we could all agree on so we ate a lot of Thai food together over the years, across many provinces and states.

One last change in a bar washroom. Juile lent me one of her “extra shirts”, much cooler than anything I had. Once I again I reap the benefits of her overpacking!

And yes, this was the last time for bar washroom wardrobe changes. It was the last time for everything. This was our last show together. Julie has decided to leave the band to pursue her career (and eventually her own store) as an optician, and Rob is moving to Montreal. Maybe Caleb will continue Parlour Steps in some form, but it won’t ever be with this specific group of people anymore.

It’s always a little jarring to face big changes, but I’m feeling pretty good about everything. I made some wonderful friends in this band that I’ll stay close with forever. I helped make songs for a really good album, and I had some unique and amazing adventures that would not have been possible without being in Parlour Steps. Who knows what the future holds, and that’s pretty exciting to me.

It was a fantastic show for us. We played very well, the sound was well balanced and comfortable onstage. The room filled up as we played, and Rees had his own cheering section as his Portland relatives screamed in delight for all his guitar solos. A really satisfying bookend to my Parlour Steps experience.

Afterwards we sold some cd’s, and then Julie and I climbed high up onto a catwalk beside the stage to watch Wintersleep again. They packed that place. It was inspiring. After they were done, Julie and I were ready to head back to Joe’s house to crash. But just as we were making our escape, a very tall, polite young man asked Julie if he could borrow her bass, as his had just broken 2 strings. He was in the last band of the night, Hey Marseilles. She of course said yes, and we resigned ourselves to staying put for another couple hours.

And I’m so glad we did! Hey Marseilles were a revelation. They were wonderful, beautiful songs, amazing musicians, great live show. Their keyboard player had a Nord Electro 2 and an accordion. The bass player Sam also played cello. There was a string section, 2 guitars and a great drummer. It’s just so much fun to discover a great band by hearing them play live.

A perfect end to a great night.

Julie, Rob and I drove back together the next morning. It was a beautiful drive.

Except for the massive rush hour we hit coming into Vancouver, spending the last 2 hours of the drive crawling through the Massey tunnel. But other than that, a successful weekend.

Parlour Steps, Seattle WA

Parlour Steps had the great good fortune to open for Halifax indie band Wintersleep for a couple of their U.S. shows on their most recent tour. We were going to play in Seattle and Portland for the weekend.

Julie, Rob and I drove down together in Julie’s car. We had no problem getting across the border and arrived at the club, The Tractor, in plenty of time. We made checked in with the staff and settled in to wait for Caleb and Rees to show up with the gear.

There were a lot of red cowboy boots hanging around.

We amused ourselves by taking pictures of each other taking pictures, good natured insults, and talking about Caleb and Rees while they weren’t there to defend themselves. Not really, guys. Well, not very much.

Julie and I went for dinner after all our gear was loaded in and set up. We’ve had lovely dinners all over Canada and the U.S. together, just her and I. I’m not sure how it happens, but frequently we end up eating separately from the boys. Sometimes Rees joins our girl-dinners, which is also fun. He’s a man who knows how to be good friends with women. I’m married to a guy who has that same talent, it’s a wonderful thing.

Tonight it was just the gals though. Rees, Caleb and Rob came to meet later on and we all hung out until it was time for the first band to start. They were a local Seattle band called Land Of Pines. Really nice people and good songs.

Another washroom/dressing room wardrobe change, (very cramped)

and then it was our turn. We had a nicely polished set and it was good and loud onstage. People turned their heads towards the dance floor and gradually pressed closer to the stage. Afterwards we sold cd’s, all to people who’d never heard of us before. And extras as gifts for their friends too. That’s always nice when that happens. A total stranger whose first impression of your band playing live is so good that they buy your album for themselves and their friends on the spot

Wintersleep was such a good way to close the night. They are a very powerful, heavy, melodic rock band.

The song they are famous for (Weighty Ghost) is a beautiful, soft ballad. That’s all I knew of Wintersleep before I saw them. As soon as they started their first song, I was immediately impressed by their loud, unified heaviness. Much more prog than I expected, so I was delighted. It’s just fantastic to see a good prog band live. That’s right, I said it. I love prog rock.

Tomorrow, on to Portland.

Recent Ear Candy Discoveries

As some of you already know, I play keyboards and sing in a Vancouver band called Parlour Steps. For the past 5 months we’ve been part of a province wide music competition called The Peak Performance Project. The Top 20 bands have been working together for the past 5 months to complete various challenges and events while being assessed by a panel of judges for our efforts. Sure, there’s a lot of prize money on the line but for me that most amazing part of the competition has been to meet these artists, play shows with them, and hear their songs.
Here are the Top 20 bands I’m currently listening to who have really impressed me with their work:
Yes Nice – “Blindfolded”
Their song “Horses” gave me chills the first time I heard it live, and it remains the most cheerful song about the Apocalypse I’ve ever heard.
Yuca – “Yuca”
Matt has a pure, angelic voice that works amazingly with Justin’s shreddingly awesome guitar skills and a powerhouse rhythm section. Their music is intense and melodic and demands the listener’s full attention.
Aidan Knight – “Versacolor”
Aidan Knight and his band The Friendly Friends have completely charmed the entire audience every time I’ve seen them live. They play beautiful, relaxed, pretty music that sets the listener at ease and provides a moment to breathe deeply.
Said The Whale – “Islands Disappear”
Delicious multi-part harmonies, two delightful gents up front singing with their guitars, and a generous blend of folk/rock/indie makes their songs instantly familiar to me, even from the first listen.
All of these albums can be previewed/purchased on iTunes or you can go to any of these bands’ websites to order physical copies. Besides being great musicians, these people are lovely and decent and struggling to make it as creative artists in B.C. Check them out and I’m sure you’ll find they deserve your support.

Parlour Steps, Ring That Bell Video Shoot

We had one weekend in mid-October to make a video for “Ring That Bell”. Director Robert Riendreau

and his partner Deborah

had transformed a totally non-descript windowless underground room into a really cool set with nothing more than a few light bulbs and some black electrical tape and vinyl squares.

I seriously underestimated how many times I would hear “Ring That Bell” that weekend. About halfway through day 1 I had completely memorized the whole song and was thinking playback was probably no longer necessary. We could probably lip synch it without even hearing it.

Julie brought her Thunderbird, a gorgeous instrument that is approximately the same size as she is.

You have to be very strong to carry around a Thunderbird all day. Grrrrr!

Everyone took a turn sleeping in my keyboard case. (When they weren’t needed on set, of course).

Except Rees. That guy takes his vitamins and is always very high energy.

This was the first “real” video shoot I had been to, where there’s a director and a set and stuff like that. It was fascinating to see what ideas Robert had and how he went about capturing them.

And of course, no work day would be complete without a light saber battle. Robert pulled the ones his mom gave him and he and Rees entertained us halfway through day 2.

I’m very curious to see what the final video will look like. Release scheduled for late November!

Top 20 Peak Performance Showcase Highlights

As part of the Peak Performance Project (which seems to go on and on without end, but the finish line is actually in sight now), each of the Top 20 bands performed at a concert showcase with 3 other fellow Peak bands at the Red Room in Vancouver.

Even though I am an ardent, avowed introvert (Say it quietly, to yourself! I’m an introvert and I’m proud!) I went to all the showcases, which took place every Thursday during September. Every band had to do a cover of a “classic Canadian song”, which led to some unexpected gems.

Vince Vacarro did a nice rendition of a Sam Roberts song. Interesting, as he had been relentlessly compared to Sam Roberts all during Boot Camp.

Acres Of Lions did a fantastic cover of Never Surrender by Corey Hart. They really impressed me at Boot Camp. Very loud, very powerful, very skilled musicians.

Aidan Knight, always a crowd favorite, did not disappoint. I thought it was a brave choice to perform without a drummer in such a rock and roll environment.

Yes Nice. One of my new favorite bands. I loved their showcase at Boot Camp. It was truly exciting. Their cover was “Run With Us”, the theme to “The Raccoons”, which will mean nothing to you if you didn’t watch CBC as a small child in the 80’s. I did, and I shrieked with delight when I recognized this song. Very unique and imaginative. Nathaniel was one of the standout frontmen, I thought.

Debra-Jean and the Means. Dark, scary, very powerful rock songs sung by an amazing voice that really knows how to sing. (And it’s not easy at all to sing properly and well) Very thoughtful harmony, lots of strange minor chords and dissonant voicings. I thought hers were the most adventurous and unusual songs, structurally speaking. Her cover was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, which seemed to come as a relief to the crowd after several of her originals. I love music that does not reveal itself fully on the first listen. Debra Jean was very intriguing and I’m looking forward to sitting down with her songs and getting to know them.

41st and Home – such nice guys, and they did a standout, very compelling cover of “Life Is A Highway”. You’d think there’d be nothing you could do with such a worn out song, but they really surprised me.

Christopher Arruda. One of the best piano players I saw at Boot Camp (and he also plays guitar) and an incredibly powerful voice. It’s always neat to see a male singer really belt it out.

And then there was Behind Sapphire. They performed in their pajamas,

their lead singer sang into an exquisitely tarnished trophy,

they had people in very convincing astronaut costumes handing out download cards and dancing in the crowd,

and then they threw bags of feathers all over the place. Pretty cool.

Said The Whale. Crowd favorites, fan favorites, one of my favorites. They just have something together, a chemistry that is fun to watch. They did a cover of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka. They are very, very smart – they have such good, creative ideas. At Boot Camp they had a horn section playing on a little balcony up in the rafters that surprised almost everyone…we heard horns all of a sudden and had to look up to find them. At the Red Room they threw confetti on the crowd. A lot of confetti. Right after Behind Sapphire’s feathers. The dance floor was buried.

Greg Sczebel. You can’t go wrong with a key-tar. And a string section, and one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen.

Yuca. A very loud, heavy band, with a lead singer who sounds like an angel with a pure clean voice. Very impressive musicianship. And it all goes together perfectly. They did “Say What You Want” by Nelly Furtado, and it really worked.

And finally, Kyprios. His band was awesome, and they looked amazing and polished. His cover was a hip hop re-working of Sweet City Woman by The Stampeders. All the other bands were good, really good. Some were more imaginative than others. Some had better songs than others. But when Kyprios tore the roof off the Red Room, something happened. He had the whole package, I guess. He acted like he was a huge superstar and I think he made everyone believe that he was. Probably exactly what the Peak is looking for. And he had the songs and the band to back it up.

Everyone Needs A Hobby

Every Single One

Mike and I finally had a weekend off together that coincided with the studio being available so yay, we edited drum tracks and recorded bass tracks. I admit, it was pretty weird to see Mike strap on a handsome deep cherry red 5 string bass and play it. I’ve just never seen him play anything other than drums and very rarely guitar. The novelty of it was deeply amusing to me.
I got to push buttons to record Mike while he played. That was fun. It was really fun to be the one who pushed “record”. I think we got some good stuff. I’m having a really good time in the recording process. It’s very satisfying to spend every weekend we possibly have in the studio, recording or editing. I wish we could spend more time in there. I think I’ve found my hobby of choice.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Showcase

Fresh from the triumph of Bumbershoot and Foodfest, we rehearsed like mad and were as ready as possible for our show in the Peak Performance Project Concert Series at the Red Room in Vancouver.  There would be a panel of judges. Their marks would factor heavily into the overall points total that would determine the winners of the competition. So it was very important to play as well as we could.

And we did, we played as well as we possibly could. After 2 weeks of intense rehearsing, more preparation than I’ve ever seen happen in this band, we had crafted a wonderful set. And it went off without a hitch. We played before a packed house of 500+ people. The dance floor was hopping. So many of our fans turned out. They sang along to all the songs. It was heartwarming. After our last song, they chanted “PARLOUR STEPS! PARLOUR STEPS!” A delightful first.

I don’t even care what the final result will be. We got a lot of positive feedback from the Peak Performance faculty who were in attendance that night, which was lovely, but also not that important. The main thing is, it was the best show I’ve ever played with this band. Bumbershoot was also really good, but the time we spent in rehearsals and preparation made this Red Room show even more tight and polished. We gained confidence from our repeated practices. How else can you really gain confidence, other than preparation, planning, repetition, practicing? Improvising is fun too. But this was not the venue for improvising.

I was proud of our hard work, and I was ecstatic that it paid off. We reached a new level of achievement as a band, so naturally I was tickled. I just love getting better at stuff. I guess that also means I love hard work and preparation, which I do. And attention to detail. But I’m not as boring as this sounds. After all, I do play in a hip band.

Here’s the Parlour Steps cover of Teenland, by the Northern Pikes. All the Top 20 Peak bands had to do a cover of a ‘classic’ Canadian song for the Red Room showcase series. My first time coming out from behind my keyboard to sing.

Parlour Steps at Foodfest

As part of the Peak Performance Project, all the Top 20 bands were required to stage a charity event that would allow them to interact with the larger community and give something back through the power of music.

Parlour Steps put together a great event that came together surprisingly quickly and easily. We decided to play a benefit concert for the food bank.

This is the kind of thing you ask Rees to work on. He’s blessed with an abundance of charm, salesmanship, and tenacity. Within 2 weeks, he had organized an event in conjunction with Capers on Robson. We would play in their parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, soliciting donations for the food bank, and they would match whatever amount of money and food we raised.

Caleb arranged a portable sound system through his connections at Mediaco, (with a tent, thank god. We started the day in pouring rain) and promoted the concert through local media channels.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank showed up with a big tent and a couple of volunteers.

They were super nice, and they sold our cd’s while we played. We gave half the money from the sales to the food bank and by the end of the day we had raised over $500, plus a large crate of food donations.

Parlour Steps @ Bumbershoot, Seattle WA

Yeah, Bumbershoot’s a pretty big deal it turns out. Bob Dylan is playing after us (although not on the same stage, honesty compels me to admit). Weezer and Mary J. Blige are here too.

We arrived in Seattle late last night, checked into our hotel and got some good sleep. Today we were ready for our 3:30pm show at the Experience Music Project Skychurch, looking forward to playing after a great rehearsal. Plus we had a chance to incorporate the stuff we learned from Peak Performance camp, so we were definitely better and further along than before. That made me happy. I love getting better at stuff.

We had a bit of time at the Experience Music Project Museum before our show, not nearly enough though. Someday I’m going to come back for 3 days and really do it right. A whole museum devoted to rock, blues, and hip hop with interactive exhibits, you can’t really have a bad time there.

Here’s the view from backstage. It’s a very large space for 5 people to fill.

There were people backstage whose job it was to carry our gear. That was a first. A really great, amazing first.

Our show was excellent, probably the best show I’ve ever seen this band play. So many new and different elements onstage (thanks Peak Performance), great musicianship, everyone looked great and had fun. The crowd was awesome Skychurch was filled to capacity, 700+. There was a lineup of 200 more people outside who couldn’t get in. The most successful U.S. show for us ever.

And I feel that I can say that without reservation, because here in this interview that Caleb did for Bumbershoot writer Shawn Conner says “Parlour Steps have broken in America”. Bold, Shawn. Very bold.

Here’s us, playing our little hearts out. Easily the biggest stage and the biggest space we’ve ever played in.

I’ve decided I could definitely get used to being a rock star.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Camp

In the latest installment of the Peak Performance Project saga, all the top 20 bands were required to attend a week long Boot Camp at the beautiful Rockridge Canyon Resort in Princeton. There would be 7 days of workshops, seminars, and classes on every subject an indie band could ever desire. Copyright law, social media marketing, licensing, songwriting, branding, working with agents and managers, it was all in one place, free for the taking. As an incredibly geeky person who adores learning and information and new ideas I was very excited about how this week might change me. There would also be live performances from all the bands at evening concerts after classes were done. These concerts would be adjudicated, but would not count towards the final score that would determine the prize winners.
Julie and I had a great drive to Rockridge Canyon. We settled into our room that we were sharing with all the other girl players, and then waited for the Parlour Steps gentlemen to arrive.

The setting was gorgeous. What a nice environment to think, practice, and learn in.

There was a hockey game after dinner the first night, faculty vs. musicians.

The next day, it was time to get to work. The week went by so quickly, and I took about 20 pages of notes in addition to the huge binder of materials and handouts we were all provided with. It was invigorating to be back in a music school environment. People practicing and rehearsing everywhere, debating the material covered in class, making new friends. I think I need to go back to school before I die. I just know I’d get so much more out of it than I did the first time around, when I was too young to really appreciate it.
Every night there was a show featuring 20 minute sets from 4 bands. Rockridge Canyon is a Christian owned facility, so there was no alcohol on site, and drinking/drug use was prohibited. Now that was an interesting setting to hear new music. Over 100 hard partying musicians aged 20-35 seated primly on chairs in rows in front of the stage drinking coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It was actually way better than a bar. People weren’t yelling in each other’s faces and were paying complete attention to the music.
The last concert was a songwriting contest. Anybody could collaborate, and the song had to contain the words “last night”. There were some pretty great costumes.

It was an amazing week. I met some fantastic musicians, producers, lawyers, engineers, agents, and marketing gurus. All the new stuff I learned can be applied to my fledgling new project, which I think will be called OK Maira. I can’t wait to jump into it and spread all those new ideas around.
Julie and I drove back to Vancouver, and dissected the week completely. It was lovely to meet new people, and it was equally lovely to spend a week with Julie and enjoy a new deepening of our friendship. There was just enough time to shower, change, and re-pack before a rehearsal and then the drive to Seattle, where we’ll be playing at an enormous festival called Bumbershoot. Ah, the glamour of indie rock.

Parlour Steps On Degrassi

I could also call this post, “a childhood dream reaches fruition”, but that wasn’t as catchy, or direct. So, Parlour Steps had a song on this week’s episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. And if you don’t know anything about Degrassi, go ask Kevin Smith – Silent Bob, maker of “Clerks” – he’s a huge fan.

Like many thousands of Canadians who were becoming teenagers in the 90’s, I watched Degrassi High almost every week. If you had told me then that in a few years I’d be hearing my own voice singing on an episode of Degrassi, I would have punched you in the face for your insolence. I guess it’s for the best you never did that, hey? Cause I’m a lover, not a fighter, and a pretty lousy puncher to boot.

Not only did the new single “Little Pieces” make it onto an episode, oh no, much better than that – “Little Pieces” was featured in the conclusion of a two-parter called “Still Fighting It” that contained a critical plot development concluding a season-long story arc. Two of the show’s favorite characters (Eli and Claire) finally get together after Eli reveals a painful secret from his past. They are sitting in Eli’s car, and “Little Pieces” is playing on the car stereo while this secret is revealed.

I was tuned in at home, (watching Degrassi for the first time in 15 years, and it’s still pretty good) waiting with eager anticipation to see where the song would be played. “EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” is the sound I made when it finally came on. I could hardly believe our luck that the song was used during such a major plot point. Degrassi routinely pulls in over a million viewers. The thought that so many people heard something that Parlour Steps made was quite intoxicating, and a glorious, glorious first. I’ve had a lot of glorious firsts in this band, I realize.

And lots of people did see it. Within days we had 10 000 plays of the song on you-tube and it became our biggest selling song on iTunes. Here’s a video that a Degrassi fan put together. Another first, someone outside the band making a fan video of Parlour Steps material.

On the “Degrassi Music” you-tube channel there’s almost 32000 views now. Jeez.

I still really love this song, even after playing it hundreds of times over the past 15 months. Sometimes I feel so grateful to be able to do what I do.

Drums and Mikes

Whereupon Mike Zobac has returned from a wild summer of lady-rock on the Lillith Fair 2010 tour! And what a pleasure it was to share a day in the studio with drums and Mikes. In a radical departure from the usual, Mike Zobac was in the engineer’s chair and Mike Southworth was on the other side of the glass at the drum kit.
I recorded some scratch vocal and piano tracks for Southworth to play along to. After the drums were miked (in so many ways) to the satisfaction of both drummer Mikes, and many exclamations of delight and mutual congratulations (“That snare drum sounds awesome” “I know – SO DEEP!” “I love your china crash”, etc. etc) we hunkered down for 8 hours of drumming. Both Mikes were excellent and we ended up with the loveliest drum tracks a girl could ask for.
And I must agree, those drums sound damn good. Now we edit for hours and hours and hours.

That’s really Southworth playing in this clip, but the camera couldn’t see him through the glass with the reflections:(

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Project Video

So Parlour Steps have made it into the Top 20 for the 2010 Peak Performance Project. The Peak Performance Project is a contest sponsored by Vancouver radio station the Peak 100.5fm. There were over 600 entries. The reason why this contest is important, why so many great bands are participating, is that there is a lot of money involved. $100 000 for first prize, $75 000 for second, $50 000 for third, and $3500 to every top 20 finalist. Way bigger than the biggest Factor grant you could ever get, this is serious money that will help artists break through to the next level.
There’s going to be a lot of projects and assignments that all the bands have to complete over the next 3 months. Everything will be judged by a committee of industry professionals. Last month we had our first event, a 12 hour orientation at the Biltmore where Parlour Steps were chosen as an example band to have our live performance adjudicated by Tom Jackson, who has built an empire by coaching such artists as Taylor Swift. That was a fun day.
Now we have completed the second assignment, make a viral video that promotes your band and the Peak. We spent a Saturday riding bikes in the sun for 8 hours and singing Sleeping City over and over.

Meet The Band

Blackbirds
Every Single One

It’s a delicate, patient process to schedule a rehearsal with 6 people who work full time jobs, go to school, play shows, go on tour, etc. In our case Mike Zobac is going on tour with Lillith Fair as a backline tech for the summer so I really wanted to get everybody together a couple of times before he was gone. So by booking about 3 weeks in advance we were able to find some time to play the songs and come up with ideas for parts and arrangements.
I had a good time at all the rehearsals. I think we had 4 in total. It was interesting to hear my friends play music together. I’m really grateful they made the time to do this. I’m not sure if the songs are good enough, but then I think what qualifies as ‘good enough’ and what does it matter? It will be fun to record songs and play them with these people. If I keep writing and recording and playing, the songs are sure to get better and eventually I’ll feel more confident about them. Yes. Of course.
When I think about the band I’ve assembled I get so pleased that I feel fine about the songs. Even if there are too many Mikes, which require me to identify them by last name. Southworth is playing drums. He’s sheer pleasure to watch with his band Scatterheart. He produced and engineered two of The Feminists albums and we’ll be recording these songs in his gorgeous studio space in North Van. I enjoyed every studio session I’ve ever had with Mike and I am perpetually awed at the deep level of his talent and how hard he is willing to work, always. To be honest, considering how busy he is as a producer and with Scatterheart, I was completely surprised that he said yes to playing these rehearsals. Asking him was a ‘what the hell, why not’ kind of thing. Note to self: Sometimes it pays to aim stupidly high.
Zobac is playing bass. This may come as a surprise for those who know him as a drummer. But he offered, and I became very curious to hear what he and Mike Southworth would sound like together. Zobac was Southworth’s drum teacher another lifetime ago, back in the late 20th century. So they go way back but haven’t played on a band together, seeing as how you don’t generally need two drummers at the same time. Mike and I played together joyfully in The Feminists for 6 years and I know very well how thoroughly talented he is as a musician. I knew he played bass too but hadn’t seen him bust it out until now. He’ll be producing and engineering this record as well.
Rees Haynes is playing guitar. Rees and I have played together in Parlour Steps for the past 2 years, but we first met at the Jazz Studies Program at Capilano College where we were both students years ago. It didn’t take long for me to realize, making songs with him in Parlour Steps, that I love his guitar playing. So melodic! So catchy! Such good parts, such good arrangement ideas.
Hilary Grist is playing keyboard and singing harmony. She’s working away on her own record, which we are all dying to hear. After hearing her parts at our vocal rehearsals, I am newly appreciative of lovely voice. It reminds me of clear, pure cold water flowing. Refreshing and quenching. Plus her mad keyboard skills. And did I mention the wicked vocal parts?
Dawn Pemberton is also playing keyboard and singing harmony. Dawn’s voice is instantly arresting, even your first time hearing her. It’s so familiar to me I have a hard time trying to describe it. I would say it’s a voice that makes people feel safe and loved. She’s always in demand as a session singer and plays in about 7 different groups, all kinds of music. I hadn’t really heard her play keyboard before, and it’s a thrill to hear how good she is.
We recorded all the arrangements at our last rehearsal, with seconds to spare before getting kicked out of the practice space. With one microphone and Dawn’s laptop. Excuse the ungodly distortion. Nothing more to be done now until Mike gets back. Then we’ll record drums.

And Now We Have Vocal Parts!

Blackbirds
Every Single One

I’ve been to probably 500 rehearsals since I started playing in bands.  The first one I remember was at age 16, in Mike Southworth’s basement, for a band called Funky T Franklin & The Clots.  I was a Clot.  So was Mike. Certainly I had not attained the lofty heights of Funky T, whose privilege it was to put her name out in front. It didn’t matter. I was happy just to be there, playing covers of old R&B songs.  We played one show at the Centenoka Mall in Salmon Arm for a fundraiser for the Red Cross.  I thought that was really poetic.  We Clots were playing to help raise awareness and money for blood donations.

Some rehearsals are boring.  Some are maddeningly frustrating, with essential members strolling in an hour late and sloooooowly setting up their gear. Some are emotional, as personal turmoils burst out in a sneak attack and everybody ends up yelling at each other for no apparent reason. Some are magic, where you are in the middle of great music being created for the first time.

But these most recent rehearsals were something different altogether.  Dawn and Hilary came over to work on vocal parts for my record. We’ve known each other for years, met in music school at the jazz program at Capilano. They are my true lady friends and I’ve had so many good times with them. But we’ve never worked together professionally before.  Played together a bit in school, but that was all. So they show up to my house a few times and we head up to my attic practice space and get cracking. No one is late and there is no yelling.

And I realize, again.  These gals are fantastic musicians.  Sometimes you can forget, that your best friends are also amazingly skilled and are out in the world doing their thing with great aplomb.  Maybe I have doubts about my songs, but I know for sure that Hilary and Dawn have already made them better.

Parlour Steps, Austin TX Part 2

Impressions continued:

Sat. Mar. 20
Our last of 4 days in Austin. I was feeling significantly better, but still sounded awful with a frighteningly thick, deep cough that I’m sure cost poor Julie several hours of sleep in our shared room as I coughed myself to sleep every night.

It was very cold and windy, probably 15 degrees cooler than it had been all week. We arrived perfectly on time at the venue for load in and sound check.

Mobs of shivering hipsters were everywhere, stamping their sneaker clad feet trying to stay warm. Note to self: skinny jeans and thin, vintage t-shirts are not the best body warming options. Very, very cold and raw outside. I was so glad we were playing an indoor show, unlike many unfortunate bands and fans huddled miserably outside, around stacks of marshall amps and drumkits, determined to rock.

The sound guy was from Edmonton, and he was so happy to talk to some fellow Canadians about the recent Olympic hockey triumph. I guess “our game” really does bring us closer together, even thousands of miles from Canadian soil, sigh.

Set up lickety split on a decent sized, well lit stage. After soundcheck there was nothing to do but wait to play, as usual.

It was definitely way too cold and blustery to go exploring outside, so we stayed in and I bonded further (if that is even possible) with Rees and Julie and enjoyed the time we had to talk.

All along we have been so lucky with our shows here. When it was hot and sunny, we played outside where the people were. When it was freezing and dark we played inside where the people were. And we had another prime time slot, 8-9pm, early enough that the crowd was still sort of sober. The room was comfortably full when we started to play and after 2 or 3 songs it was packed.

Definitely our best show in Austin. The band sounded great and everyone played well. The Parlour Steps joy-charm-cuteness-kick ass musicianship tap was flowing freely, as it tends to do on a good night where everything clicks. A wave of people pressed gently, curiously, towards the front of the stage.

I looked out over the growing sea of bobbing heads and smiling faces. Can’t help but smile when I see this, and I mean I can’t stop myself at all. I feel an ecstatic, face-splitting grin creep over my face and it only intensifies as my eyes lock with one stranger after another. They look right back at me and smile even bigger and it’s a very happy feedback loop.

I look to my left and see Caleb and Julie singing and playing so excellently, and Rees playing with the Rees-like skill and intensity that I admire so much. I turn and see Rob behind me, singing along mightily as his arms, hands, legs, and feet bash out the heartbeat of all the songs, the foundation that makes all our textures and layers possible.

I have the best seat in the house for every Parlour Steps show. I remember clearly enjoying PSteps shows as a fan before I joined the band. I was one of the happy upturned faces in the sea of happy faces, jumping somewhat rhythmically in delight as I sang along with my favorite songs. That was fun.

But this is better! Standing in the vortex of a song hurricane, contributing my own melodic noise to this storm, this is bone deep satisfaction. One of my many favorite things about playing music.

Won over the crowd quite intensely, it seems. Photographers running around, snapping pictures of us, a small crush of people with official delegate tags come to talk to me as the last note dies away.

Packed up the gear and walked with it (traffic was so bad it was faster to walk) back to the studio space being used as storage. There were very large blue plastic barrels filled with cans of Red Bull and bottles of vodka, courtesy of illustrious corporate sponsors. Rees liberated several containers, emptied out half a can of Red Bull and filled it back up with vodka for us – not me – I think I’d rather shrivel up with dehydration than drink Red Bull and I’m too much of a lightweight to drink straight vodka. We walked back into downtown Austin for a fabulous meal of Mexican food.

From the restaurant Rees liberated a large plastic water glass so he would have something to pour his vodka into as we strolled the packed, noisy, jubilant, streets of Austin for the last time.

Went to a few bars and saw some good bands. Until about 1:00am, when I saw 3 guys in dark sunglasses and Miami Vice jackets (guitar, guitar, drums) kick into their power pop showcase with sequenced bass, vocal, and keyboard parts.

Bands who play along with computers during a supposedly live show grind my gears SEVERELY. Hello, it’s a live performance. We’re not sitting around in your living room listening to your record. If you can’t play all your parts live, hire more musicians or practice harder.

“WHERE’S YOUR BASS PLAYER?” I shouted belligerently into the moment of silence as the first song ended. Maybe it’s time to go, was my next thought. It would be wrong to embarrass the other Parlour Steps by leaping onstage and unplugging that band’s laptop, thus revealing the emperor was only half dressed.

Moved on to another venue. Julie found the cupcake truck again and tried some more flavors.

All around us were shivering hipsters. Saw a couple more really good bands who played all their parts live, had a couple of drinks and was further overwhelmed by a glowing contentment. We made our way back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapsed into bed.

Parlour Steps, Austin TX Part 1

Impressions so far:
Wed. Mar. 17:
After a long day of travel we finally arrived in Austin. The airport had a huge display of giant guitars right beside the baggage carousel in honor of the hordes of indie rockers descending on the town for SXSW. The very same baggage carousel that did not contain my luggage, by the way. After a lengthy wait I filed a report with American Airlines and we went back to Rick and Rebecca’s house to crash.

Rick runs Nine Mile Records, the label that Parlour Steps are on. And Rebecca is his lovely, patient wife who seems not to mind that 11 people from two bands are sleeping all over her house.

Thurs. Mar. 18: My bag was delivered by the airline this morning, thank every god. After a hot shower and putting on my own clothes – and carefully going through my belongings and being thankful to see all my stuff – I felt much better. Except for this stupid cold. I haven’t been the slightest bit sick for at least a year, and to have a chest cold wallop me right now is quite demoralizing. I’ve been able to perform, and sing, but I don’t have the usual Maira intensity, wonder, and curiosity about my new surroundings. I just want to sleep and be quiet and zonk out with cold medicine. Not possible, though.

We had our first show tonight at the Nine Mile Records 5th Anniversary Party. Very frequently when I’m on tour playing music, I sit a in a lot of bars and suffer through a lot of bad bands while waiting to play. This makes me bitter, because there is an endless supply of bad bands, and I’m never going to get those hours of my life back. But not tonight! I saw 4 amazing bands before us, all on Nine Mile Records. I was completely impressed with all our labelmates. Delta blues, rockabilly, a Romanian gypsy band from L.A., then Parlour Steps. What a great night of music. In every band there were just blazingly wonderful players. Mind you, after Parlour Steps had finished playing, I was toast. And it was only 8:30. I needed to get back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapse into bed.

But first I went with Julie and Caleb to their duo interview. They were driven around in a large glass van through the streets of Austin for 20 minutes and it was streamed live in the internet.

I watched them on a small computer screen as they played a couple of songs in this strange moving fishbowl. The van was parked right outside an ice cream shop, so Julie had a Jamison ice cream cone afterward.

They used real Jamison’s in the ice cream, and they also had a Chocolate Guinness flavor made with real Guinness.

Then Julie and I went to Whole Foods – my first time, could have spent thousands of dollars in there – and I got a small vat of vegetable soup to take back to the house. The guys went off to rock and see some bands, while Julie and I ended up in the best cab in Austin going back to Rick and Rebecca’s. The cab driver’s name was Carlos, and he had tiny Christmas lights strung up inside his cab.

Ate soup, and had a nice talk with Julie. Went to bed, coughed a lot, felt really bad for Julie who had to listen to me in our shared room.

Fri. Mar. 19: Slept until noon! Felt noticeably better upon rising. Not back to normal, but I was actually hungry for the first time in 3 days. I ended up eating tortilla soup – I have been eating soup only since I left Vancouver, and tortilla soup is plentiful and delicious here in Austin – with Rees in a yee-haw type family restaurant called The Shady Grove. They did not have espresso coffee, something Rob must have sensed when he and Julie decided at the last minute to go to the restaurant next door. Maybe he has a spidey sense when it comes to coffee. I must ask him about that. Anyway, I got my first dose of “how y’all doin” from our waitress at The Shady Grove.

On the menu there was “Frito Pie”, a ‘bag of fritos topped with ground beef, sour cream, and guacamole’. There were mooseheads mounted on the wall, the chairs and tables were heavy, solid, and dark, and a sign that advised “any possession of unlicensed firearms would result in a $10 000 fine”. All the chairs here seem to be extra wide, and there also seems to be a lot of very big Texans walking around. After our soup we headed next door and met up with the rest of the Steps and made out way back to Rick and Rebecca’s house. It’s warm, sunny, and windy here. No jackets required, feels much like summer does in Vancouver. There are palm trees, cactuses (cacti?) and huge guava plants in the front yards here.


After everyone had changed and glamorized themselves sufficiently, we walked into town to our show.

The gear was already there, thanks to Rick. It was a really nice hour long walk, and I knew I was feeling better because I didn’t have to stop every few metres to gasp and choke and retch with eyes streaming and throat bursting. We played our second show at another industry party and again the bands before and after us were really good.

I thought our show was pretty decent, but I am hampered once again by the lack of a sustain pedal. So, I’m not nearly as rad as I usually am with my own gear but I did the best I could and played no wrong notes or chords like I did at the first show. But honestly, it’s a bit of a letdown to play at this very, very cool festival not being able to contribute as much as I usually do to the melodic and rhythmic goodness of this band.

After the show, Julie and Rebecca and I decided to go for a girls dinner and somehow Rees ended up joining us which always makes things more interesting. We ended up at this beautiful Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin where a mariachi band dressed in gold lame suits and sunglasses were playing.

They were wonderful, and then there was a more rock and roll Mexican band after them who were also great. I’ve heard so many awesome guitar players in the past 3 days. Every band here seems to have one, and tonight was no exception. I had one margarita, which interacted strongly with my cold meds so I thought it best to not order another. It was a deep, genuine pleasure to hang out with Rebecca and Julie and Rees and I found myself leaning over to Rees and saying, as I have on at least 3 other occasions here “We are in in Austin, Texas! To play rock and roll!” To which he responded, as he has consistently “I know!”, with a face splitting grin of joyful delight. Because it really is something to be grateful and amazed by. Is this really happening? Are we in Texas, of all places, just because we play music? It is, and we are. It’s a very long way from Vancouver, and it’s the third time in 4 months that we’ve hopped on a plane and flown thousands of miles from home to play Parlour Steps songs. Pretty wonderful, and these adventures are that much sweeter when one can take a breath, look around, and remind oneself to soak in the present moment and enjoy it.

After dinner Julie and I went to see She and Him, a cute band with pleasant songs featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. We saw it from a guy’s backyard that faced directly into the concert (through a high iron fence, but still a good vantage point) along with about a hundred of his tipsy friends.

Julie and I leaned against a ramshackle garden shed, my foot resting on a rusty propane tank, and talked about music, bands, Parlour Steps, missing our husbands, and life in general as we usually do. I had thought of going to see Muse tonight, but our show was finished too late for me to race across town to their venue. And the way my evening turned out was unexpected and delightful, as it frequently does when I’m on tour and it’s me and Julie hanging out together.

Walking through downtown Austin after the Her and Him show was quite mind boggling. Several main streets were closed to cars, and thousands of people were walking around dressed in a variety of hipster costumes.

Everywhere, in every restaurant and bar along the way there were bands playing. Every venue was packed, with people jamming the sidewalks to stop and listen. So many different kinds of music, all at high volume, at the same time.

“This reminds me of downtown Vancouver during the Olympics”, I thought. (Although it was much quieter in Vancouver). “This is the Indie Rock Olympics” was my next thought. And it really seems to be: indie rockers from all over the world have gathered to compete (for the attention of agents, record labels, and managers), make connections with each other, and show their talents. For a brief time, they take over the city and Austin becomes “knee deep in indie rockers” as Rick described it when he picked us up from the airport. Ah yes, and these were my people. I was one of them, with my Music Artist Wristband that we were all so proudly displaying. Mind you, I was not wearing a white belt or an ironic trucker’s hat but my black and white Cons were definitely not unique in this crowd.

Julie and I caught a cab relatively easily and were the first ones back at the house again. Now I’m tucked into Lilly’s small bed (Rick and Rebecca’s sweet little girl, who is away during SXSW – probably for the best, as there are 11 grown up indie rockers packed into her house), surrounded by My Little Ponys and Lilly’s original artwork, with Julie listening to her audio book in the loft bed just above me. Hopefully it won’t be as rough as it was last night with all the coughing. This is the latest I’ve stayed up and the busiest day I’ve had since my arrival, and I hope I didn’t push it too hard today. In a few hours the boys will burst into the house noisy and happy and drunken. Another typical day in the land of rock and roll adventure.

Evolution

Blackbirds
Every Single One

I definitely believe in taking risks.  Trying new things. How else can one evolve?  And I guess that’s really what I consider to be my greatest purpose. To keep changing, growing, getting smarter, becoming a better human.

So today I did something I have never, ever done before.  I booked a session with my friend Ryen, who also happens to be a professional sound engineer with a home studio. I brought my keyboard and some rumpled sheets of paper that served as my charts for a batch of songs I started writing last summer. Then he recorded me singing and playing my own songs. Now I have demos. Now I have something to give the musicians I hope to be making a record with.  And did I mention these are my own songs?

It’s one thing to think about doing something.  You know, something you’d like to try, something you might even be good at (given enough practice and effort). I’ve thought about writing songs and forming a band to play my stuff. I know I love playing shows, arranging songs, recording, and being in a band with lovely people like my current situation in Parlour Steps. Would I also love creating songs from nothing?

Turns out, sort of. Despite being tortured during every writing session with thoughts of “no one will ever want to hear this”, there were also beautiful moments of barely being able to write down great gushes of ideas, melodies, chords, lyrics. I was proud of myself for sitting down and actually doing something I had daydreamed about.

Now I can hear the songs without me playing them. My singing sounds alien and weird. How can I offer these little scraps to the excellent musicians I want to play with? Fortunately these people are also some of my closest friends. We’ve never played all together in a band before, but we’ve all worked together in various combination. They’re not going to judge me too harshly, right?

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 3

Wow. It’s been a very interesting and fun 10 days or so, being out in the world playing rock and roll with these wonderful chaps. We drove back to NYC from Northampton for our last show with Spouse and the last show of the tour.
There was plenty of time to explore before we had play. Ryen and I took a walk, like a two hour walk. He’d been to New York before, so it was lovely to just relax and let him choose our route knowing we’d get back to the club all right. He was very cool, striding along in his black leather jacket but alas I was not. I was taking pictures like a maniac and exclaiming frequently how beautiful it was to see night fall in the city.

And saying things like “Oh my god! This is Grand Central Station! I’ve only seen it in movies!

As we walked and talked I was reminded how easy it is to hang out with Ryen. I spoke effortlessly about my aspiration and ideas, which is very very rare for me. Usually I’m content to just listen and observe. But Ryen kept saying smart interesting things and asking good questions so I found myself talking a blue streak (in between pictures).

I confessed, as we walked, that I’m going to start recording my own songs. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but talking to Ryen I realized I could totally do this. He’s a sound engineer who could help me make some demos. In fact, he agreed to do that very thing. Something completely new to look forward to when we get back home.

We made it back to the appointed meeting place and waited for Caleb and Rob.

Then we met up with Rees at the venue, The Delancey, and loaded in with Spouse. Our show was really good, the best one of the tour. It was an unforgettable night – no matter what failures and defeats life has in store for me, I’ll always be happy to remember that I played with rock and roll with a groovy band in New York City.

Parlour Steps, Northampton MA

It was a great show at The Basement in Northampton. Once again we were playing with Spouse, and they packed that place. It appears that Jose knows an awful lot of people, they all love him and his band, and they come out on droves to support him. Which was a really good situation for pSteps, getting in front of big friendly audiences every night.
Still very cold and winter pretty here.

After some dinner and a bracing walk in the cold we set up and were ready to rock.

See, Spouse brought out a ton of people! It was super fun to have so many people jammed into a small low-ceilinged place with waves of rock and roll crashing around.

Here’s a decent version of Little Pieces. Way too much keyboards again, but my amp was the only place I could put the camera. Note to self – maybe I should buy that tripod off Rees for $30.

And here’s Spouse with “Vampire Love Song”. It’s incredible how many deeply talented bands are out there that no one’s ever heard of. This is my favorite way to discover new music, by seeing it played live.

Back to NYC tomorrow for our show in Manhattan, and then home again to Vancouver.

Parlour Steps, Portland ME

Oh. My. Sometimes I am reminded that I’m no longer 22 and not able to abuse my body through too much partying and too little sleep. Let me revise that – I still do occasionally perpetrate such abuse, but I feel a lot worse the morning after than I did in my early 20’s.
Jose is up there for best indie rock host of all time. We arrived at his house at about 3am after the show in Boston. The rest of Spouse was there too. They are just as rad as their playing. There were deep heart to heart conversations, the kind you can only have with strangers that happen to be kindred spirits. Mind you, the conversations were socially lubricated with a steady stream (river?) of drugs and alcohol. Just weed, Ma. Don’t worry, no intravenous adventures for your little girl. Anymore. Just kidding, Ma.
I was the only gal among 12 men. That hasn’t happened for a long time. I forgot that it can be really fun to be one of the guys. I’ve always noticed that as a solitary female in a group of guys, it takes very little time for the guys to forget I’m a girl. Then they really let themselves go and act as men do when their girlfriends aren’t around. Then I have to put up with the relentless teasing and insults that men hurl good naturedly at their friends. Silver lining, I also get to dish out the hurt – to hold my own, it wouldn’t do to have “hurt feelings” – and say things I could never, ever say to my sweet and lovely girlfriends. It can really be quite liberating to visit The Inner World Of Men.
After 2 hours of sleep, it was very very unpleasant to have to wake up at 6:45am to get ready to do another live radio performance at 8am. Ah, the glamour of indie rock. It was freezing cold and there was deep snow everywhere as we loaded up Jose’s van and headed to the station. He had gotten up even earlier than us and made us breakfast. Aw.

The sunrise and the still, cold, beautiful morning was worth getting up for.

That was the earliest I’ve ever had to perform. It was pretty weird to be drinking my morning coffee while singing and playing keyboard in front of people, but overall it was a very good show. Although I was having trouble remembering the names of the songs at that point.

Later that night we played at a great club called Empire Dine and Dance with Spouse. As usual we got there early and had plenty of time to amuse ourselves before another show with Spouse.

There was a green room for the band that had its own bar.

I think Ryen would make a great bartender.

It was another very cold, very pretty night in Maine.

Our show was really good. Considering we’d never played in Portland before and were completely unknown, the crowd was awesome and nicely enthusiastic.

I had my camera on my keyboard amp to record this, so there’s way too much of my keyboards and vocals. Other than that, it’s not bad.

Parlour Steps, Boston MA

We were up early and packed up quickly for the drive to Boston.

We were scheduled to do a live radio performance and then our first show with Spouse at The Great Scott. Jose from Spouse was going to meet us at the radio station and lend us his band’s gear for our performance. We got there no problem and started setting up.

And by the way, I was playing a 1937 Steinway grand piano. It was a lovely instrument. I wonder how many people have played it before me.

Jose from Spouse was super nice. Very smart, very kind. Also funny. I felt comfortable with him right away. The radio show went really well. We tore down and headed off for dinner with Jose before our gig later on. It was very cold but very pretty in Boston that night.

Between dinner and our show at The Great Scott we had a small adventure. After load in, we went to have some Mexican food. As we were walking there, I stepped on a piece of paper. And I think Ryen did too. He saw handwriting on the paper and bent down to pick it up. It was a letter to Senator John Kerry from a constituent who had tried to vote but whose name wasn’t on the voter’s list. There was also a response from John Kerry on U.S. senate stationery, and a letter about this issue directed to the Boston Herald. The letters had a return address and had stamps on the envelopes. We continued on to the restaurant and ate very well.
After dinner, Ryen decided to find the letter writer (whose address was on the envelope). The rest of us continued on to the bar to wait to play. During sound check Ryen returned and told us what happened.
He found the letter writer, a disabled guy with a stutter and a thick Boston accent who lived in the neighborhood close to the bar and rang the bell repeatedly. The guy finally came down and was in total shock that Ryen had found these letters on the street and then returned them to him. John Kerry will get the letter from his constituent. We didn’t read the letters as they looked very personal.
The whole thing seemed so random. Here we were, Canadians who just happened to be in Boston thousands of miles away from home. Ryen literally stumbled on these letters, and the return address was within walking distance of the one place in Boston we were supposed to be. The guy was home and answered the door. He got his letters to the senator back, which he hadn’t even realized he lost yet.
He thanked Ryen profusely and offered him a gift. Ryen, being a stand up guy of course declined. But afterwards was sorry he didn’t ask for a picture of the man with his letters.
And so the whole episode will live on only in our memories. These kind of strange events happen a lot when I’m on tour. Things you couldn’t possibly predict, but when they come along you just go with the flow and see where it takes you.

I love to see a good deed done. Hopefully Ryen’s accumulated good karma will rub off positively on Parlour Steps for the rest of the tour. It seemed to work tonight. We had a great show, and Spouse was fantastic. I think they’re going to be a new favorite band of mine.
After the show we drove to Jose’s house in Portland. There we would crash for a couple of hours before an 8:00am radio performance and another evening show with Spouse.

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 2

Because we had so prudently arrived in the city the night before our first show here, we had plenty of time today to do a little exploring. Ryen went his own way, off to visit some old friends. Rees, Caleb, Rob and I jumped on the subway after breakfast – most fortunately there’s a fabulous coffee shop that serves enormous bagels next door to the hostel – and headed (I think) uptown? Times Square is where we ended up.

It was amazing. What is it about the vibe in this city? I love it. So busy, proud, overwhelming.

All the people just seemed so small, compared to the gigantic billboards and skyscrapers.

And then we went to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Could have used about 3 days to actually experience the whole thing properly.

It was one of those places that makes you proud to be a human.

Go, humans. Make art. Don’t kill each other.

Rees and I ended up in an incredibly Irish pub, watching a soccer game and drinking Guinness, whilst plotting and scheming to take over the world. Such an action packed day! We walked past Radio City Music Hall on the way back to Brooklyn for our show.

The venue was really nice.

We arrived in plenty of time and waited for the other bands, with whom we were sharing gear.

This was the only show that Spouse wasn’t part of, so Rick from Nine Mile Records had arranged with some friends of his to let me use their keyboard. Except…they never showed up. Can you say, stressful. And desperate, unprofessional, and a lot of other things besides. So I had to ask another keyboard player on the bill if I could borrow ALL his gear, right now.

Luckily, very very luckily for me he was a kind and understanding man who sympathsised with my plight. I don’t use my cute, charming girl superpowers very often, but believe me I had all guns blazing that night.

And then I played our first show of the tour with a complete set of gear I had never seen before. Plus there was no sustain pedal. And I had to sing all of Julie’s vocal parts since she’s not here. It went by in a blur. I think I was too focused on the task at hand to be nervous. The other bands liked us though and so did the bar staff, which always makes me happy. Plus the audience. They liked us too. On to Boston!

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 1

Is this real life? My first time in New York City will be to play two shows because I’m in a groovy band? I got on a plane in Vancouver this morning and got off in New Jersey. Then we rented a van and drove into New York City. Because Parlour Steps have some showcases to play in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Boston. And some additional shows to fill in the gaps in Northampton, Mass. and Portland, Maine. It was news to me that there is a Portland in Maine as well as Oregon. If you had told a 16 year old music-crazed geek Alison Maira that she would be playing rock and roll in NYC someday, I would have said, hey. You’ve got the wrong music-crazed geek here. That can’t be me.
But it is! And this trip is made possible by some Nine Mile Records labelmates, a man named Jose Ayerve and his band Spouse. Parlour Steps and Spouse are playing together on a short New England tour. We’ll also be staying with Jose when we play in his hometown of Portland. And he’s is lending his gear for us to play. Yes, that’s right. I don’t even have to worry about lugging around my own keyboards this time around. I haven’t even met Jose yet, but I’m already impressed by his generosity to a group of strangers.
It was a beautiful day for flying.

After a long day of traveling we arrived at the hostel in Brooklyn where we’ll be staying. Our first show would be the next day, and in the meantime we had some time to walk around and explore the city a little bit. The only really sad part about this trip is that Julie couldn’t come. Luckily we have a lovely replacement bass player, Ryen, who has played with us before. He and I bonded with deeply during a 16 hour drive to a Parlour Steps show at the Starbelly Festival in the East Kootenays last summer. Sometimes you just luck out when you take a road trip with someone new.
So we dropped our stuff in our room and jumped on the subway. A New York subway! I’d only ever seen them in movies on and tv. Off we went to Greenwich Village to meet up with Caleb’s cousin for some drinks.

Oh my. We walked right past the Village Vanguard. Heady stuff for a jazz school graduate.

This little corner of Lower Manhattan was quiet and beautiful that night.

I really liked the subway. It was a great setting to take pictures.

I love the vibe of this city. Especially by night.

Parlour Steps, Windsor ON

Another good show at the Phog Lounge in Windsor. Lots of people came, and the crowd was very generous and responsive. Julie pulled out her new Thunderbird.

They look great together.

Home to Vancouver now. Hard to believe it’s back to real life on Monday.

Parlour Steps, Oakville ON

Oakville is a big suburb of Toronto. It was a nice place to spend most of a day. We had an afternoon all ages show there, playing with one of the bands who played with us Montreal. They shall remain nameless. They demanded to use all of my gear in Montreal – the rental gear that isn’t even mine – before they even said hello. No catastrophe had befallen them that required emergency gear borrowing. Their keyboard player just didn’t feel like carrying around her own stuff. Loser.

Luckily, Oakville was a land of beautiful sandwiches.

And apparently the most satisfying cup of coffee Rees ever had.

After lunch, Julie and Rees found a guitar store and Julie bought a 1976 Thunderbird bass. It was pretty amazing, the instrument itself and the fact that Julie was like “I’ll take it”. Voila, you are now the proud new mama of an enormous awkward heavy object (that sings with a throaty, sexy rumble).

The stage was tiny, but this time we all managed to fit. Here’s an invigorating, race to the finish line rendition of “Soft Lies”. The camera was on my amp, so there’s too much keyboard. Other than that, pretty good.

I tried a Guinness, again. This one was the most enjoyable yet. It must be an acquired taste. I’m going to keep trying.

It was a fun drive back to Toronto. Except for that guy we almost killed.

Parlour Steps, Montreal QC

I know I’m not alone when I say, I love Montreal. Someday I’m going to spend a whole summer here, in one of those old brick building apartments with a cast iron spiral staircase and a little balcony. I’ll drink lattes, smoke cigarettes, and write my great Canadian novel. In the meantime, I’ll settle for playing music in a hip little bar with a groovy band.

Our second show of this tour was at a place called Le Divan Orange.

It was a really fun show, very exciting onstage. Julie’s friend Paul Brown took some nice shots of us with my camera.

And filmed us playing “As The World Turned Out”

Parlour Steps, Ottawa ON

Caleb: You’re very inspired this morning.

Rees: I’m always inspired. It’s these fucking vitamins.

*******

Raspberry banana pancakes at a painfully – not tragically – hip Toronto breakfast joint. Lively conversation about Alexander The Great, war elephants, time travel to your favorite historical epoch.

*******

Off to Long and McQuade to rent gear. We assemble a collection of tiny amps, guitars, and a cherry red Nord keyboard for me. Off to Ottawa for art gallery performance, filming, and interview.

Played at The Canteen in Ottawa, a very cool art gallery space. We were in a very small, square room with a low ceiling covered with paintings on 3 sides. I would play excellently a lot more if I was always surrounded by trippy paintings and objet d’art during rock and roll shows.

*******

We were filmed and recorded. There seemed to be a lot of people crammed into the place to hear us play. There was no PA, but Rob played with brushes and Rees and I restrained our awesome rock powers admirably. Caleb’s voice sounded great. Julie and I sang well too. Everyone seemed to really like us, and the filming and recording people were happy.

*******

There was a short group interview where we all were asked about our musical influences. I was delighted to have the chance to warble happily about playing Rockband and my current favorite bands: Queen, Journey, and Blue Oyster Cult. Actually, I’m really loving Weird Al Yankovic right now too, but I felt that might be too much to divulge to the Parlour Steps. Then they wanted two of us to do an interview so I answered a few questions with Caleb. I had been sitting in a van all day, was dressed rather sloppily, had no make-up and my glasses on. Of course there was no time to change beforehand. Ah, the glamour of indie rock.

We loaded our gear and drove 3 blocks to Zaphod Beeblebrox’s for load in and soundcheck. At some point Julie managed to buy a crocheted mustache which she has worn occasionally this week. But not often enough.

The show at Zaphod’s was pretty good. We sold 10 cd’s afterwards! The lead vocal mic became unplugged after sound check so we couldn’t hear Caleb until halfway through As The World Turned Out, the first song. But after that we sounded quite wonderful.

After the show, we stayed with Cara, a lovely woman who loves Parlour Steps. She was a hostest with the mostest. I’ve been very fortunate in my indie rock career to stay at some very nice people’s houses and have slept on all manner of beds, couches, and floors. But Cara really went out of her way to be generous. There were plates of snacks waiting for us, beer, wine, and booze of every description, soft candlelight and warm beds.

We sang songs by candlelight on Cara’s couch, Rees and Caleb played guitar, Rob played tambourine. After everything Cara provided it seemed fitting to provide her with a private Parlour Steps concert. At 3:00 in the morning a joint was passed around. I’m a lightweight now and can only handle one hit. But that was enough to dance around the kitchen singing ‘The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)’ with Rees, Julie and Caleb.

*******

I collapsed into bed totally satisfied and amazed at our good fortune. Julie and I had our own rooms and our own beds. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

Sunday, November 15

Land in Toronto, 1:30 EST. First mention of “my balls”, 4:00 EST. Not bad. I figured balls would come up before the 2 hour mark.

********

To Walmart to buy bedding. Julie and I get sleeping bags, but all Rees needs is one blue Humble Blanket. We’re thinking of writing a children’s book. Rees And His Humble Blanket.

*******

Went to see ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ as a band. That’s how the PSteps roll. Afterwards Rees had a magazine stuck to his foot. I filmed him walking around in the theatre lobby with the magazine flapping behind him. Julie took pictures of it. That too is how the PSteps roll.

Arrived at Rob’s friends Trish and Aubrey’s house, who are generously allowing Rob, Julie and I to stay at their house. Their dog Winston, who has deep-seated psychological issues, has made noticeable progress since the last time we saw him. Very encouraging.

Parlour Steps, World As Large Video

This was another experience brought to us by the always exciting, never predictable Rees Haynes. He told us to meet in a field somewhere out in Langley, and there was a couple guys with some cameras and then for 8 hours we played World As Large and ended up with this video. I used to think it was a waste of time to not have a plan, but I’ve seen wildly passionate improvising work out quite well for Rees time and again.

Parlour Steps @ NXNE

This is the first time I’ve been able to say “I’m off to Toronto for the weekend”. As a mild-mannered music teacher who lives in Vancouver, there just hasn’t been any opportunities to jet off to the middle of the country for 48 hours.
Until now. Parlour Steps got a couple of showcase slots at the enormous music festival/industry conference that is North By Northeast, which takes over Toronto every June for a week or so. And so off we went, to seek our fortunes in the big city.

Our first show was an afternoon slot during the all day conferences that were happening at the Hyatt Regency. It was weird to play rock and roll in the daytime, but it was a good show that was even more fun due to several Vancouver musicians showing up to cheer us on. (Thank you, Kirsten of Arctic, and Hilary and Kristen from Language Arts)

After dinner we piled into a rental car and headed off for our second show. It was at a tiny little bar/restaurant with a stage behind a curtain at the end of a long, narrow room. I can’t remember the name of it – forgot to write it down – but it had some really funny bathroom signs.

My keyboard double-stack didn’t fit on the stage and I ended up playing on the floor to the side, which was fine, because we all ended up on the floor. Only the drums fit on the stage. I saw a wonderful band called Twilight Hotel that played before us. Always such a pleasure to discover a new band by seeing them playing live.

We played well, and it was a packed house by the time we were through. There was a great, enthusiastic response from the (beautiful, intelligent) crowd, and it was really fun to hang out afterwards and let people buy us drinks. After the show (and a respectable amount of alcohol, I must admit) we drove back to the various friend’s houses at which we were staying. Julie and I were going with Rob to his friends Trish and Aubrey, who we had stayed with the last time Parlour Steps were in Toronto. They’re always so kind and hospitable and we were looking forward to crashing on their living room floor.

On our way there, an acapella version of “Miraculous” broke out.

The next day we all had breakfast together and then Julie and I hopped on a plane back to Vancouver.

I very much enjoyed my first whirlwind weekend plane trip and I could get used to flying into big cities and playing great shows. It’s pretty fun to get a teeny tiny taste of what it’s like to be a rock star.

Parlour Steps, In The Studio

We’ve spent a few weeks at Ogre Studios, deep in the heart of East Van. You would never know that there’s a recording studio housed in this tall, faded borderline run-down building at the corner of Quebec and 2nd.

I certainly didn’t, and in fact walked past it several times before I realized, yes, this was indeed the right address.

But then, when I got inside and saw all the gear I was pretty stoked.

I really love recording. It’s so much fun – and so much hard work – to play piano for hours and capture the parts I’ve been practicing and working on for months. I feel fortunate that Parlour Steps are such lovely people to hang out with. If you have to spend hours and days with the same people in a small confined space, it’s much better if said people are relaxed and funny.

Julie and I played with Rob while he recorded his drum tracks.

I had two sessions with Caleb to record all of my parts. We did piano, rhodes, wurlitzer, and vibraphone on the first day. My adorable husband Mike is a much-loved employee at Backline Musician Services, and he arranged for us to borrow a wurlitzer and rhodes from their vast gear inventory.

Vibraphone, you might say. I didn’t know you played vibraphone, Alison. Neither did I, my response would be. I mean, I had to learn the basics when I was at music school. But it’s not like I rush home from work every day and bang out my favorite tunes on the vibes. Caleb asked if I could though, and it turns out I actually can play some pretty mean vibraphone parts. Vibes are very closely related to piano, they are both in the percussion family and structured very similarly. But instead of playing one key with one finger, you play each note with a big fuzzy mallet. Much bigger muscle memory, bigger motions than piano. Very tricky, especially playing chords. A really skilled vibes player (and there are plenty) is amazing to watch. You can hardly believe how fast and accurate they are.

One never knows what’s going to happen in the studio. I think that unpredictability is one of my favorite aspects of recording. For example, who could have predicted I would learn sign language vocabulary for various animals while hanging out in the control during the making of “Miraculous”?

I’ve been loving all the songs we’ve been working on together, so I’m definitely looking forward to hearing the album in its final form!

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

We went to Portland this week, for a fun day of playing a live performance on the radio at the OPB, (Oregon Public Broadcasting) and then another show later on that night.

Our call was 8am at the radio station. To our great surprise, there was a video crew there to film us as we played. I was so glad I’d put on a clean shirt and done my hair and make-up. (sort of) They’d just had their annual telethon at the OPB, so Rees had plenty of telephones to try out.

Pretty soon we were set up and ready to rock.

Here’s the video from our performance, plus some really lovely photos that OPB posted on their website.

Afterwards we went to Kenny’s Deli and enjoyed a nice plate of enormous pickles.

Rees’s Portland relatives came out to see our show so we enjoyed a much warmer, more enthusiastic response than we normally would have had in a big American city. Some of the people from OPB came out as well. It was a really good night.

Parlour Steps, Hamilton ON

Oh my. Hamilton was the last show on our tour and it was so good. The band sounded great. It’s amazing how much a band can improve out on the road, getting tighter, listening to each other more onstage, cementing arrangements and trying new ideas. I’m sorry the tour is over. I feel like we were just getting warmed up.
As usual we were at the venue with plenty of time to spare. Enough time to amuse ourselves with a ukelele.

We also draped ourselves around the van in various artistic configurations.

This was the longest time I’ve ever spent with Parlour Steps in close quarters. To my great relief, I still liked all of them and had no problems getting along with anyone. Of course you’re going to like people who break out into spontaneous song and dance on the mean streets of Hamilton.

During the show we all sang the verses of Blazing Light together. It was loud and wonderful. Although I am looking forward to getting back home to Vancouver, I’m also pretty stoked about the next Parlour Steps outing.

One more, just one more! Best version of “Goin To The Country” on the uklele ever!

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

It was a jam packed day. We got into Toronto early in the afternoon.

Then we were off to CIUT to do in interview and live performance. After we loaded in we had some time to hang out.

You can say a lot of things about Rees Haynes, but you would never say he’s boring. Or predictable.

Everyone was super nice at the radio station and we were soon set up and ready to rock.

It’s fun to play for radio shows. Nerve wracking, yes. It’s tough to play perfectly, under pressure when you know people are listening (at least it is for me – I can do it, but it’s hard) but in this case our performance and Caleb’s interview would be airing the next day. So we weren’t exactly live, which meant for me a much more relaxed, better performance.

Later on we had a show at the Horseshoe, a very legendary bar in downtown Toronto where pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of has played, at some point in their career. This was my first Parlour Steps show at the Horseshoe. We were playing at the weekly Tuesday night indie showcase. Maybe that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it really is. Because of the Horseshoe’s reputation for excellent music it’s always pretty packed on a Tuesday night.

They have the cutest bathroom signs there.

It was a great show. We played very well. I think all of our Toronto friends showed up, and they brought their friends, so combined with the usual Tuesday night Horseshoe crowd we had quite a big audience. We sold cd’s afterwards and met lots of nice people who had never heard us before. Julie and I had some drinks at a quiet table at the back of the bar…have I mentioned it’s fucking fantastic to be in a band that contains another girl…and we people-watched and giggled for hours. Toronto is a great place. I could totally live here. Especially during the summer when all the outdoor patios are open.

Parlour Steps, Waterloo ON

What I will remember most about Waterloo is that I couldn’t find a public washroom that was open on a Sunday night downtown. Normally I’d just go at the venue like a normal person, but we were playing in a small community hall that (seriously) had no washroom. It wasn’t exactly a legal venue I don’t think. But it sure was pretty.

The funny thing is – and there were a lot of funny things about Waterloo – is that the show had been moved to this place at the last minute, from another illegal venue in someone’s house.

Anyway. Walking around in a strange city with a growing sense of urgency makes for a good story after the fact, but it was highly unpleasant in the moment. In desperation I even searched the van for an empty bottle, but to no avail. I hesitate to tell you where I gained relief…suffice to say I would not recommend crouching behind a dumpster in an underground parking lot. Definitely one of those ‘what am I doing with my life?’ moments.

Luckily, the show was wonderful. It was packed, we played well, and afterward we ended up crashing at the promoter’s house. Which was a tall, multi-suite heritage house where a collection of young guys into magic and pirate costumes lived. We ended up sitting around with our gracious hosts drinking beer, smoking weed, watching magic tricks, trying on pirate costumes

and passing around a ukelele.

A private Parlour Steps uke concert is a rare event and we were well received.

Another ‘what am I doing with my life?’ moment, but in an awestruck sort of way.

Parlour Steps, Windsor ON

We had a great show in Windsor. Even though it’s just across the river from Detroit, it really felt like a different world. Less threat of violence, more carefree. Or maybe it was just me. No matter.

The venue of choice in Windsor for indie bands is The Phog Lounge, and that is where we were fortunate to play. We showed up for load in with plenty of time to spare.

Tom, the manager is always so generous to the bands and promotes all the shows excellently.

I found Rob, Rees and Julie in a cool little coffeeshop during my pre-show Windsor wander. I’m so happy for them when they find acceptable coffee. They become even more delightful.

Hard to believe there’s only a few shows left! On to Waterloo.

Parlour Steps, Detroit MI

It was a five hour drive from Pittsburgh to Detroit. We traversed Ohio, and I finally got a chance to see some real prairie. Prairies are my favorite landscape. During my first tour across Canada, I was struck dumb by the awesome beauty of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And every tour since that first one I look forward to seeing the plains. Driving across Ohio gave me my first pang of homesickness. It reminded me of driving across Canada.

At some point in the early afternoon we all heard the drum kit shift on the roof. Thank god we weren’t all plugged in to our iPods. Rob pulled over, across three lanes of traffic on the freeway, just as a wide spot on the road appeared. And just in time. The drums were still on the roof, but had shifted noticeably. No problem, Coll Audio of Toronto. Your rental drum kit is just fine. Covered in dead bugs, but intact.

Rob and Rees re-secured the drum kit and as we were remarking that bungee cords might be useful, Rees found two in the long grass by the highway. Thank you Ohio, for providing free bungee cords to travelers in need. With the drum kit firmly lashed with a length of strong rope and bungee cords we drove on. We reached Detroit around 5pm. There were lots of heavy industry smokestacks on the way into the city. Intricate cloverleaf freeway patterns, lots of concrete, lots of metal.

We found the venue, The Lager House, and loaded in.

With a few hours to kill before the show, we asked the owner Art where we might find a park to relax. Always a strange request here in the States, it seems. With some surprise he raised his eyebrows and said slowly, “There’s an abandoned railway station a few blocks away with grass and trees in front. Probably going to be some bums there, though”, he added. Abandoned railway station? Really?

Really. According to the signs, we were in Corktown,

the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, settled 1850.

And sure enough, a few blocks down the street there was a massive, enormous abandoned railway station. A majestic building in its time, to be sure. But now covered in graffitti and even the highest up windows were smashed.

We saw a tiny playground nearby attached to a small red brick church. That looked safer, so we went there instead.

The church was beautiful.

Tall spiky black bell tower, bright red brick, and brilliant emerald lush lawns. Well tended boxes of geraniums were nestled under the windows. I had a lovely swing in the playground, the boys played frisbee and lounged on the grass and Julie talked on the phone to her husband back home.

I grabbed my camera and ventured as close as I dared to take pictures of the train station.


It was a towering gray building with elaborate pillars and broad steps leading up to the wall of many doors (chained shut) that stretched across the front. Surrounding the station – it was set someways back from the street – were formerly landscaped grounds that contained tall trees, a winding footpath, and plenty of green grass. I could see the idea of what that train station used to be. A lot of time had passed since this building was useful and yet there it still sat, reminding us that everything crumbles and passes away, that all things bright and beautiful become tarnished and ugly.

Even though it was Friday afternoon and I could see clearly into downtown – the GM building was clearly visible in the distance – there were very few cars and very few people about. Eventually we decided to drive into the city and find something to eat. There were plenty of cars downtown and we couldn’t find a place to park. But still not very many people.

Actually, I don’t know if we were truly ‘downtown’ or not, but I did hear someone on the street say this was the financial district. It certainly looked like a big city. A big, empty city. There were skyscrapers everywhere and some gorgeous architecture. Old brick buildings and newer glass ones. But no throng of rush hour commuters hurrying down the street excited about the weekend.

After dinner (Thai food again, and I’m becoming addicted to hot and sour soup) we headed back to the Lager House to get ready for the show. I talked with Art some more, who was a storehouse of information about the music scene in Detroit past and present. He assured me that the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame should be in Detroit, not Cleveland. Because no city has contributed more members to the Hall of Fame than Detroit. The White Stripes and Kid Rock had played the Lager House, as had hundreds of other up and coming Detroit bands.

There was still a massive music scene in the city, mostly electric blues and rock and roll. I was thrilled to listen to him and delighted to be in Detroit. The birthplace of Motown! Thousands of great songs have been created and recorded here! One street down from the club was the Rosa Parks Boulevard. There was all kinds of history here, not just music.

The opening band was a very heavy power trio. Easily the loudest band I’ve seen yet on this tour. Then it was our turn. There were a few people there to watch us. The stage was small and I was jammed up against the wall on my right side. We played fine, but I thought it was not the right bill or venue for the Parlour Steps. Too gritty, too tough, too dirty. PStep songs are bouncy and catchy and pretty. This crowd was not bouncy. Or very pretty.

After we played I got talking to a local guy named Clint. He’s a musician too, but wasn’t playing that night. Twenty one years old, born and raised in Detroit. He told me all about how he had been held up at gunpoint at a gas station earlier that day. They took all his money and he said it was probably for the best that he didn’t have his gun with him then, the situation might have gotten out of hand. He explained that Michigan law allows citizens to carry concealed weapons so probably lots of people there at the Lager House tonight had guns. He was going to a big downtown music festival on the weekend, and would make sure to bring his gun because ‘everybody else would bring theirs too’.

In Clint’s opinion, Detroit was not a friendly place. People expected trouble from most human interactions. If a stranger did talk to you, it was probably going to be to rob you, or worse. He noticed that when he traveled outside Detroit, especially to the southern states, people were always asking ‘how y’all doing today?” and that made him nervous, their friendliness, because he kept expecting to be beaten or robbed when anyone spoke to him.

But there was nothing to fear tonight, Clint and Art both assured me. The club was in a ‘pretty good area’. By which they meant there was only property crime around here, we didn’t have to worry about getting shot. Worst case scenario, our van might get ripped off. Oh. What a relief. Craig the sound guy said as long as we:

-removed all instruments and personal belongings
-parked outside the front door of the club
-under a streetlight
-checked the van every 20 minutes or so

everything would probably be fine. Okay. Oh yeah, one more thing. Craig, Clint and Art told me that people in Detroit generally treat red lights as 4 way stops after dark. To reduce one’s chances of getting carjacked. Only tourists would wait at a red light after dark. And they get carjacked a lot. Good to know.

Mind-boggling stuff to a small town Canadian girl. I managed to play it cool and not gape in open-mouthed amazement during my conversations with them. I was amazed, though. The level of violence and fear these people live with was completely foreign to me. And the way they have adapted to this, convinced it’s no big deal – that’s pretty amazing too.

The band after us was so awful that I became overwhelmed with weariness and boredom and went out to the van to sleep until it was time to load out. I woke up to help load gear, but passed out again and struggled to keep my eyes open for the border crossing.

Sweet, sweet border crossing. Of course, it was a quick drive there what with not stopping at any of the red lights. And fifteen minutes after we loaded the gear, we were back in Canada. What a knee-loosening, bone-deep relief. Windsor was on the other side of the river from Detroit, but it may as well have been a different planet. The streets were clogged with young drunken partiers. Everyone was laughing and yelling and staggering about, arms around each other. The bars were still open, there were plenty of police out. But even they seemed pretty relaxed, moving calmly through the crowds talking to people. It was an atmosphere of fun and exuberance, completely the opposite of the city we had just left. I fell asleep again, smiling. The next thing I remember is staggering into our hotel room in Windsor. I crawled into bed with Julie and woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and grateful to be back in Canada.

Parlour Steps @ The Warhol, Pittsburgh PA

Pittsburgh June 18
Another beautiful day in Pittsburgh. The sun was softly shining, there were gentle breezes and Jeff’s wife Rachel was up and about – breakfast was ready. Rachel herself seemed to embody the radiance of the morning. At eight-and-a-half months pregnant she was lovely, gracious, and full of life. Literally.

We had rolled in too late the night before for us to meet, and I was glad I got a chance to hang out a little bit with her today. I was already sure that she must be one very e-special lady. She had allowed a rock band to invade her house and then provided tasty vittles the next morning – before we got up – while navigating through her life with a front-end beachball sized bump that prevented her from seeing her toes. Frankly, if it had been me and my husband said, “Can five strangers crash at our house, by the way they’re musicians and will be arriving around 1:30 am, and they’d probably appreciate some breakfast in the morning”, I would have said, “Hello, I have a front-end beachball size bump that prevents me from seeing my toes, five strange musicians is the last thing I need right now, tell your little friends to go pound salt”. So right away I liked Rachel because I knew she was a much nicer person than me.

We had a nice chat about marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, the wondrous transition from ‘no-kids’ to ‘parenthood’, and the deep complexity of intimacy in a long term relationship…you know, your basic existential examination of the meaning of life. And this is something that I really, really love about women. We can ‘insta-bond.” In my experience, it’s quick and easy to have a great, interesting, complicated conversation with a woman I’ve never met before. Women are hardwired to talk and be open with each other- how else do you think those hunter-gatherer tribes survived for so long? Communication! Trading information. A hundred thousand years of cultural and genetic programming is a hard thing to override. And so women converse, chat, gossip, manage relationships and frequently ask those really difficult, awful questions i.e. ‘how do you feel’?

When everyone had jogged, yoga-ed, and showered (and breakfasted with Rachel) it was time to go to the Warhol. The Warhol is the Andy Warhol Museum, and we had free passes waiting for us courtesy of Shane, the guitar player in the Metroplitans who we had played with the night before. Gosh, was everybody in Pittsburgh this nice?

Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh and grew up there. Who knew? Certainly not me. I always assumed he was one of those New York City artists who appeared there fully formed, with no small-town childhood history. The museum contained seven floors of Warhols. Upon entering the building, one is confronted by a challenging piece. That is to say, there is an office chair spinning around in a glass box at an incredible velocity. You could not possibly sit on this chair, it would fling you all the way to the seventh floor. Hmm, I thought. I think I will see some unusual things today.
Here are some of them. I present them in poetic form for you because I too am an ‘artiste’. Just like Andy.

Meet Me At The Waterwheel (Made Of Giant Dentures)
by Alison Maira

A lifesize stuffed ostrich
recovered in snakeskin panels stitched with yellow rawhide
two metres tall; a sand sculpture half finished castle
giant rakes and shovels protrude

smashed pieces of toy soldiers and their weapons
glued together in haphazard lumps, guns and arms and legs
drenched in twenty four carat gold

a waterwheel made of giant dentures
powered by a tiny origami bird
her flapping wings are tied to a string
that leads to a spinning machine

enormous chess game played by giant bronze hands
peace sign versus clenched fist of power
one room filled with silver helium clouds falling rising spinning slowly

Yup, there was some pretty cool stuff at the Warhol. My favorite exhibits were ‘Julia’ – the one dedicated to his mother – and the Children’s Exhibit. The Children’s Exhibit was paintings for children, not of them. Those paintings were small, no larger than 8×10 and were hung three and a half feet off the floor. Simple, beautiful, sincere pictures of kid stuff – Teddy Bear, Helicopter, Apple, to name a few. Anyone who acknowledges his mother as a formative influence and paints for children is okay in my books. I saw all the famous celebrity portraits. Natalie Wood was my favorite. And the famous Campbell’s Soup boxes that helped him break through to the mainstream. There was also a fantastic display of all the album covers he made along with a letter from Mick Jagger entreating his friend Andy to please find a little time to crank out a cover for ‘Sticky Fingers’. And there was a exhibit featuring the ‘Scum Manifesto’, the book that was written by the woman who shot (and almost killed) Andy Warhol in 1968. She had some objections to patriarchy. If you think feminism is too ‘in your face’ in 2008, you would have hated 1968.

After making my way through all seven floors of Warhols, I found the other pSteps in the gift shop. Which was almost my undoing. I knew I had no money to spend (this is indie rock, not a sold-out stadium tour) but that didn’t stop me from picking up a gorgeous silk-screen bag and kitchy-cool height-of-irony gifts for my loved ones back home. I spent an hour lost in a haze of consumer delight, and got all the way up to the cash register before my self-discipline kicked in. Stupid discipline. How am I ever supposed to have any irresponsible fun? Sadly, I turned away and put my two hundred dollars worth of coolness back. I was already living off my credit card for this tour. Digging a gaping financial hole for myself in the name of rock and roll I can (sort of) justify, but just going shopping with borrowed money wasn’t something I could swallow. Ah, perhaps I’m growing up. No, probably not. I am still throwing money at the indie rock dream after all.

And so, after horsing around in the museum’s photo booth (Q. How do you fit a rock band into a photo booth? A. You stack ‘em in layers) we emerged into the late afternoon sun to take in a little more of Pittsburgh before our show later on. Downtown was quite beautiful. Towering brick buildings, immaculate public squares with fountains and lush grass, and a profusion of wrought iron suspension bridges. Pittsburgh is one of the oldest cities in America. Or so their newspaper said in the articles about the city’s 250th anniversary celebrations. It was founded at a spot where three rivers meet and thus many bridges, some black some yellow, crisscross the rivers around which the city is built.

Then it was back to Jeff and Rachel’s house to change and get ready for the show. Tonight we were playing at a pub called the Fox and Hound (“ An English Bar and Grille” said the sign) opening for Jeff’s pop duo. It was supposed to be an acoustic show, which I was sort of curious about because we have an awful lot of electrification and amplification that would to be rethought, to say the least.
We had enough time before we were on to have some dinner and I had my first experience with U.S. bar food. Pub food in America operates on two basic principles: meat and cheese. There was an entire “Melt” section on the menu, which was your choice of meat with your choice of cheese melted on top. No bread, no salad, just a pile of meat covered in cheese. Does beer count as a vegetable?

Finally it was our turn to play. We sat on tall stools, like folk singers from the sixties. Rees and Caleb played acoustic guitars, Rob played his snare drum, I sang and played tamborine, Julie sang too. It was very pretty all mellow-like. But I am a rock gal at heart and I missed the power and volume we can achieve with our full complement of instruments.

After Jeff’s show was done we headed back to his place again. His duo partner came too and they plied us with red wine. The conversation turned to art and artists and local Pittsburgh artists in particular. As Jeff and his friend described their favorite local artists and their works in their broad, thick Pittsburgh accents I thought ‘this is not what I expected’. Like a lot of Canadians, I have some prejudice towards Americans. I have bought into the stereotype of the stupid, backwards, good-ol-boy American and it was very good for me to hang out with a couple of these working class ‘good ol boys’ and listen to them intelligently discuss the relative merits of various artists and their works.
So far on this tour we have met lovely, kind, generous American people. Individually everyone has been so nice to us. But their government and their politics terrify me. What passes for news on U.S. television stations is so biased and seems (to me) to lean more towards propoganda. Opinions are presented as fact with no sources to back up these assertions. And there was so little coverage of the war. It’s like it’s not even happening. There were countless U.S. flags displayed on everyone’s front porch but overall the war is very distant, very far removed from the citizens here. Unless you count all the ‘Support Our Troops” bumper stickers.

America is a very complicated place. You get everything all at once, all the time. There are good people and beautiful amazing cities. There is an undercurrent of violence, fear, and ugliness. There is great big deep art and utterly vacuous superficial celebrity-obsessed pop culture. And all of it co-exists simultaneously.

Next we were off to an even bigger more famous U.S. city, Detroit. The good people of Pittsburgh had warned us that Detroit was big, and bad. I could hardly wait to see for myself.

Parlour Steps, Pittsburgh PA

Four and a half short hours after the Cambridge show, my trusty alarm went off at 7 am. I was mostly awake already. Generally when it is imperative that I get up at a certain time I compulsively check my alarm repeatedly between long, anxious dreams about sleeping in. I knew I’d have to drive first, a dreadful thought. First a nerve-wracking drive out of Boston the night before, and now the first shift on our longest drive, 12 hours to the next show in Pittsburgh.

Caleb and Rob’s alarms went off about the same time and they awoke, blinking and bleary eyed. Rees had his own room across the hall. Rees is the first one to get his own room in the pSteps because he snores. And I feel I can say this without fear of his wrath. Because, as he told me, he can’t hear it, it doesn’t bother him, and it usually results in him getting his own room. A win-win for Rees, a slightly more crowded prospect for the rest of us. Julie did not stir, next to me in the bed. I sprang up, grabbed my stuff and headed downstairs for a quick shower.

Whenever there’s an available shower to be had, I’ll take it. I never know when there’s going to be another opportunity out here in the land of indie rock adventure. When I returned to our common sleeping room, Julie was sitting up saying “ooh, I really don’t feel good”. Rob and Caleb were asking her what had happened. As near as we could figure it, the combination of Mexican food and whiskey the night before had not been a good one. Regardless of that, we were in the van half an hour after our alarms went off. And that was impressive, getting five people and all their gear organized so quickly, so early in the morning after so little sleep and one person feeling ill.

Tom-tom was all programmed with our route so all I had to do was follow her calm directions. We stopped for gas and I gave Julie my bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I don’t remember exactly when the barfing started, but it was soon after. Oh lord. Now this I could relate to, this felt familiar. Despair and exhaustion in crazy circumstances. In this case, an endless drive through alien territory with someone quietly vomiting in the back seat, for hours.

It poured rain, there were (of course) thunderstorms, and it was obvious early on that we would have no time to stop for anything. And this was an early show in Pittsburgh. There was a DJ starting at 10 which meant the bands had to be finished by 9:30. And how is it possible that we live in a world where live bands open for DJ’s, I mused. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Or can I assume that my seven years of post-secondary music study, thirteen years of experience playing in bands professionally, and twenty five years of playing the piano is but a mere acorn next to the almighty oak tree of knowledge and experience that someone with a pair of turntables and a laptop surely must possess? I mean, it must be so tricky to stop and start and combine those samples of music…probably actually creating music out of thin air as a group of people playing musical instruments exactly together is child’ s play in comparison.

Our time for load in came and went. The time for soundcheck came and went. We drove and drove and drove. Tom-tom became confused because we were travelling on roads under construction that hadn’t been updated into its database yet. Tom-tom’s only major failing, too bad we had to discover that right at the moment we were trying with increased desperation to find our venue. After a repeated loop around the outskirts of Pittsburgh (“No no! DON’T LISTEN TO IT! Turn right this time! It doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” Poor Caleb, who was driving. A stressful situation, with Tom-tom insisting one thing while three people were shouting at him in the van to do the opposite, and Julie quietly gagging and retching…he handled it like a champ.) We pulled up to the club 30 minutes before we were supposed to be on. Poor, poor Julie. She had pretty much barfed continuously – in a moving vehicle – for about 12 hours. Into a plastic bag, which she emptied out the window. Oh, it was grim.

Well, at least they had a green room at The Club Cafe for the bands to use, so we didn’t have to change in the vomitorium, I mean van. We raced upstairs, changed, hair, makeup, and to my amazed delight I saw Julie in fresh clothes calmly putting her hair up and doing her makeup. I think it was at that moment I started to really like her. And I mean, utterly respect her and admire her. I can’t imagine how awful she must have felt at that point. But she didn’t even mention it and it was clear to me that she was going to sing and play the bass that night, no questions asked.

Julie and I walked sedately downstairs into the club and were seated at a table as the opening band played their first note, just as if we had never hurried a day in our lives and everything was completely fine. The Club Cafe was a small room with a tiny stage that had a black curtain backdrop covered with tiny blue lights.
There were lots of people there, every table was full and more standing behind at the bar, which was lit by blue neon the same shade as the stage lights. The Metropolitans, the first band, were so good. Thick soulful horns and a razor-sharp rhythm section. Original songs in funk band format, you don’t see that very much anymore. They had a trombone player with a mohawk and a drummer whose shirt said “Jesus Hates Your Emo Poems”. They were just fantastic, but the crowd didn’t give them much of a reaction.

Then it was our turn. Julie sang and played fine, we all played well, and Caleb broke two strings which I had never seen happen before, not even one string, let alone two in the same show. Whatever. We soldiered on. Caleb managed to change his strings and tune his guitar while singing. Goodness. These Parlour Steps are made of bold stuff indeed. The crowd didn’t seem too impressed with us either, but at least nobody left while we were playing. But lots of people talked to me afterwards, and a couple of people bought me a drink. So maybe that’s how they express their musical appreciation in Pittsburgh. Not a lot of unseemly emotional display, just some quiet compliments and free booze. I can live with that.

Following us was a band called Love Tara. Singer and guitar player Jeff was the wonderful man who would be our host in Pittsburgh. We would be crashing at his house along with his two dogs and eight-and-a-half-months pregnant wife Rachel. After Love Tara was done Jeff took me, Rob, Rees, and Caleb to a bar right around the corner called Jack’s. A working class bar on the fairly tough south side of Pittsburgh. They played pool. We drank $2.00 beers. I looked around and marveled at my life. How did I get here, hanging out with a bunch of tough looking guys and gals shooting pool, smoking, drinking beer, unwinding after a long day…on the south side of Pittsburgh, for pete’s sake. I could never have imagined this, and without Jeff and the other guys I would never have gone into a place like this by myself to people-watch. Oh, baby Jesus! as Julie would say, who was waiting for us in the van. And for that reason we didn’t stay too long. By 11:00 we were all back in the van and on our way to Jeff’s house. Julie and I had our own room, and the next day we would be going to The Andy Warhol Museum (Shane from the Metropolitans hooked us up with free tickets). Pittsburgh was looking good so far.

Parlour Steps, Cambridge MA

We woke up this morning at Rick’s house in Easthampton. Rick is the owner of Nine Mile Records, the label pSteps are currently signed to. It was a long drive from Cornwall yesterday. We traveled through upstate New York, then into Massachusetts. Lush green fields, gentle breezy sunshine, and picturesque small towns gave way to rain, fog, and darkness. Almost every house we passed had a large American flag hanging on its porch. We arrived at Rick and Rebecca’s house late last night. They live on a tiny, quiet lane, no streetlights, surrounded by trees. All the houses were small and white with verandas and screen doors. It was so quiet I could hear crickets chirping as we unloaded our bags and staggered into the house.

Rick and his wife Rebecca fed us homemade bread, cheeses, grapes, strawberries from their garden, and organic honey ale. They were both so nice, and as I was standing in their kitchen listening to the quiet conversation, (there was after all, an adorable 4 year old Lilly asleep upstairs) I was deeply conflicted, like I had been at the mansion in Toronto. I was so grateful and relieved to be there, but was also completely skeptical- and disoriented. This can’t be ‘me on tour’. Where is the crushing disappointment, the total lack of money, the terrible food, the complaining, backstabbing, deception, temper tantrums, deep depression, unpredictable mood swings, dirty clothes, drug and alcohol abuse, sleep deprivation, desperation, constant emotional caretaking, futile attempts to soothe clashing personalities, sleeping outdoors, empty shows? Not in lovely Easthampton, that’s for sure. Here there are smart, kind people. There are wood floors, an old piano, a friendly black lab with an enthusiastically wagging tail, fluffy towels, children’s artwork on the fridge door, and everywhere I look it’s simple, clean, and beautiful.

Rebecca went to bed and we all sat up with Rick for a long time. I think it was a meeting, but it felt like more like hanging out. We talked about politics and music and future plans for Parlour Steps. It was all very productive, but very casual and fun too. I wouldn’t want to be signed some huge media conglomerate/record label. I think they would not have their strategy meetings in an lovely old house with the wind sliding through the trees while the crickets sing and a large black dog rests his head on the president of the record company’s knee.

And so. We awoke the next morning after the meeting. I had locally roasted organic coffee on the back porch. Did some yoga in the backyard next to the strawberry patch. The breezes blew, the birds sang, and the sun shone. I shake my head now as I write this, as I did that day. It was ridiculously idyllic. Played some piano while the others were getting ready, and then it was off to Cambridge for the show, another 80 miles away.

Rick told us we were listed in the TV guide – the widest read publication in the entire country, I’ll have you know- and also in the Boston Globe. Good grief.
We arrived in Cambridge and found the venue, the legendary Middle East.

It’s got three separate rooms, and Rooney was there when we were which explains the hundreds of overwrought teenage girls clogging the sidewalk while I struggled to load in my gear. If you don’t know Rooney, clearly you are not a twelve year old girl who’s hip to what’s hot. I didn’t know Rooney either and was almost attacked when I asked one of the Rooney followers what was going on. That was kind of intense, shoving my way through a block’s worth of screaming, crying, laughing girls over and over with large heavy awkward objects in my hands. Did they clear a path? They did not. They were oblivious to the anything that wasn’t Rooney.

We had a few hours before the show. It poured rain, thunder and lightning. I think we’ve seen thunderstorms every day since we arrived in Toronto. I walked up and down Massachusetts Ave. (that’s Mass. Ave to people in the know), the street the Middle Eastern is on and one of the main arteries through Cambridge. Harvard and MIT are both in this area. Cambridge is the biggest university town/campus I’ve ever seen. It made UBC look like a quaint community college. Everywhere there’s ivy covered brick buildings – but this is Ivy League territory, n’est pas? Tons of bookstores of all descriptions, tattoo parlours, bars, coffeeshops, restaurants, Mcdonald’s and the Gap. Everything a student needs. I finally summoned up my courage to experiment with my fancy new digital camera and took some pictures.

We met back at the club for soundcheck. Found a Boston Globe and there was a huge picture of Parlour Steps on the cover of the entertainment section. And the show was listed in their “places to be” section or whatever they call it. Very impressive. That paper has a circulation in the millions. We had dinner at the Middle East with Rick and his friend Paddy. Then I hustled back to the van to change (such is the glamour of indie rock) and after a hair and makeup touch-up in the club washroom I was ready to go.

The show was very good. Small room, but it was packed and we got a huge response from the audience. We sold lots of cd’s and merch. There was palpable excitement onstage, and we played very loud. Rick was right up front, and I’m glad the show he saw (he had never seen Parlour Steps before) was so thrilling. Caleb kind of blew his voice out. But it was worth it. At least, I thought it was worth it. Mind you, my throat wasn’t raw and shredded. Many people came up to talk to me afterwards. In fact, I was quickly surrounded by people while standing at the bar waiting for a drink. It was a little overwhelming so I retreated back to the merch table where there were bandmates to share the accolades.

It was then that Rees hipchecked me solidly onto the dance floor and proceeded to blind my senses with a flurry of unique dance moves. We ended up right in front of the stage, dancing wildly to a disco-rock band called Black and White Years from Austin, Texas. Soon the rest of the pSteps joined us and we all danced wildly for about an hour. Sweaty good times.

Upon load out it became obvious that I would definitely be driving the van back to Rick’s house. Loading gear with a bunch of happy drunk people is quite amusing. Gone is the careful attention to detail and efficiency, in its place is an dogged determination to just jam everything in so you can close the door. I never thought I’d be able to drive in a huge U.S. city without weeping in fear, but Tom-tom was calm and helpful, as were Caleb and Rob, and we fell gratefully into our beds at Rick’s around 3:30am. On to Pittsburgh.

Parlour Steps, Ottawa ON

Awakened in the mansion with a tinge of regret that it was time to say goodbye – probably forever – to living in the lap of obscene luxury. But at least now I know Julie and I make excellent bedfellows. A little back-to-back action, some accidental snuggles, but overall a prim, respectable sleep with each of us careful to cling daintily to her side of the bed. I am starting to realize there are many wonderful aspects of being in a band that contains another gal. The sleeping arrangements were solved, effortlessly. No need to worry about sharing a bed with a dude. This is indie rock, may I remind you. We are lucky to sleep indoors.

Having your own bed every night is a major label rock star perk, I think. Not that cross-gender bed-sharing would have been a big deal, the Parlour Steps boys are completely kind and respectful and professional. But give me Julie any day of the week! And we got our own ‘girl bed’ and ‘girl room’ almost all the time.

After being in bands where I am the only female, this was a relaxing, refreshing change. The night before, when we had crawled into bed we shared the trashy girl magazine I had bought. In the past, I have had to be stealth about these purchases to avoid the relentless mocking that ensued when my male bandmates would spy a glossy cover, make a grab for it, and make fun of its entire contents. Yes, I know how silly the articles are. I am an ardent, educated feminist. Who happens to like make-up and fashion, is that so wrong? No one expects you to understand, band boy. So give me back my fucking magazine!
Goodness. I may have had a bit of a flashback there.

So I did some morning yoga, packed my stuff and we piled into the van. I asked if we could stop for coffee before we left the city. Which I soon learned was going to be easier said than done. We are very west coast here in the Parlour Steps. There is running, and yoga, vegetarianism, and frisbee tossing. And very high coffee standards – no, espresso standards – as well as very high sushi standards. Actually, food in general seems to be a bit of a thing with this group. Soon enough I started to think ‘holy cats, I think my palate is totally undeveloped and unrefined’ because I couldn’t tell the difference between acceptable/unacceptable coffee and food. I asked questions though, and learned a lot about what to look for. Er, taste for. And I certainly ate and drank better with Parlour Steps than I have with any other people I’ve ever toured with.

While I found the coffee and food standards to be funny and cute – but understandable; it’s a ‘quality of life issue’ , isn’t it Rob – it did necessitate several stops and long searches sometimes for everyone to be satisfied. I saw a nondescript little coffeshop called “CoffeeTime”. “Here is good,” I said, sort of expecting everyone to tumble out of the van and get some fricking coffee. We all drink it, and I think we all need it. At least, I definitely need it and I don’t give a good goddamn about where it comes from.

I ordered my medium coffee and turned around…to an empty room. The rest of the band had stayed resolutely in the van. I felt kind of silly for being the sole reason for this stop, (which I soon got over, because we made stops for everyone else many times on this tour) but I was also highly amused. It was worth it. Caffeine makes me happy to be Maira-in-the-morning: chipper, joyful, talkative.

We had an uneventful drive to Ottawa. It was a sunny windy day, and the miles flew by. We stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. The only time we did for the entire tour. The insult of having to eat there was compounded by the 25 minute wait in the line-up to order. I thought the PSteps were going to give up and starve until Ottawa, but they hung in there. Well, they’re right. I can’t defend McDonald’s. It was a fairly dreadful dining experience. It’s hard to believe that McD’s used to be a mainstay of touring food for me. The PSteps have opened my eyes!

We arrived in Ottawa with a raging hailstorm (the locals assured me this never happens) and had to take shelter in the van before venturing out to load in our gear. Then we were off to the train station to pick up Rob. Soon enough it was time to soundcheck and then play. Zaphod’s is a cool venue. I’m always impressed by the sound techs. They are totally professional, and everything always sounds great. We were there on a Sunday night, but there were still people there who watched and listened avidly. My friend Grant came to the show. We were going to crash at his house that night. Haven’t seen him since the last time I toured through Ottawa and it was good to listen to his stories of suburban stay-at-home dad life. You’d think such an existence might be pretty routine, but Grant held me spellbound with his casual description of mothers taking off to meet internet lovers, alcohol and spousal abuse, custody battles, unemployment, all sorts of unbelievable drama. And all within one small cul-de-sac. Someone should make a TV show, Desperate Househusbands or something.

So, the show. Our first show on the tour. Good sound onstage, and I enjoyed several fabulous moments with Rob. I think I am slowly falling in love with his drumming. Subtle but exciting. There’s always something different or interesting to listen for. The lights were blazing hot, and the crowd moved closer to the stage and cheered lustily for all our songs. Afterwards we sold some merch. Pretty good for a Sunday night in Ottawa for a band none of them had heard of.

The next day I ran through Grant’s extremely proper neighborhood. While I was gone, Caleb and Rob solved our space problem (how would we fit Rob and the drumkit in the van with the rest of us?) by obtaining a length of sturdy rope and tying the drumkit, which was contained in one compact hardshell road case, to the roof. Don’t worry Coll Audio, we’re taking good care of your wonderful gear…

Now we were all able to fit in the van. There were four captain’s chairs, very nice, and one fold-up miniature seat in the back, not nice at all. The keyboard case fit snugly down the length of the van, effectively splitting it down the middle and giving everyone a tiny individualized compartment. The drums, as you know, were tied to the roof. The guitars and amps were meticulously packed in next to the little back seat, and our bags on top of that. The person in the back seat could neither stretch out nor recline and was walled in by guitars and bags on the left and behind, window on the right and the next row of seats in front. Thusly we would spend the next two weeks all together. Ah, the glory of rock and roll.

And now, on to Cornwall to cross into the U.S. This was our biggest logistics hurdle to overcome. If we could just get across, it would be clear sailing from that point onwards.

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

Well my goodness. Touring season has come around once more for all the good little Canadian indie rock bands. And that season is summer. Not many Canadian bands take their lives in their hands to tour this vast country in a van while it’s frozen over from October to April. I remember well my only winter tour experience. There will never be another. That’s the bargain I made with God on the Salmo-Creston pass in mid December a few years back.

But how could it ever be winter, here in the warm, sunshiny sidewalk patio land of Toronto? June is a lovely month here. Not oppressively warm yet, still breezy, and the people joyfully cavort in shorts and t-shirts. We are here, the Parlour Steps, to embark on a great adventure. Two weeks away from all places and people familiar to attempt that noble feat, the Indie Rock Band Tour. Indie rock means, you are on your own. No limos, no private planes, one van, five people, depending on the kindness of friends and strangers to loan us their living room floors for sleeping.

We arrived in Toronto during North By Northeast, an enormous music festival that takes over the city. We were there to pick up our rented gear and van, throw our fates to the winds, cast off, and start playing shows in southern Ontario and then down into the U.S.

Tom-tom guided us faithfully to Long & McQuade for our first stop, guitars, amps, bass. Tom-tom, the small GPS device that clings gracefully to the windshield with her delicate suction cup always knows where to go. Mind you, it does take the thinking out of navigation. You never get to know a local area better by memorizing street names and landmarks. You just dumbly turn right and left when Tom-tom tells you to. Still. Sometimes it’s just better and more efficient and faster to do what you’re told and not think too much.

From Long & McQuade we were off to Coll Audio Warehouse for keyboards and drums. When I saw our rental van for the first time, when we were picking it up at the airport I thought, I am going to be playing one keyboard only on this tour. It was a minivan. A very nice minivan, with 4 doors that opened smoothly, air conditioning, and individual heat controls. And lots of cup holders, that unmistakable sign of soccer-mom luxury. But a minivan nonetheless, a vehicle that could not possibly hold 5 people, a drum kit, 2 keyboards, 2 guitars, 3 amps, a bass, and all our bags. I’ve been playing a handsome double stack of keyboards onstage since 1996.

But I knew that this time around, I would only have room for one.
I chose the smaller keyboard, the one I usually just use for synth sounds. So now all I would have to do is figure out how to play all my piano, rhodes, and organ parts on it and how to combine that with my synth parts. On the plus side, setup and teardown time would be way faster.

We wrestled all the gear into the van, and it was crammed. And we didn’t even Rob our drummer yet. He was going to meet us for the first show in Ottawa. And so we had a night to spend in Toronto, a chance to see some NXNE bands before traveling to Ottawa the next day. Back to the mansion to change clothes and get ready for a night on the town.

As I mentioned, we were hoping and depending on some friendly people to let us crash at their place while we were on the road. Indie rock also means no money. Or, definitely not enough to stay in hotel rooms every night. Upon our arrival in Toronto, we really lucked out. Caleb had arranged for us to stay with his boss. Who lives in a mansion. Which seemed to catch us all by surprise a little. We pulled up in the middle of the night, having come from the airport. Tom-tom guided us to an unremarkable, narrow side street. But I could see the houses getting bigger and bigger. ‘You have reached your destination’, said Tom-tom in her calm businesslike voice and lo, we were parked in front of a gigantic house. Broad steps leading upward to a tall ornate door, past a double garage. A black suburban parked in front. Caleb knocks, James answers, we enter.

Into a vast living room with soaring ceilings, two oversize brown leather couches, two soft sage green recliners, with an enormous hassock in between them. A large bay window containing a real tree, and facing us the biggest mirror I have ever seen. Enormous gilt gold frame, heavy and ornate it appears to be the same size as the massive couch it is mounted behind. There is heavy, dark wooden furniture. A few, tasteful knicknacks.

No clutter. A fireplace, with one pristine log resting precisely on a neat bed of ashes. Small lamps on either side of one of the couches throw their soft light to the mirror, which is gently caught and spills all over the dark wood floor and thick Persian rug. James, who is not accustomed to staying up till 2am on a weeknight (as he is a normal working person, untainted by indie rock) gives us a quick tour. ‘I have a shoe problem’, he says calmly as we walk through the lower level of the house, the floor of which is covered with hundreds of pairs of skate shoes and runners. Past a home theatre, then upstairs to the guestrooms. Of which there are three. In each guestroom there is a flat screen TV with satellite cable mounted on the wall, what I would guess to be cherrywood or dark oak dressers and nightstands, and a queen size bed with ridiculously high thread count linens. I am quite dumbfounded and having trouble reconciling these sumptuous surroundings with the idea of “being on tour”.

All the guestroom doors open onto a small landing. This became my favorite part of the house. Unnoticed at first, there was a gorgeous skylight that contains a beautiful, sparkling pattern that looked like it was etched in a thin line of diamonds. By day, she was a regular skylight. The pattern only appeared at night. I spent a goodly amount of time bent backwards, gawking upwards openmouthed at that skylight over the next couple of days. Where the ceiling would have been, had the skylight not continued upward, there was a row in recessed lighting that glowed softly orange at night. Everywhere there was thick crown moldings that looked as if someone has pressed a fork into thick icing. If this was any indication of what we were in for on this tour, by golly everything was coming up roses.

We had a little while to chill out before heading back downtown to catch some bands. They napped, I went for a run. Nice neighborhood, I thought. Be nice to see it up close. I set off. I wonder why no one else is out, I mused. In Vancouver no matter what time I run there are always other runners out. I took a few steps and was drenched in sweat within seconds. The air is thick and hot in Toronto. Like trying to run through warm soup. Now I understood why there was no one out. They were probably running on treadmills in climate controlled air conditoned gyms. Smart people.

And so we ended up downtown having dinner with our booking agent. At a club where a few years back I played a show during which a guitar player (I use that term very loosely) took out his cock while onstage in a desperate attempt to force people to pay attention to his band. Didn’t work, which should give you some indication of the quality of the band. And the cock.
I saw a lot of bands while we were in Toronto. Pack AD, Warren Flandez, a crazy banjo player called Old Man Luke, Rosetta A, Matt Mays & El Torpedo. I caught an amazing show at the Horseshoe, probably the biggest show of NXNE. Hundreds of sweaty people packed into a low ceilinged room with several unsteady ceiling fans that looked as if they would fly off their moorings into the crowd and decapitate us all. Loud music. Cold drinks. Good times. Eventually Caleb and Julie and I headed back to the mansion.

Rees elected to stay and keep making new friends. That boy has the stamina of a true extrovert which I envy greatly. I wrote the address of where we were staying on his arm so he could find his way back, and off we went. On to Ottawa the next day for the first show.

Parlour Steps, Thieves Of Memory Video

This was the first music video I made with Parlour Steps upon joining the band. “Thieves Of Memory” is a great song that was the lead single off the album “Ambiguoso”. I fondly remember dancing and shouting along when I was just a fan at Parlour Steps shows.

Parlour Steps CBC Radio 2 Canada Live

Oh boy! I’m a big fan of the Canada Live Series on CBC Radio 2, so imagine my delight when Caleb told us we were going to be a part of it. A big CBC Radio truck was parked outside The Biltmore as we loaded in our gear. There were cables everywhere. This was my first show playing without charts. And my first show singing harmony vocals with Julie. I asked a lovely photographer friend of mine, Lisa McBride, to come down and take some live shots of us, as there are none yet with me playing in the band. Here are the fruits of her labor.

It didn’t take long to get over being anxious and start having a great time. Lisa was running all over snapping pictures, people were dancing, and it was fantastically loud onstage.

I really liked Lisa’s individual shots of us too. Here’s Julie.

And Rees.

Caleb.

Rob.

And me.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I get to do this, play in this band with these wonderful people and do such cool stuff. Yay!

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

Portland is barely in Oregon, I realized with some surprise. There’s a sign that says “Welcome to Oregon” as you cross a bridge that takes you into downtown Portland. I was awed by the beauty of Mount Ranier, a great distance away but still clearly visible; jagged, snowy, all sharp edges against an azure sky and open plains.

Rob, Caleb and I ended up in a lovely suburban park playing frisbee waiting for Julie and Rees to arrive. Well, they played. I mostly ran after the frisbee and managed to throw it everywhere except to the guy who was waiting to catch it. I did find a swing set, thankfully. Yes, I still play on swingsets. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to keep my 11 year old self with me always. The 11 year old Maira was a sweet and joyful person, quite unlike the cynical bitter crone I have become. So, I read. I write stories. I play piano and on swingsets. The same stuff I did in grade 6. The main difference now is that sometimes I get paid to do these things (except for playing on the swings. Still working on that).

We are staying at Rees’s cousin’s house. Thank goddess for family members and friends with extra rooms and living room floors. They make the indie rock adventure possible. We have access to a lovely suburban home, very near to the lovely suburban park. Definitely we are in lovely suburban area of Portland, about half an hour from the city. Everything is very clean. No homeless people to distract you from the calm, landscaped prettiness. SUV’s litter the streets. You can buy liquor anywhere. There are a lot of white people. Everywhere there are huge networks of big box retailers. There is a noticeable lack of sidewalks.

Later on that evening, Rob, Rees, Julie and I ended up at a local pub for dinner. This was a wonderful place. You could bring your own container and have it filled with beer from their little brewery downstairs. Like bringing a gas can to the station for a fill up. We left with two enormous jars full. I got carded again and this time Rob snatched my license from my hand and examined my birthdate carefully. Yeah, Rob. I know. It’s almost unbelievable that a woman who is older than you looks so fresh and young and radiant. Kidding, I’m kidding. Radiant might be pushing it.

The next day before the show we had time to wander around Portland. We found Powell’s Books “the biggest bookstore in the world”. Heaven! Bliss! Geek paradise! The size of a city block, and each section was as big as a typical bookstore. I spent about an hour there and never got past new releases. I only had an hour left before rendezvous, so I stepped out into the sunshine to take in the city, and walked about four very pleasant blocks before I found a fantastic used cd store. Independent, quirky and unique. Burned up the rest of my free time in there scanning the bins, never made it to the end of the alphabet. Left with a bag full of music, though. I approve of Portland. Books, music, art galleries, and a city bylaw that makes it legal to swim in all the public fountains.

The show. Now, this show was pretty damn good. There were people there to see us. Some we knew (thank you, Rees’s family and their friends), some we didn’t. Everybody had a good time. Big stage, well balanced stage sound, fancy lights. I found myself hopping about and smiling joyfully whilst playing my tambourine. I’m still developing my Parlour Steps character and apparently she’s going to be a happy wee lass. I haven’t had so much good clean fun playing music since…actually I’ve never felt this lighthearted while performing. It feels great to be onstage with these people. There’s nothing but calm, loving good vibes. Maybe it’s not too late to shed some bitterness, put on some trust instead. You see what they’re doing to me, they’re wearing me down with all their stupid happiness and positive attitudes, damn them.

Julie and I did some drinking. We talked very loudly (and a lot) to Rob as he drove us back to the house. He was a dear, making us laugh and putting up with our drunken foolishness. We all ended up watching American Idol at 2:30 in the morning. And petting big fluffy cats. I do remember waking up at some point to hear a frustrated guitar player exclaim “This game is STUPID!” Ah, yes. Another guitar player tries to beat Guitar Hero and fails. Or, perhaps more specifically, a guitar player tries to beat his non-guitar playing cousin at Guitar Hero and fails. I fell back asleep giggling. A first for me while on tour. I’ve fallen asleep crying more than once.

Rob, Julie, and I had to get up ridiculously early the next morning to make it back to Vancouver in time for me to teach piano lessons. Just like that – back to reality, work, routine. With some reluctance I dutifully refastened my normal life.

Parlour Steps, Seattle WA

“We’re rolling backwards”, I said, trying to sound casual. “We’re rolling BACKWARDS”, I said again, noting with some alarm the traffic lights receding into the distance as Bobby’s station wagon drifts tenderly close to the car behind us. Predictably, indignant honking bursts forth from the anxious driver. “Okay lady, I know”, Bobby mutters, throwing his arm out his open window to gesture in a reassuring ‘calm down and shut up’ sort of way.

The light turns green and my heart lurches along with this tin can death-trap as Bobby throws it from park into first and guns it. “It’s the transmission”, he offers by way of explanation, a beautific smile spreading across his calm face. “And the brakes,” he adds thoughtfully.

A tidal wave of anxiety rises high into my chest, which seems to be corseted by my ribs from expanding enough to take a good deep breath. I am on my way to meet up with the rest of Parlour Steps. We are departing for a short tour, playing some shows in Seattle and Portland. If I can get myself and my keyboards to the rendezvous point without becoming involved in a fatal car accident. I was lucky that my dear friend Bobby was available for gear and Maira transport. I was unlucky that this was the day, the minute, and the hour that his vehicle decided to go bat-shit insane.

“It’s much worse today than it ever has been”, Bobby keeps saying apologetically and with genuine surprise as we lurch our way across town, me praying for green lights and no hills. Absolutely typical, I think amidst the the intermittent blasts of terrified honking as we roll steadily backwards at every red light. We sit and wait for the car to find first gear and leap, as a station wagon would if it were a gazelle, across a great succession of major intersections. At the beginning of rush hour. It would hardly feel like going on tour if there wasn’t panic and the acrid taste of fear in the back of my throat. Getting to the departure point was now questionable, in so many ways.

What if I’m late? What if I forget how to play the songs? What if they hate me and I hate them and we can’t function with continuous contact in small enclosed spaces? Did I mention I’m the newest member of this band and this is my first out-of-town excursion with them? Do I need to tell you that I’m a extremely meticulous obsessive compulsive sensitive little worrier?

We shudder to a halt outside Caleb’s house, perfectly on time. I exit the car slowly, with great deliberation, as if it were the calmest most unremarkable day of my life. I am the first one to arrive. There is time for Bobby and I to go for coffee. My stomach begins to unclench a little. When we return Rees and Julie and Rob are there. Time to load up and get the hell out of Dodge. We are a little caravan. Rees and Caleb travel with the gear. Julie and I travel with Rob. I have no idea where exactly we are going. In this band, I am in charge of nothing. My responsibilities are:

1. Play some kick ass keyboard parts
2. Sing some kick ass vocal parts
3. Show up on time with keyboards and voice
So far, so good. Until a small gray box is thrust into my hand. It’s my new friend Tom-Tom, a small GPS device that is supposed to guide us to the venue in Seattle. Of course, someone has to program it first. That someone is me. There is no instruction manual. I start pushing buttons. I hope feverently that Tom-Tom and I are smart enough to guide us to the Jewelbox Theatre, 2322 2nd Ave SW. I remember the address because I typed it in about a hundred times over the next few hours in true Maira obsessive-compulsive fashion.

Well, at least I wasn’t bothered about ‘will I hate them/will they hate me?’ anymore. Now it was ‘holy fuck, they’re relying on ME to get us there!’ Will we ever see Caleb and Rees again? Did I enter the right address (2322 2nd Ave SW 2322 2nd Ave SW 2322 2nd Ave SW)? Does this thing work? Is it too late to apply to law school, which was sort the original plan and now seems infinitely more relaxing than the indie rock experience.

I’m traveling with people I’ve never spent longer than three hours with. All of my gear is in another vehicle and may or may not be confiscated at the border. I’ve been appointed chief navigator and keeper of Tom-Tom. I can almost play about 20 Parlour Steps songs, which means I’ll have to bear down and push my musical mind to the limit to remember all my keyboard parts and patches, hundreds of chord changes, and vocal lines onstage. And make it look fun, and easy. God, I love rock and roll. It should come with a warning label: Caution! May lead to adventure. So few of us embark on real adventures anymore, not like the good old days of pirates and Vikings. My normal life is so structured and routine. I enjoy it, but I’ll peel it off like a dirty shirt whenever there’s an opportunity to travel and play music.

We drive, we rip across the border effortlessly. Tom-Tom guides us to the front door of the venue. The hardest part is finding a place to park. Downtown Seattle is pretty cool. Lots of brick and doorway arches, lots of mercilessly hip restaurants of every kind, lots of people out. I love being in the States. Gritty, slightly intimidating, and not safe. And because of that, very exciting.

We had some time to kill and so ended up at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I got carded, which happens more often than not but is getting progressively funnier as I age. Now when they look, they do a double take. Or laugh out loud. I am way older than they thought (but still looking good, thank you very much). Dinner was delicious, and fun. I was starting to feel like I was on vacation, minus the spending money. That pretty much sums up the touring experience for me. A very weird, unpredictable vacation during which I have no money.

The show was pretty good. I managed to keep my wits about me and played the right sounds at the right time. We played in a tiny theatre (the Jewelbox, 2322 2nd Ave. SW). Plush red velvet seats, a tiny red-carpeted aisle, a miniature stage. Afterwards, I drank a can of warm cheap beer while watching a blind junkie drummer try to outsmart a hair covered guitar player with a stage full of pedals.

After that, I helped load gear while Rees took it as a personal challenge to score us some weed. I learned, Rees takes a personal challenge very seriously. We found a hotel and slept. The next morning, I observed the American breakfast experience at Denny’s. They have something there called the Complete Three Meat Breakfast. Because you know a breakfast is hopelessly incomplete without at least three meats. Also they put melted cheese on the meat. Actually, pretty much everything had a layer of melted cheese on it except for the coffee.
It was a beautiful day for a drive. Five hours of highway and sunshiny breezes. On to Portland.

The Feminists: Closing Credits

It was an amazing, unforgettable cd release show at the Media Club on Feb. 8. I knew it would be the last time we would be in the same room and play together. People who suddenly hate each other can’t stick together as a band for very long. So much work, so many sacrifices, and so much incredible music had been made and it all just disappeared, like it had never been.

The Feminists were:
Mike Zobac – drums, vocals, arrangements. He also managed our Factor grants. Mike took charge of all of the band’s projects still in progress when The Feminists broke up suddenly in February 2008 including a video for 21st Century Ghost and a live DVD of ‘Can’t Scream Loud Enough’.

Keith Grief – songwriter, lead vocals, guitar, arrangements. Keith did all the website design and maintenance and designed all of The Feminists album art and packaging. He designed our t-shirts, buttons, stickers, tour posters and postcards. He also organized and designed the live DVD show.

Ferdy Belland – bass, arrangements. Ferdy booked all of our local shows. He planned and booked most of our tours as well.

Alison Mara – keyboards, vocals, arrangements, blogs, bio.

The Feminists: Our Release Date Is Fast Approaching

The Feminists brand new album “Can’t Scream Loud Enough” Release Date Tuesday February 5/08

Look, here’s the deal. We made this smashing record that we’re all so very proud of. Well, I can’t speak for Keith – not much impresses him (which is good, to have at least one dark and mysterious artist to balance out the goofballs who are Ferdy, Mike, and myself) but I think he has recently said “I don’t hate it”, so that’s pretty high praise.
So. We made a record. We like it. We have been posting previews of each track on the new album, and you all have been very good at listening to them. But soon – very soon – you will not have to wait, anxiously wringing your hands each Monday morning as you wait for Zobac to post that week’s offering. Our release date is fast approaching. Tuesday February 5, 2008 is the magical day. “Can’t Scream Loud Enough” will be available at Scratch Records, and other fine local establishments such as Zulu and maybe even Red Cat. CSLE will also be available online at Zunior Records (www.zunior.com). Full digital release (Canada, U.S., U.K.) is happening through Scratch Recordings & Distribution. You can check their online store (www.scratchrecords.com) for more details.
But why settle for a crappy MP3 (unless you love MP3’s, that’s okay) when you can purchase the cd itself, with its trippy and wonderfully unusual packaging and artwork designed by our resident dark and mysterious artist? What you really should do is come down to our cd release show. Sat. Feb. 9 at The Media Club. We are thrilled to be sharing the stage with The Smears – if you’ve never seen them, you should be ashamed. Yeah, I said it. Shame on you. AND Portico. And embarrassment of riches, I know. AND Swan Vista. Swan Vista is some of the same people as Foster Kare (or are they Karen Foster again these days? I can’t keep up), specifically guitar god Chad McQuarrie, so that’s bound to be…ridiculous. Like ridiculous amazing, not ridiculous ridiculous.
I sort of got lost there, staring at all those ridiculous-es.
CD release show. I apologize for my lack of writer-ly focus. I’ve just walked in the door from teaching a seemingly endless stream of children how to not suck at playing the piano. This tends to suck the life out of me. I will bravely soldier on.
Come see us play our new record – live – we’re not just going to play the cd through the PA, although that would require far less rehearsals – at the Media Club on Feb. 9. And buy one afterwards, for the love of god. We’re out here in the wilderness, people. No record label to love us – and give us money – no management team (that would be me. And I need HELP, goddammit. A lackey to meekly carry out my bidding, or a high priced, high powered suit wearing group to rescue me from this DIY hell), just a rock band playing their catchy as hell rock songs with ferocious intensity. Bring your friends. Your cool friends. They’ll dig it too.

The Feminists: I Will Be Showing Off My New Muscles

My goodness, certainly I have been wearing out my itsy bitsy delicate piano player fingers with all the hours I have been spending lately at my computer, tapping out messages (that seem to strike an interesting balance between humble/hopeful/slightly arrogant) to the Powerful People out there who might, maybe, possibly, be interested in helping my lovely band up to The Next Level. Well, you see we have this new record and all and I’ve been thinking hey maybe it would be nice to find someone else (who has more than $400 to their name) who’s willing to help us get it out there. Plus right now we only have 5 copies of said record and methinks that’s not enough, even for an indie band. How awesome would it be to convince some sort of corporate entity to press a few thousand copies for us. And then book us some killer tours and local shows, get us a ton of press…you see where I’m going with this. Into my too-often visited fantasy world. That beautiful place where musicians – brace yourselves – make a living by playing music.
I can’t help but notice that the real world is not set up this way. We have a real problem in this culture that devalues art in all its forms. Well, I guess it’s mostly a problem for artists. Come to think of it, I don’t hear businessmen lamenting the fact that it sure would be great to be able to make a living doing business.
What the hell am I talking about? I sound like my dad, who starts out with one story that reminds him of another story and pretty soon both he and I have no idea about what he was driving at in the first place. And now I have no idea what I was driving at in the first place. Thanks dad, for the rambling conversationalist gene.
Oh yes. I wanted to tell you all that we are playing a show tomorrow.
Railway Club, Wed. Aug. 29, 11:30pm. As part of the International Pop Overthrow Festival. My favorite Vancouver bands are playing that night as well, The Parlor Steps and Pepper Sands. Can you imagine? It’s going to be very awesome. We are going to play a new song too. So there are ample reasons to bring yourself and all your friends to cover thyselves in the glory of rock.
See you all there. I will showing off my new muscles.

The Feminists: Prog Rock Spectacular!

Need I say more? Tonight we are playing at The Red Room, 398 Richards St. 9:15-9:45. With A Ghost To Kill Again and Karen Foster. I’m trying to decide if it would to be too uncool to wear my AGTKA t-shirt tonight. Probably yes.
In the meantime, I am quite delighted, as always, to keep you the people up to date about what the heck we are up to and of course, how I feel about it.
Right now I feel, tonight we are going to explode with a blast of rock and roll intensity that will overwhelm your senses (all of ’em) and leave you spent…but completely satisfied, hmmmm?
Hope to see you all there. Come for Ghost @ 8, stay and watch the rest of the prog rock unfold in all its proggy glory.

The Feminists: Relatively Obscure, But Incredibly Hip

Once again our kind friend Stokely has helped us out with our visual presentations. He has started a The Feminists youtube channel. Already it is the biggest collection of us on film on the entire internet! (That’s not as impressive as it sounds. We are, after all, a relatively obscure – but incredibly hip – indie rock band)

Anyway, there’s videos for Brand New Common Sense, Sudden Departure of T, our live television performance, and even some footage that somebody filmed and posted when we played in Red Deer during our last tour.

Anyone out there who has filmed us and would like to post it, please do so. Unless we’re playing badly and/or sound like crap. Then, just send it to us. Immediately.

The Feminists: Congratulations, It’s An Album!

On May 29, 2007 in the late afternoon, a small team of determined musicians, producers, mixers and masterers pushed a new rock and roll record out into the world. As yet unnamed, this little beauty contains ten new Fem-anthems of epic proportions.
The next step is to somehow get the music out to you, the people. We’re working on it. As of now, there are only a small handful of copies in existence. When we got ourselves a giant handful, you’ll be the first to know.
I listened to it the day it was born, mere hours after we mastered. To be honest, I don’t know what to say about it yet.
Speaking only for myself (because really, I am woefully unqualified to speak for anyone else since I sold my clairvoyant powers to the devil) I am thrilled to have had the chance to work with three fantastic professionals who really made this album sound great. Mike Southworth, Doug Fury, and Jamie Sitar. You guys are ridiculously skilled, have ears of steel, incredible musicality, intelligence, and a ferocious work ethic. It was an honor for me to work with all of you. It was easy and fun to work with all of you. I am very grateful to each of you for the hours and hours and hours you guys sunk into this project.
After my last session, I realized that the happiest hours of my life – ever – were spent in the studio these past few months recording my keyboard parts with our producer/engineer Mike Southworth. I didn’t expect this level of bliss and satisfaction during the recording process. All I know is, I want to do it again. That is the job for me. Get up, go to the studio, write and record keyboard parts all day and all night. I have no expectations about the four of us making another record. Although I will say, in writing, in public, that I’m sure looking forward to working on that new song again.

The Feminists: A Nice Dose Of Glory

A couple of weeks ago we played at The Cobalt (“Vancouver’s Hardcore Bar”). Goodness gracious, we were generously received. Remember I told y’all a awhile back that we were totally hardcore enough to rock your face off at The ‘Balt? Well, we are and we did. Every so often we play for a receptive crowd whose mouths open further and further towards the floor in slack jawed amazement as our set progresses. To my great satisfaction, this happened at The Cobalt.
The people seemed to be reserving their judgment somewhat as we began to play. Oh sure, they pointed their faces towards the stage but there was a coolness in the response as they evaluated our rock ability. I think the turning point was provided by (who else?) Mike Zobac during his drum solo on Kohotek, during which I screamed uncontrollably in admiration and delight. After that, all the hardcore kids embraced us with fist pumping, howls of approval and much arm waving. We finished and started tearing down, but they demanded an encore. At the Cobalt. Go figure.
It’s not that surprising, though. Punks and hardcore people are usually quite open-minded I find, and those are the best kind of people for us to play for. Plus, they really love their music and are more discerning than lots of your typical indie rock hipsters who are frequently more concerned with who else is at the club than what the bands sound like. Oh I’m sorry. Did that strike a painful nerve, ironic trucker hat wearers?
After the show, there was a nice dose of glory. Sometimes we get that, when lots of people come up afterward and express their gratefulness to us for having rocked them utterly and blown their minds to pieces. Kind of makes all the horrifically awful shows with terrible bands in empty rooms after an 1100km drive fade somewhat into our collective subconscious. I signed my first autograph. I mean, I’ve signed cd’s before, but this was…a bus transfer. I was embarrassed – was he serious? was he making fun of me? – but kinda flattered. Ah, the glamorous life of a rock star.
So, tomorrow we are going to play a show I am quite excited about. At The Media Club, with The Parlor Steps for their cd release show. I do love the Steps. They are pretty much my favorite Vancouver band these days, along with A Ghost To Kill Again but that’s another story.
Please come down if you can to see some really good music. That’s not something I’m confident enough to say very often, but the Parlor Steps are a special band. And so are we.

The Feminists: It Sounds So Lush And Thick

We’re recording. New record is coming along very well. Instrumental parts are done, and this month we will do vocals, mixing, and mastering. Gosh. It sounds good, I gotta be honest with you. This week we will all have access to rough mixes of the songs with all the parts for the first time, and I for one am pretty stoked. So far, only our fabulous producer Mike Southworth and myself have heard the songs with all the parts. I’m excited that the guys are finally going to hear all the new keyboard stuff. Their parts sound great, of course. The bass and drums lock in together like…like, uh…a key in a lock? I don’t know where I’m going with this, metaphors were never my forte. Anyway, the bass sounds gooooood. Especially the solos. The drums sound gooooood. Huge. Enormous. And in the fucking POCKET. Oh yes. There are lots of guitar parts and keyboard parts too. A LOT of keyboard parts, that I can personally attest to. For the first time, we have made an album that we will not be able to play live – I mean, we can play the songs fine and have been doing so for the last year or so. But there are so many parts on this new record, it sounds so lush and thick even without being mixed or adding the vocals that the song-paintings on the record will be an entirely different experience compared to the live performances. Neat.
Something that I’m rather tickled about regarding the new album is that I was able to play my parts on real instruments, not just my keyboards. So, my piano parts are on a real piano, with a beautiful warm tone ever-so-slightly out of tune, with all of those lovely overtones and sympathetic vibrations that can only come from wood, metal, natural materials. Ah. My rhodes parts on on a real rhodes, my wurly parts are on a real wurly. And best of all, my organ parts were played with a real leslie. I got to play draw-bars. I got to put exactly the right amount of spin on the leslie. I’m getting warm and fuzzy just remembering it…My synth parts were augmented by Southworth’s enormous banks of synth sounds. Instead of merely hundreds of sounds to choose from, I had thousands. Overall, I’m thrilled. With all the new keyboard parts I wrote, even with my solos. An unprecedented first for me, to be pleased with my work and how I sound. But why not? I practiced my ass off during the whole recording process. Who knows if we’re ever going to make another record…especially one with a $20 000 budget. I wanted to enjoy this opportunity to the fullest and capture the very edge of my skill, the maximum, best effort that I could possibly put forward. Even though it was a very deliberate plan, I am still joyously surprised with how very well this album is taking shape. I can hardly wait to hear how the vocal parts turn out.
Also we’ve got some sweet shows coming up here in Vancouver. This Friday we’re at the Cobalt. Come on down. I’m looking forward to showing off the band again. It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve assembled ourselves to play some rock for the people. In fact, we haven’t been playing or rehearsing much since we started the recording process. So it will be good to get back into the performance saddle again.

The Feminists: Outdoors In The Snow

We were trapped in Ontario for three days due to a winter storm of historic proportions. I’m way behind on my writing…that’s why there haven’t been any posts for awhile…we’ve been sleeping outdoors in the snow.

The Feminists: Free Concerts All Year Round

Personally, I believe that “live music performance” is the invention of which humanity should be the most proud. Somehow along the way over the last few million years or so, which is the very recent past as far as the history of the planet goes, and maybe just a few minutes ago as far as the age of the universe goes, our species invented and developed the notion of a group of people producing sounds in a recognizably unified fashion.
The dividends that humanity has reaped from this invention cannot be overestimated. Being in the presence of people producing recognizably unified sounds mysteriously creates a sense of happiness that is all the sweeter for being shared with other music admirers. Happiness leads to things such as relaxation, forgiveness of past hurts, affection for loved ones (and sometimes even strangers), optimism for the future, and perhaps best of all, the realization that there is no better moment than this one happening right now.
You’d think the government would provide us all with free concerts all year round, if for no other reason than to keep the great unwashed masses content and docile. Wouldn’t that be a better world to live in? Music actually being utilized for its ability to make people feel happy? Musicians would able to ply their craft and not starve at the same time. Sigh. Imagine that.

The Feminists: My Ears Turned Pink With Pleasure

Sep 26 Toronto The Horseshoe
When I was a tender green sprout of a musician, I had a brief conversation with a teacher that still occasionally bubbles to the front of my mind. “How do you play when you’re really nervous?” I asked, right after I had played my jury for him and another adjudicator. I had managed to peel myself off the piano bench and stand, but my legs were still shaky and I wondered if I was visibly wobbling.
The great Brad Turner laughed a little, and said kindly “You know, I wish that I could feel nervous again before a gig once in awhile”. I was stabbed by a flash of resentment that it was so easy for him. I was exhausted from all the practicing and preparation for this stupid exam, and no matter how much I practiced, I was still terrified every single time I had to play in front of people. Or with people, for that matter. “It’s just time”, Brad said. “It will gradually get easier the more you do it”. I’m sure he would have no recollection of this this at all, but I have pondered his words many times since then. What he told me was absolutely true. I haven’t been nervous before a show for almost two years now. Playing music has become so much fun as a result that I have forgotten I was once a tortured little soul who would gasp piteously for breath whenever I was called upon to play my instrument in front of other people.
The Horseshoe show was one that I could not have played three years ago. I would have been seized with paralyzing fear and unable to lift my eyes from the keys. It’s an amazing thing that such profound fear and doubt eventually just faded away, gradually, without fanfare. My fear was easily eroded down to a flat harmless smoothness by the sheer number of shows that I’ve played with the Fems. So here we were at one of the most famous clubs in Canada for sure, where hundreds of famous bands have played memorably amazing sold out shows. Yay team.
There was no one here yet, but it was early. We had promptly arrived for load in and there was a highly serious sound guy there who quickly and decisively organized the sets, gear, and band order. It’s a relief to work with a sound guy who takes control of stage managing the show. All I have to do is relax, let him worry about everything, and do whatever he says. I was slightly intimidated by the Horseshoe, and the sound tech’s level of professionalism. Fortunately, this band functions as a well-oiled machine. We can set up in about 8 minutes onstage. We can tear down and have all of our gear offstage in about 3 minutes.
Next time you go to a show, check your watch at the beginning of the changeover between bands. Sometimes it can be be 45 minutes, an hour, or more. Fucking around during the changeover will shorten all the bands sets, especially the last band. Sometimes there may not even be any time for the last band to play at all if enough time is wasted during the changeovers from band to band. Then there can be trouble. Plus, I think it’s really disrespectful to the audience. People came to hear live music, not wait for a bunch of half drunk guys plug stuff in while being distracted by pretty girls and the ever present thought of “I should get another beer before we go on”. I hate slow lazy bands. It’s never worth the wait. A great band will set up efficiently, in one fluid casual motion. From the downbeat, everyone is captivated and the band owns the room for as long as they play. For the audience it seems like the whole set was only a few minutes long. I’ve been to shows like this, and I hope you all have too. If you haven’t, go see NoMeansNo.
Most of the time all of our brilliant efficiency is wasted. We stand around and wait for other bands to slowly set up their gear in between getting beers. We watch in agony as bands take one piece of drum hardware at a time off the stage while stopping to congratulate each other and get another beer. Why do bands do this? Why do they shorten their own time onstage and everybody elses’s as well? Don’t they like playing music? Don’t they care about the people? I want to get up there and play loud fast songs real bad. It boggles my mind why a so-called musician/entertainer would want to avoid that.
Suddenly it was our turn to play. At the stroke of 10:20, exactly when we were supposed to start our set, we were ready to go. “Everything set?” the sound guy asked us. “Yessir”, I said. “Right on. Points for punctuation”, he replied. My ears turned pink with pleasure, as they always do when I receive a meaningful compliment. Here we were at one of the most famous clubs in Canada and we had impressed the sound guy before playing a single note. There were about 70 people waiting expectantly at our feet for us to blow their minds. Is there any limit to what we can do all by our little selves?
We had carefully designed a set of our finest offerings. We had friends in the audience. I were dying to show this enormous self-important city what we sounded like, to see heads swivel towards the stage helpless in our thrall.
Song, song, song. No talking except “Hi we’re The Feminists” and “thanks a lot” in between songs. It sounded amazing onstage. Crisp, clear, balanced, not too loud. It was so easy to sing in tune, comp for the guitar and bass solos, and hear myself over the band during my solos. I could see people continually streaming into the room where we were playing, stop, watch, and then move closer to the stage. Grief and I were drenched in sweat by the beginning of the second song. Belland was stomping from the waist it seemed, taking huge Viking strides all around the stage, his bass raised high as he marched to and fro. I felt like I was in the middle of a tropical hurricane. It was hot, humid, and there were big cymbal crashes and distorted guitar screams flying everywhere. There were hot blinding lights that flashed at random intervals. After every song, there was a half breath of silence, then applause, whistling, cheering. It’s good to hear that half breath of silence. It means people were listening intently and were taken by surprise by the song ending. Considering that these people had never heard our songs before, that’s pretty good. When was the last time you went to a show and silently listened to unfamiliar songs played by a band you’ve never heard of from beginning to end, one after another?
We played for exactly 30 minutes (because we’re punctual, remember?), and had cleared our gear from the stage 5 minutes later. Our friends gathered round to express how much they enjoyed the show. I found the sound guy and thanked him for making it so easy for us to play well. He said we were good. My ears turned pink again. We sold a whack of merch, there were actually people waiting for us at our table when we got offstage to buy cd’s. There was a gal from Nanaimo who had seen us there and was happy to see us again. Dave Ulrich, who kindly peddles our wares at his online record store, came to see us and said good encouraging stuff to me. Grief was deep in conversation with a dark haired young woman who was interviewing him, it turned out. We got an e-mail from her a couple of days later with a link to her article.
We stuck around to hear the other bands. I couldn’t help but notice (because I’m sort of a competitive jerk) that the crowd response was bigger for us than any of the other bands. We came, we saw, we kicked ass. Take that, Toronto. You’re not so intimidating after all. I like it that my band can play a fantastic show in Canada’s biggest city to a sizable, appreciative audience.
Tomorrow we play our second Toronto show, at The Boat. We are staying at Keith Hamilton’s house. Keith is an awesome promoter/musician who we stayed with last year as well. Tomorrow’s show is one of his, so there’s nothing to worry about

The Feminists: The First Law Of Indie Rock

First Law of Indie Rock:
As the quantity of audience members decreases, the quality of music increases. The best music happens when there is no paying audience at all and the bands play for only each other.

The moment I remember feeling the most despair was when the irritating, incompetent promoter looked up at me while setting up my vocal mic.”Just bear with me, I don’t know much about doing sound”, he said, with what I’m sure he thought was a confident smile. It was 15 minutes before the show was supposed to start, we were first, and for some inexcusable reason, there was no sound tech. This lovely fellow also kicked the bands out, locked the doors, and taken off right after load in so we all had to wait outside in the cold for three hours, until he returned. 15 minutes before showtime. With no sound set up yet. Not that there was anyone clamoring to get into the club to see this show. Probably because everyone in Peterborough was downstairs clamoring to get into the sold out NoMeansNo show that was happening at the same time as our obviously doomed show. We were playing in a split level venue, one room above the other connected by three flights of winding staircases. It sure was fun to climb up and down 89 times and lift a bunch of heavy awkward objects around all those corners. And due to a genius bit of booking, courtesy of the promoter – I’m sorry, the promoter/booking agent/sound tech – there were a bunch of relatively unknown indie bands playing a show at exactly the same time that NoMeansNo would be playing a majestic, thundering, sold out show right underneath our feet. On a Sunday night. It was already shaping up to be a humiliating evening. No sound guy and the promoter trying to figure it out as he went along was icing on the cake of my despair. O, Cake Of My Despair. Why must you always taste so bitter?
Suddenly, there appeared a calm steady individual who fired up the PA and placed the mics. His name was Jason, and he was just a guy in one of the bands. But he cared enough about these bands who he had just met at this lame ass show to help everyone sound as good as possible. He ended up doing sound for all the bands, saying nice sincere things to everyone about their music, and generally gave the show some sense of much needed order.

Not one member of the general public accidentally stumbled (up three flights of winding stairs) in during our set. In fact, there was no paying audience until about halfway through the last band, when two people came in. At least we were done early. However, because there were only bands there, etiquette dictated that we were obliged to watch the rest of the show. When it’s only bands playing for each other, everyone has to stick around and watch everybody else. If you leave when there are is no paying audience, you have grievously insulted the honor of the band onstage. After all, they stuck around for your set.

However, due to the First Law Of Indie Rock it was a very good show, musically speaking. A private concert with an attentive respectful audience.Sometimes it’s nice to listen to good music without a bunch of people trying to yell over it while they get drunk. The First Law Of Indie Rock makes me a little crazy sometimes. It does seem a colossal shame that the best music happens in empty clubs. On the other hand, sometimes I feel downright honored that I have a chance to absorb some great music as it disappears, flies upwards and outwards, never to be experienced again. Sharing that with only a few other musicians often creates a bond that makes you feel like good friends after spending only a few hours together.

After us Wax On Radio played. They were a big heavy three-piece. Great players, tight band. Then North Atlantic played. Jason’s band. Good heavens. Mild mannered, bespectacled sound guy Jason had removed his spectacles, undone his ponytail, and was generating an ever cresting wave of sonic power, guitar in hand. Very, very heavy prog rock. What a beautiful sentence that is. Emotional writing, with thick crunching layers of double kick and keening cymbals. A wall of guitar noise a mile deep, and ridiculously intricate polyrhythm figures between bass, guitar and drums. But so much melody and so many catchy instrumental hooks that the ear wasn’t overwhelmed by all the distortion. And these guys could really play. I forgot that I was tired and sick and generally disgusted and disappointed.
In a sudden warm rush, I finally remembered what I love about music, thank god. I love being swept away by a current of song and sound, the delicious pleasure that starts in my ears and gradually overtakes me, feeling the connection between the players onstage and watching them make something unique and authentic. Live music is where it’s at for me. If it’s a really good show, I can get a little overwrought by the fleeting impermenance of every single moment. It’s humbling to stand in the middle of a great pool of art as it gushes forth from the stage, swirls around my feet and rises higher and higher, bursting out the windows and doors to disappear forever. See, overwrought.
After North Atlantic, You Say Party We Say Die took the stage. They are from Vancouver too, and it’s always nice to see people from home when you’re on the road. YSP’s star has been rising steadily. We’ve played with them a couple of times in Vancouver, but not for the last year or so as they have been constantly touring. And holy crap, they sounded good. I guess playing a million shows all over the world will do that for ya.
Mike, Ferdy, and I had a great time listening to YSP. We danced like fools, we laughed in delight, we cheered and clapped and whooped with unbridled, very uncool enthusiasm. They were completely entertaining, and they made us feel happy. I thanked them profusely after the show for giving me such a good time, like the uncool enthusiastic dancing dork that I am. After all, they and North Atlantic had reminded me that music can be thrilling and fantastic and not always stupid all of the time. For that I am grateful.

The whole time we could hear NoMeansNo through the floorboards. In fact, I could feel the kick drum and bass patterns press through the floor, pass through the soles of my feet and climb steadily upwards, exiting out the top of my head. They’re that loud and forceful. Sigh. After YSP there was still time to catch a little NMN. They had put us on the guestlist, so Ferdy and Mike and I walked in like rock stars (who had just played a dead show). They also introduced us to the promoter of their show, to give us a better shot of a more decent Peterborough show next time around. Anything will be better than the Seen Productions show we had the misfortune to be involved with.
The real action went down after the bands were done playing. The promoter broke YSP’s written contract and completely stiffed them, and they were seriously pissed. There was some pushing and shoving and yelling. We had loaded out and left the club, but the guys decided to turn the van around and go back to see if they would have a chance to watch an ass kicking. Great. Let’s not miss this priceless opportunity to watch some real life violence. Hopefully there will be pain and humiliation and blood because that’s so entertaining. I’ll never understand testosterone.
Alas. The bloodlust had to go unsatisfied because someone had called the cops and there they were, watching and waiting to see if there was anyone stupid enough to start a fight right in front of them.YSP had sort of calmed down. They’ll have a chance to get their money back through the musician’s union. But it would probably be a bit nerve-wracking for them to get to their next show, which was in NYC, with none of the money they were supposed to get in Peterborough. It’s a good thing there was no fight. It would have been one tiny, weasly rat-faced liar who was shorter than me against about 12 outraged man sized musicians. After a few more rounds of half-hearted insults with the gathering crowd, the crowd dispersed reluctantly.

The Feminists: A Rich Brine Of Rock and Roll

Recommended Listening To Keep Your Ears Guessing

Muse – Black Holes And Revelations
I used to think that there were no rock bands left alive in the 21st century who could make a great keyboard record. To be fair, first I had to get past the Radiohead-ness of the lead singer’s voice and melodic sense. I’m glad I did, though. This record is meticulously arranged and produced and miraculously does not stray beyond the boundaries of good taste. Somehow they knew when to stop and leave the finished product with just enough space to avoid clutter. There are a lot of parts, but you can trace each of them lovingly as they go by and simultaneously comprehend the complete, beautifully sad, whole. The combination of thick layers of synth, piano, real drums, fuzzy bass, distorted guitars, gloriously leaping poignant melodies, and angry often despairing writing is refreshing to say the least. I love albums that force me to listen to them again and again to wring out a little more understanding each time around. I also love it that Muse can play kick out the heaviest, thickest, head banging unison figures just as well as they can write a heartbreaking melody.

Well, at least the rain had stopped when we got up to drive to London. The sun was shining and the temperature was rising steadily. Unfortunately, we were just as damp as we were the night before when it was pouring rain. We were also covered in at least two layers of sweat and dirt, one from the show last night, and another layer that had built up while we were trying to sleep. Nothing had dried out overnight, and all of the clothes and bedding were damp and limp.
After our morning round of coffee and arguing at Timmy’s we sogged back to the van for a hot damp drive. We made it to London and found the venue. Then we were off to an Internet cafe, as it had been a few days since we had made contact with the outside world. I swear the van gets smaller every day, and I do get desperate to just be somewhere else where I don’t have to look at those guys for a few minutes.
As we were busily checking e-mail, my phone rang. It was Adrian from the Nerve magazine, calling from Vancouver to do a phone interview. He called last night before the Hamilton show, but there was some confusion on my part as I didn’t know what day it was, what time it was, the date, and I couldn’t remember if PST was 3 hours ahead or behind Ontario time. It’s a miracle I remembered how to answer my phone.
“So, why do you think you guys don’t get any respect in Vancouver?”, he started off with. “Well, we played a great show at The Lamplighter for our tour-kickoff”, I said cautiously. “There were lots of nice people there who told us they loved our set”. Maybe Adrian knows something I don’t know. I thought the problem was that nobody was aware of this band, not that we were being deliberately slighted and ignored.(And if that’s the case, what’s up with that, you jerks?) “Maybe it’s the name”, I suggested with a giggle. Damn. Adrian’s velvety good humored phone voice was triggering my breathless giggle reflex. Steady, Maira.
Lots of people, especially dudes, recoil at our band name, at least they do when they’re talking to me. Here’s my most common post-show conversation:

“Wow, that was great”.
“Thanks a lot, dude.”
“What’s the name of your band?”
“The Feminists”. Awkward pause. Nervous eye-shifting.
“Really, that’s your name?”
“Yes, really. Now fuck off or buy a cd”. Okay, I don’t usually add that last part out loud.

I guess it’s like calling your band The Vomit Chunks or The Republicans. People have to see you and hear you in order to transform their negative assumptions about vomit chunks or republicans or feminists into awestruck admiration.
“You guys really seem like a family”, Adrian continued, “More so than a lot of other bands I’ve talked to”. Huh. For the record, I am NOT RELATED to any of the guys. Apparently we are maintaining a convincing facade of bonhomie. “Well, the relationships within the band are pretty solid”, I replied. “Mike, Ferdy and I knew each other for about 10 years before this band started, and I’ve known Keith for 5. The four of us have been playing together for almost 3 years”.
When we’re on tour, we become best friends, or so I’d like to believe. However, we rarely socialize as a group when we’re not working together. We also have to work consciously at getting along with each other. Well, I do at least. In the end it’s less effort to walk away or bite your tongue than it is to argue with every stupid thing that comes out of somebody’s mouth. Constant picking at each other takes the focus away from trying to sound good together.
I’m getting that kind of comment more and more. Wow, you guys get along so well, you must really like each other. It’s all an illusion! If we really let ourselves go, there’d be fistfights and screaming matches every night. But the music is more important than that. Of course we each have our things that we absolutely hate about the others. Well, I do at least. Luckily, we all like the songs so much that we’re able to put the music first. A little secret – if you get into the habit of behaving well to your bandmates, even if it’s just an act and what you really want to do is take that cigarette and smash it up Grief’s nose…I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yes, if you can make yourself behave in a civil fashion on a consistent basis, often the feeling that is supposed to accompany these kind gestures materializes and you find yourself just being genuinely pleasant most of the time. Which is a lot less taxing than being angry and in constant conflict with three other people all the the time.
I do love these guys ardently, and have an awesome relationship with each of them, inside and outside of the band. These are remarkable dudes. Each one of them is an original, eccentric, larger than life, hilarious fellow who is beloved and respected by all of their many many friends. I wish all women could have a chance to hang out with them and see how cute and funny they are. Today would be good. I could really use some time to myself.
After the interview we were on our way to an in-store performance at a local record shop. It’s been a long time since we’ve had to play 2 shows in one day, and a good long while since we’ve played a subdued acoustic set. We pulled up to Groove’s Records and unloaded our gear.
We all looked like hell – damp, hot, dirty, sweaty and kinda stinky. Picture the van as a sardine can that someone left out in the sun and the Fems as warm sardines soaking in a rich brine of rock and roll. I fished around for a less damp t-shirt and tried to rub off some of the mascara streaks from last night. I’ll know I’ve made it when the van is no longer my dressing room.
We played for half an hour, and it was pretty good. Nice to have a chance to play all the softer songs, and it’s good to play quietly sometimes and listen to how all the parts interlock. There were a few people there, and we managed to sell some cd’s afterward. Everyone was nice to us and we heard many encouraging words. We loaded out and parked behind the club we would be playing at later. Grief cooked up some tacos, and after dinner Ferdy and I went back to the internet cafe to more fully satisfy our electronic longings.
Then it was time for load in and set up. It was raining again, still hot. We snagged a couple of couches as far away from the stage as possible- we loves us some couches – and settled in for another long evening of rock and roll. Mike passed out and snored, openmouthed and oblivious. I knitted many rows, Ferdy read, and Grief played gameboy. The first band was unremarkable, except to say that they weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. They took about half an hour to tear down. The drummer took apart his kit piece by piece, slowly and deliberately, in the middle of the stage. Or where the stage would be if there was one, in this case there was just a small area of floor. Mike finally started carrying the hardware over to the side, but Slowpoke McGee didn’t get the hint and remained firmly planted in the middle of everything. That kind of lazy drummer knows that someone else will move his gear from him if he waits long enough. Too bad the window was nailed shut.
We set up and rocked. Someone who had seen us at the instore earlier on came to the show, so that was great. He was a very nice guy from Pittsburgh, possibly our first American fan. Ferdy got notably plastered. He’s not a mean drunk, just a very loud enthusiastic one. Grief and I aren’t much for drunken enthusiasm, but it’s fun to watch Ferdy to make new friends in his state of hyper-sociability. Mike went out to the van to sleep until it was time to load out. Keith and I sold some merch, and then there was nothing to do except wait for the last band to be done. And follow the sound of Belland’s happy bellowing as he loped around the bar telling the other bands how amazing they were, how amazing everything was. Ah, happy Belland. We like him to get it all out of his system before we jam him back into the van to be quiet and meek so the rest of us can sleep.
The last band had two guitar players who played harmonized guitar solos standing back to back. More than once. I wonder if they do that in rehearsal too.”It’s tragic that Mike is missing this”, I whispered to Grief. Not every day does one get to travel back to 1987. They didn’t have the hair to toss around though, which kind of spoiled my suspension of disbelief.
Finally we loaded out. It was raining, windy, thundering and lightning. Still hot. We slept indoors, thanks to our kindhearted London friend Joey, who had also booked the show. On to Peterborough.

The Feminists: The Indie Rocker’s Prayer

Corrections
The drummer recommends the following corrections:
1. In Sault Ste Marie we had grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, not hot dogs.
2. That band in Kingston was really more ska than reggae.

The Indie Rocker’s Prayer:
“Dear Lord,
Thank You for all Your fucking bullshit.”

“Another million dollar quote from Mike Zobac”, Belland observed as I nodded in agreement. I really felt that he had expressed a deep truth. Lately Zobac has taking to saying the prayer out loud, sort of like an old time country preacher.
“Dear Lord, thank You for all Your fucking bullshit”, Mike prayed recently “thank you for all the rain, and for making us stand in the rain while we eat” Amen brother, I thought silently. Sometimes he just looks at me and we say together “Dear Lord, thank you for all your fucking bullshit”. Somehow it makes our sometimes crappy reality seem merely amusing. Mike is sick now too. Now we are all sick, in varying degrees. We don’t really care though. Tonight we play the Underground in Hamilton, it’s a Friday night, and we’re going to open for NoMeansNo.
We like those guys a lot. Ferdy’s friends with ’em. I’m too shy to talk to them because I’m such a little fan. They are my favorite live band. I would rather see them play than pretty much anybody else. I’ve listened to their records, and that’s fun, but I didn’t really get it until I saw them play live. These guys have been playing together as a trio for over 25 years. Plus they are skilled, intelligent, intense musicians. I love their songs too. I think they have a compelling chemistry between them that exists only because they know each other so well.
I love seeing experienced bands (who still like each other) play together. To me it sounds like there’s an ease and comfort between the musicians that soaks into the music, and I find it very relaxing to listen to, even though the music might be very very loud and intricate and intense. There’s a lot of joy in watching NoMeansNo as they play, and there’s a lot of joy in their music. Speed, power, agility, catchy melodies with very clever writing.
We pulled up to the The Underground. It was hot and rainy. Hamilton is one tough town. Much tougher than Vancouver, although I guess that’s not saying much. Vancouver isn’t tough at all unless you go to the relatively confined area where all the action and tragedy goes down. Then it’s one of the toughest, most depressing places anywhere. You know you’re in a dangerous area when there are no Starbucks around.
A thunderous roar was dimly audible behind the 2 sets of double steel doors. We descended into the depths (The Underground is lives up -or down- to its name) and sure enough, NMN was just finishing up their sound check. All four of us stood around and grinned. It’s hard not to when you hear them play. They said hello to us (I hid behind Mike and stared at the floor), and we thanked them profusely for letting us play with them again, and tried not to be too uncool.
After sound check we had a bit of time to wander. We were first, and our set was exactly 30 minutes starting at 9:30. Belland met up with an old friend and disappeared. Grief, Zobac and I went to Timmy’s for our pre-show round of caffeine.
We headed back to The Underground around 9:00. Sometime later Mike asked me what time it was. 9:20, I said. I don’t see Ferdy anywhere, Mike told me. He’ll be here, I said. He’s never been late for a gig, and usually he’s stage managing everybody else telling them to get started so the show can run on time.
9:30 came and went and there was no denying that the three of us were officially frantic. I’ve been playing with Ferdy for three years, and he’s never even been close to late for a show. Mike had to talk to NMN and tell them that we weren’t ready to start because we were missing our bass player. That was hard. We really, really, didn’t want to look like unprofessional chumps in front of NMN.
Grief was stalking about outside the front doors looking out for Belland, muttering “I’m going to kill him” over and over. The sight of him clutched at my heart a little. Grief tells us every day how much he doesn’t care about playing shows, but it’s now obvious that he’s only trying to convince himself. Mike was pacing around in the green room asking God why Belland doesn’t get a cell phone. Or a watch, for that matter. Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for all Your fucking bullshit.
I was thinking, he’s hurt, he’s dead, he got mugged and hit on the head, and what am I going to tell Mrs. Ferdy? She’s one of the ladies I knit with, and I don’t think I could face her again having lost her husband on the mean streets of Hamilton. I know how important this show was to Ferdy, he has great respect for NMN. It was completely and totally out of character for him to not be there on time.
At 9:45 Grief came running down the stairs into the club “He’s coming”, he yelled and we leaped up onstage. Ferdy came running across the floor, taking his coat off as he picked up his bass.
Everything changed in that moment, and things started to move very quickly. The worry and concern was replaced by knee weakening relief and then white hot rage. He was okay. He was alive. He was just late because he was careless about the time. I wanted to hurt him. Never in the history of this band have we been responsible for holding up the show. We are mock and deride other bands who do so. And why this show…this one was really important…it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it was in Owl’s Anus, Manitoba and there was just a bunch of random local bands there.
“DON’T TALK!” Mike spat at Belland, who was opening his mouth to say something. Mike has a very long,very slow fuse. It’s rare that he loses control of his anger, but if that happens, cover your head. Belland closed his mouth with a snap. Grief couldn’t look at him and turned away completely, tuning his guitar.
“I have a set list”, I snarled at him. “I’ll be calling the order of tunes”. We only make set lists when it’s critically important to play a kick ass show. My whole body was vibrating with emotion. I desperately tried to rein in my temper. Now it was time to play 21st Century Ghost, which I start by myself. Are we going to be able to do this? I wondered. There was so much anger and hate, contempt and disappointment flying around onstage. No time for resolution or explanations. Our songs require all of us to listen to each other and play as one. They also require a fair amount of concentration to navigate through the arrangements. Maybe we were just about to play a really shitty set in front of the great musicians of NMN, who had come back to the club about 3 hours before they had to so they could see us play.
I took a deep breath and let it out as I played the intro.
The band kicked in with utter precision and intensity.
I think it was the best show we’ve ever played. Grief was on fire. He nailed all of his vocal parts effortlessly and played beautiful, jagged, passionate guitar lines. Ferdy played excellently, I felt like I was hearing the absolute peak of his considerable talent. Mike was amazing, he had full charge of the rhythm section that night and he never faltered, not once. It was incredibly loud. The sound onstage was fabulous, and I knew our singing was strong and accurate.
We were all drenched in sweat after the first song. Belland’s bulging forearms were shining, and Grief’s curls were plastered against his head. Mike was still mad at Ferdy and dropped out during the first bass solo, leaving him adrift with no accompaniment. One of the nastiest things a drummer can do, but I guess it was more reasonable than jamming a drumstick down the bass player’s throat .
No talking, just song song song. People were nodding their heads and venturing closer to the stage, a good sign considering that everyone was there to see NMN, and we were just some unknown opening band. It was an incredible thing to feel how all the anger onstage was being continually transformed into a massive wall of thick melodic and rhythmic distortion, on top of which Grief etched his finely wrought, stripped down writing like a master engraver.
Too soon it was over. Half an hour goes by fast when you’re operating at maximum overdrive. We tore down and were off the stage within about 3 minutes, and the show went on just fine. All was forgiven. As Mike said, I’m sure NMN has seen worse from their opening bands than a bass player being 15 minutes late. How could anyone be angry after playing so well together…all that emotion had been spent onstage and there was nothing left except satisfaction and relief. We hadn’t embarrassed ourselves in front of NMN after all, and we couldn’t have played any better. I don’t know if I could handle it if every show started like that, though, no matter how good it felt afterwards.
We sold some cd’s afterwards, and then I jammed my ear plugs in as far as they would go and shook my tail feather as NMN proceeded to casually overwhelm me with their volume, complexity, sense of humor, and fantastic songs. They are one of the few bands that make me look forward to getting older, because maybe someday if I keep working really hard, I might sound something like that.
I was so pleased with the general state of the universe after the show that I hardly noticed that everything in the van was damp. And warm. Time for a few hours of fitful sleep in the jungle temperatures of southern Ont before the drive to London tomorrow

The Feminists: They Ordered Everyone To Dance

Recommended Listening For Mood Elevation
Young Gifted And Black – Aretha Franklin
The quality of her tone is iresistable to me. I forget everything except opening my ears fully to absorb the richness of it. And she sings some beautiful words with her beautiful voice. The band on this record is also very amazing. Classy, tasteful, but still sexy. The whole album glows with pure inspiration.

Hotter Than July – Stevie Wonder
This was the first record that I noticed could get me feeling happy within the first 30 seconds of the first song. Sometimes, when I’m really down it can take a whole minute to get happy. It’s astounding to think that all of this music was inside him waiting to come out, and he was able to express it and capture it. These are some of his best love songs, and I’m always comforted by the thought that someone can describe so clearly how good it feels to be in love.

We drove all day today. It was pretty nice, it got warmer as we went along and I think we traveled south all day. It’s nice and warm here at Queen’s University in Kingston, and it’s not raining. I’m feeling much better today and I’m looking forward to playing for a college crowd.
The Clarke Hall Pub was small, the booze was plentiful and cheap, and it had good lighting and a decent sized stage. There were already a lot of people settling in for a long night of drinking and socializing. Alas, there were 2 flights of stairs to climb and 3 sharp corners. And no monitors, some other band had blown them up.
I found a little coffee bar close by and soon enough we were sitting on two low comfy couches with a table of coffees and beer. Mike and Ferdy read, I knitted, and Grief played his gameboy. This is how we spend every evening. In a bar, waiting to play. Here is our the sum of our existence: Drive all day to venue. Load in, sit in bar for a few hours, listen to bands, set up, play, tear down, hopefully sell merch, load out, hopefully collect $50. Sleep in van at truck stop and repeat. Such is the glamor of rock and roll.I’m sure we must look a little weird to the locals at the bars. A table of outsiders who arrive together, and sit at the same table ignoring each other wrapped up in a deliberately solitary activity. We mostly drink coffee. A lot of coffee. And water. Ferdy drinks some beer. Sometimes Mike drinks beer too. Grief doesn’t drink beer and I don’t drink before playing. Usually we’re wearing earplugs as well.
I can explain. We’re permanently sleep deprived and dehydrated so we need to drink a lot of coffee and water. We have nothing to say to each other because we’ve been jammed together in a van all day. It’s bad enough to go deaf playing in the Fems, but even worse to go deaf listening to everybody else. And we’ve learned through countless bad experiences that it’s better to distract oneself from having to listen to a bad band than waste your life listening to bad music hacked out by hacks. It’s a good thing we each have our little Distractor Device. I know for myself that knitting has removed the overwhelming compulsion I felt so often while listening to a shitty band to leap on to the stage, grab the mic and scream “get off the stage, you pedantic little pissant! Stop torturing us with your sloppy out of tune melody-free rhythm-free steaming auditory turds”… or something along those lines. Occupational hazard, I guess. Now I don’t have to hide in the washroom as much. And I can make lovely scarves for everyone I know.
The opening band, however, nearly drove us all around the bend, overpowering our Distractor Devices effortlessly. They were part of an alarming trend I am currently observing in Canadian indie music, the white boy reggae band. One one hand, it was pretty funny to watch pale, soft, chubby university boys sing their songs about waking up in the morning and finding life too hard to bear. I think they thought that living in Kingston Ontario was the same thing as living in Kingston Jamaica. They also managed to stand completely still while performing, which gives you an idea of how awful their reggae feel was. The lead singer dedicated a song to beer, (“This one’s for beer! I love you, beer!”) thus reinforcing every stereotype I have ever absorbed about college frat boys. They ordered everyone to dance but no one obliged. That was funny too. Then they did a Sublime cover, during which they forgot the lyrics to and made up their own. I felt like I was being leveled with too many assaults at once. A bad band playing a bad song by a bad band badly. I glared at my knitting needles and concentrated fiercely. Knit, knit, purl, purl, I thought determinedly.
It was hopeless. They were unstoppable. I looked up reluctantly, like you look reluctantly at roadkill as you speed by it . Grief was whispering furiously into Belland’s ear and they both looked pained. Mike shook his head sadly and furrowed his brow as he forced himself to keep reading. I don’t know how long they really played for, probably about a hundred years. I was having a pretty good time tonight, I realized. The coffee was hot and strong, and at least I was being entertained.
The second band, who of course I thought would be terrible because I had been soured completely by the first band, was awesome. They were Junction, and they were a three piece that sounded as big as an orchestra. They played sincerely, passionately. The singer had a beautiful voice, and there were many melodies to be had. The crowd went nuts and spontaneously flooded the dance floor in a sudden rush. Ah.
Then it was us and it was a jumping bouncing stomping good time. Grief and I couldn’t hear one iota of our vocals, but I knew we were in tune and hitting everything at the same time. As long as we can see each other I can manage. I’m sure we’d sound like crap if we had to sing with no monitors in the dark. God forbid.
The crowd was generous, fun, energetic. Ah, university life. We played at just an absurdly high volume. I think probably we overwhelm some PA’s sometimes. It was a very small, square cube of a classroom full of people drinking and very bright, hot spotlights. It was viciously loud, blazingly bright, and gosh it was fun to play really fast songs. Grief and Ferdy looked as if they might melt.
Afterward we sold some cd..s and shirts and lots of people said very nice things. Nicely elevating for team morale, and coming up next was Hamilton and playing with NoMeansNo again.

The Feminists: The Color Of Sunbeams

Grief drove us to Sudbury. I found I was able to sort of sleep better with less coughing sitting up in the passengers seat, so I faded in and out of consciousness as the van rumbled along. At some point, I was aware of a strange heat beam of some sort on my face. I opened my eyes the tiniest little bit…perhaps Mike was shining his pen flashlight in my face, that’s one of his favorite pastimes when he’s bored. But it wasn’t Mike. It was the sun. The sun was shining. In the morning, during the day like it’s supposed to. I even had to take off my top two layers of clothing . Because it was warm in the van. It was warm in the van!
The light was overwhelming. I sat up blinking and cringing in the brightness. I felt like a wee mole who has spent the entire winter underground and now is venturing forth into springtime for the first time in months. My skin looked extra pale and pasty and the dark circles under my eyes stood out even more ghoulishly. Ah yes, the “I Look Like Crap Tour” was still rolling along. I looked out the window and saw lakes, trees, blue sky. The autumn leaves (drift by my window) really were red and gold, scarlet and vermillion, amber, burnt orange, soft butter yellow and stood out in such vivid contrast to the deep navy blue of the water and the evergreens at the shore. My favorite part of this beautiful morning was the sunshine glinting off the water. It was wonderful to see the color of sunbeams again, I thought as I drifted back to sleep.
By the time we got to Sudbury, I definitely had a fever. Thankfully, we were allowed to camp out in the band room at the Townehouse downstairs. This year there was no hot water for the shower. But I didn’t care, because there was a room with a bed that I could close the door to and sleep, which I did for most of the day. I was dimly aware of Grief and Zobac gleefully setting up for a long Magic battle. Poor guys. We’ve been so busy on this tour playing and driving they’ve hardly had time to play Magic.
By late afternoon, I felt well enough to make a pilgrimage to the internet cafe at the mall. Mike and I went together, wandered around Music World, had some coffee, and checked our e-mail. It was very good to be with just Mike. He’s the guy in the band I’ve known for the longest – since I was a teenager, long before this band was ever thought of – and it’s a rare blessing to grow up together with someone instead of growing apart. I even had a chance to catch up on world events. We’ve been very isolated on this tour so far, no time to read a newspaper of watch the news. Did you know there was a military coup in Thailand? News to me, my friends. Other than that, the same old Wars continue. I was kinda hoping that the American people would have overthrown their war-mongering non-elected murderous power drunk monkey of a president since I last checked in, but no dice.
Grief and I smuggled our stove downstairs to the band room after my epic journey to the mall and made soup. Zobac was busy doing a phone interview with FFWD in Calgary. The writer asked him for one of his road recipes which I think made him pretty happy, as he is the official band chef. I’ve been suggesting that he try and get his own cooking show that features his band chef duties. I can see it now: Zobac with a black apron with the Feminists logo in red and white. And a tall black chef’s hat, with Kiss The Cook embroidered in red thread in the same font as our band name. “Be sure to crack the middle of the egg directly against the van bumper”, he’d be saying, “and remind the bass player to slice the potatoes thinly”.
I slept more after soup…pretty much right up until it was time to play. I forced myself to get up, and the fever was back in full force along with sniffles and coughing and a general sense of disgust and irritation. I climbed wearily up the stairs and stopped short before opening the door that led to the bar. I put my hand on the knob, but didn’t, couldn’t turn it. I rested my head against the cool steel and thought, is there any way to avoid opening this door? Maybe it will be a fun show, I tried to reassure myself. Lots of people, good sound. I may not be able to play as well as normal, but I could probably hold it together okay.
I knew as soon as I walked through that door that my feeble hopes were dashed. This would not be a good show. The bar was empty, and we were playing on a Wed night, when they usually feature acoustic acts. In fact, our opener was a solo acoustic guitar playing songwriter. His small audience left with him, leaving us three people to play for. Plus the sound man and the bartender, of course.
The fever gave me a sense of floating and seemed to muffle most of the sounds in the room. The lights were too bright and hurt my eyes. I stood unsteadily behind my keyboards, eyes watering and squinting, sniffling pathetically. The good news continued to pour in. “I’ve only been doing sound for a couple of months”, the sound tech announced cheerfully upon meeting us. Perfect. Then he told us that at least we weren’t as stinky as DOA, who apparently don’t wash their asses, or Sloan, who have an $80 000 van and you’d think they’d have the means to take a shower. I guess it had been a jam-packed couple of months doing sound for huge established Canadian bands. I play in a rock band, that’s true, but I’m also a female and believe me, no girl wants to be told in so many words that she is stinky, even a little bit stinky. My mood became stinky, very very stinky. Oh, and we had to play for at least an hour, until a half hour before last call. For three people.
We played a massive set of an hour and twenty minutes, no breaks. My nose ran while I was singing and playing, and there was not a thing I could do about it, except hope that the lovely glistening effect was not visible to the audience. All my hands were occupied, and I didn’t have any sort of wiping material onstage anyway. At times I felt like I was floating up, up, up, away from my keyboards. For the first time I drew a blank when it was my turn to call tunes. I couldn’t remember the names of any of our songs.
Finally it was over. I felt like I’d aged 10 years, and I was bursting with resentment and bitterness. For this I had left my lovely teaching practice and driven halfway across the country. To be on public display with a runny nose, struggling to remain upright while playing rock and roll to an empty bar.
I must admit though, all three audience members stayed for the whole show and bought cds and t-shirts afterwards. And the bar gave us $50 and offered us another show on a weekend. I collapsed into bed for another night of coughing before the big drive to Kingston.

The Feminists: These Days I Stare Back

We drove all day to get to Sault-Ste-Marie. We have been trying to force ourselves to cook our own food outside in the rain and wind instead of buying restaurant food. I care less and less about spending money to sit indoors and eat. So what if my greatest daily pleasure is a few cups of hot coffee and perhaps a bracing bowl of oatmeal? I don’t feel that guilty, even though I can’t really afford it. If it keeps me from bursting into tears of frustration and smiting my rhythm section, so much the better.
When the weather has been fine (i.e. not raining very hard) we have been enjoying Belland’s Breakfast Hash. Whereupon we fry thinly sliced potatoes with butter, paprika, salt, pepper, onions, sausage, eggs, and sometimes cheese together in two frying pans on our coleman stove. It’s very tasty, and goes good with hot coffee. We’ve started putting the tarp up whenever we cook, because it usually starts raining soon after we start chopping. There’s just enough room for all of us to stand ramrod straight shoulder to shoulder and eat furtively while the rain pounds and the wind blows. Such is the glamor of rock and roll.
We parked outside the club and made soup and hot dogs. People walked by and stared at us, but I am long past caring about what strangers think of us. These days I stare back until they drop their eyes and hurry onwards. To their warm houses with indoor plumbing and electricity.
I am losing faith. This is the sentence that pops into my mind whenever I am undistracted. I am losing faith. Not just in this tour, or this band. I am losing faith in music, in being a musician. What is the point of all this work? All of the training (and subsequent massive student loan debt), the years of my life spent alone with a piano practicing until my fingers were bruised or until I fell asleep at the keys, putting together a band, rehearsing, arranging, producing, recording, hustling for gigs, playing shows, the endless heavy lifting, scrambling for interviews, agents, promotion, marketing the band, sending out hundreds of cds and packages that get thrown in the garbage and ignored. And now, driving in the rain and cold day after day, getting sick, sleeping on a piece of plywood to receive the princely sum of $12.50 after (some) shows. I’ve been working hard at playing music for 10 years, and what do I have to show for it? Can I support myself financially from it? Nope. Do I have a place of my own? Do we sell records? Do we get paid to play shows? Does anybody listen to the songs? No. No. No. No.
Trevor, the guy who owns the Downbeat Lounge where we were playing, took us back to his house after meeting us at the club to load in and set up. We had time for showers and there was even wireless internet. Ferdy went back to the club early to hang out, even though he had a fever. Like I said, that guy has stamina. Soon enough it time to go and sit in another bar and watch drunk people interact.
The Downbeat Lounge has a very, very tiny little stage. It’s tucked into a corner right by the front door. It’s so small that Ferdy has to rock vertically in place and Keith can’t flail his arms around without taking one of us out. We played really well. It was a concentrated dose of rock and roll because we were jammed in so close together. Felt sort of like being in the van. The people were really into it, and for the first time the crowd left after we played, instead of before. There was a photographer running around taking pictures and Dan, the documentary filmmaker we met last year at the Downbeat was there filming us again.
After the show, we sold a couple of cds and collected our $40. Then we went downstairs with Dan and did another interview for his documentary. The Downbeat is closing down, so now Dan has an ending for his film. Too bad to see another live music venue in Canada bite the dust. Possibly it’s as frustrating owning a small club as it is trying to be a musician. Probably club owners do not sleep outside as often though. After a few hours of coughing on Trevor’s couch as quietly as possible so as not to wake my band and the other band crashing at his house, it was time to get up and make the drive to Sudbury.

The Feminists: Lots Of Fire And Brimstone

We arrived in Thunder Bay in late afternoon. It was pouring rain and very cold. Upon parking the van outside the club, we scattered to the four winds. Well, Grief and Zobac went to a comic book/magic card store. I wandered the rainy deserted streets and looked half-heartedly for an internet cafe. Every time I’ve been in Thunder Bay, the streets have been mostly deserted. Looks like a tough town, pretty dreary. Not a lot of trees. Or color, for that matter. I saw a some old men playing cards and spitting tobacco juice outside of a ramshackle strip of cheap hotels. A couple of teenage punk moms with babies in strollers rolled past me deep in a comparative discussion about their offsprings’ sleeping habits.
Might as well head back to the van until it was time to load in, I thought. What else was I going to do in Thunder Bay on a rainy Monday afternoon? At least in the van I could get baked and be okay with being bored. Frankly, I think that marijuana is the perfect recreational drug for the poor. For much less than the cost of a case of beer, you can buy yourself a few hours of relaxation and intense fascination with the mundane. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter that you don’t have enough money to go out. You can stare at your hands, or listen to music, or contemplate the universe. And no hangover afterward.
My carefully laid plans (load bong, smoke it, lie back and try to conjure up a positive thought) were shattered by the cheerful ring of my phone. “We’re doing a live radio interview at CILU right now”, barked Zobac,”where are you?” “Just heading back to the van”, I said, as I watched my plans for a lazy afternoon, well, go up in smoke. Grief and Zobac were in the van when I got there, Belland was nowhere to be found. There was nothing to be done about it, he’s the only one of us that doesn’t have a cellphone. We just happened to make contact with the radio station at the right moment, when they had some time for us.
Seeing as how I was the only one who wasn’t baked, (I guess the guys had the same plans for the afternoon as I did) I had to drive us to the radio station, which was right next to a graveyard. We oozed and dripped (because, of course, it was pouring rain, windy, and very cold) into a tiny house that in fact the college radio station. Within ten minutes, we were on the air discussing the band and the upcoming show with the afternoon DJ, who called himself Fabulous Dave.
We’re sort of getting better with interviews, but they’re still a novelty for us. I usually assume that every interview will be our last one and it will never happen again. Although to be fair, on this tour we have already had more media interviews than ever before. I always think of brilliant things to say after it’s all over. This time we were asked where do the songs come from – that’s a huge, mysterious, philosophical discussion right there. How do you respond that in 10 seconds or less? Answer, you don’t. In my case you sit, tongue-tied and speechless while Grief says several moderately absurd things. He doesn’t like that kind of question either. And god help anyone who asks him what the songs are about.
The show that night featured all B.C. bands, who happened to converge in Thunder Bay for one night only. There wasn’t much of a crowd as it was Monday night. We played very well. Lots of fire and brimstone, and the audience was attentive and appreciative, which of course helped us play better and better. It was good and loud. There were more screams of delight after every song, and the people demanded an encore. That’s fun. Doesn’t happen every time, but when it does it chirks us up immensely. We’ve always been the only band on the bill that gets asked for another song, and it puffs us up with a certain rock and roll arrogance to extend our set and show off, especially in front of local bands. In your face, other bands. The fucking Feminists are in your town, and your fans who have never heard us before would rather hear us play another song than listen to you. Meow. In this particular instance we played ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd, and although I butchered the intro completely, the people swayed, sang along, and actually waved their lighters. And begged for more afterward, naturally.
We sold cds afterwards and then it was bedtime. Thank god The Apollo has a band room so we got to sleep indoors. Ferdy went off to socialize with the other bands. That guy has some stamina, and he’s sick right now to boot.
Socializing after the show is an idea I like, but I find the reality too much to bear. 9 times out of 10 I’m the only gal in the room. Touring bands at this level don’t bring their girlfriends along. Most band guys get wasted afterwards, and then I feel sort of like a canary in room full of hungry cats…who are dipping heavily into the cat nip and becoming less inhibited by the second. If I don’t want to be ensnared in one drunken ‘hey baby’ conversation after another I have to stick close to my bandmates. And I’ve already spent quite enough time during the day sticking close to them in a van, and playing music with them.
This irritating situation is compounded by the fact that I’m not a drinker. I’m sure if I was I’d care a lot less about the leering and the slurring. But really, I don’t have the luxury of having a few drinks after the show… I’d be putting myself in a pretty vulnerable position. I’ve seen many drunk girls being led away giggling and staggering by some greasy band guy they just met. I often wonder how they feel the morning after, all sticky between the thighs, mascara smudged all over their face in some dirty bed that hundreds of drunken people have fucked in.
So for me it was another night of tucking myself away from everyone and hanging out quietly listening to music, knitting, and waiting to wind down enough to sleep. Of course, the evening wasn’t a total loss. I did earn $12.50 tonight from the show.

The Feminists: At Least It’s Warmer Rain Now

You know, I remember when we drove through the prairies last year. I was really amazed at how beautiful it was, oh gee, oh golly, etc etc. This time it just rained. So it was lot more boring because there was nothing to look at outside. At least it’s warmer rain now. Wow. I feel like I’m reaching to try and look at the bright side. Well, its raining again, but at least I’m not quite as cold and wet as yesterday.
Oh yes. I’m sick. I’m all hopped up on a variety of cold medicine goofballs. Getting sick while on tour has always been one of my greatest fears. What if I can’t sing? What if I collapse in a fevered delirium onto my keyboards during the intro for 21st Century Ghost? As soon as Grief got sick I knew we were done for. We’re jammed into a tiny, cold, kinda dirty metal capsule. Not enough room to avoid germs. Plus, we only brought one bong. Maybe next year we should have individual ones to prevent the spread of colds.
We got to the venue, which hadn’t changed its marquee since June 25. Not a good sign. No posters for any shows including ours anywhere. I think this is our third year of playing in Winnipeg to the sound guy and the bartender. Who were both appreciative and they gave us $50, and the sound guy gave us some of his birthday cake so I guess technically it could be worse. We were surprisingly cheerful onstage and played very well – relaxed, intense, focused, precise. The onstage sound was quite good and we called all the tunes we hadn’t played yet, which resulted in a pretty interesting set of wildly contrasting songs. Also there was a spontaneous shots section that happened during the bass breakdown in Brand New Common Sense which sounded pre-arranged, even though it had never happened before and never will again. It turned out to be one of our most effective rehearsals ever, and we got paid to do it. Still. Will we ever have a good show in Winnipeg? I keep hearing what an arts/music mecca it is, but we have yet to find the right venue to play at. Help me, people. Where should The Feminists play in Winnipeg? Why is Winnipeg unwilling to reveal herself to us? Did we do something to Winnipeg? If so, we’re sorry.
Before the show we went to a very nice little internet cafe. We live for internet cafes. It’s a wonderful thing to lose oneself in a world that is larger than a van sized tin can.
It was not raining – repeat, not raining – when we went to bed (or, in my case, went to blanket pile on plywood between two front seats) and so it was suggested that I leave the windows open a crack to reduce condensation and have fresh air. Around 4:30 am I jolted awake in utter confusion as it dawned on me that there had just been a massive amount of rain roar into the van through the drivers side open window and I was soaked, everything, all 50 layers of blankets and sleeping bags, from the knees down. I struggled to close the window and wondered what to do next. No dry blankets were available, and it was much colder in the van now that there were torrents of rain and howling winds. Resignedly, I wrung out, yes that’s right, I wrung out my bedding while sleeping outdoors during a rainstorm in the middle of the night in Winnipeg, rearranged what I could, and curled up in the tiniest ball possible in the least damp section of my bed. Why am I doing this, I thought. Why have I spent all my money to drive across three provinces to play for nobody, live in primitive conditions in horrible weather, and end up sick, soaked and freezing in the middle of the night?

The Feminists: Chock Full Of Burritos

I feel as if I ought to be trying to focus on the positive. Unfortunately right now I can’t think of what that might be. It’s pouring rain (again), freezing cold, and very windy. Today it was my turn to drive, and drive I did…I drove the van right out of gas and then we waited, in the pouring rain and freezing cold, for about an hour for BCAA to come and rescue us.
I had some time to do some thinking during that hour. The tremendous irony of the situation was breathtaking. No one is more terrified than me of running out of gas. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve said anxiously “Can we stop for gas?” “How’s the gas?” “Do we have enough gas?” and so on. Usually I am told to relax, sometimes I am ignored, often I have been mocked “Ooh, we only have half a tank left, I guess we’d better stop.” After several years of this, I tried to relax about it. Maybe I could wait until there was a quarter tank before pulling over.
So, I drove and drove and there really weren’t any gas stations. Then I passed a couple of tiny towns that were off the highway and sailed merrily past the exits. I honestly thought we were okay though, because the needle was sitting above the little picture of an empty gas tank. Imagine my surprise (horror, shock, humiliation) when the van glided gracefully to a stop about 20 km outside of North Battleford. In our van, when the needle is resting on the last marking ABOVE the empty gas tank picture, guess what, you are not almost out of gas. You are really and truly out of gas.
Now, I appreciate an opportunity to learn something as much as the next person. But why, WHY do my lessons have to be learned sitting on the side of the highway somewhere in Saskatchewan, shivering, freezing, and damp ? Mind you, I won’t ever forget what I’ve learned. Assume that you know nothing and ask questions to get the info you need. Understand that no matter how hard you try to prevent something from happening, sometimes it just happens anyway. Never critisise or judge anyone about their mistakes because someday, somehow, you will make the same mistake and will be needing compassion and forgiveness, not judgment. And finally, mistakes are inevitable when you’re dealing with human beings and most mistakes can be rectified.
Needless to say, I relinquished the drivers seat to Ferdy – I thought I’d wreaked enough havoc for one day – and after a few more hours of driving through a blinding rainstorm, we made it to the venue in Saskatoon. We were cranky, cold, damp, hungry, and tired. In fact, about the last thing I wanted to do was schlep around heavy objects in the freezing rain, lug them onto a stage, set them up, and play a rock and roll show.
We straggled into Amigos, not expecting much. As the door closed behind us, a wave of thick, heavy, beautiful warmth enveloped us…and the warmth smelled delicious…Amigos is a Mexican restaurant by day with live music at night. And we had arrived at in the middle of the dinner rush, with plenty of time to thaw out before we had to play. “I’m eating here”, Mike declared,” I don’t care about spending money”. “I’m with you”, I said and pretty soon all four of us were sitting at a table with our hands wrapped around hot mugs of coffee. It was at that moment that I felt a strange tingling sensation in my feet…what was happening…oh golly…my feet were warming up to the point where I could feel them again. I realized that I had spent the whole day with frozen feet. A rush of well-being flooded through me. I beamed lovingly at my bandmates. Everything was going to be okay! My feet were warm again! I had a moment of tender compassion for myself, for all of us. We were all good people after all. It’s just impossible to think positively with cold feet.
We stuffed ourselves to the gills with hot food and hot coffee. And then the waitress told us that bands get free food. Maybe everything didn’t totally suck after all.
We played okay, but it was kind of sluggish, not very fiery. We were all pretty exhausted (and chock full of burritos) and the audience was there to see the headliners, not us, so there was a general vibe of “when are you guys going to be done?” A few people were paying attention, more by the end of our set. I met several very nice people at the merch table afterward and we sold some cds. Then it was time to load out, in the freezing rain. We found a really classy truck stop – sorry, “travel plaza” – with showers and a Tim Hortons. I wonder if we should try and get an endorsement deal with Timmy’s. “Plucky indie rockers The Feminists have always got time for Tim Hortons” – cut to a shot of the four of us sitting bleary-eyed with sleep encrusted faces, in filthy stinking damp clothes with extra large double doubles arguing about which is better, Neil Young with Crazy Horse, or without?
Even though it was late, we all opted for showers. It would be nice to have my whole body be warm at least once that day. There would be no time in the morning, we had to get up early to make the drive to Winnipeg. We were all back at the van burrowing into nests of blankets (still raining, by the way) when Zobac clambered into the van wearing a most peculiar outfit. I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Well, I got out of the shower and put on my naked shorts,” he explained, (the shorts he wears when what he really wants to do is hang out in the nude, but is prevented from doing so because he is living within arms reach of three other people in a tin can. They are paper thin, long, baggy, and bright green)”and then I put on my shoes, but no socks and the laces undone because why bother, and then I put my jean jacket on with no shirt underneath”. All this coupled with his freshly shaven head apparently sparked some curious looks. “Then I had to stand in line for ten minutes to give the fucking shower key back”, he continued (by this time I was clutching my sides giggling helplessly) “with my gaunche for tomorrow resting on top of my bag of clothes for all the world to see.” Such is the glamor of rock and roll.Next stop, Winnipeg.

The Feminists: They Each Sported A Thick Plastic Breatplate

Upon rising this morning stiff and sore from “sleeping” in the van, I suggested we go to West Edmonton Mall and ride the roller coaster, after load in and sound check of course. The Feminists are responsible rockers, we always take care of business first.
We arrived in Edmonton in the early afternoon. It was pouring rain, very windy, and very cold. Perhaps I have not mentioned, it was been pouring rain, very windy, and freezing cold since Golden. I suppose this doesn’t matter too much when one lives indoors. However, when one is living in an uninsulated tin can, one notices the weather a lot more. And I’m here to tell ya: don’t go camping in a torrential downpour with gale force winds. Get a hotel room instead. That’s what I would do. I think the rain is following us. We’ve been heading east for 4 days, and it just gets colder and rainier as we go along.
So, we dutifully loaded in and I had a chance to freshen up in a lovely big empty washroom which improved my mood somewhat. I do hate performing all my cleansing rituals in public washrooms. I feel so self-conscious, even though I know no one is noticing me. At least, no one has said anything to me so far (“Do you live at this Tim Hortons?” “Not exactly, I just really love their bathroom decor”.) If I don’t cleanse, I’ll smell like the guys do and that we cannot have. I firmly believe every rock band should have at least one sweet-smelling member.
We actually had a sound check at the club in Edmonton. I guess that’s what happens when you show up at the club at 3:00 in the afternoon. I can hardly remember the last time we had a sound check. Usually we just haul our gear onstage, set it up, plug it in, and give’r. And you know what time it was after sound check, it was roller coaster time.
Upon arriving at the greatest monument to consumerism I could ever imagine, we squished and sloshed our way towards The Mindbender. I watched it go around once, and felt my bravery and resolve melt away. Then Belland strode purposefully towards the ticket counter and bought enough tokens for two people. “Who’s going with me?” he challenged. “I’ll fucking go with you on that fucking rollercoaster,” Grief growled. Sometimes his profanity button gets stuck when there’s something to prove. “Okay, okay, I’m going too”, I mumbled weakly as I forced myself to purchase a handful of tickets. Mike was very smart, he elected to stay safely on the ground. We went on the Mindbender together some years ago, and I guess once was enough for him.
As we creaked and groaned towards to top of the track, I closed my eyes and kept them closed for most of the ride. I squealed and shrieked like a greased piglet the whole time . By the way, I was the only screamer on board. Ferdy bought the picture of us whizzing across the finish line. All of us have our teeth clenched, hair blown straight back, and expressions of wild-eyed satisfaction. It’s quite a bold statement, really. I’m thinking album cover…but we’ll have to photoshop Mike in first.
I staggered about in an unsteady haze of relief – after all, I had just cheated death or so my adrenalin gland thought – when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a red neon sign hung over a looming black cave proclaiming ‘Lazer Tag’. We headed down a curving hallway that ended in a large plate glass window overlooking a maze of obstacles fashioned to resemble the jagged interior of a cave, barely illuminated under black light. Moody orchestral music swelled and crested over the loudspeakers. The guys were practically hopping with excitement. “Let’s go, let’s go” they gabbled to one another.
Never in my life have I witnessed anything as gut-splittingly hilarious as Grief, Zobac and Belland running around with laser guns in the dark stalking and shooting and yelling at each other, as happy and joyful as any pack of 12-year-olds. Usually I watch them play video games – this time they were the video game! They each sported a plastic breastplate with laser sensors and carried a big black plastic laser gun shaped like, I dunno, some sort of rifle or machine gun or similar instrument of destruction. Grief darted around swiftly, silently, his willowy form flashing across the floor as he ambushed Zobac and Belland over and over. Mike and Ferdy spent a lot of time shooting each other at point blank range repeatedly while gasping out profane insults between laughing fits. Through it all, the glorious music of battle pounded relentlessly.
Technically, they are grown men although frankly it often seems to me that only their physical bodies have achieved adulthood. But you know, it’s that spontoniety and lack of self-consciousness that I find most endearing about them. These very traits are essential in the making of great music. If these guys were square and boring the band wouldn’t sound very exciting. And it’s important for intense little worrywarts such as myself to hang out with this kind of nuttiness. It unkinks me somewhat and forces me to “relax and enjoy”. At least, that’s what I tell myself through gritted teeth when they’re cracking up at the same testicle joke for the millionth time.
On a whim, we dashed into an electronics store on our way out of the mall to see if we could acquire some floppy disks that I needed to download some keyboard resets onto. Fortunately they had one remaining box of disks. Then the sales guy said we could download our data there in the store which seemed like a good timesaving idea. Half an hour later we were still standing in front of a computer terminal trying to complete the download (a process that went a lot quicker after we decided to read the instructions) while Grief and Mike tried to ignore the salesman as he said helpful things like
“Wanna heat the most annoying sound in the world?”
A long awkward silence ensued while I thought of a dozen rude responses and then he showed us his cell phone ring. Not even the ring he usually uses, although that would have been bad enough. Just one of his favorite rings in his phone. It was a dog whistle, incidentally, tuned just low enough that human ears could discern it. It burned through my auditory canals while I silently asked myself how exactly did I end up here, in Edmonton, listening to squealing feedback from this hateful little man’s phone.
Thankfully it was time to head back to the venue. It was still pouring rain, windy, and very cold. An hour before the show was due to start the place was starting to fill up with people.
We played well, albeit somewhat cautiously, on a huge stage with crystal clear onstage sound. The audience was far away from the stage though, sitting at tables towards the back of the club so it felt like we were playing into a big energy-sucking vortex…but it was still pretty good and we debuted a new song. Afterwards we met some nice people at the merch table, and the manager told us he’d like to have us play there again. Yay team.
After the show we were supposed to crash at someone’s house from the band we opened for. But they stuck around in the bar afterward and got so hammered that we eventually just gave up and went to a truck stop for another van sleep. Still raining, windy, and cold. My throat is sore.

The Feminists: Road Noodles

Today we had our first meal of road noodles. Now Mike feels like he’s really on tour…something about making spaghetti on a 2 burner propane stove brings out the nomad in him. Our combined efforts produced a delightful meal of sauce and pasta, which we consumed in the parking lot behind The Vat, the venue we were playing at in Red Deer. And by the way, it was a fucking freezing picnic. The wind howled, the rain lashed. Grief and I took turns trying desperately to warm our hands before the (tiny) cheerful blue flame of the stove. Then it was time to do the dishes with (of course) freezing cold water. Nothing like dunking your hands in a pot of cold water on a freezing cold day, I always say. Builds character. I marched into the club past all the grizzled old men playing pool and filled our water flasks with hot water from the washroom so that Ferdy wouldn’t freeze off his bass playing fingers before the show. By the time we finished our fabulous al fresco dining experience, it was time to load in. Then it was time for me to hang out in the van and listen to Marvin Gaye for a couple of hours – which would have been pretty much an ideal way to while away an evening …probably an indoors experience would have been slightly LESS FREEZING, though.
Eventually it was time to head inside and get ready to play. Well, the guys headed inside while the bouncer insisted I go and get my i.d. “I’m playing tonight” I said, thinking that this would save me from making another trip back to the van. “Then you can just go and get your i.d. and I won’t bother you for the rest of the night” he replied smugly, bulging arms crossed across his chest, planted firmly in the doorway. Okay, fine. I think I forgot something in the van anyway.
Upon successfully gaining entry into the Vat, I looked around at the crowd and thought “is this an all ages show”? until I saw all the teenagers lined up at the bar buying booze, and then I was just confused. Until I remembered that the drinking age in Alberta is 18. And then I just felt old. Since when do 18-year-olds look like kids?
The Vat is a very cool venue. It was a long narrow room with a big stage at one end and the bar at the other, and it was packed with young passionate music fans. Monty at the soundboard was a total pro and the onstage sound for us was clear and balanced, which of course meant that we played pretty damn good. There was a crowd gathered right in front of the stage as we played, and the audience was very generous to us, considering they’d never heard of us before.
But I was wrong about that. After the show a lovely girl came up to us and told us she was from Vancouver and had heard us before. Definitely a first for us, to be playing hundreds of miles away from home and have someone in the audience who was previously aware of our existence. There was also a rather enthusiastic gentleman who told Grief and I that he’d like to take all four of us home, make sweet love to us all night long and feed us breakfast in the morning. If there could have been a way to get the breakfast without the lovemaking, we would have been saved from our first night of sleeping in the van.
The frontman of band that played after us had the misfortune to make a joke about feminists (“How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? None, because feminists can’t change anything”.) To my great delight, there was a pack of teenage girls at the front of the stage who booed him continually and very loudly. To the point where he had to laugh nervously and say “Just kidding”. I love the ‘just kidding’ type of chauvinist. That’s the kind of guy who who expresses his insecurites about his own masculinity (maybe I’m not as smart and good-looking and skilled as all these women around me) passively through mean-spirited jokes. It’s a pretty safe way to say nasty things about women – unless the targeted females boo and hiss or otherwise demonstrate their disgust – then it’s, hey, just kidding, we’re all friends here aren’t we? I’d like to think that guy completely destroyed his chances of getting some action that night. Public humiliation is not a turn on for most gals. Too bad, fella. All those girls were really cute.
We slept in the van that night. It rained all night and everything was cold and damp the next morning. I changed into less damp clothes in a Tim Hortons washroom. Such is the glamor of rock and roll. Grief is sick with a cold. Soon we will all have it. Onwards to Edmonton.

The Feminists: A Higher Plane Of Existence

Flushed with a cautious triumph after the unexpectedly smashing show at the Lamplighter, we knew we had to be realistic about the Golden show. The venue had been changed at the last minute, it was a Monday night, and the 5th anniversary of Sept 11. The show was now going to be at a club where we had played four times before…to a completely empty bar, with a DIY soundboard and PA.
We arrived in Golden with plenty of time to load in and check into our rooms. The shows haven’t been great in Golden, but we have had the luxury of two free hotel rooms every time we’ve played there. This time we were playing with another band, a first for Golden for us. Usually we just play three hours of originals and covers for the bartender and waitresses and then go to bed.
The good news started as a trickle. Good news, we were going first before the local band so at least we would get to play for their crowd. Good news, we could play one long set and the other band would play until last call. Good news, I played my first games of fooz ball against Mike and Grief and managed to not humiliate myself.
Good news, the bar was filling up with people and it was time to play. We played a good solid hour of new songs and older ones we haven’t called in a long time and everything sounded pretty darn good. More people gathered while we played and screamed appreciatively after every song. It was very fun to watch how the increasing attention from the crowd ignited the guys. Ferdy had his teeth clenched for a lot of it. That’s how I can tell hes really getting into it. Grief did a lot of swiveling from the waist, generally a good sign. As usual Mike Zobac drove the band with a firm hand. Well, Ferdy didn’t give him much of a choice. His pulse was fierce and undeniable. Afterward we sold a lot of merch. Lots of people came up to talk to us and tell us how awesome we were. On off-duty waitress bought us a round of shots which we pounded back in unison. And we got paid from the bar. Enough to get us to the next show in Red Deer.
A lot of this good news was made possible by Disasterman, the local band we opened for. They brought out a good crowd of enthusiastic, good-looking people. They also saved the show by moving it when the original venue got shut down. All praise to Disasterman and the good people of Golden, easily one of the best crowds we’ve ever played for.
Ferdy and I were discussing this inexplicable change of fortune while we were busy doing brisk business at the merch table. We’ve played the exact same club four times before and it was equally sad and empty every other time. Perhaps we have increased our collective vibrations to attain a higher plane of existence and have broken into the next level of shows…the kind where we don’t have to worry about money and can just enjoy playing the songs, you know, focus on the music, like musicians are supposed to do. That’s sort of what I had in mind when I decided to do music full time. I was so innocent and naive, though. I thought that I would play music all the time as a musician. Little did I know that most of my time would be spent scrambling for gigs that paid enough to cover rent and groceries, and that being a musician would basically just suck all my time and money and passion into a deep black hole, never to return.
After two very fun, good sounding shows I can feel the icy bitterness that has enveloped my soul and thwarted my enjoyment of playing music for the past year or so start to soften and melt the tiniest little bit. I have no expectations for the the Red Deer show. I’m just looking forward to playing songs as loud as possible in front of people.

The Feminists: Reversal Of Fortune

This was a strange, action-packed day. Before it was time to play I taught some piano lessons, just like I normally do on Friday afternoons. Then after dinner it was off to load in at The Lamplighter. And then, I could return to the comfort of my own home for a couple of hours before it was time to rock. If only I could do that for all the other shows too. I suspect it would vastly improve my outlook.
We have played very few local shows this summer…the last one was a dead Wednesday night in July at The Cobalt, where all the other bands played loud heavy thick hardcore speed metal (and sounded great, I might add), and then we played our happy-sounding power pop which kinda sounded to me like The Muppets had crashed a Black Sabbath house party. During the third song of the set Ferdy accidentally yanked out the cable of my Korg with a particularly energetic Viking stomp and I was rendered mute until I finally managed to find the cable in question, crawling onstage picking through a massive nest of tangled patch cords, while the band played gaily on. That was a fun night. Then there was the Syd Barrett Tribute night also at The Lamplighter in August, but we only played three songs (three fucking fantastic Pink Floyd songs) so it didn’t really feel like a show. That was the night I got an emergency phone call at home breathlessly advising us that the order of performers had changed and we would be on within 30 minutes instead of two and a half hours. I dutifully rounded up Grief and Mike and we sped down to the club to meet Ferdy. Whereupon we found him playing solo bass and singing Sid Barrett songs. And then the order changed again, and we sat around for the next three and a half hours waiting to play. That was a fun night too.
Where was I? Oh yes, tour show at The Lamplighter. Morale was quite low after the Victoria debacle. We were expecting nothing except maybe a kick in the teeth. At least we were playing with some of my favorite Vancouver bands, Parlour Steps and Cinderpop.
I arrived just as the first opening band was starting, and there were people in the bar already, a hopeful sign. I thought that perhaps everyone would leave before we went on, but there were even more people when we went on around 11:30. We played a lot of the new songs that will be on the next album. We played a lot of old songs too. They all went well, and our drummer had a shiny new bass drum head. Thus the full glory of the Double Kick was restored and Zobac overwhelmed our senses with his Feet Of Thunder. It was so gratifying to look out over a sea of faces that were turned our way. People clapped and yelled and whooped and soon there was a little pool of dancers that had gathered in front of the stage. The crowd was just so energetic and appreciative – it makes such a difference to play for people who are actually listening. We got paid (!) more than enough to get to the next show in Golden. Lots of people came up to us and said nice things. It was a complete reversal of fortune compared to the night before.
And I got to sleep in my own bed.

The Feminists: Dispatches From The Trenches Of Indie Rock

Sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. How did it come to this so soon? I remember so well the days of idly pondering tour season, and thinking very abstractedly about being on the road again. And now, a month later, here we are. The first show of a six week national tour (that’s 42 days in the van) with about 30 shows stretching from Victoria to Montreal and back.
I must say, this particular tour seems more fraught with peril than the last one. We are treading a very thin financial line this time around. The van cost us thousands of dollars to repair (nothing cosmetic, just what needed to be done so we wouldn’t die in a flaming wreck on the trans-canada), resulting in the sobering reality that none of us have any cash reserves to take with us. This sorrowful fact, combined with the anxiety of not knowing if we are going to get paid for any of the upcoming shows, or if we will sell any merch, has actually caused me to awaken in the middle of the night sitting bolt upright in bed with clammy palms more than once over the past month.
What brand of craziness is this? I mean really, what kind of people take an unpaid leave from their jobs, spend all of their money just before they depart on a six week driving tour of Canada with no idea if there will be any money for gas, food, or shelter for the duration of their entire journey? And also, they will have to work at a somewhat demanding job almost every night, possibly for free. Crazy people, that’s who. Nutty little nutcases.
We played the first show of the tour in Victoria. While driving to the ferry, it was discovered that the Magic cards had been forgotten. Or rather, Someone was supposed to put them in with the gear but No One ended up doing it. A grumpy pall settled over the van. Then Grief and I had to stuff ourselves into the bunk and get buried under eighty pounds of blankets on a sweltering afternoon so we could save ourselves a few bucks and pay for two passengers on the ferry instead of four. We always get ordered to hide because we’re skinny and can be easily stashed. Mike and Ferdy are way bigger than us…if they tell us to hide, goddammit, we hide.
Soon enough I am settled into a nice aisle seat to begin contemplating the ocean whilst I knit a fuzzy scarf. Alarmingly domestic, no? Grief and Mike are hanging around at loose ends…usually they ignore me on the ferry, as they are busy playing Magic. But this time, it looks like they might be desperate enough to stick around and make conversation. Just as Mike is about to start complaining about how bored he is, I offer to let him watch a South Park DVD on my laptop. Crisis averted; conversation avoided. Grief reluctantly takes out his gameboy and starts playing. Ferdy sits calmly and reads from the bag of old newspapers he has brought along to catch up on.
We get to the venue about 4 hours early. I knit and knit until my scarf can be wrapped around my whole body at least three times. There’s no place to go, either sit in the van or sit in the bar where as usual the horrible house music is cranked up to an obscenely loud intensity for no apparent reason. There’s nobody in the bar yet, and the people that are here are trying to have dinner in the pub, taking bites in between screaming at each other trying to make themselves heard over the “music”. How can the staff stand it? I wonder. Do they just tune it out after awhile? I think it’s really terrible to have music blaring at an overwhelming level (i.e. drowning out conversation) unless everyone is willing and able to focus on it exclusively. Why do people think they’re having a good time when they have to yell blue-faced at someone right in front of them to communicate?
The hours crawl by until finally it’s time to play. Unfortunately, there’s still no one in the bar. Oh wait, there were two people (plus the other band) but they were on the guestlist. We haven’t played a totally dead show for a long time, but the sting of humiliation was as powerful as it was familiar.
The first song was okay. About bar 3 of the second song Because Why, the kick drum part disappeared. Very problematic, as it’s just Mike and I for the intro. Then the kick sort of came back but it was seriously fucked up. I lose beat one, and now it’s Ferdy’s turn to come in and he really needs to know where beat one is. He guesses where it is, but then Mike plays something completely incomprehensible and we all lose beat one again and now we have three different versions of where it might be. Now it’s Grief’s turn to come in with the vocals, after loping in with his guitar part that laid down the fourth and final version of beat one. I’m wondering when or if he’ll come in – I certainly don’t envy him, everything will be even more fucked if we don’t follow him but the question is, does he have enough nerve to lay it down confidently and lead the way?
Ah, sort of. Now were sort of gallumph-ing along like a wounded elephant and I am just livid, absolutely furious with Mike for fucking everything up so badly almost beyond repair. The closest we’ve come to a genuine train wreck in a very long time. We limp to the finish line and I’m thinking about how much I want to just go home and forget this stupid tour. Right after I throttle the drummer.
“My bass drum head broke”, Mike tells us as soon as the song is over. What? “I can only play bass drum with my left foot tonight”, he adds. Huh. The right beater of his double kick pedal smashed through the bass drum head at the beginning of the second song. He had to play the left beater of the double kick against the remainder of the drum head. And he’s not left-footed. The left foot usually plays the high hats. So everything was screwed up. I felt quite sheepish for being so mad, but I’m really not very capable of rational thought during the heat of battle. I want everyone to play as perfectly as possible and sound amazingly good onstage and I get really (irrationally) mad when it doesn’t happen. We were able to play eight songs before Mike’s leg began to spasm. You can’t really blame him, it would have been like me having to play all my solos with just my left hand…possible, but not very pretty.
Actually, Ferdy and Grief and I were very impressed the Mike pulled it off as well as he did. He only started rehearsing with us with the double kick maybe three weeks ago. And it was only because he had his double kick with him that we were able to play the show at all.
Needless to say, we did not get paid. We loaded our gear into the van and went to crash at Cory’s house. Cory is a very generous friend of Ferdy’s. The other band was staying there too. As usual, I was the only gal in a room full of rock and testosterone. After a half hour of observing a gaggle of drunken human males in their natural habitat, I went to bed. Where I could follow along with the conversation just fine as the volume continued to rise while the beer continued to flow.
The next morning, we filled the gas tank and took the ferry back to Vancouver. Overall it cost us $70 to play in an empty bar in Victoria. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be musicians. Let them be doctors and lawyers and such, but break their fingers if they pick up a guitar.

The Feminists: Tour Season

Well, I guess there’s lots of stuff going on these days with the band. As you can see, we have a few shows coming up. You may also notice that these shows are scattered across several provinces…which can only mean one thing – it’s tour season!

Ever since Ferdy explained to me that indie rock follows a seasonal pattern, much like seafaring or farming I have looked forward to tour season. And so it approaches. Soon we will all be crammed into a van for seven full weeks. Hm. I’d like to retract what I said earlier about looking forward to tour season. I think I meant, here it comes; I wonder if it will kill me or make me stronger?

I don’t mean to complain…I am truly looking forward to playing the shows and watching how the songs tighten up and arrange themselves as we play the crap out of them to the exclusion of practically all other things. It is really fun to be in the rock and roll laboratory and experiment for weeks on end. And this time around, I have my laptop. My sweet, beautiful laptop. She will save me from ever having to listen to another series of monologues about guitars and all their accessories ever again. Also, I learned how to knit. I have found that this is by far the best way to wait patiently for a sound check. Well, I can’t get wasted before I play (believe me) so it’s knitting or bitching. And frankly, I think the knitting will get me into less trouble.

So, yes. We’re going on tour. For the love of God and all that is decent and pure, please come out to see us play when we come to your town. We’re taking a very long unpaid break from our day jobs to do this and we are throwing our fortunes into the wind…will we get paid for any of the shows? Will we sell any merch? Will the price of gas shoot up to $5.00 a litre, stranding us forever in Wawa, Ont.? Will we be able to afford to eat every single day? Who are the people we know well enough to ask for emergency cash infusions?

That’s all part of the fun, though. Not knowing what will become of us – will it be an exciting adventure or an unmitigated disaster?

We’ve got a new video for your viewing pleasure. Our pal Stokely threw a little something together for Hello Toronto. Go to the video section on our website and click on “what is spacey cat?” to view. Also, there is a movie called Sweet Easy that will be broadcast on CMT on Aug 18 (so they tell me).

Apparently this short film uses songs from our record Anything You Can Do. I’m kind of curious about this. No idea what the film is about, haven’t seen it. Hope it isn’t pornographic (probably not, if it’s on CMT) or woman hating. That would be awkward, wouldn’t it?

And, we have been in to studio recording new songs. Two of the new songs from our upcoming third (or fourth, depending on who you talk to) full length record are posted on our website. After we get back from tour, we’ll be hustling into the studio to bring forth a menacing, loud, distorted collection of thoughtfully reflective songs. Hopefully you will feel as angry listening to the new songs as I do when I’m playing them. And I mean that in the best possible way.

The Feminists: Could Be A Coincidence

A few weeks ago Beland and Grief picked me up for rehearsal and were bursting at the seams to divulge “important Femcorp business” that they refused to elaborate on. They were mumbling about vengeance and outrage and generally it was all very mysterious and my curiosity was completely piqued.
“What’s going on?” I asked innocently as we bumped along in the gray mare en route to retrieve Mike from work. “Why won’t you guys tell me?” My imagination was already overheating. Were we finally being rescued from the indignity of day jobs? Was there a wealthy investor who had finally realized all they wanted to do with their millions was finance a scrappy little rock band but still leave us with 100% creative control? Perhaps we would be featured as Band Of The Year in Time magazine?
“Look, we’ll just show you”, was all they would say. Grief pressed something flat and square into my hand. I looked down. It was a cd.
“Why-” I started to say and then realized. Staring back at me was…our album cover for “She Could Be”. Except it wasn’t our cd. It was another band’s cd, released six months after ours, with the same photo on the front cover. The same photo that Grief and I had so painstakingly hunted for and researched so thoroughly…the one that was deeply buried in the U.S. National Archives, the one we looked through about 10 000 photos to find. Mind you, the background had been removed and the colors changed. But there was no mistaking it.
“How did this happen”, I finally managed to sputter. Well. How indeed.
This is how. Well, this is our theory anyway.
We sent three copies of our record to Maplemusic. You know, Maplemusic. Big Canadian ‘indie’ record label, Toronto office, lotsa big names, etc., etc. After a short volley of e-mails and conversations, Maplemusic told us to go away. Not interested in our music, apparently.
But quite interested in our graphic design and packaging. Here was a brand new release, from Maplemusic, with a cover that looked suspiciously similar to our own. And looky here, the same A&R guy that blew off The Fems is listed in their thank-yous. Could be a coincidence. Or maybe when it came time to design the packaging for this other band, our A&R friend at Maplemusic sifted through a box of rejected cd’s, held “She Could Be” aloft and said “this cover is great, let’s just use this. Who the fuck are The Feminists?”
And then Maplemusic, because they care about promoting their artists, sent out this new release to music writers across the country to review. These writers included one Ferdy Belland, who writes for the Nerve magazine. So this album that ripped off our record cover was sent in the mail right to Ferdy, who showed it to Grief, who showed it to me.
On one hand, it was strangely gratifying to know that some of our ideas are good enough to be stolen. On the other hand, it was depressing to think that it was our graphic design that was good enough and not the music.
We picked up Mike. “Here”, I said and handed him the cd. “What am I looking at- MOTHERFUCKER!” he yelled. “Where did this come from?” We brought him up to speed.
It’s not like this is a great tragedy or anything. It’s just kind of demoralizing. We take great collective pride in being a DIY band. We like to do everything we can ourselves. We’re control freaks and we like making stuff with no one looking over our shoulders. This self-sufficiency has evolved as we have gradually woken up to the fact that no one is going to help our band do anything. So we work, very fucking hard, with very little resources, to push the band forward as best we can. And it’s irritating in the extreme to watch some very big record label with an embarrassment of resources casually swoop down and snatch one of our good ideas (in this case a labor-intensive research project), slap it on somebody elses’s record and promote the bejezus out of it.
We thought long and hard about our record cover and we deliberately chose something that expressed the mood of the album and included a fricking essay about the history of the picture and its taker. Maybe the picture had some sort of resonance for this other band too. Anything’s possible. You’d think if it was incredibly meaningful they would have included a photo credit. Or an essay. And that irritates me further…the fact that it was probably just a quick, casual decision that meant nothing.
Ah well. We’re back in the studio recording the next record. We may send the template for the new cover to Maplemusic and ask them if they’d like first dibs.

The Feminists: Wood Shrapnel Flying Everywhere

I am lounging in a hard-backed chair with my feet propped up on a dirty windowsill facing the late afternoon sun. A cool breeze drifts across my neck, and sleeping Mike Zobac sighs and turns over on his hostel bunk. Almost nothing brings that boy more pleasure than a solid afternoon nap. I am reading Ferdy’s newly purchased Time magazine and soaking in the peace and quiet before it’s time to go get rowdy for the people. Grief has disappeared into the washroom. He takes an awful long time to lock the door, endlessly jiggling the knob around to the point where my reading is interrupted and I glance up in irritation.
“Huh,” I think to myself. “There’s no knob on this side of the bathroom door”. I slide back into the absorbing world of literary delights. I am almost focused once more on the page at hand when I hear “oh, that’s funny”. Not really clear, mind. It was a little muffled from behind the bathroom door.
Click, rattle, shake shake went the doorknob.
“Oh, that’s funny”, I heard, a little louder. I got up and approached cautiously. “Are you stuck?”, I asked. “Oh, that’s funny”, Grief said again, even louder, with increased activity at the doorknob. Shake-shake-shake, rattle rattle. ” I’ll go downstairs and get the the key from the bar”, I said.
“Stand back!”
“What? Are you going to break down the door?” I asked, impressed with his estimation of his own strength and wishing there were more people in the room to be entertained like this.
“Stand back!”, more urgently. As in, ‘stand back, little lady’, I thought with amusement as I took a couple of steps backwards.
“CRASH!” there was a huge sound and splintering of wood. Mikes eyes flew wide open. He groped for his glasses.
“CRACK!” an even louder sound, wood shrapnel flying everywhere, and Grief traveling with great momentum towards me.
I stepped neatly out of the way and he staggered around a little and slid to a stop. “Wow”, I said. “That was an action movie moment for me”.
He nodded modestly and rubbed his shoulder.
Boys are very strange sometimes, I think. I would have just waited the extra five minutes for someone to come and take apart the door so I could stroll out casually and make some wisecrack and we would all calmly go on with our lives. But perhaps your average male is more likely to think he should just bust through the door like Rambo. It’s funny to me.
Mike sat up on his bunk. “Game ‘o’ cards, Grief?” he asked sleepily. “Sure” said Grief as he picked his way through the wood splinters on the floor to get his cards and set them up.
Thus time passes in the glamorous life of rock and roll. This is what it’s like to spend a lot of time in small spaces with the same people. Moments of complete absurdity that cannot be experienced if one has the same unvarying routine every day. When there is no daily pattern and every moment is freshly unfamiliar…that’s when the conditions are right for absurdly surreal moments that make everyday life a lot more fun.
This is what I say at my better moments, when I’m not sitting in the van and quietly seething as I contemplate how very much I hate them all. One of my favorite episodes of South Park is the civil war one where Cartman’s always saying “I hate you guys…so very very much” and it’s my favorite line in that episode, I love hearing the poisonous, maniacal way Cartman says it because it strikes a chord of deep recognition in me.
“That’s exactly how I feel when we’re on tour” I always think, on matter how many times I’ve seen it. So, there are good days and bad days I guess is the point of that whole meandering ramble.
What I do like about the short weekend rock missions is that there’s enough time to have a lot of fun and not quite enough time to get outraged. It was okay to go back to work the next day, and nice to know we have a few of these weekend side trips coming up.

The Feminists: Railway Club, Post Show Analysis

It’s awfully late. 2:35 am as I start this entry. We played a show tonight at the Railway. It always takes me many hours to wind down after playing a show no matter how tired I am. I’m too restless for tv, and so here I sit tappity-tapping.
I’m in a total daze of post-show afterglow. It’s probably a good thing that every show isn’t like this one. I don’t think I’d get much done. I feel a little weird comparing playing rock and roll to sex, but it’s the only thing that comes close. A lot of the symptoms are the same. I get to do it with people I love, that helps.
I’m at the point now where I can’t really play music casually with people anymore. I guess I’ve grown up a little. I want meaning, connection, chemistry, trust. Not just a one night stand.
The exhibitionary aspect of performing live is so exciting. I would never have sex in front of people…but I fucking love playing in this band in front of people. We can feel it when people start paying attention to us, when the conversations start to die down and it stays a bit quiet between songs. At that point, some kind of excitement takes hold of the four of us together and it’s like we all kind of burst into flames. This prompts the audience to pay more attention, which spirals it up to another level for us, and the whole beautiful reciprocal cycle just builds and builds. The thing that makes me so happy is that we don’t lose control and play sloppy when we’re vibrating off the energy of the audience…we play more effortlessly, we listen to each other more intently.
The last few days have been hard for me and K and Ferdy. Mike never seems to have a bad day and is always funny and relaxed and calm. But last night even he was in a bad mood because he had forgotten his drum sticks and had to go back to our office (jam space) to get them, thereby interrupting another band’s recording session – extremely bad musician etiquette. Upon returning to the club, he realized that he didn’t have his cymbal bag, and had to go to the van parked miles away to see if they were in there. They weren’t . No Mike Zobac cymbals tonight. So he was in a bad mood like the rest of us. It’s very rare that all four of us are in bad moods before a show.
This past week life seemed to be evolving at a breakneck pace that I could hardly hardly keep up with. It was like that for Ferdy and Grief too. All this uncertainty is where the best art, the best playing, the best connection between the four of us comes from. I didn’t particularly want to play tonight, I wanted to stay home and contemplate the abyss. I know K. wasn’t too excited either to play, but Ferdy, who has had without question the most diff