New Blog in Which I Extol Montreal’s First Maker Faire

Lately I’ve been obsessed with today’s musical climate. Too long have I agonized over this sentiment, trying to reconcile whether “it’s just me” or if music has evolved into a new beast with unusual behaviours I no longer understand.

As is well documented on my blog, I feel as though apathy has taken over music, especially in “indie” rock. And although I must continue to conduct myself within the music industry’s walls, I am merely moving about its hollow carcass as a means to an end. So instead of continually raging against the music machine, or, alternately, risking being that crusty old hipster at the back of the dubstep show, I will put it out of my mind. Modern music, I am done with thee.

As a result, I have turned my mind to creativity on a global level. What keeps me going is the knowledge that people are still putting their souls into things. How do I know? Because it is in our human nature to create, it is what separates man from beast. Except maybe these guys.

I’ve found a new creative optimism in technology and the wonderment of science. Undoubtedly fraught with its own demons of commercialization, to me the tech world still wears a virginal shroud, an unpretentious Eden yet to be explored. Programming, artificial intelligence and robotics are elements that represent, to me, the possibility for expression and reflection of humanity in infinite ways. Not to mention space exploration. It’s partially why I’ve started writing fiction, specifically speculative fiction: for the creative freedom.

How do I jump from there to here? From music to tech, in one simple step? I’m not sure I can answer that, but as a mother of a seven-year-old with another along the way, the future is, quite simply, more meaningful. Dare I say, more relevant?

Next weekend I’ll be taking my family to Montreal’s inaugural Mini Maker Faire. Having followed some of the activities at the flagship Maker Faires, I am beyond pumped to go. Labelled as a “festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness,” I can only imagine the range of ideas — from crafts to Arduino-controlled machines — individuals catering to their imaginations and simply creating for creation’s sake.

For a long while, music was fun, an exploration. But somewhere along the way it became a one-dimensional business that lost its naïveté. I long for those carefree days, but know it will never be 1998 again. In our current tech-drenched world, storytelling and expression exist in a multiverse. And as music continues to evolve, I can rest easy knowing that there is a place where I can continue to to the same.

Upcoming Canadian Faires:

Montreal Mini Maker Faire (Parc Olympique): August 25 & 26, 2012

Calgary Mini Maker Faire (East Village Riverwalk): September 8, 2012

Ottawa Mini Maker Faire (Shopify Lounge): October 13 & 14, 2012

This post also appears on the Huffington Post.

Kids These Days (Condescending Blog)

I haven’t blogged here in a while, so I’m going to take this opportunity to WAIL on a couple of “self proclaimed music critics” or “bloggers” as it were (see below). Now, it is obvious to me that these are young people (20-somethings), trying to find their place in the world. They are learning about who they are and the things that define them. I know it. I lived it: I wrote for VICE from the age of 20 to 25. That’s your SNARK PRIME. In your 20’s, it’s your time to be flippant and critical: you’ve only emerged from your teens (when you know everything about the world) and entered into a nascent adulthood. A time to illustrate to the world how much you really know, because now you have to pay rent and get a job and be responsible for yourself.  

So this is my rant, my response to these arrogant bloggers who say that my band is boring to watch live, (despite describing in the previous sentence how the whole crowd was singing along and how they felt an inexplicable energy in the room) but that they wouldn’t be interested in The Dears once they took that experience home. I call bullshit on their words. BULLSHIT.

Kids these days are emerging from a digital haze, of being bombarded with millions of songs and thousands of bands. I understand, it can be difficult to make heads or tails of anything. What is good? Who knows? Who can we trust? Today’s youth have been programmed to not follow their heart, but to follow the blogosphere. They are influenced by everything and everyone. How can they know about music when they’ve never really listened to anything? They can’t know until they are 35, because that’s when they begin to know themselves. Until then they are bombarded with a culture that is desperately trying to compete for their attention. They bring several floor toms and impossible instruments on stage. They have crazy, premeditated outfits and freak out on stage, because that’s how they think they should act. Otherwise how will they cut above the rest?

THANK GOD I “show my age” on stage. Do you know what that is called? DIGNITY.

On the flip side I thank the hundreds of other people who did enjoy the show! I admit it wasn’t our best show ever but it was loads of fun. And we got some great reviews from Spinner.com and Telescope Media. This blog even called us a “buzzband” which in my opinion, defies the very definition of the word.

And finally, I congratulate the young writers whom I have addressed here for being annoying enough to draw attention to themselves. You have succeeded in your task! You can read the “show reviews” written by “music fanatic” Shawn Burgess at THE iNDiE MACHiNE and also Lisa Lagace at TurnTheRecordOver.com. Thank you for farting all over everyone else’s experience (including mine), and for reluctantly enjoying the show! Please respond in the comments section below!

P.S. I reference God for effect and do not adhere to any him/her/it theology.

MUSICAL INTERPRETATION: Them Kids by Sam Roberts

Music Blogger Feels Old at Skrillex Show

I read these articles last week and have not been able to get the idea out of my mind:

Feeling Old at the Skrillex Show hilariously summarized here by HuffPo’s Kia Makarechi.

As if by stepping into a Skrillex (“dubstep” DJ) show, the unsuspecting music blogger is suddenly stripped of their powers. Like Superman being exposed to Kryptonite, or an X-Men having lost their mutant powers. What is an X-Men without their mutant powers? Just a human. What are music bloggers without their keen, astute, cynical and omnipotent indie cred, they are just regular people. Whereby age, and therefore reality, responsibility and accountability, are the hip culture critic’s Achilles’ heel.

It is pure, unbridled comedy. Wait till these uber-jaded 27-year-olds turn 30, when nobody cares what they think of the TV shows they watched and then, finally, they get their first “unbearable soul-crushing hangover.”

Amazingly, as I write this, I feel dangerously just like…a judgmental/preachy blogger! Yikes. This whole this is getting way too meta for me. I’m out.

Nobody is Safe: I WILL Go There.

If you haven’t already I strongly recommend you check out my interview with Midnight Poutine. It is an eye-opening take on the modern-day music industry, “indie” culture and other forms of depravity. Let’s talk about it when you’re interviewing me! I accept the challenge. It’s really long so you can put it on your personal MP3 listening device and listen to it on the way home from work.

Midnight Poutine vs. Natalia Yanchak (The Dears) (direct link to MP3)

Also you can watch us on the Late Show with David Letterman this Friday Feb 11th on CBS. We do a rousing rendition of BLOOD with Paul Shaffer + the Late Night Band horn section. Badass.

Anthropology or “What you Readin’ For?”

In this week’s Economist I read a piece on the discovery of a cluster of 9th century, super organised (and now defunct) cities embedded deep in a part of the Amazon rainforest that was previously thought of as uninhabited by humans (read Amazon Garden City). I was especially intrigued by the fact that these “cities” had plazas: open places for gatherings, political or as a marketplace, a cemetery, a place for commmunity. Like the greek agora and other european models.

So the idea of assembly, the hard-wired human need to congregate and exchange ideas and wares, is so basic that the way these instinctive characteristics materialise themselves in modern times is indeed revealing.

I am constantly trying to understand human nature, to explain our existence in a meaningful, spiritual way (yet non-religious): to prove that there are greater forces at play, instinctual tendencies that inform us.

I immediately coupled this commuanal tendencay with another study: one that found our personalities can be described by the kind of music we listen to. Findings are as follows:

PEOPLE INTO MUSIC

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease.
Jazz: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease.
Classical: High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease.
Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.
Opera: High self-esteem, creative, gentle.
Country & Western: Hardworking, outgoing.
Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at
ease.
Dance: Creative, outgoing, not gentle.
Indie: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle.
Bollywood: Creative, outgoing.
Rock/Heavy Metal: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing,
gentle, at ease.
Chart pop: High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing, gentle,
not at ease.
Soul: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease.

I mean its kind of silly to suppose for a moment that music and personality are not connected: music and art are such a bottom-line part of culture, and the bits of culture we choose to like or identify with define who we are. So in some ways I find the “study” a little on the redundant side, but with a certain beat-you-over-the-head validity.

Can we take these two ingrained traits together, and further? If gathering together is a primal instinct, then how do the musical tastes defined as “introverted” differ from those that are “outgoing”? Culturally, identifying with music and congregating at a concert to share in an experience attests to this idea: that even a genre that boasts fans with low self-esteem, introversion and laziness still compells its audience towards community?

It explains a lot – physically and digitally – of the hipster indie rock culture: of the Stilleposts, Pitchforks, Brooklyn Vegans, SXSWs and CMJs, Pop Montreals and Pop Explosions, and the kinds of euphoric/frustrating experiences they beget.

Even xenophobic misanthropes can’t deny their need to be among other people, belonging to some kind of self-affirming culture.

Our News Hits The News

Just want to send out an enormous thank you to everyone. Yes: I’m putting a general, positive vibe out there, in response to the great support from everyone out there. All of your emails and encouragement via Facebook and Myspace are motivating. Can’t wait to get back out there again. As Murray said, this past year has been hard. The band falling apart was tough, but Murray and I have been there before, in that same exact situation with End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story. And putting out that (our first) album, was the beginning of a new era for us personally and also for Canadian music.

With indie rock in a vestigial fade-out (I read even perennial UK indie rockers Kaiser Chiefs proclaiming the genre “boring”…Mr. Wilson, I wholeheartedly agree), the climate is shifting, and Missiles is definitely part of that shift. It is not indie rock, so I don’t feel so bad that Pitchfork has ignored our press releases completely. It’s a diss, but they’ve been reluctant supporters from the beginning. I’d rather be pushed to the outside: I’m used to it.

I also love – and without sarcasm – that NME.com ran the story quoting this very blog. It is a bit of an obvious move on their part to link us to Morrissey, but whatever, that’s what they do, and I respect the Moz greatly so I don’t mind. In all of this, I stand by my quote: “We hope everyone would like [Missiles], journalist or not, but we understand that there are many haters out there so it’s out of our control.” Because the haters really are out there: hating with gusto! Remember in grade school when that bully would push you around, only for you to realise later that actually they had a crazy crush on you? That’s what I think is really going on there…

So thank you to everyone, lovers and haters. See you all very soon.

That New, Mellow Sound

“The latest musical climate — perhaps a sonic reply to the sluggish, humid global warming trend — is rootsy, VU folk-pop à la Beach Boys.”

I wrote that nearly a month ago, after the hype surrounding the new Fleet Foxes and Beach House records. Hoping it was a phase and nothing to get overly excited about, I saved it to my drafts. But after reviewing this week’s Canadian college music chart, I discovered a band from Calgary called Women, and — alas! — the lo-fi, lazy movement continues with surprising strength…you know…because the music is so sluggish…where would they get the energy…oh, forget it.

Now, I understand the appeal: aren’t we tired of the bombastic, excitable baroque-pop that nearly makes us want to dance (but of course we would never really dance because we are too cool for dancing)? Could we perhaps non-dance to something other than that overwrought “meatslicer” beat? Wouldn’t we rather just take a huge break from this complicated “indie” thing? Well, I’d like to. I’ve renounced indie before…but I do not necessarily condone this new business that’s going on. My problem is that I’ve heard it all before. I’ve listened to Pet Sounds and that Velvet Underground box set with the banana on the cover and everything by David Bowie and the Beatles and, well, shouldn’t we be moving forward? I loved Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, the “Wall of Sound” and the 60’s. But what about onwards and upwards? With our songwriting and our production? References to the past are lovely and intriguing, but a band’s entire thing being a reference to the past? Too quaint. Far too much so.

Well, I guess you could just shove this back into my face and tell me to go listen to Girl Talk and Crystal Castles. But I can’t listen to that stuff because it has its own problems.

I suppose I am continuously trying to cope with our saturated modern musical climate. You know, I was a huge Elvis Costello fan in uni, and as fromaggio as he can be at times (Shipbuilding Good Year For the Roses, anyone?…Wotty, you win.) you’d be hard up to find talent like his anymore. It’s few and far between, being a good songwriter and then presenter of those songs, both live and on record. I noticed that the Elvis Costello wiki classifies him in earnest as both punk rock and new wave. Nowadays if you’d see some new band classified the same way, their music would you’d probably make you want to: 1. vomit, then 2. commit suicide.

Maybe this new, mellow sound can be likened to the popularity of ambient music in the 90’s with musicians like The Orb and Aphex Twin: everybody needed a break from all that serious, alternative stuff. In conclusion, The Besnard Lakes is to Bloc Party as Global Communication was to Nirvana.

Death To Indie Rock

Being part of a band that has been plunked into the “indie rock” category, I often struggle with the genre and what, exactly, it means. What is indie? I believe it is a dead identity: like how the title “alternative” was borne from grunge in the 90’s, and has since come to define bands like Nickelback. It’s outgrown its meaning: Death Cab is indie, but on a major label. So WTF?

The term “indie” essentially used to mean “not major label” and oftentimes “not on any label.” But now the new “indie” had been commodified and major label bands can be indie rock. And to me “indie” still means angular guitars, you know, like Pavement. Let’s see what the my go-to knower of all things says:

“Indie rock artists place a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, releasing albums on independent record labels (sometimes their own) and relying on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Some end up moving to major labels, often on favorable terms won by their prior independent success.” – from the Indie Rock wiki.

OK, well that kind of explains it but doesn’t fully satisfy me, because it doesn’t address the indie rock sound or aesthetic. I mean, I don’t even think I could easily define it, but I know it’s out there, and everybody is trying to do it. And then this morning I read this: The Question Mark: Is Feist Still Indie?. This appears in the Canadian broadsheet ‘National Post’ who are notoriously conservative, but are trying hilariously to be ‘with it.’ Anyhow, the article is flimsy at best but addresses the issue: “What is indie?” It seems that we can’t agree: it’s an important label for some people, so important that they won’t listen to it if it’s not indie (even if it’s totally amazing); and yet for others it’s entirely meaningless.

As frustrating/obsolete as retail CD shopping has become, at least we can rely on a shop’s inability to define any sub-genre beyond “POP/ROCK,” which I am just fine with. You really, really cannot please everyone. I mean, is being indie that important to you?

So as The Dears put the finishing touches on our orchestral sci-fi noir-funk opus, we prepare ourselves mentally for the inevitable: being lazily lumped into the indie category. This is me, being curmudgeonly about the whole thing: *grumble*. We always say that making an album is like raising a child: you give it everything you can and then release it into the world, as if sending it off to its first day of school, and you can hope for the best, pray it makes good friends, but really, it’s beyond our control. We’ll see what the fates allow.

Partir, Par Terre

I’ve been spending my free moments filling out these exhaustive forms to collect The Dears’ neighbouring rights royalties. Its a bit of an involved process: I have to list every musician that played on every song we’ve ever recorded. We’ve never done song-by-song album credits, but now I see why some bands do it that way. Gang of Losers was easy; I had to get Murray’s help on No Cities Left because there’s a lot going on there; and for End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story, I just listened to the tracks to see which ones had strings on them.

I don’t often listen to old Dears recordings. Maybe once a year I’ll listen to our old albums or put them on for Neptune to dance to (Jazz Waltz No. 3 in B-flat is still one of my favourites). But I certainly hadn’t listened to Hollywood for a long time. I realised how much that record was ahead of its time: it smashed the mould that cast most of Canadian indie rock. Listening especially to Partir, Par Terre really made me realise how that was some next level shit.

Listen to Partir, Par Terre from End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story.

In 1999, no one in Canada was doing anything like that: strings over a filmic, jazz-rock instrumental waltz. We did a concert with 12 people on stage and that idea was mind-blowing (now it’s standard). 2000 was the time of either the power trio or sugary, goofy pop: usually a gang of white guys writing guitar-driven arrangements. Everyone was still trying to be like Sloan. Nobody wanted to put our record out: we sent it to every established independent label in Canada and the US and nobody would touch us.

So we trudged through the prepubescent Canadian indie rock wilderness, forged a path, and then quickly got swallowed and overtaken by others with loftier ambitions. I guess we have to take responsibilty at least for that: for being the uncompromizing, difficult and adamant artists that we are. Today, however, I am very grateful for the fans that we have attracted: these are intelligent music listeners. The people we have worked with and met along the way have really been amazing. Things change, seasons change, people change, and nothing in Dears-land ever really stays the same, but I’m proud to say that our identity gets stronger with each year that passes.

An introspective rant that turned into a “The Dears in 2008” rally cry: how appropriate.

Smiling is for Losers

I stumbled upon this comment about The Dears on the internet the other day:

“great band, saw them live in 2006. what i want to know is, why did [Murray] have a baby with that keyboard player? she’s pretty, but what a po-faced git she is! crack a smile love!” – from a comment on one of our videos on YouTube

What’s a “po-faced git”? I know it’s definitely an insult, but I may have to check the Wiki on this one…ok so Wikipedia was not useful, but I did find a definition of ‘po-faced’ as “…the look of insufficiently disguised distaste…” and ‘git’ as “…somebody regarded as totally worthless or useless.” Anyhow, the name-calling itself is less insulting than what this person says just before: “why did he have a baby with that keyboard player?” Now THAT is incredibly harsh. Obviously this person has never known the feeling of love, or of being loved, and that is the saddest thing of all.

And so, what blog-fueled bitchfest would be complete without a proper “in my defense” bit? I haven’t been smiling for years. Why should I start now? Actually, I have started to smile a bit more onstage. It’s just why should I smile and look happy and bop around if we’re performing sombre pop songs about loneliness, depression, revelation, love and hate, isolation and discovery? It’s heavy stuff and sometimes being jokey just is not appropriate. Dear sir, have you actually listened to a Dears song lately? Anyhow, I don’t really care; it’s not going to affect my onstage performance. I just am trying to understand why someone else would care so much?

It’s an age-old power trip, the lovers who are haters.