Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You Say Party! We Say Die!

My first story for Exclaim! Magazine is this month's cover story on You Say Party! We Say Die!

You Say Party! We Say Die!
Career Resuscitation
By Andrea Warner

"I think a lot of people probably thought I needed to be shipped home and sent straight to like, a mental institution. Maybe leave that out."

Becky Ninkovic, the lead singer of You Say Party! We Say Die!, laughs ruefully. We're inside the band's cramped rehearsal room in a building that reeks of stale beer and sweat, in one of Vancouver's industrial neighbourhoods where the prostitutes come out before the sun sets. It's the perfect setting for a dance-punk outfit about to be known for making the best out of bad situations. Just two years ago, YSP!WSD! were on the verge of calling it quits. Now, they're a few weeks shy of embarking on a six-week, cross-country tour supporting their third, and finest album, XXXX.

It was 2004 when bass player Stephen O'Shea and keyboardist Krista Loewen started jamming with Ninkovic in her parents' basement in Abbotsford, BC. A year later, they released their first CD, Hit the Floor!, and became a buzz band that whipped audiences into dance floor frenzies, largely thanks to Ninkovic's front-woman antics that often highlighted her dancing more than her singing. Floor! was a collection of propulsive, guitar-mashing, garage punk songs with occasional off-ramps into new wave. Their second release, Lose All Time, showed more diversity and less emphasis on noise, amping up the production values and musicianship with the addition of guitarist Derek Adam and drummer Devon Clifford. It also boasted YSP!'s most popular song to date, "Monster," an '80s-inspired pop number that let Ninkovic's vocals bounce over urgent drums and playful guitar riffs, and sounds most like the diving off point for XXXX.

Both Floor! and Time were decently reviewed, but YSP!'s real draw was the crashing, thrashing, lightning storm live shows ― something neither album could properly convey. But, now there's XXXX, which comes tearing off the speakers, layers of new wave throwback hooks and tones atop strong, sexy vocals and a smattering of big risks that pay off with an album that finally seems to capture the contagious energy and vitality of their stage performances.

"When we got the first mixes back, it actually sounded like a representation of what our live show is," drummer Devon Clifford says. "In writing it, we were all just trying to be really positive about bringing whatever we wanted to the table and at least experimenting with it rather than ridiculing it right away or laughing it off, like 'Oh, what's that garbage you're spitting out?'"

From the beautifully eerie opening track, "There is XXXX (In My Heart)," to the keyboard-driven dance number "Laura Palmer's Prom," XXXX is full of pop gems that tease and toy with sex, love, and kiss-offs.

"Making our albums before was a rushed month-and-a-half long process from writing to recording," Clifford says. "So to be able to spend close to a year writing all these songs is awesome. With Lose All Time, we didn't have a chance to discard any song we recorded, because we needed every song that we had. This one we've been able to pick and choose which songs we liked the most."

Even Clifford admits that the heavy '80s sounds led him to second-guess some songs. "With 'She's Spoken For,' when we first wrote it, I was like 'We can't play this, it's the same chord progression as Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield."' And the others were like, 'I don't think so.' So I went and listened to it and it's totally different. Then I was like, 'Oh, it's like this Pilot song.' But it wasn't. I guess it's just really reminiscent of some classic songs."

"I feel like it's our best foot forward, collectively," bassist Stephen O'Shea says. "It's really well-rounded because it represents all five of our writing styles. I really feel like this is Becky's record. Hit the Floor! really felt like my record, but she really owned this record. The rest of us became more disciplined in our playing and writing to allow her to have more room to grow and really step up. The last two years have been fundamental growing times for her and it feels like the right step in the arc of our progression, and it makes all the rest of our records make sense. I think this record really shows what we were trying to do back then."

On XXXX Ninkovic finally sounds like the woman seen on stage, commanding the audience with every high kick, a heart anchored by having come back from the dark side, a girl who's genuinely capable of having fun.

"I finally feel like a singer, rather than a dancer who loves being in a band," Ninkovic says. The changes in Ninkovic's vocal range on XXXX are symptomatic of the band's evolution, and really speak to surviving the 2007 Berlin barroom brawl that almost broke up the band, the first telltale sign of Ninkovic's impending breakdown.

Two years ago, YSP! were nearing the end of a 16-week European tour when a late-night drunken argument between O'Shea, Adam, and Clifford lead to Ninkovic attacking Clifford.

"Becky came in and was just clawing at me and I grabbed her and shoved her away," Clifford recalls. "Then big German punk rock dudes picked me up and carried me out of the bar. They were very gentle, but at first they weren't going to be, because they thought I was abusing her. The next day we didn't talk at all."

It was a pivotal moment for everyone, one that had been building for a while.

"When you're sleep deprived it's easy to turn to substances, like 'I don't know how I'm going to do this show,'" Ninkovic says. "You're on a 16-week tour, no breaks, and there's always alcohol around and there's always caffeine around ― two huge culprits for my health issues and I didn't know until I'd hit the worst."

"Even before the big almost-break-up, there were moments on that tour where I didn't know if I could keep going," says keyboardist Krista Loewen. "It was spending a month in Europe with my feet wet because I couldn't afford to buy shoes or a better jacket."

"I didn't have much hope," admits guitarist Derek Adam. "I thought the tour was over. It was a really grey day and we were all stuck in the van together."

"I thought for sure it was done then," O'Shea says. "But we miraculously pulled it back together the next day. Our tour manager did a really great job with the two warring camps."

"And we still managed to put on some pretty powerful shows," Ninkovic says. "We were playing our best at that point, and that was part of what kept us in it, too. We were as good as we'd ever been, and that was really painful. We were so broken as people, but this music was keeping us going."

When the group got back to BC, everyone took a much-needed break and headed back to their day jobs. Almost. Ninkovic's doctor wouldn't allow her to go back to work until she got healthy, and the rest of YSP! began to realize the seriousness of the situation. "We actually [turned down] the opportunity to open for Jimmy Eat World and that was painful, but we had to because we knew the band would be over if she didn't get healthy," O'Shea says. "We really had to regroup and build each other up because we couldn't keep tearing each other down."

Ninkovic's recovery process included a year with a vocal coach, who helped her see that that the perpetual fight between her voice and the music was contributing to her illness.

"I discovered that my true voice is in my centre, it's not up here" ― grabs her throat ― "where I'm straining and fighting the music," Ninkovic says. "In the past it was always like ARGHH! and it was so noisy and so loud, and I felt I had to prove my strength by trying really hard. You learn that the more you strain and the more you try the less power you have than when you just learn to breathe, like allow yourself to open up and relax. That's a principle that goes for so many things in life. I discovered that on a physical level with my health and voice, but it spoke volumes about how I was living too, and how I was existing in this band."

Ninkovic's breakdown also found her exploring some dark places. "In the first couple years of being in the band, I had huge issues with myself and that's really what led to being crashed against the bottom of the ocean floor. There's something in you that can't go on being who you are, and if you can't figure it out, you don't have the right people around, or you're not able to see it because you're so thickly in it, you'll just feel like you have to kill yourself because you hate yourself so much, you just can't bear going on the way you are. That desire comes from a place of 'I need to change.' And if you can find the courage to make that change, it's a whole new start again. I feel like I'm 28 and just being born in a way."

Call it YSP!WSD! 2.0 if you will. For the first time, according to O'Shea, the band is on the same page. But, having been a key driving force in YSP!'s tendency towards the more punk side of dance music, O'Shea admits that XXXX tested him.

This was the most challenging record for me, because we didn't have a preconceived notion of what we were trying to make," O'Shea says. "The others records were dance punk. But now, two records later, well, we've played out all these ideas, but I was thinking and trying really hard and saying 'we need to come up with something and write the idea before we write the album,' but the rest of the band were like, 'No, we're going to just try and bring ourselves to the record.'" The results have already paid off. Advance buzz has critics loving this incarnation of YSP!WSD!

Ninkovic can hardly contain her excitement about her, and the band's, new direction. She jokingly sings a few bars of "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin.

I've never been able to listen to our last albums because they felt like unfinished pieces of work," Ninkovic says. "We didn't have enough time or money to make them complete, whereas this one, I just listened to it today on the drive in, I love these songs. It wells up in me. That was one of my hopes with these songs, that they would feel good to perform night after night, and they would be a comfort to me, and perhaps to others as well. It was like I wanted to sing songs that were liberating. When I was just discovering this newfound confidence, I had this guy say, 'Whoa, doesn't look like you need any help with your ego.' And I'm like, 'This is the first time in my life I've had an ego! I'm stoked. Leave me alone. I'm loving this, this is good ego, and I'm holding on for all it's worth.'"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Twilight Time for Vancouver

My piece about Twilight's impact on Vancouver

In the upcoming The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is torn between Jacob (Taylor Lautner, top) and Edward (Robert Pattinson, bottom left). Vancouver musician Adaline (bottom right) found thousands of new fans after “tweeting” about a chance encounter with Pattinson at a local bar.

In the upcoming The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is torn between Jacob (Taylor Lautner, top) and Edward (Robert Pattinson, bottom left). Vancouver musician Adaline (bottom right) found thousands of new fans after “tweeting” about a chance encounter with Pattinson at a local bar.

Credit: supplied

Twilight Time

Justin King is at the ready to lift his camera and capture photos of actors who, until two years ago, were all but unknown. He’s not in New York or L.A., and there’s no red carpet to be found. He’s at Vancouver International Airport, and is just one of several photographers there for one specific reason. “The humans are leaving,” the 28-year-old explains.

Welcome to the world of Twilight, where terms like “the vampires,” “the Wolf Pack,” “the humans,” and “the Big Three” have become a part of the everyday lexicon of gossip rags, fan sites, and the entertainment industry in general – all thanks to ‘TwiHards,’ the ever-growing number of obsessive fans who have catapulted Stephanie Meyer, a first-time author and a Mormon, to the tops of numerous bestseller lists, and launched a movie franchise that’s driven a giant stake into Vancouver’s place on the celebrity stargazer’s map.

For the uninitiated, the Twilight books and movies concern Bella Swan, a bookish 17-year-old loner who moves to the Pacific Northwest and falls in love with vampire Edward Cullen. The push-pull of their tortured love affair — complete with a second love interest for Bella in the form of man-werewolf Jacob — sustain the four-book arc. They’ve become both kid-tested and mom-approved, thanks in part to Edward’s characterization as a chaste knight in glistening armour.

After Twilight exploded onto the big screen, making instant celebrities out of Kristen Stewart (Bella), Robert Pattinson (Edward), and Taylor Lautner (Jacob), all eyes turned to Vancouver, where it was announced the movie’s sequels would be filmed back-to-back. The Twilight Saga: New Moon is set to be released November 20, while The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is currently in production. Everyone, it seems — from fans to entrepreneurs to paparazzi — is eager to get a piece of the action.

The global frenzy for photos of even the most minor cast members has ushered in Vancouver’s first truly big wave of L.A.-based paparazzi — photographers who make a living staking out and documenting Twilight’s every turn. The above-mentioned Justin King, camped out at the airport hoping to get a few shots of the third-tier actors who portray Bella’s human friends, is one of roughly 12 paparazzi shooting the Twilight cast every day, and the only one not temporarily relocated from L.A. He’s a Vancouverite, and got his start getting autographs from the Twilight cast. But when he saw that photos were fetching a bigger buck, he acquired some professional equipment and started shooting for the L.A.-based agency Punked Images.

“It’s 14-, 16-hour days,” King says. “I get up and have to be there for the [actors’ limo] pickups at the hotel, for their daily goings-on, and then be back for drop off. Sometimes I follow them out to the sets, or I might stake out the hotels on their off days, just ‘cause the cast, not including the Big Three, all know me by name. I’ve established a rapport, so if I see them shopping or out walking, I just go over and I get shots there. They give me good shots: a smile, a wave, or a peace sign.”

To people familiar with Vancouver’s long-standing reputation as Hollywood North, the obsessive attention from fans and paparazzi may be a boon to the economy, but it’s not entirely flattering. The TwiHards (and another, perhaps more obsessive subset, the TwiMoms) have helped bolster Vancouver’s tourism business by flocking here in droves, just to get a glimpse of anything Twilight-related. Elaine “Lainey” Lui, who pens the blog LaineyGossip.com and interviews celebrities for TV entertainment show eTalk, calls the trend “embarrassing.”

“I’ve never seen fans this crazy and shameless,” Lui says. “They have redefined ‘loser.’ I’ve seen it get really psychotic, like for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and that’s crazy, too. But this... I guess the Twilight thing is just so widespread, and I find that it’s misunderstood. People seem to think that it’s only teenagers? Oh, no. It’s, like, 40- and 50-year-olds, mothers. I have my issues with what the significance of Twilight popularity is in terms of a social study. In worshipping a man like Edward Cullen, and by idolizing a relationship which is based on a girl giving up everything for a boy, and attaching her life’s identity and value — it illustrates the regression of the female movement.”

Sarah Crauder, a production assistant who worked on the original Twilight film in Oregon, saw first-hand that women, young and old, were eager to jump in on the fantasy. “Girls were obsessed with this book and would have done anything to be connected to it,” she recalls. “They could have made the movie with sock puppets and it would have made the same amount of money. Just slap Twilight on something and they’re going to buy it.”

Crauder recalls fielding letters and e-mails before casting had been finalized, from fans pleading to be cast as Bella. “It’s so dependent on you seeing yourself as the heroine. If you don’t identify as Bella, the whole book falls apart.”

Those fans are also reaching out to Lui, via any form necessary. She estimates that she gets about a dozen e-mails every week from fans around the world who tell her they’re coming to Vancouver for Twilight. “On Twitter it’s a lot more,” she adds. “It’s been great for Vancouver financially, and public-relations-wise it’s been incredible. People are flying in from all over the world — Brazil, Germany, Australia — just to stalk these celebrities, and obviously Vancouver’s reaping the reward from that. But the downside of it is that it’s over this franchise.”

Erin Cebula, an entertainment reporter for Global Television and Entertainment Tonight Canada, says it’s not dissimilar to another famous series and its relationship to its home city.

“New York was such a central character in Sex and the City, and Vancouver could play a similar role in the Twilight franchise,” Cebula suggests. “Twilight tours are happening now: You can visit the locations, even where the stars go and have lunch. And, of course, the same kind of tours happen in New York with Sex and the City. Even in Tofino, they were running some tours after New Moon was shot on the beaches. From a tourism perspective, it can be beneficial to people who are quick on the draw.”

Well, usually.

The Twilight fervour has kick-started King’s career as a photographer, and benefited plenty of Vancouver hot-spots like the restaurants Glowbal and Chambar, where the cast hangs out and fans linger in the hope of catching a glimpse.

A chance encounter with Pattinson even helped boost a fledgling local indie singer-songwriter’s career. Earlier this year, the singularly-named Adaline, who had just released her debut CD, Famous for Fire, took to her Twitter account and mentioned she’d hugged Pattinson and had a conversation with him at a bar. The “tweet” got picked up by a Twilight fan site, which linked to her MySpace page, generating international publicity and over 75,000 plays of her music in just a few weeks.

“The Twilight fans are really like no other,” Adaline says. “‘Passionate’ is probably the best word to describe them. I’ve received thousands of messages of support from Twilight fans who are now fans of my music as well. It mainly created a greater awareness of my music, which is needed as an independent artist. In today’s music business, artists really need these kinds of breaks, so I’m grateful.”

But not every person who’s interacted with Twilight has benefited. A woman who agreed to speak with WE only on condition of anonymity had, up until last week, been operating a tour business taking fans to various Twilight locations, and pointing out other popular filming spots in Vancouver. Despite having the appropriate permits, last week she received a cease-and-desist order from Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight franchise, threatening legal action for copyright infringement. “It’s serious, and I’m scared,” she says. “They could take everything from me, and I have kids I need to support.”

She’s not permitted to offer any numbers about her own business, but said that she knew of at least a few hundred people who were arriving from all over the world to check out Twilight locations. “The average person would come for a week, stay in a five-star a hotel, and eat three meals a day, and this was a destination to see if they could meet the cast,” she says. “It’s not like a cruise ship number, but I would say people would spend several hundred dollars. I was doing a service for Tourism BC, because there’s no one out there marketing B.C. to the fans. New Moon and Eclipse could do for us what Brokeback Mountain did for Alberta.”

So far it already has. As Cebula notes, the casting for Twilight’s supporting characters prominently features local actors, particularly those in the aboriginal community. And Lui, despite her dislike for the Twilight franchise, is optimistic about the end result.

“Whatever brings the fans to Vancouver, they can appreciate it for what it really is,” she says. “How beautiful the city is, not just Twilight.” 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Comedy Fest picks!

Some of the Vancouver Global Comedy Fest highlights!
Vancouver Global ComedyFest mixes its star-studded line-up with the best in indie and up-and-coming talent. Clockwise from top left: Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Nick Thune, Picnicface, and David Cross.

Vancouver Global ComedyFest mixes its star-studded line-up with the best in indie and up-and-coming talent. Clockwise from top left: Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Nick Thune, Picnicface, and David Cross.

COMEDY: Top picks for ComedyFest


Yes, he makes more bad movies than good nowadays (when The Jerk came out in the late ’70s, could anyone have foreseen The Pink Panther 2? Ugh!), but the wiry, white-haired comedian proved he still knows how to turn on the funny when he stood alongside Tina Fey during their presentation of the writers’ awards at the Emmys. An opportunity for the audience to ask questions guarantees plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, as Martin’s never at a loss for off-the-cuff cleverness.

A Conversation with Steve Martin: An Evening of Questions & Answers. Sunday, Sept. 27 at Orpheum Theatre (Smithe & Seymour), 7:30 p.m. Tickets $49-$185 from Ticketmaster.


Her skewering of the beloved classic Gone with the Wind might go down as one of the single funniest moments on TV ever, and by anchoring her own sketch-comedy show for over eight years, Burnett became a pioneer in the world of female comedians. With a lengthy history in Hollywood and on Broadway, Burnett’s got plenty to dish about. And, as she demonstrated in the opening Q&A;segment of her show every week, she’s incredibly quick with a witty comeback, no matter how crazy the question.

Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett: A Conversation with Carol Where the Audience Asks the Questions. Sept. 24 at Orpheum Theatre, 7 pm. Tickets $49.50-$89.50 from Ticketmaster.


The stand-up comedian and actor (Arrested Development) is as cranky as ever, except this time he’s turned his trademark rants into a collection of essays in his new book, I Drink for a Reason. Lest you think this is a confessional memoir of a man on the verge of an AA meeting, his brutal honesty and biting satire could make thin-skinned folk bleed tears just by picking up the book. This reading and Q&A;could be just the chance to get onto the receiving end of a classic Cross verbal bitchslap.

I Drink for a Reason: A Reading and Conversation with David Cross. Sunday, Sept. 27 at Centre for Performing Arts (777 Homer), 2 p.m., Tickets $26.50 from Ticketmaster.


An eight-member comedy troupe that’s making YouTube waves with its hilarious videos couldn’t possibly be Canadian, right? Let alone from Halifax. Damn right, they are. This wryly original octet has deep East Coast roots, and has received plenty of comparisons to Andy Samberg’s the Lonely Island, known for its digital shorts on Saturday Night Live. While Picnicface hasn’t debuted a “Dick in the Box”-like classic yet, it has its own YouTube channel with over 40,000 subscribers, and the ridiculously awesome “Super Bingo” has been viewed over 1.2 million times.

As part of Edge of the Fest, Saturday, Sept. 26 at Vogue Theatre (918 Granville), 8 p.m. Tickets $32.50 from Ticketmaster.

Nick Thune

Vancouver’s Emerald City-envy will be temporarily assuaged with the arrival of Nick Thune, a self-described comedian/writer/actor/bird owner. He’s graced Jay Leno’s former Tonight Show twice, and Comedy Central even ponied up the cash to have him make a series of short films called iThunes. He’s also curiously pretty, standing out in an industry full of men who grew up learning to laugh in the face of one or two physical shortcomings.

Nick Thune is performing throughout the festival. For venue and ticket info, visit ComedyFest.com

Garfunkel and Oates

I had such a great time interviewing Garfunkel and Oates! You can read it in this week's WE.

Garfunkel and Oates, a.k.a. Riki Lindhome (left) and Kate Micucci.

Garfunkel and Oates, a.k.a. Riki Lindhome (left) and Kate Micucci.

By Andrea Warner

They write songs called “Sex with Ducks” and “This Party Took a Turn for the Douche.” They pen odes to one-night stands with lyrics like, “You may know my body / You don’t know my soul / You want the donut / But all you’re gonna get is the hole.”

Meet Garfunkel and Oates, a.k.a. Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, the newest, cutest, dirtiest alt-comedy duo, who have become viral phenoms thanks to homemade video recordings of their catchy and clever musical commentaries on everything from relationships to social etiquette, and satirical skewering of even the precious baby bump (take a listen to “Pregnant Women are Smug”).

It’s been a slow — and somewhat unintentional — climb up the comedy ladder. Both women are actresses (Micucci’s got a recurring role on the TV show Scrubs, while Lindhome most recently starred in the feature film The Last House on the Left) and long-time friends who started brainstorming some songs for Lindhome’s musical short, Imaginary Larry. The partnership evolved into writing more songs and posting videos of them on YouTube, which led to a monthly show at the Upright Citizens Brigade in L.A., that city’s leading playground for up-and-coming comedians.

Now, just a month after Garfunkel and Oates released their debut CD, Music Songs, Micucci and Lindhome are part of the Vancouver Global ComedyFest lineup, sharing program space with Carol Burnett and Steve Martin.

And no, they’re not sure how it happened either.

Has it surprised you that Garfunkel and Oates is selling out shows?

Riki Lindhome: I’m always surprised! I called Kate the other day before our Upright Citizens Brigade show, and I was like, “I don’t think anyone’s going to come,” and she was like, “They just called and it’s sold out already.” They ended up turning people away at the doors! It’s so crazy, because people who don’t get it don’t even like it a little. And people who like it love it. I had one friend come out to our first show, and this was when I realized how it was going to be. We had, like, five friends at our first show and they loved it, but then my other friend was like, “So, this is your band. Ummm...okay. Well, you seemed to be having fun. So, I’m gonna go.” And then he, like, took off! [Laughs] We think it’s cool though, the way it’s turned out.

Kate Micucci: It’s so weird, the fact that people know about us. And we’ve seen it change, too. It used to be all just our friends in the audience, but now it’s a lot of people we don’t know. A friend of mine yesterday went into a bookstore and they were playing our music! And what really surprises me is that people always hand us their instruments to sign. I’m always like, “Well, I don’t wanna ruin your ukulele.” But now it’s happened enough times that it’s not a shock. But I try to assess the situation: If it’s under $100, I’ll sign it, but if it’s worth a lot, I’m like, “Let’s find something else.”

“Sex with Ducks” was inspired by gay-marriage opponents and Proposition 8, but other songs like “One Night Stand” and “This Party Took a Turn for the Douche” — are there specific individuals who inspired them?

KM: Riki is always the idea girl, and oftentimes I’ll just sit at the piano while we’re talking and find the melody. I couldn’t even tell you most of the time who said what. It’s like our brains get all mushy or something [Laughs]

RL: Most songs have been inspired by something that’s happened, but not necessarily to us. “Party” happened when I was with two other friends at this really quiet downtown French restaurant, and this fraternity of guys came in, loud and drunk, and sat next to us. And my friend looks over at me and was like, “Well, this party just took a turn for the douche.” I just died laughing, and asked if I could have that phrase. “One Night Stand” was actually us just trying to make a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” — one that changed a lot.

Have you found that fellow comedians are welcoming you into the comedy world?

RL: Completely. I think, to a surprising degree. This whole year has been beyond anything Kate and I could ever imagine. The first time we ever played at a comedy club was at the Laugh Factory, and we played on Tom Arnold’s bill between Steven Wright and Ron Wright, and it was unbelievable. I think part of it is because we’re women, and I think people are happier to have more women in the comedy world. It’s the opposite of it being a man’s world. They want women. It breaks things up and it’s a better show.

Carol Burnett will be at the festival, and she’s certainly one of the biggest influences for women in comedy.

KM: Oh, my god, I just heard she was going to be there. I’m such a huge fan! I live near CBS Studios, and when I drive by I always think that’s so cool — she filmed there. I hope I get to meet her when I’m there. Once I met Lily Tomlin on a soundstage, and she just came up to me and was like, “Hi, I’m Lily.” It was, like, four years ago, and I was working on my first TV show, and she was working on Will & Grace around the corner, and she just came up to me and I was like, “Oh, my god, I have your autograph taped to my wall.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three Monkeys

My review of the Turkish film Three Monkeys appears on WestEnder.com

Hatice Aslan and Yavuz Bingöl in Three Monkeys.

Hatice Aslan and Yavuz Bingöl in Three Monkeys.

Credit: supplied


Starring Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Asian

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

3 stars (out of 5)

The Turkish film Three Monkeys is a sad meditation on morality, ethics, and the unrelenting effects of tragedy. A painfully bleak prize-winner for best direction at Cannes in 2008, it’s also one hell of a beautiful downer, built on lingering long shots, moody colours, and epic silent stretches of bravura acting.

The film opens on a sleepy driver, corrupt politician Servet (Ercan Kesal), navigating a dark, narrow lane. After he hits a pedestrian, a couple drives by, comes upon the crumpled body in the middle of the road, and opts to keep driving, ultimately allowing Servet to escape undetected.

Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol), Servet’s driver, takes the fall in exchange for big bucks, and is sentenced to nine months in prison. This leaves his wife, Hacer (the beautifully expressive Hatice Asian), and his troubled teenage son, Ismail (Rifat Sungar), at home, both restless and unhappy in their own ways. When Ismail comes home battered and bloody, Hacer goes to Servet for a loan, and the two become embroiled in a secret affair.

The film takes its name from the three monkeys used to convey “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” and an inability to communicate seems to be at the root of the family’s dysfunction. They’re still mourning the loss of their second son, 10 years previously, who periodically appears to them in various hallucinations. When Eyüp is finally released from jail, everyone’s lies come undone, building to a tense climax about the repercussions of willful ignorance.

Director-writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan loves to linger on his actors’ faces, or allow a scene to unfold far off in the distance and at times, the cinematography segues from languid to labourious, making Three Monkeys feel plodding. But the film’s final scenes are electrifying, even in the depressing realization that this fractured family hasn’t really learned from its mistakes. — Andrea Warner

Franz Ferdinand

My interview with Franz Ferdinand's online at WE (WestEnder.com)

Franz Ferdinand: Success made them feel like spies

Franz Ferdinand: Success made them feel like spies "reporting back to normal people."

It’s been five years since Glasgow’s Franz Ferdinand crossed the Atlantic, sparking a renewed interest in early-’80s-style dance-pop with the irresistible, sexed-up “Take Me Out.” Since then, the quartet has turned out three albums, each of which boast severable memorable hits, and scored five Grammy nominations. But even with all that international success — including heavy exposure for the single “No You Girls” (from the album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand) in an iPod commercial — the novelty of North America still hasn’t worn off for drummer Paul Thomson, who spoke with WE from a hotel room in San Diego.

WE: How’s your day so far?
Thomson: Suffering from a bit of a hangover and still up in the hotel room. But other than that it’s nice, sun’s out — it’s San Diego.

What’s your poison?
Well, last night it was Pabst Blue Ribbon, jumbo cans — only, like, $2. It’s really cheap, blue-collar kind of lager. Oh, and tequila as well.

That’s a brutal combination.
[Laughs] Yeah, well, before that we went out to see the San Diego Padres versus the Chicago Cubs, which was fun. I’ve never been to a ball game before. I spent half the time just trying to figure out what was going on.

Do you have a true sense of the American spirit now?
Yeah. The cast of Cats was singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning. Not in cat makeup, though. That would have been amazing.

Absolutely. On a different note, I read that you’re well-versed in a variety of instruments. What made you decide to go with drums for Franz Ferdinand instead of guitar, as you did originally for the group?
Nick and I swapped because he played guitar better than me, and I played drums better than him, and I just got stuck in that role. But I’m not complaining. It’s the most physical instrument; you get to use all your limbs, and it’s great fun to do live. The physicality of it is what I like the best. Everyone else on stage is just using their fingers or their voices, whereas I’m using my entire body.

Were you taken aback by how quickly Franz Ferdinand became popular?
Crikey, I guess I was taken aback. None of us expected it, but our label must have because they invested a lot of time and money in us. I think they were relieved, certainly, when we got a bit of success, but we certainly weren’t expecting that level of success. When we first started out, we were just doing it for the fun of it. We thought we’d maybe make enough money from gigs to put out a seven-inch; like, press 500 copies in the Czech Republic and sell them at independent record stores. I never thought for a minute it would take us outside of the country.

What’s been your most surreal experience with Franz Ferdinand?
I guess going to the Grammys in 2005. We were still the same people before all this crazy shit started happening, and very much outside of this whole celebrity culture, and you’re there in the middle of it, but you feel like some sort of spy reporting back to normal people. When you’re standing on a red carpet between Hulk Hogan and James Brown, it doesn’t get much more surreal than that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ensemble Pamplemousse

My article on Ensemble Pamplemousse appears in the Charleston City Paper.

Ensemble Pamplemousse's fresh take on the sound of music

Concepts and Crackles

Crescendoed hums, exotic flourishes, and more blips and beeps than a sci-fi convention — Brooklyn-based indie experimental collective Ensemble Pamplemousse isn't for everyone. But, for those seeking a sonic experience that's truly other-worldly, the sextet delivers.

The New Music Collective kicks off its Fall season as it presents the group at Redux on Saturday evening. The ensemble will cnduct a presentation beforehand explaining their music process and the implementation of the "super instruments."

The band name means "grapefruit" in French. "We searched for something that would describe what we wanted the group to embody — a thoroughly exciting, deliciously satisfying experience," says Flautist Natacha Diels. "There are several things in life which bring about a total-body thrill of this sort, and one happens to be eating a grapefruit. One starts by peeling away the thick outer layer to reveal the translucent inner layer. All that remains is the rich, beautiful ruby red heart of the fruit, achieved through just enough work to be truly rewarding."

It's an apt description when wading through the group's lengthy list of compositions. One might not quite understand what's going on when first listening to something like "ttt", which sounds at turns like a kettle's strange whistle, and a throatier sound, like a deep droning (rather than a high-pitched) squeal. But stick around and the transformative sounds start to create scenes, landscapes, settings for places only you can imagine.

But Pamplemousse wasn't always so experimental. They originally began as a more "traditional" new music ensemble.

"We started performing works we'd heard and liked," Diels says. "[But it] was somewhat unsatisfying, due largely to the lack of interaction we had with the composers."

Pamplemousse's other members include violinist Kiku Enomoto, writer Rama Gottfried, percussionist Andrew Greenwald, David Broome on keyboards, and cellist Jessie Marino. Diels credits everyone's strong-mindedness and creative inclinations with eventually moving Pamplemousse to crafting in-house compositions.

"Each member of the group is highly unique in their compositional material, yet focused on similar creative palettes, so we achieve concerts which are very diverse yet cohesive," Diels says. "We also have a composer-member, Rama Gottfried, who has strongly influenced the direction Pamplemousse's sound. I feel really fortunate to have this particular group of musicians to work with, not only because they're exceptional musicians, but because they are so adamant about forming the music into a product that is their own, which really is the essence of Pamplemousse."

Pamplemousse's most recent collaboration, the collectively-written Blocks, lends itself to the soundtrack of a wordless cartoon: fingers pluck while bows scrape cello and violin strings; and the marches up and down the piano keys call to mind classic Tom and Jerry escapades. At different moments it sounds like paper's being crumpled in fists, or someone's bouncing up and down on rusty bed springs, and then the drums seem to growl like an animal lurking in the forest. Diels, despite Blocks' success, is already anticipating new influences for the next compositions, though she's not sure how the inspirations will manifest themselves musically.

"The group's direction changes as the members' interests change, and therefore it's difficult to predict what will come next," Diels says. We can guess and wager it'll be unlike anything we've ever heard before.