| The Challenges of Pack A.D. |
By Andrea Warner
"This is the first album we've recorded that we're kind of happy with, which is either a good thing, or could be the worst sign ever. We don't know yet." Maya Miller, drummer for the East Vancouver-based garage rock duo the Pack A.D., laughs a little, but she's not entirely joking. We Kill Computers is Miller's and singer-guitarist Becky Black's third record in four years, and the pair have made a name for themselves as badass, blues-loving, rock hellions. Critics, bloggers, and fans wax poetic about the pair's unique ability to harken back to a time decidedly cooler and yank it by the chest hairs into the future.
And, while it's true that in the past the Pack A.D.'s blues-drenched sound evoked a stylized imagery — raw and raucous, new yet familiar — the duo are taking deliberate steps away from what's defined them. Over the phone in a car in the middle of a mall parking lot in London, ON, Miller is candid about the band's mini-evolution.
The whole reason we were even playing in this blues vein, to be honest, is because it came easier," Miller admits. "And over the last few years, we've just started moving away from that naturally." We Kill Computers packs plenty of evidence to support the duo's musical exploration, from the incendiary tribal beats of "B.C. Is On Fire" to the verging-on-indie-pop "Crazy," which has become the album's first radio single. ("It actually has a chorus," Miller points out. "None of our other songs do.") Computers also treads familiar territory, with classic blues and rock numbers like openers "Deer" and "Everyone Looks Like Everyone," but even these bear signs of blurring the lines between soundscapes.
Computers itself is a little bit strange to me, because it touches on a few different genres and sounds so separate from each other," Miller says. "If you put 'BC Is On Fire' next to 'Big Anvil' or 'Cobra Matte' it's a little bit strange, like it's kind of a different band, but I like it."
Computers also indicates a bit of a shift in the way the Pack A.D. do business. After essentially shrugging themselves into existence — their reactions to being asked to play their first show and record their first album, Tintype, two months later: "Sure, why not?" — Miller acknowledges it has been a massive learning curve.
We spent maybe $200 on Tintype," Miller laughs. "And it's totally rough and in our opinion, kind of awful, but apparently has an awful sort-of charm to it, so that's fine. We recorded it and we didn't know what we were doing and that's why it's 17 songs long. We were like, well, we don't know if we'll ever record another album, so let's just put every song on it even if we don't like it."
Now, just four years later, they've recently hired a manager, Aaron Schubert, who helped resurrect Vancouver's Biltmore Cabaret, whom they initiated trial-by-fire style during one of their five South by Southwest shows in March.
"One of the shows was a terrible technical disaster and nothing was working, and we did manage to play some songs, but we were also very drunk," Miller recalls, almost giddily. "For the first time ever after a show we got wrist-slapped to lay off the booze, which we found secretly kind of awesome, because we don't actually get drunk that often. And we have a reputation of being drinkers, but we're not really drinkers, so the one time we get wasted and he has to see it, and we're the bad kids now. It was kind of gratifying to have someone play dad."
Even with a dad figure to keep them in line, the pair's reputation as "bad kids" has been years in the making. Miller admits that when she and Black scrap, it's mostly the silent treatment for a couple hours until one of them cracks the other up, usually by reading something stupid on a signpost. When prompted to reveal their most badass behaviour, Miller stumbles momentarily, first revealing they played Magic the Gathering in the bar before a show recently, then recalling when Black drunkenly punched a fan in the face during a gig, before confessing that she herself likes to drink wine and take sleeping pills when flying.
But, even with all that under their belts, it might just be that the most badass things about them are their reproductive systems. Because they like to play loud music, rock out, and sometimes start shit in mosh pits, plenty of concert-goers and reviewers have seemed stupidly stunned that Miller and Black are — gasp— girls.
They write that we play like we have 'balls' like it's some sort of credit," Miller sighs audibly. "At first we weren't really aware of [the sexism], but we've noticed it a lot more lately. Or people coming up to us after shows and saying, 'Wow, you really rock out for girls!' And, what does that have to do with it? Our approach is that we're human beings playing music and we play it the way we like to play. Maybe it seems strange to play so loud. I guess women are supposed to just be sluts. I say sluts, because women are often marketed in a Shakira fashion. And I think it's really unfortunate, because it just makes the music irrelevant, and it's a time-old tradition of how women are supposed to sell themselves based on how they look instead of what they're doing, and I think it's really shitty and I think it comes up a lot. I wish it didn't, and it's nice when it doesn't. Ughh, you know neither of us is on stage thinking, 'I am a woman playing music.' If you think about it, it's like, you're not walking to a bus stop thinking I am a woman walking to a bus stop, or I am a woman going to dinner. Men don't think about it like that. And it's frustrating, because we're not just a duo, we're a lady duo. It's weird. And hopefully it will start going away at some point."
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The Pack a.d. feature
My more in-depth feature on The Pack A.D. is in this month's Exclaim!