Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Better 'Fit'

I'm really pleased with how my WE cover story worked out this week!

A Better ‘Fit’

Some people seem to have exited the womb running marathons for pleasure. But a great many more of us have never had a natural inclination toward sport and fitness. To those who are emphatically convinced exercise sucks, every form of workout has its own built-in reasons for our rejection: soccer looks stupid, boxing is bloody, and mall-walking is just sad. When you’ve built up a lifetime’s worth of excuses to not do something, it’s hard to face the fact that, eventually, everyone must make peace with physical fitness. Luckily, no one ever said it has to be boring.

For those of us requiring something a little more engaging than grunting our way through a spin class, Vancouver offers plenty of workouts to trick your body and mind into thinking exercise can be fun, simultaneously getting the heart pumping and the party started.


After a rehearsal with burlesque group Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society left her huffing and puffing but still smiling, Melody Mangler had an “A-ha!” moment, and Burlesque Aerobics was born.

A form of entertainment that dates back to the 14th century, the current incarnation of burlesque more closely resembles early-20th-century music and comedy revues in which striptease was the highlight. Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society, of which Mangler is a founder and the current artistic director, has been at the forefront of Vancouver’s burlesque revival.

Going well beyond the basic art of bump ’n’ grind, Burlesque Aerobics focuses on strength training, cardio, and stretching, using the sexy and saucy moves perfected in classic stripteases. “It’s quite dance oriented, so everyone comes out learning certain choreography sequences, but we also embrace silliness — [like making] cat noises,” Mangler says.

The class is typically attended by women, though Mangler says exceptions have been made for men in the past. Add to that its focus on creating a body-positive environment and incorporating fun props (boas!), and Mangler promises an hour of empowerment, fun, and fitness. Burlesque Aerobics takes place Mondays from 7-8pm at Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society’s East Vancouver rehearsal studio, called the Chicken Coop. Screaming Chicken also offers other burlesque-inspired classes, courses, and workshops, with subjects ranging from costuming to dance. More info:


It’s really not a surprise that Devon Boorman was a Renaissance Faire guy in high school. After all, he did go on to co-found Academie Duello, birthplace of Vancouver’s modern swordplay and home to the city’s own Medieval museum. But think twice before teasing him about a codpiece or a cup of mead — he could probably cut a bitch into 20 pieces with just four moves.

Not that he would, of course. After all, in the Academie’s six years, there has never been a serious injury, even though students are training with actual slice-and-dice-capable swords. The key is the Academie’s focus on safety and fun — which, incidentally, lends itself to some pretty firm muscles and kick-ass cardio. There are numerous classes for fledgling swordsmen (and women), including martial arts, stage combat, Olympics-style fencing, umbrella defense, and an innovative program called SwordFit, which combines technical sword (sparring, swinging, and handling) and circuit training.

“Swordplay is a full-body workout,” Boorman promises. “It’s both inherently fun and inherently physical. Just connecting with the history and the fantastical element of it is fun, and when you connect that to the process of learning and mastering the use of a sword, you can keep yourself mentally engaged for years. I know I have.” The next beginners’ sessions happen May 3, 4, and 8. For information, classes, and schedules, visit


Ever since Cirque du Soleil contorted its way into the mainstream and blew the lid off previous notions of Big Top entertainment, the word “circus” has acquired infinitely cooler connotations. Images of pratfalling clowns and bearded fat ladies have given way to lean, graceful, bendy bodies performing seemingly impossible feats that are both fantastical and inspirational.

Travis Johnson, co-founder of the Vancouver Circus School, has spent his entire life melding athleticism, entertainment, and art, and sees circus training as the perfect alternative to a gym. “My dad says, ‘The fun is in the fitness and the fitness is in the fun,’” Travis says. “Which is so true for all of our classes. They’re a fun way to get a workout... and learn some really cool tricks.”

Travis and his parents are championship trampolinists and coaches, heavily involved in acrobatics and circus arts. In fact, his father, Aaron, who’s also his business partner, coached Cirque’s own acrobats. That experience was what led the men to open their first location in North Vancouver in 2004. This summer, they’re set to open a second location in New Westminster in order to keep up with demand, which sees classes fill up within three hours of opening registration.

Travis guarantees a workout unlike any other, but the actual classes sound like the key to unlocking your inner child: trampoline, acrobatics, aerial silks, swinging trapeze, juggling, unicycle, tight-wire, and aerial hoop classes. The New West location promises circus boot camp and circus core conditioning (red clown noses optional). For classes, schedule, and information, visit


The Dance Dance Party Party phenomenon has been making its way west since crowded rooms full of women rocking leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweaters got together in New York City in 2006, based on the belief that ladies-only dance parties were the workouts of the future.

Sarah Bynoe, a local actress and event organizer, is Vancouver’s DDPP “Den Mother,” a term that would mean leader in any other outfit, but is indicative of the deliberate casualness of the DDPP ethos. “The set-up is simple,” Bynoe says. “An hour and a half of booty-busting tunes, a dance studio or other room with the lights turned low, and women willing to let go.”

Bynoe became a fan of DDPP founders Glennis McMurray and Marcy Girt after discovering their online comedy videos. She contacted the duo, and DDPP Vancouver was born. There are no real rules to the dance party, which might be one of the reasons it’s so readily appealing to those who are apprehensive about starting a more formalized workout.

“It suits all fitness levels, as you are your own teacher,” Bynoe says. “Some ladies come and just step-touch or do other simple low-energy dance moves; other ladies are busting out breakdance moves. Because one of the main rules is ‘no judgment,’ especially of yourself, it’s an ideal place for someone to come who’s just starting out exercising. It’s the best cardio session I’ve had in a long time, and I work out at a gym fairly regularly.” For classes, schedule, and information, visit


Exercise isn’t boring if you’re naked — that’s just a fact. Fortunately, there’s a long-established home for those looking to experience the soothing sensation of chlorinated liquid on buck-naked skin whilst enjoying a riveting game of water polo.

Since 1998, Templeton Pool has been home to NIFTY (Naked Iconoclasts Fighting the Yoke), a monthly, family-friendly swim night, which offers lane swimming (best for building up cardio endurance and muscle tone) and water games (similar health benefits, but disguised as fun). Kimberley DePaco joined in 2004, and though she had always been comfortable with the concept of nudity, she admits she had plenty of reservations attending her first in-the-flesh swim. “The newness of being around others who were nude put my fear of the unknown in high gear,” she says. “I mean, how do I act? What do you talk about? Where the heck do you put your eyes? All these were going around my brain.”

DePaco empathizes with those afraid of taking that initial leap. “It’s a hard thing, going through your entire life learning how to dress yourself to ‘complement’ your body,” she says. “Going from that to, ‘Here’s my body — just me!’ can be a great mind-fuck. The key thing to know is that the people who go to these swims are not judging your body, they’re interacting with the person. The swims are full of real people, of all sizes and ages and nationalities. They’re just a lot happier, ’cause they don’t have to stuff themselves into a constricting swimsuit.” For a list of NIFTY naked swims and other events and information, visit

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!

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."

The Pack a.d.

My news story on The Pack a.d. appears online at

The Pack A.D. Lose Their Blues for We Kill Computers
4/27/2010 By Andrea Warner

Vancouver garage-rock duo the Pack A.D.’s third full-length album, We Kill Computers, officially hits stores today (April 27) via Mint Records, and longtime fans need to steel themselves for something different than the blues-rock foundation on which drummer Maya Miller and guitarist/singer Becky Black built their sound.

"The whole reason we were even playing in this blues vein, to be honest, is because it came easier," Miller explained in a recent Exclaim! interview. "And over the last few years, we've just started moving away from that naturally... For this album, we've definitely gone in a more rock, indie, almost verging on pop. And we played a lot of shows with blues bands and punk-blues bands, and it all sort of sounded the same, and even though we weren't necessarily sure what we wanted to sound like, it just kind of evolved into this album. Which, 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."

It's easy to visualize Miller's casual shrug as she anticipates the possible fallout of the band's new direction. But the laid-back attitude is perfectly in step with the Pack A.D.'s origins, from their first show playing a friend's backyard barbeque to making their first record for $200 in just a couple weeks. Now, four years later, their sound may have evolved, but much of their existence is still just taking advantage of what lands in their laps, such as the record's matter-of-fact title, inspired by Miller and Black's common hatred: social networking.

"We Kill Computers is kind of a fuck-you [to the digital age]," Miller laughs. "Because we're together all the time, which is a little psychotic, we have a couple moods we operate in. One is we have a few conversations we love rehashing, right down to saying the exact same things again and again, and we never get bored of it. And one of our favourite rehashings is about social networking online and how we hate it. It just feels like eventually years from now we'll live a place where no one knows how to interact with each other in person.

“We got chastised the other day because don't have a Twitter account, and someone was like, 'Well don't you wanna connect with your fans?' And we're like, 'Yeah, that's why we have MySpace and we have Facebook.' And we personally answer every single thing, but it's just like, can we have one thing we don't do? Like, I would get Twitter Tourette’s and post things like, 'Becky took a shit today' and does anyone really need that?"

The Pack A.D. kick off a lengthy European tour today, returning for a pile of Canadian dates in late May with the Sadies. You can see all the band’s dates here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs concert review

My review of Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, with photo by Carlos Hernandez Fisher, for Exclaim!

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs
The Media Club, Vancouver BC April 21

By Andrea Warner

There's something genuinely magical about the rockabilly pairing of the baby-voiced Brit Holly Golightly and the southern drawl of one-man-band, Lawyer Dave. As soon as the duo, known as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, hit the Vancouver's Media Club stage, their charming banter was a ceaseless volley of hilarious observations and stories, one-off complaints, and jokes that stumbled back and forth on the line of good taste. It was a perfect complement to their set: 16 songs, most oil-well deep with a rich narrative structure, many of which make you smile as often as they make you want to dance.

Lawyer Dave braced the crowd in advance of the second song, half-joking, "We love guns," before launching into the catchy-but-country-crazy domestic violence ditty, "My 45," a call-and-answer riff on each of them threatening to kill the other. Staying true to that theme, they moved on to "You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying" before Lawyer Dave asked, "Y'all got goth kids here? We're trying to break into the goth wedding cruise market." A brief story about the true origins of their goth friends' wedding on a cruise preceded "Devil Do," a tongue-in-cheek lament about how nobody's love can match Satan's devotion.

Throughout the evening, Holly played guitar and sang, her trademark voice continuing to channel a 1930s recording, never more effective than on the lovely encore, "Black Night," or when revealing she has a baby goat at home. The audience stopped laughing and dancing long enough to actually respond with a collective, "Awww." And she gamely served as straight-man to Lawyer Dave throughout, creating a perfect living definition of partnership before the crowd's eyes.

Incidentally, Lawyer Dave might possess Guinness World Records multitasking skills, rigging up a partial drum kit, complete with plastic milk crate, to be played entirely by his feet while he plays guitar, sings and cracks wise. About halfway through the show, as he struggled for a few minutes with his guitar, he casually offered, "It's about this point in the set people realize we're not DJs... no such thing as smooth transitions between songs, not when this guitar's kinda an asshole."

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Eclipse

The fantastic Irish flick, The Eclipse, probably won't hang around long in theatres. See it while you can. My review is in this week's WE.


Starring Ciarán Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn
Directed by Conor McPherson

Of late, international indie films have ignored traditional movie classifications (i.e. action, romance, fantasy), opting instead for genre cross-pollination. Nuanced fare like Sweden’s Let the Right One In (coming-of-age vampire horror) and Mexico’s Silent Light (art-house drama with a dash of fantasy) were part of the first wave. The Eclipse, an Irish offering, is a remarkable addition to the emerging trend.

Michael (character actor Ciarán Hinds filling every inch of his new leading-man status) is a woodshop teacher struggling to raise his two young children following his wife’s death from cancer. His mundane life is turned upside down by recurrent ghostly apparitions of his father-in-law who, curiously, is very much alive and tucked away in a local rest home.

Tormented, Michael decides to escape and live out his frustrated author dreams by volunteering for his town’s writers festival. He meets Lena (Iben Hjejle), a horror author who writes about ghosts, and the two fumble towards a tentative relationship, much to the chagrin of Nicholas (Aidan Quinn), a married, arrogant, best-selling author who fell in love with Lena following a one-night stand.

Everyone in The Eclipse is coping with some form of loss, fear, or grief, and the film’s subtle genius is the ways in which those emotions manifest themselves: a terrifying nightmare; a rambling phone message; old, sad, pink eyes brimming with tears. The film flits nicely between character study and thriller, with enough dashes of horror to elicit a steady tension. The film’s emotional, tear-jerking climax — and resulting catharsis — prove reality is sometimes what haunts us most. —Andrea Warner

Death at a Funeral

My review of Death at a Funeral appears online at


Starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence
Directed by Neil Labute

It’s been three years since the British comedy Death at a Funeral brought family dysfunction and farce across the pond. Apparently, the movie’s short run whet the appetites of American movie honchos, who pushed it to the top of their “let’s remake it so we don’t have to come up with new shit” pile.

Hence, 2010’s Death at a Funeral, which stays somewhat faithful to its source material (same plot, script, and little person provocateur in the form of actor Peter Dinklage), but forsakes the original’s dry humour in favour of dialing up the sass. The action now focuses on a middle-class African-American family in L.A. reunited by the death of the family patriarch. The deceased’s sons, Aaron (Chris Rock) and Ryan (Martin Lawrence), are trying to host the funeral amidst a severe case of sibling rivalry. Ryan’s been living the high life as a best-selling author in New York, while Aaron’s been living at home with his parents and wife, working as a tax accountant and writing a book he won’t show anyone.

But the family dysfunction doesn’t end there. Cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana) accidentally gives her nervous boyfriend, Oscar (James Marsden), acid instead of Valium. Crotchety Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) verbally abuses everyone, particularly stray family friends like the paranoid Norman (Tracey Morgan) and Derek (Luke Wilson), who once dated Elaine and wants her back. Finally, interloper Frank (Dinklage, who returns to the role he played in the original 2007 film) arrives and threatens to reveal a huge secret about the dead man unless his sons cough up $30,000.

Morgan does his somewhat enjoyable manic-rant thing, Lawrence sleazes and smarms appropriately, but Wilson, looking bloated and bored, is woefully miscast. Marsden has the most fun, and gets the most laughs, but the one surprise here is Rock, who delivers a performance that hints at a previously unexplored vulnerable side.

Director Neil LaBute, famed for writing and directing mostly caustic character studies (The Shape of Things, Your Friends and Neighbours), seems an odd choice to be at the helm, and sadly he doesn’t do much to distinguish this Funeral from its predecessor. Instead, he settles for (and we’re stuck with) yet another pointless-but-not-unpleasant remake. — Andrea Warner

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bat Boy: the Musical

My review of the camptastic Bat Boy: the Musical is in WE this week.

Scott Perrie as the titular freak in Bat Boy: The Musical.

Scott Perrie as the titular freak in Bat Boy: The Musical.

STAGE: Tabloid-inspired Bat Boy good, trashy fun

The lonely freak-show is a beloved pop-culture and literary staple. Be it Frankenstein, Quasimodo, or Edward Scissorhands, these stories often double as social commentary, offering plenty to mock in the masses’ obsession with maintaining status quo. But none goes for society’s jugular with quite so much gusto as the ultimate outsider satire, Bat Boy: The Musical.

Funny and heartfelt, Bat Boy boasts all the campy, kooky, crazy zeal one might expect from an Off-Broadway show torn from the actual front-page headline of a 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-bat, half-human cave dweller. Writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming expand on the story (with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe) placing the action inside a small-minded redneck town.

After the Bat Boy (Scott Perrie) bites a young girl who stumbles into his cave, the town rustles him off to the home of the local vet, Dr. Parker (Scott Bellis). There, Mrs. Parker (Katey Wright) and their teenage daughter, Shelley (Bree Greig), bond with the young man, rename him Edgar, and transform him from feral wildling to summa cum laude faster than you can say Eliza Doolittle.

Dr. Parker, though, is soon dangling by a shred of sanity as he watches Edgar grow closer to his wife and daughter. He decides to take advantage of the town’s Bat Boy panic and frame Edgar for a variety of nefarious deeds, including murder. The action culminates with the arrival of a travelling tent-revival minister, which results in a crazy showdown after Edgar and Shelley declare their mutual love, and Dr. and Mrs. Parker face off over some long-buried secrets that have devastating consequences.

Not every musical number is fantastic (due in part to the Norman Rothstein Theatre’s ongoing battle with sound and microphone glitches), but the cast goes out of its way to make each of them sparkle. The supporting actors are tasked with numerous characters, sometimes even changing costume mid-song (!). Perrie, Wright, and Grieg shine, and every combination of their voices blends beautifully, particularly during Perrie and Wright’s sweet sort-of duet, “A Home for You.” Bellis, though utterly believable as a mad man, has a looser grip on his vocal duties, and falls decidedly flat much of the time. Bat Boy’s best number, “Children, Children”, comes in the second act, as Edgar and Shelley, on the verge of making love, encounter the mythic half-horse, half-human Pan, who oversees a rollicking inter-species orgy. It’s audacious, hilarious, and hints at just how bizarre Bat Boy could have been if the writers had truly succumbed to the story’s inherent WTF? spirit.

This is Patrick Street Productions’ third offering in as many years, and Bat Boy thankfully feels more the equal of the company’s memorable debut, Into the Woods, than last year’s uneven attempt at The Full Monty. From the cast to the costumes, Bat Boy is quirky, remarkable fun that stretches well beyond its initial kitsch factor, and marks a triumphant return to form for PSP.

Bat Boy: The Musical runs to Apr. 18 at Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 W. 41st), 8pm. Tickets $25-$44 from

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

My interview with Holly Golightly appears in this week's WE.

Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave.

Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave.

Holly Golightly happy to live in the past

Given her stage name, it’s no surprise that Holly Golightly’s musical tastes tend toward the retro. After joining all-girl garage band Thee Headcotees (a sort of offshoot to garage-rock maven Billy Childish’s Thee Headcoats) in the early ’90s, the U.K.-based singer-songwriter released her first solo album in 1995, leading off a steady stream of country- and blues-tinged releases through to 2005.

Then, in 2007, she teamed with Texas musician Lawyer Dave to form Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, a lo-fi rockabilly duo that sounds more old-time Nashville than Swinging London. Their third album, this year’s Medicine County, continues along the road paved by their previous efforts, still focused on a time when voices — not Auto-Tune — made real music. From bluegrass and gospel to rockabilly and soul, Golightly and Dave share the microphone on the majority of their songs, infusing the album with a splendidly out-of-time charm and intimacy.

Proving she’s not entirely focused on living an analog lifestyle, Golightly spoke with WE via Skype, checking in from an Atlanta hotel room on her current tour.

There’s a stronger country tinge in the Brokeoffs than in your solo material. Did you have a desire to explore that more thoroughly?
Golightly: No. Everything I’ve ever done, there’s always been country songs. Well, they might not have ended up on the album as a country song, due to the treatment as a production, but they started out as a 12-bar country song or a blues song, and were then just elaborated on during the recording process. Whereas with the two of us, we have to be more sparse, and it’s also our common reference point.

What are some of the uncommon reference points?
Dave likes the rock, and I don’t. I lean far more to old R&B;and soul music. I would certainly not sit home and listen to metal...and Dave would. (Laughs)

The two albums before Medicine County took just four and five days to record, respectively. Did you go for broke and do six days this time?
Well, we didn’t record it all in one go this time. We borrowed a church and recorded some there, and brought it back to our studio at home. It took longer just by virtue of the fact that there were a lot of logistical things we had to factor in. (Laughs) It took about two weeks, so it’s an opus, you might say.

You’ve toured North America a number of times. What are some of the main differences here versus the U.K.?
Well, in the U.K., it’s certainly not the music-maker it once was, unless it’s a certain kind of music. They like... well, they like whatever they like. I don’t even know what it is, actually. In mainland Europe, the main difference is they have a very healthy network of clubs and a long-standing record of hospitality — they make you feel you’re welcome wherever you go. In North America, there’s that network, and we go back to certain clubs and are friends with the promoters. But I think geographically, because everything’s so far apart, bands go round and round all year. Because it’s so vast, people get a bit spoiled for choice. You know that if you don’t get to see a band one time, they’re going to be around again, so it affects numbers.

You’ve been in the music business almost 20 years. Have you always felt supported by the industry, regardless of gender politics?
I’ve never felt that I’ve had any advantage or disadvantage because of my gender. I think I probably get away with being more pissy sometimes with promoters — like, you know, if a band did that, they would probably get in a fist fight. I don’t really feel like I’m part of any machine or industry where that really should figure. Do you know what I mean? Like, I know that it does — of course it does — because the people who are pulling the strings are fat bankers in skyscrapers, and they’re not women, for the most part, and I’m well aware of that. I just plow on because I don’t give a shit what people think of me, which would be the case whether I was male or female. I don’t care whether they like me or not... You know, anyone who plays music is up their own arse. (Laughs)

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs play Wednesday, Apr. 21, at the Media Club (695 Cambie), 8pm. Tickets $20 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, Red Cat, and Highlife.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Manchester Orchestra

My interview with Manchester Orchestra appears in the Charleston City Paper.

Manchester Orchestra talks about Zac Efron

Chris Freman: Stumbling into Adulthood

Chris Freeman, the keyboardist for Atlanta indie-rockers Manchester Orchestra, doesn't answer the phone on the first ring for his interview with the City Paper, but he groggily picks up on the second, only to politely excuse himself for a few moments. There's fumbling in the background, and a small banging sound. Only later in the conversation does he confess the truth.

"I stayed up really late playing basketball on the PlayStation, and when you called, I had to roll out of my bunk on the bus and find something to cover up my bottom half," Freeman says.

It's 2 p.m. in the middle of the week. This is the life of a young, but seasoned, rock star.

Freeman is only in his early 20s, as are most of his bandmates, including singer-songwriter Andy Hull, bass player Jonathan Corley, and guitarist Robert Mcdowell. Most of them met just barely out of puberty, playing together in different musical incarnations before forming Manchester Orchestra in 2005.

Together, the group has released two full-length albums, 2006's I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child and Mean Everything to Nothing in 2009, through their own label, Favourite Gentlemen. They've also churned out numerous EPs, which have proven popular as epic, teasing tastes for their rabid fan base, who have racked up more than 12 million plays on the band's MySpace page.

Freeman still sounds appropriately awed by the band's success, but he balances his words like any young Southern man who spends a lot of time in a tricked-out tour bus and has a Billboard-charting album: One foot firmly planted in humble maturity, the other kicking up a cloud of lingering teenage rebellion.

"We actually did well at music, which is good, because I failed a lot of classes in high school," Freeman laughs. "I didn't really care, because I just wanted to play music. We're happy it worked out. Every time something good happens to the band, I send it to my mom immediately, and I'm like, 'Look mom, it's okay I didn't go to college. It's fine. I promise.'"

When asked if he and the other members knew they had something special with their first album, he grows thoughtful.

"No, I don't think we ever really had a feeling of being special," he says. "It's just what we do. It just happened. It was very natural. Of course, we liked it. It's why we recorded it."

He adds, "It's just crazy. I think we're all living in this notion that one day everyone's going to figure out that we're all just faking and we're not actually very good."

Freeman may laugh when he says this, but there's some awareness to what he's saying. After all, bridging the gap from being a teenage band to surviving your 20s takes a lot of work.

After five years together, Manchester Orchestra is just starting to feel some of the growing pains of getting older. Len Clark came on board, replacing longtime drummer Jeremiah Edmond, who left the group a few months ago to spend more time with his family. Most of the band members have side projects that they work on, including Hull's Right Away, Great Captain!, and Freeman's Alaska Him Nicely. But if any band can survive growing up, Manchester Orchestra might be it. The group is ridiculously tight knit. Freeman admits that they all live within a few miles of each other in Atlanta, and even when they come home from touring, they hang out, either at home or in their studio.

"We're like a bunch of idiot little kids hanging out who drive cars, and we can smoke cigarettes now legally," Freeman says. "We just sit around and play video games, and make stupid funny voices, and watch movies in HD. We love 17 Again with Zac Efron. We've seen it, like, 20 times."

A film about a 40-year-old clinging, wrongly, to his youth? In a silly way, it makes perfect sense for a rock band teetering toward growing up, but who are never far removed from the memory of being teenagers together. For the band's next big leap, Freeman sees a long future in store for Manchester Orchestra and anticipates they'll be recording their third full-length, possibly a live record, in June.

"We're just kind of stumbling into [adulthood], I think," Freeman says. "We keep trying to grow together. We've played with the same people for so long. We just kind of get really good playing together, and we want to do everything we possibly can to keep going."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Captain Abu Raed

My review appears in WE this week.

Nadeem Sawalha plays a widower who learns to live again, thanks to a series of tall tales, in the Jordanian film Captain Abu Raed.

Nadeem Sawalha plays a widower who learns to live again, thanks to a series of tall tales, in the Jordanian film Captain Abu Raed.

Credit: supplied

Starring Nadim Sawalha, Rana Sultan
Directed by Amin Matalqa

Captain Abu Raed, Jordan’s first feature film in over 50 years, hints at a veritable unearthed treasure trove of movie-making talent and untold stories.

Raed (the magnificently expressive Nadim Sawalha) is an elderly janitor at the airport, only half-living out the remainder of his life in a shabby walk-up apartment. He comforts himself by talking to his dead wife (still indulging in their everyday rituals, like tea for two, though she’s been gone five years) and escaping into books for the global adventures he never experienced firsthand.

When Raed finds a captain’s hat in the trash at work, he wears it home, attracting the attention of a group of neighbourhood children who beg to hear about his travels as a pilot. Hoping to inspire them, and feeling engaged for the first time in years, Raed spins tall tales for a captivated audience, save for one reluctant hold-out, Murad (Hussein Al-Sous). A boy abused by his father at home, Murad is determined to unmask Raed as a lowly janitor. Raed also develops a friendship with Nour (Rana Sultan), a pilot being pressured to get married and settle down as she approaches her thirties.

Writer-director Amin Matalqa weaves the intertwining narratives capably. Captain is a film so full of heart, however, that it can’t help but spill over periodically into the saccharine and sentimental. (Particularly pervasive is the overly emotive, crescendo-filled score.)

Despite an occasional indulgence in the overwrought, Captain is beautifully and vividly full of life, with nuanced performances that prove haunting — never more so than in its final 30 minutes, when things take a dark, tense turn as Raed faces his own limitations and risks a violent confrontation. This cements an ending that’s both a foregone conclusion and a blow to the heart. ★★★—Andrea Warner