Monday, March 26, 2012

Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers

My last piece for WE! It was edited down substantially, so I've posted the entire interview here.

Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers


Jesse Krause is a shy, awkward interviewee — a total contrast from his onstage persona as the lead singer of larger-than-life, gypsy-pop six-piece Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers (at the Railway Mar. 28). He’s polite and friendly but sounds pained, as if with every question I’m also squeezing drops of lemon juice into an open cut. It puts his band’s music into a new perspective: Flying Fox’s penchant for theatrics, self-invented mythologies and puppets is as open, wild and outlandish as Krause is quiet and reserved. But he knows the value of showmanship and a good narrative. As he says, “I did go to bible college.”

Sharon Van Etten

This ran in WE Mar. 15

The last time WE spoke with Sharon Van Etten was almost exactly a year ago. She had just transitioned from opener to headliner and was making the final rounds of her second album, Epic. Her venue? The Media Club. It was crowded, but not sold out. Fast forward to now: Van Etten’s third album, Tramp, has stunned critics and peers alike and her co-headlining show at the Biltmore, Mar. 24, is already sold out. WE spoke with Van Etten via email a few weeks before her show.

The title, Tramp, is provocative. Why that word with all its various connotations?
In my mind that was the only word that fit. I was doing a lot of travelling. I was displaced. I am a joker. I am a lover.

Veda Hille

I'm a little behind posting my published articles. After all, it's been a busy month!

MUSIC: Veda Hille - Do you HE[A]R what I hear?

Coming off a successful run of her critically acclaimed debut musical, Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, Veda Hille is anxious to get back to basics. For the longtime East Van musician that means reuniting with her band, and kicking off Vancouver New Music’s HE[A]R series, billed as “sound events for the active listener.” Each weekly show, beginning Mar. 8 and wrapping up Mar. 22, will run the gamut of contemporary music, from electronic and indie to experimental and avant-garde. Hille spoke with WE last week about playing on International Women’s Day, creating her own arts centre, funding cuts and eking out a viable living as a musician in Vancouver.

Why did you want to be involved in HE[A]R?
I’ll do anything Georgio [Magnanensi, VNM’s artistic director] asks. He’s been such an incredible collaborator, friend and presence in my musical life. Whatever he wants, I will do and it always works out well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sinead O'Connor

My timeline of Sinéad O'Connor is in this month's Exclaim and online.

Sinéad O'Connor: Nothing Compares 2 Her

Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 Her

By Andrea Warner

Has there ever been a more conflicted, tragic, talented musician than the bald child advocate, bipolar-afflicted, anal-sex-loving, Pope-picture-tearing, angel-voiced former-priest Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor? In short, no. And though she's been recording and making music since she was 14 years old, O'Connor's actual artistry has mostly taken a backseat to her highly publicized personal problems. Appropriately enough, her new album is entitled How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? But after the last few months O'Connor has experienced ― a quickie Vegas marriage (her fourth!) already on the rocks mere hours after saying "I do," a suicide attempt, public cries for help on Twitter, and her subsequent hospitalization ― she might like a chance to be somebody else for a while. Love her or loathe her, it's impossible to argue: it's tough work being Sinéad O'Connor.

The Shins

My online news story with James Mercer of the Shins, a preview before the print feature in April.

James Mercer Talks the Shins' 'Port of Morrow'

James Mercer Talks the Shins' 'Port of Morrow' 

By Andrea Warner 

It's been five long years since the Shins' Wincing the Night Away proved just how far the Portland-based band had moved beyond indie obscurity. Buoyed by the 2004 film Garden State, as the band Natalie Portman promised would "change your life," the Shins lead singer-songwriter James Mercer was suddenly an icon to millions who loved his brand of poetic indie pop: dark lyrics steeped in metaphor contrasted with hooky choruses and breezy melodies.

Then suddenly Mercer made a radical shift, forming a new collaboration with hip-hop producer/songwriter Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton. As Broken Bells, the duo released a hugely successful full-length and toured extensively, leaving Shins fans to wonder if their beloved band would be another casualty of the indie-goes-mainstream boom. Even Mercer himself wasn't sure.

Gurl Twenty Three

From WE, Mar. 1

MUSIC: Gurl Twenty Three keeps the ‘Beat’

By Andrea Warner

A generation of artisans quietly came of age over the last few years at Vancouver’s grunt gallery. They produced the Beat Nation project — originally an exhibition and a website — to showcase the artistic influence of urban youth culture on aboriginal culture. The project hit a nerve. It’s since evolved to include a performance art/hip hop musical collective featuring Kinnie Starr, and last week launched a full-scale, mainstream exhibit at the venerable Vancouver Art Gallery. Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture features 20 artists and innovators from across the continent.

And several of those artists are from right here in Vancouver, some of whom were on hand for a media walk-through last Thursday. One woman in particular caught my eye: short and solid, with a feather twisted into one of the long braids coming down each side of her face. She looked tough, but when she smiled everything sparkled with a kind of radiance that made me stop thinking she’d like to kick my ass. Larissa Healey, AKA Gurl Twenty Three, is a street artist who made her rap debut just a few weeks ago at the PuSh Festival. Now, the mural she co-created with Corey Bulpill is on the wall at the VAG. Healey still can’t quite believe that this is how her life is turning out. Standing in a room filled with art by her peers that mixes past and present traditions, Healey opened up about her art, finding her voice and overcoming the darkest aspects of her troubled past.

Ashleigh Ball pulls double duty in Hey Ocean and My Little Pony Friendship is Magic

From WE, Mar. 1

Hey Ocean’s Ashleigh Ball ‘reins’ over My Little Pony


Being the lead singer of an indie rock band brings its own unique experiences — road warrior fatigue, playing dingy bars, bad pick-up lines. But Hey Ocean’s Ashleigh Ball has an entirely different, not-so-secret second life, that makes being a rock star seem almost normal. As the voices of Applejack, Rainbow Dash and more, Ball is saddle-deep in the animated world of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And that’s where things start to get a little — well, strange.

“It’s pretty weird! That whole thing has just gone crazy,” Ball says, over the phone, having ducked inside a coffee shop to escape the Vancouver rain.

In part, she’s referring to how the cartoon television series — just one of her many voice-acting gigs — is not only hugely popular with its target audience of children, but is also an underground pop culture phenomenon for grown men, known as Bronies. Media outlets all over North America have reported on the craze, which has spawned huge online followings and real-life groups, as well as BronyCons. Yes, conventions dedicated to the television series. It’s where Ball found herself this past January, feted as a guest of honour for her voice-acting work.

“It was pretty crazy,” she laughs. “I actually brought a friend of mine along to document it... I was hoping they would be okay with him coming, and the organizer, a person named Purple Tinker, was like, ‘Of course!’ They paid for him to come as well and treated me like royalty! They put us up in this fancy hotel and I just got to talk about being a pony... He’s going to put together some stuff for a trailer and we’ve got some work to do on it. It was very, very bizarre.”

It’s not the future Ball envisioned for herself as a kid interested in musical theatre.

“I went to a fine arts mini school and did a lot of improv and theatre,” she says. After graduating from the Canadian College for the Performing Arts, she performed in a talent showcase and was scooped up by an agent who ended up representing her at the beginning of her voice career.

“I was originally signed to do TV and film stuff and theatre, but I didn’t have very much success with that,” she laughs. “It’s not something I really ever wanted to do that much. I get a bit camera shy, and I’m not that striking beauty they’re looking for, so the voice work seemed to be the right fit. I was super lucky to get my foot in the door; it’s a really small community of people in Vancouver that do it. I work with people time and time again, it’s very close-knit. I landed some of my first roles six years ago, and then slowly built a bit of a name for myself among the voice directors. And now being a part of a series, like My Little Pony, that’s going crazy, it’s pretty cool.”

For Ball, it’s a weird culmination of six years of hard work, most of which has been also spent balancing her increasingly demanding role in Hey Ocean, one of Vancouver’s hardest working and most popular bands.

“Music is my number one passion and I’ve always wanted to pursue it,” Ball says. “Being in a band takes an incredible amount of commitment, but a lot of musicians have to have side jobs. All the guys in our band have side jobs, whether it’s teaching music or working at a coffee shop or whatever. It’s hard to be a full-time musician, so this is really incredible. It gives me the freedom to not have a full-time job. If I go into the studio once or twice a week, that’s my rent for the month.”

Second jobs might not be the reality for Hey Ocean in the near future. The band has a management deal with Nettwerk Records and recently signed to Universal as their Canadian label. The new album, their major label debut, is expected sometime this summer and they’re about to set out on a coast-to-coast Canadian tour for the month of March. While Ball is grateful for the momentum in both aspects of her creative/professional life, she admits that juggling both isn’t easy.

“It can be a struggle. I use my voice for everything. It’s all I do. That’s kind of weird to think about!” she laughs. “[When we’re on tour], I usually have to come back and do a bunch of scripts I’ve missed out on and then go back on the road. You have to make it work. I’m getting a steady income from the voice-over world and if I do a series, obviously they expect me to be there part of the time. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I’ve lost a couple series because of my schedule. It sucks... But I love both of these things so much. They’re both so important to me. I try to keep people happy and keep myself happy.”

The Belle Game

From WE, Feb. 23

The Belle Game warms up Winterruption

By Andrea Warner

Try listening to the title single off Vancouver-based band The Belle Game’s most recent EP, Sleep to Grow, and discover what thousands of people already know: sometimes beautiful music takes six, seven, even eight sets of hands. What began as a three-piece in 2009 with Adam Nanji, Andrea Lo, and Alex Andrew, just kept growing. And growing. And growing. Now Katrina Jones, Rob Chursinoff, and Ian Cook are regular members, though Cook has recently taken some personal time so Marcus Abramzik is filling in. And one can’t forget the Ruffled Feathers’ Andrew Lee, the unofficial seventh member who provides key Belle Game songs their trademark brass flourishes. Wrangling all seven together for an interview is nigh impossible, so Nanji spoke with WE in advance of the band’s show with Aidan Knight this Saturday, Feb. 25, as part of the Winterruption arts and culture festival at Granville Island, giving the scoop about their debut album (three years in the making!), playing in L.A. and why Montreal is second-best to Vancouver.

What’s your background?
I’ve always been a music geek; in high school I used to hang out in the band room. When it came time to pick a university to go to, which I promised my parents I would do, I thought, I’m going to go to Montreal because that’s where music is. I really wanted to be a part of a music scene and a music community, and that’s why Montreal seemed like such a good fit. Which it ended up not being. It’s a different type of music community. It’s amazing, artistic and people are there to live and do art, but it’s very insular.

Vancouver’s indie music community seems pretty supportive, at least as an outsider looking in.
For sure. There’s a tight-knit community in both cities, but the bands in Vancouver want to foster that community and bring other bands in. When we first met David Ortesi of Hey Ocean, he invited us to go on tour. Hey Ocean, Dan Mangan and Mother Mother kind of started this new wave of the Vancouver indie music scene, but they’re so willing to help everyone. It’s really cool.

You’re playing Winterruption and tour all over. You have an audience that follows you — even without a first album.  Is this just the new reality of emerging bands?
I think it is. I mean, we could get into a big discussion about the relevance of the album in modern music. But people are so excited about music here and they come to shows. They really appreciate seeing things now that there are lots of venues and we get to play a lot. That’s what really gets to people: the live show. Which is strange, because so many bands have blown up on the internet with just a couple singles. But Vancouver has created this special, safe place where bands can actually play 40-minute sets and that’s how people become fans.

Sleep to Grow was supposed to be your debut full-length. What happened?
We recorded enough material to do a full-length, but we were writing newer songs and realized that older stuff wasn’t really who the band was anymore. We recorded all of our growing pains onto an album that will never get heard. Now we’re going in at the end of this month to hopefully finish the last half of the [new] album, which should be ready by September at the latest.

You were in L.A. recently. What was going on?
We were doing a music supervision showcase. The lovely Music BC people took some B.C. bands down to L.A. and into the NBC studios and we played for the people who put music in all their TV shows. We were really nervous to go down and play in an office and they were some of the nicest people we’ve met as a band! They were super supportive. They helped set up the PA in their office, they talked about their experiences licensing bands and music. We were expecting a room full of suits at a big long wooden table and they would, like, judge us but in the best way they were just music geeks.

The Belle Game perform with Aidan Knight Feb. 25 at Performance Works, 8pm. $15-$18 from

Said the Whale

From WE, Feb. 16


Said the Whale reaches new heights on new album

Grant Lawrence has championed them, audiences have flocked to their shows, WE readers chose them as their favourite local band and their journey to South By Southwest music festival even got the documentary treatment from the CBC. Now, in just a few short weeks, the Vancouver-based, indie rock five-piece Said the Whale will release its third full-length album, Little Mountain. And if putting out an album and plotting a massive tour weren’t hard enough, the band’s also got an ambitious project to release a music video for every song on the record every Tuesday starting now and spanning 13 weeks, although local fans can see all the videos at a special listening party/screening at the Rio Theatre Feb. 25. WE spoke with co-singer/songwriter Tyler Bancroft about balancing art and commerce, his love of Elvis and little league baseball.

Where’d you come up with the idea for doing a video for every song?
We Are the City did a video for every song on their EP last March and worked with Amazing Factory as well... When you put out an album, you try to drum up all this anticipation, but it feels like a lot of times, the release date comes and you get all excited and then that’s kinda it. We thought if we did a video for every song and release a new one every Tuesday for 13 weeks, it will keep the ball rolling. As much as it was a creative decision to do a video for every song, it was also a business decision.

I’ve noticed that about other Vancouver bands — there’s real innovation regarding the ephemera of music.
Without a doubt. We’re over here on the West Coast; we’ve got to differentiate ourselves from the hubbub of Toronto.

What inspired you to name your album after my neighbourhood?
It’s my neighbourhood, too! Four of us live, more or less, in Little Mountain. I’m more Mt. Pleasant, but I grew up playing Little Mountain baseball. Little Mountain is also one of the top place names in Canada, but we wanted to name the record something that resonated with us at home but also make a connection for people not from Vancouver.

Where are you taking your inspiration from?
Oh man, honestly a lot of my musical inspiration comes from a lot of the bands we’ve met and toured with the last couple years. We Are the City, Aidan Knight, Dan Mangan, Mother Mother, Tokyo Police Club, Hey Rosetta!, the Arkells, Born Ruffians, Yukon Blonde, Hannah Georgas. We listen to all those guys all the time in our tour van. It’s a ridiculous Canadian playlist.

So was singing your first love, or did you play an instrument?
I grew up loving music. The first music I was really into was ’50s and ’60s pop. I was a huge Elvis fan. I was actually an Elvis fan before I was a Beatles fan, so there that is. (Laughs) I played a bit of piano but I never learned to read music, I was more interested in ear-training. My musical background is just a wanton desire to play music rather than being classically trained or anything like that. I’m a lover of pop music, so I write songs that I want to hear.

So you’re self-taught?
Yeah. I’ve had a band, in some incarnation, since I was 12 years old. Rocking out in my parents’ basement, much to their chagrin. We played stuff inspired by Everclear, the usual alternative ’90s rock. Everclear was my band as a kid, and I was huge into Our Lady Peace. And then when I became a teenager, it was punk rock through and through. I discovered NOFX and that was it for me, it was punk rock for the next five years, and then I just opened my mind. (Laughs) Because punk rock can be very close-minded at times.

Where should people listen to your album in Little Mountain for the full experience?
Well, the number one place for me would be the baseball diamond [at the base of Queen Elizabeth park, opposite the new curling rink]. That was a huge part of my life. When baseball season starts, they should go enjoy — and not to sound creepy — but they should go watch a little league game and get a delicious burger or hot dog from the concession stand, maybe a Freezie and maybe a Super Rope licorice, and that’s how they can best enjoy our record.

Said the Whale’s Little Mountain party happens Feb. 25 at Rio Theatre (1660 E. Broadway), 7pm. $10 from


Delhi 2 Dublin

From WE, Feb. 9

Delhi 2 Dublin return to Vancouver's CelticFest

By Andrea Warner

In 2006, Sanjay Seran was recruited to play a one-off show at the CelticFest. Six years later, his band Delhi 2 Dublin is one of Vancouver’s most acclaimed live acts, touring the world over with its unique Bhangra-beats-Celtic-rock-world-fusion sound. In essence, D2D is the quintessential Vancouver band, a perfect sonic example of our multicultural mix. Seran spoke with WE about what it means to headline the festival that changed his life.

The band was supposed to be a one-off, but now it’s been six years. Why does D2D work?
Because we want it to. Any project can work if people are having fun and willing to put in the work. I think we’ve found that balance. We work our asses off on the business side of things, including the willingness to tour like mad, and then we work even harder at maintaining the relationships in the band. When it’s all said and done, we get on stage and have the time of our lives.

What’s the next album’s direction?
The focus for the next album is definitely on our song writing and the approach to the songs. We feel that in the past we’ve had some great song ideas with some great beats but have been a little lacking with regards to fully developed songs. So, for the last three months we have written just over 20 songs and we’ve done so more collectively than we ever have in the past resulting in what I think is a more refined and distinctive D2D sound. In the next two weeks we are going narrow down which songs are going to make the record, which ones get shelved, and which ones should never be heard by ears other than ours.

What elements are critical in separating “good” fusion from “bad” fusion?
The key is to not over think it. If it sounds good, go with it. There is no formula to make music and that still holds with fusion music. Once it starts to become contrived, I usually feel, it’s not going to work. All of us add our style and colour to whatever it is we may be working on and that keeps it organic, no one is faking it and thus it is real.

What does it mean to you to be able to cross genres and cultural divides with your music?It feels absolutely amazing. We’re able to make music which is truly Canadian and represents who we are as individuals. Growing up, there weren’t a whole lot of things that would represent both sides of who I was as a person, the little Punjabi kid and the kid who grew up in Richmond. Now to be able to make music that incorporates those elements and play it for audiences from all walks of life is a real blessing. A lot of the time the best feeling is when people don’t understand the lyrics yet they are totally lost in, and enjoying, the music because then you know it’s the music and emotion that is connecting with them — that sounds so cliche and lame but it really does feel awesome!

Delhi 2 Dublin plays Mar. 17 at the Vogue, 8pm. $30-$35 from


So many late updates! From WE, Feb. 2

Rococode debuts ‘Guns, Sex and Glory’

At Sled Island in Calgary last year, it seemed over half the bands had made the trek over the Rockies from Vancouver. Of those bands, Rococode proved something of a festival darling: tightly wound pop-rock that struck the perfect balance between aggressive and twee. And, oh, the precision. Laura Smith, Andrew Braun, Shaun Huberts and Johnny Andrews made Rococode sound like an act with six albums under their belts. In reality, they didn’t even have one yet — until now. Braun sat down with WE to discuss the long journey of Rococode’s fantastic debut, Guns, Sex and Glory (Feb. 7).

When I saw you play at Sled Island, I had no idea you hadn’t put out your first album.
It’s been done for a year, so we’ve just been sittin’ it on the shelf for the last little while, just trying to make sure all the pieces were in place. Finally we’re almost there.

Why has it taken a year to get it out there?
We finished it and then decided we didn’t want to just put out another album and have it get lost in the sea of indie bands. We got a publicist, an agent, a small label we’re going with through Winnipeg — just so we don’t have to do everything by ourselves.

It seems like a tremendous amount of work.
Definitely. A lot of sitting in front of the computer, unfortunately, and a lot of time waiting and wondering should we just put this thing out there and throw it up online and see what happens? Are we making the right decision by waiting and taking our time and making sure everything is proper, so to speak. And I feel like we did make the right decision. There are some people waiting for it or ready to listen to it now, as opposed to putting out an album and only having 50 of our friends interested and growing from there. Now at least there is a small number of people waiting for it. (Laughs)

Why did you decide to dedicate time and resources to the Rocoblog and the animated shorts?
It’s a really great way to express your personality and your ideas in a bunch of different ways. The animated videos were kind of a nice break — our music is pretty serious, and most of the photos we have up are us looking serious, and we’re not those people necessarily. It’s not all doom and gloom. It was nice to put something out there that was a continuation of our artistic expression and also humourous and weird. (Laughs) Personally, I thought those things were really funny, but maybe there were too many inside jokes. But, yeah, those were a crazy amount of work.
Rococode play the CBC Toque Sessions and Cafe Deux Soleils on Feb. 17. Full details at