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interviews reviews

This Hisses Interview

Hard Luck Bar is located on one of the less glitzy streets of Toronto. It’s downtown, but it’s on Dundas St. W, in a undeveloped area of the city where random taped up storefronts abound and franchises are the only thing adding colour. Hard Luck Bar is everything the name suggests. A rose by any other name would still invoke feelings of latent anger and disenfranchisement. It is a haunt for punk music and the burgeoning post-punk scene. You can tell everyone has made a conscious choice to be there and that’s a powerful thing for a bar. I asked This Hisses what they thought of the venue; “As long as there’s a good PA and they can hear the vocals, then it’s good. We’re a loud band. We don’t like to play places where they tell us to turn it down.” Just hearing them say it makes me believe it. “We’re loud,” they say simply. “We need to play loud.” I nod emphatically.

Well sure, who wants to play to be merry when you can melt people’s faces off? “He’s the most beautiful dynamic drummer I have ever seen,” Julia says of JP Perron. “I saw him play in another band and when he came home from touring I plucked up the courage and I shyly asked him what he was up to. We didn’t know if was going to work but it did.” Julia and Patrick Short, lead guitar, had known each other for years. The two met when Patrick played with her brother. Afterwards she ‘cherry picked’ him for This Hisses.

I tell them that I’ve been listening to their album, that I was curious about the name Anhedonia. The title in the strictest sense describes a person who is unable to experience pleasure from normal things, but the song of the same name is specifically about a person whose warmth is unsung. I ask them if they feel that this can be said for punk music; it being inaccessible for most, but essentially having a message of courage and loyalty (louder and darker for some reason means seldom understood). “I think we’re drawn to hard music for different reasons,” says Julia. “It’s a little bit of a protective sphere. We let ourselves get honest, but there will always this wall of tough sound that protects us.”

Post-punk music, and I use the word traditionally lightly here, describes heavy guitar and drums akin to punk with an intrusive element of experimentation. For This Hisses, that translates to an insanely amazing guitar that sounds like it’s pouring out of the speaker, and drums that you literally have to shake out of your body; all that and Julia’s opera trained voice calling to you from somewhere out of the darkness. It’s intense and oddly languid at the same time, all in the best way possible. “This person is seeking pleasure and achieving disappointment. So it’s about the wonderment of ‘Wow, if you could be free of this path of pursuing pleasure, then maybe you could get on with things in life, and not risk that disappointment and that vulnerability’.”

Thank God someone is taking the time to take this message on, I think. We really should just be getting on with the doing of things. I asked JP if he always felt that way. “I started in Toronto playing music cause I wanted to be cool,” he says. “Then I realized I wasn’t cool, so I just focused on being a better songwriter.”
“You’ve got a Slater from Empire Records thing going on,” I respond.

He doesn’t flinch, just continues. “I got into punk rock because all my guitar heroes’ bands broke up and I was like, what now?” I can’t tell if he’s kidding or not, he says it stone cold. JP laughs.

They’re from Winnipeg , they say, which apparently isn’t so obscure after all, and they have no plans on moving to Toronto any time soon. “It would give us more access to the industry, but we’re still cultivating our artistic sensibilities. Winnipeg has a great art scene and it’s a great affordable city to live in. We want an audience that’s into a great product.” For them, the size of the market is not important, and they feel that taking on bigger markets is not something to be taken lightly. “We get the confidence and the support in Winnipeg to try to tackle the bigger markets. There’s nothing wrong with that. There is high quality music and high quality art in Winnipeg. It’s a bit of secret but it’s a good one.” I can’t imagine a better reason to be in Winnipeg than taking the time to respect the craft. Then Julia sips her tea, and says, “I don’t think people make a living in music anymore anyway.”

JP is nodding his head at Julia. He’s standing just to the side of her twirling his moustache and listening. He agrees with her. “We’ve all played in plenty of bands and done lots of different stuff. With this one, we trying to hone our sound to keep it distilled, compact and tight. As far as trying to get other people to hear it, I don’t know man.”

“Trim the fat,” says Patrick, and they both look at him. He catches Julia’s eye, “Just keep trimming the fat.” She smiles and shakes her at him. This is one of the things I really like about this band; you can tell that they’re really good friends who share a common goal of making beautiful music. I interrupt the moment and ask Patrick what the future holds for him. He answers me deadpan, ‘Try to be cool again.”

“I get such joy out of playing live shows that I won’t be able to stop,” says JP. “I’ll keep pushing myself to try things that I’m uncomfortable with, like making an electronic jump. I want to challenge myself to do different things.”

Julia is nodding in agreement to this too. This seemingly would open too many doors wouldn’t it? If people pursued every possible path in life we would get nowhere. Does this mean that they’ll be jumping mediums one day? “I find that everything I have to say I can say through music,” says Julia. “A lot of my powerful emotions… music is the way that I can most strongly present them. That’s how I deal. I want to write the songs and put the words to them.”

The Torontoist called their song ‘My Love He Shot a Sparrow’ The Best Song About Murder at NXNE, and for obvious reasons. The lyrical content of that song is so expansive yet precise at the same time that it literally focuses the mind into a calmness and oddly invigorates the soul that same time. This can be said about their entire album; incredible musicianship, heavy themes and notes, tremendous depth of character, and darkness that cloaks your world in a black glitterscape.

When I roll up to the Hard Luck Bar later that night, I step into its grimy splendor with immense anticipation. I walk over to the bar, do my best Clint Eastwood to the bartender, and order a bottle of 50. I take a seat in front of the sound booth and rest my legs across the bench. When Julia stands up the microphone, her sheer closeness to the mic, and the subtle breath that escapes her, starts the pull you feel when speakers power up. Everything that is nailed to the floor, which in Hard Luck Bar means everything, starts vibrating from the force of the sound coming from the speakers; the guitar pours from them, the hard sizzle of the drums jangles, Julia’s voice pushes from their great depths.

Brace yourself, I whisper.

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reviews

NXNE Day 3: The National, Yonge Street and Dundas Square – Toronto

No Toronto festival is complete without an appearance at Yonge and Dundas Square. NXNE is one of the few festivals who makes good use of the square, scheduling a number of performances each day. The square has water fountains whose pools exist under the square, fountains that burst water into the air at intervals, and usually a grouping of tables and chairs. Most of time, when bands play here people gather and are able to spread out, maybe even sit down. However, when bands like The National play the entire city shows up, including everyone who has never even heard the music; it becomes spectacle, and everyone there becomes a willing participant.

“It’s so nice to perform in an intimate space without distractions,” says Berninger. “How are you Toronto?!” Then follows the whooping of umpteen million people. The homeless guy standing beside me smiles wide, a three year old girl on her father’s shoulders fist pumps, and seven miniature dogs of various varieties yip from their owners’ elbows. Like I said, the entire city is there.

The problem with Yonge and Dundas Square, in my opinion, is that it’s a terrible place to see music. You don’t really see anything unless you show up seven hours early or have binoculars. You stand in a sea of heads and look up to nothing except the billboards, all of that aggressive advertising breathing in your face. And because there’s so much concrete and human, the acoustics sound like muddled echoes. For a band like The National, this venue destroys their sound. All of tricky changes, all the musical genius that makes them so incredibly unique is lost and all we’re left with is a lot of bass and a lot of moaning. But that’s really not the point. Music at YDS is about the venue. The bands strive to headline just for the sheer size of it and people congregate there because that’s what you do as a citizen with an hour to spare.

Put simply, YDS is an amazing place to see people, not music. Being there means more than just being able to soak in the chords and the lyrics, it means participating in a musical journey with a horde of strangers. Free concerts in the middle of any city are so much more than the fans it attracts. It is a musical gift to the city that is offered to everyone, and everyone should take advantage of such a thing.

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reviews

Little Boots – Nocturnes album review

Nocturnes, is Little Boots’ second studio album, released years after her moderately successful debut album, released in the midst of a burgeoning 90’s synth revival in Britain, and released among several other studio albums paying tribute to the aforementioned movement, each featuring female vocalists working the hardware themselves. MNDR and Amanda Warner come to mind, Robyn (who actually had a career in the 90’s,) and Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell. She’s swimming in congested waters to say the least.

Is this album groundbreaking? No, it feels like more of the same. But it doesn’t need to be earth shattering when music like this is predominately anthems for a tranced-out horde or by patios that serve $14 Mojitos. The pulsing tracks on this EP are doing their work; sending the body into a lull, the body begging the mind to create its own light spectacle within if there are no club lights to get the rush from.

Long live the studio album with a complete narrative, albums with an arc so wide and grandiose that to NOT listen to it in its entirety would be sacrilegious, albums that offer an accomplished musical journey… But we don’t need this from synth-pop, or maybe we don’t expect it. All a good synth-pop album needs to be worth the tube to the record store, or more accurately, worth the click of a mouse, is a few thudding squeal-inducing-fist-pumping dance tracks to get us out of our chairs, and enough content to hold the anthems up as we anxiously await their turn.

Nocturnes accomplishes this. There are some heavy hitters backing up Little Boots’ musical whimsy; DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy produces; Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler, Bomb the Bass’ Pascal Gabriel, Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford all wrote for the album. Right out the gate we’re hit with the incredibly vibey ‘Motorway’ which feels like an electronic carpet ride through the galaxy level of Super Mario Kart. ‘Satellite’ is another track to crank; pure glitter energy, and listeners will be huge fans of the irony in lyrics like, “when I get to high, when I get to high, you’re calling, you’re calling, you’re calling, get back to earth.” It is highly probable that James Ford’s ‘Shake’ will dominate the summer’s club scene. The layered beats on this track are outstanding, and her vocals would seduce even the walliest of flowers onto the dance floor.

As a sophomore effort, I think this album shows artistic growth. Nocturnes is a pared down version of her first album Hands, yet it is able to suggest a nouveau complexity that she attributes to time spent DJing in the last few years; time spent developing her sound and identifying her own limits to push. It was time well spent. The newest additions to her catalogue display the audio trickery of an apprentice enchantress, and each are emblematic of a budding artist within.

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press releases reviews

NXNE Day 3: Bear Mountain at Toronto’s Wrongbar

What if I told you that I met Ian Bevis about three years ago at charity fundraiser that he and his friends were hosting as part of a cross-Canada-tandem-bike-adventure that can only really be appreciated once you picture a man of his height on a tandem bike? At the time I wasn’t writing about music, and Bear Mountain had not been fully realized yet. Fast forward to Wrongbar, night three of NXNE and I’m watching him front a band that has literally blown up in the last eight months.

Admittedly, I was in that bar because I was curious about the live performance. Who doesn’t want to see the band whose buzz grew exponentially after playing Sasquatch? I stayed for their set, which didn’t start until 1am, because I wanted to ‘bear’ witness in order fill out the article that I’m writing about them. I expected to feel the swell, feel my chest rise up and my heartbeat quicken. I expected the crowd to know who they were because of their immense internet following, and I expected the industry to be present as they were on a short list of bands to watch on that day’s press release. What I did NOT expect to see was a crowd a thousand people deep jump in unison for forty minutes straight screaming all their lyrics. I did not expect to be able to tell Greg after the set that that was the most energy I had seen drawn out of a crowd all week, especially after seeing Dan Deacon the night before.

Their stage set-up is simple, Ian and Kyle out front; their movements the proverbial butterfly wings that create hurricanes in the audience. Greg tucked away to the side, as easily as you can tuck a seven foot tall man and a drum kit. Finally, Kenji in back mixing the potent beats; creating; projecting; a sorcerer on the computer. Triangles of light and image are propped up behind them like windows into the technicolour dreamscape from which their sound was born.

Bear Mountain is one of those bands that you can close your eyes to and truly feel the waves of sound flow over you; one of those bands you go to see with your friends, and somewhere in the middle of the set you look over and see them and everyone around you jumping in slow motion. The bar blacked out; all you can see is the silhouettes of the boys on stage, green light and blinking triangles; all you can hear is your summer anthems, and all you feel is the dreams you have of chasing live music coming true.
Look out for MVRemix’s upcoming full length article on Bear Mountain.

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reviews

NXNE Day 3: St. Lucia at Toronto’s Wrongbar

White jacket with the sleeves rolled up, Don Johnson, the islands in a powder green Cadillac, heavy metal concert tee on the bartender, Caribbean drum beat, neon wayfarers, red lipstick on the harlots, let the good times roll, little drink umbrellas, huge sound, massive dance party; never has the saxophone sounded so good.

After the third song, Jean-Philip Grobler, AKA St. Lucia yells, “You’re f*cking amazing Toronto! Seriously! I’m having such a good time!” Thank goodness he is, because he and the four others backing him up, have successfully worked the crowd into a massive frenzy, and it would be a shame if the love and energy was one sided.

It wasn’t until the forth track that the mystery guest finally made his way to the stage; the anticipation of which was making the crowd go crazy; we had all watched as he did the sound check. The saxophone, usually reserved for your creepy neighbour’s night moves, blasted over the crowd. Mike Ruby, Toronto based sax player, has been outsourced to add some class to a few of the tracks and in my humble opinion, he makes the set. I looked over to a friend, “Saxophone?” My friend can only fist pump. Never has Kenny G looked like such a trailblazer.

At midnight after a long day of chasing bands, I struggle with being able to discern the distinct elements that make this band special over all other bands, but for a moment I relax into the melodies and look over to my friends who are all dancing with their hands in the air and I feel like I’m actually in St. Lucia; out on an open patio surrounded by a low white washed stone wall, salty air and the black expanse of ocean stretching out into the distance. Then I snap to and realize that I’m standing in Wrongbar, in Parkdale, Toronto, screaming alongside my comrades, peeling our feet off the floor, and I realize that that’s pretty f*cking cool too.

The magic of St. Lucia is his ability to transport you to sunny places where you can connect to the reckless abandon with which you usually approach your vacations, and furthermore being able to make wherever you actually are at the time more interesting because of his music. It’s like being in two places at once, a double exposure image; each layer making the other even better. Parkdale with a boat drink/ St.Lucia in gritty bar. St. Lucia is an amazing soundtrack no matter where you are.

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reviews

NXNE Day 4: Wintersleep at The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto

Notice to all music chasers in Toronto and/or bands who will be playing here one day: The Danforth Music Hall is the best venue in the city. With its wide floor sloping towards a seemingly hard carved stage; its red velvet balcony looking out onto the crowd and the massive pre-war chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The room is stadium huge, and the acoustics are unparalleled. Only a venue such as this could do Wintersleep justice.

This was the last show of the festival for me, and the first show that I decided I wanted to see when I saw the lineup. ‘Weighty Ghost’ was a part of me for years, a song that I was dependent on for mood elevation on bad days, a song that I feel connected me to the Canadian music scene, a song that I had been waiting to hear live for so long. Paul Murphy keeps a bevy of tuned guitars at the front of the stage to choose from and when he picked up the acoustic, I knew my fantasy was about to turn into a reality.

Wintersleep is a band that deserves to be known for more than one song. Their catalogue is chalk full of music that fills the body with chords made of colour and impulse, of music that invokes in us the jingle-jangle of excitement. But none of the other songs were as important to me as hearing the drum kit wind up, as important as hearing Murphy ask if I’ve seen his ghost.

Seeing as how this was a post of a personal nature anyhow, I am willing to admit the following: I have never covered an entire festival before. I saw countless bands, talked to countless people, musicians and industry included. I rode the TTC to so many different bars in so many different neighbours in Toronto that I actually told somebody I felt like I was travelling foreign lands even though I live here. By the fourth night I was beginning to feel separated from the music; I had seen so much that I began to feel untethered. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re inspecting each tree extremely close up. (Think about it.) What an incredible feeling to be standing on the floor at The Danforth Music Hall and hear Wintersleep play. For a moment, and if only for a moment, I felt like the person I was when I feel in love with music in the first place. I remembered cranking the volume when their music came on the radio and thinking to myself that one day I would be able to hear it live. Wintersleep brought that back to me. Listening to them, I wasn’t a music journalist; I was just a girl who wanted to see about a band. (Even if there was an expectation that I would write about it after….)

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reviews

NXNE Day 3: July Talk at The Mod Club

Light floods out into the crowd in thick beams. I immediately notice the bed on stage. I had the pleasure of walking to the gig with a girl whose friend had set the stage up. She said to look out for it, that all the stage hands had been wondering what it was going to be used for….

The energy swells and the band makes their way into the flooding lights. This is my first time hearing July Talk, they are the only band that has been recommended to me more than twice; they have amazing word of mouth. The club is packed. In come the musicians. If you haven’t heard any of their music, now would be a good time to look some up. You will be as surprised as I was at the intensity of the male lead’s voice. Peter Dreimanis sounds like Tom Waits in a huge way. Then comes the trilling voice of Leah Fay who exudes the kitten ‘90’s punk lady that we all fell in love with while wearing flower dresses and Doc Martens. Juxtaposed to Dreimanis, the dynamic is intoxicating. She moves towards the bed…but doesn’t get on it yet…

Every member seems to have their own style of rocking out. The lead male moves like James Dean calmly impersonating Elvis, his knees gently sway. Leah lives to do backbends while holding onto the mix stand. She’s adorable. She has a joyous air about her; like a children’s TV show host. “Who feels like dancing?” She screams. When she finally makes her way to bed she lies languidly across and yells, “Let’s hear you SCREAM Toronto!!” The whole crowd goes nuts.

So, showmanship. Yes. The band has definitely figured the half-way theatrics that fill out what’s happening on stage. Besides our attention being drawn to the bed, and the metaphors that it incites, their sound is extremely well rounded. The electric elements are amazing, but the country infused anthems are the best in my opinion. It lets Peter’s Tom Waits voice shine and allows Leah’s to transform from 90’s punk to pigtailed dolly, and because of that her sinister cackle in the middle of the songs work so well.

As it all draws to a close, I am sad that it is over. July Talk exists in wonderful world where the darkness of thought and lyric exists on a stage where their female lead yells things like ‘Pillow fight!’ Their music is jaunty, electric, folky, dark, thoughtful, vintage, and brand spanking new at the same time. Picture a wooden house leaning into corn field, dark skies behind, in the brightly lit kitchen a blonde with a pixie cut jumps around on the black and white checkered tiles; four men sit on the porch with their instruments, singing against her and with her, making beautiful music that is only made truer by the landscape surrounding it. ‘Blow us kisses goodbye!” She screams, and after three massive canons on the balcony bomb the audience with feathers, it’s all over.

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reviews

NXNE Day 2: Dan Deacon at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, June 13th

Layers and layers of sound. Never have you heard so much sound at the same time and wanted more.

Deacon’s show is extremely interactive, he plays from the floor, engaging the audience to hold props. Usually light reflecting gear of some sort. Is it a rubber chicken he’s fist pumping with? Who cares!? I’m drinking pint glasses of his Kool-Aid.

I chase music. I can boast more notches than on the average belt, but I have never seen a show like this. The closest I have ever come was the Flaming Lips finale. That’s what the Deacon show was; the most condensed tiny little Flaming Lips bubble with all the teletubbies and the glitter jammed into a 4×4 space with ten times as much sound and excitement.

It’s hard to figure what it is exactly what seven hundred of my new best friends and I are celebrating. It could be an explosion of nerdom that we find ourselves immersed in, each of us saluting each others’ freak flag, each of us feeling our dissipating ‘cool factor’, none of giving a sh*t cause Dan Deacon doesn’t care, so why should we? He ordered half of the room to dance like Game of Thrones didn’t suck this season, and even the industry representatives cloaked in suits in the back screamed their faces off. Who wants to be street cool when they could party with Dan Deacon and let it all hand out instead? (No one puts Dan Deacon in a corner.)

In fact, I can prove this. About midway through his set he orders ten people to make a tunnel with their hands. “This is going to be stressful and difficult but it will be so worth it. Chug your drinks, we’re taking this all the way outside!” (Small amounts of disbelief come from the audience like puffs of smoke that lasts only ten seconds.) Soon everyone is lining up to touch a stranger and get involved. I have not seen this much audience participation since Raffi came to my elementary school. “Just to reintegrate,” he says, “as soon as you come through the tunnel you become part of the tunnel!” The music swells and everyone just starts touching each other. “Don’t be a pervert.”

Zero to sixty does not do this group justice. When I walked into the bar the crowd was sedated; spent from the punk band that had played the slot before. Drawing energy is an art form in Deacons world, an art form that he is both master of, and I’m sure on some level unconscious. What you feel most when you watch him perform is the fluidity of his character, the reckless abandon with which he plays with music; and his giant beaming heart that makes you want to hug a perfect stranger and admit to them that you have Star Wars action figure collection and that the new Daft Punk changed your life.

Viva the strobe light. Viva Dungeons and Dragons. Viva all things music. Viva life.

And in the immortal words of Dan Deacon, “The tunnel must live on.”

He’s playing SECRET SHOW at the Drake Hotel June 14th, 11pm.

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reviews

NXNE Day 1: The Damn Truth at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, June 13th

Up tempo, happy, raging, guttural, thick, moving, waves, thrash, guitar, who is that chick? Symbol, shudder, hum, Janis, symbol again, pause, bass, more bass, Black Sabbath, she sings, pen down, pay attention, drum kit, close your eyes, I’m freaking out (Ode to Jimi Hendrix.)

It was the simple repetitious base line that got to me first, reminiscent of the Technicolor age of folk; but that broke out into millennial guitar which said innovation, not revival…until the drums broke through the background and met the thunderous vocals at the front of the stage. Full. Mind. Explosion.

Never have I uttered the compliment “This chick sounds like Janis,” for two reasons. Firstly, I never wanted to liken anyone to Janis for fear of tainting the perfect image of her I have in my mind. Secondly, no one has ever deserved it. Lee-La, the singer, has earned such a credit. Her voice is unbelievable, and not just in its strength, but in that way she uses it to convey the meanings of the songs. Her melodies look structured on paper, I’m sure, but when she uses her voice she does so in a way that tells me she’s teaching, not just singing. I met with her the next day and saw in her eyes the appreciation of such a comment, but also the desire to be seen outside of who she reminds us of. She has earned this above all. Janis casts a long shadow, but The Damn Truth will cast their own, mark my words.

There is a connection to elemental nature of rock n roll when you watch them. You can see the importance of the instruments, the vocals, the love of music. I should be able to explain this better, it is my job after all, but there was just something beyond magical about the way the pieces came together; it was like walking through a building made of sound. I could see the beams, and floors, skylight; all the things that make a building stand except it wasn’t a building at all, it was music made of gold and I was just simply in it.

So…Rock revival coming out of Montreal? I would wager that this is going to be the next big wave in Canada’s musical tide pool. Do I want to call The Damn Truth a revival band? Yes and no. Yes, because I feel nostalgic when I listen to them and they have, truthfully, revived a part of me that believed that the golden age of rock was not behind us. But I won’t because they deserve better than that from me. I will say simply this: they breathed fresh life into me. They are the real f*cking deal; THAT’S The Damn Truth.

They’re playing The Sound of Music Festival in Burlington on June 15th. Go see them.

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interviews reviews

NXNE Day 1: This Hisses at Hard Luck Bar, June 12th

The Hard Luck Bar on Dundas St. W, Toronto is everything you would expect from a venue with a long history of disseminating punk and metal out into gentile streets of Toronto. Many a hard noted band has played here. Audiences have called out for the black musical vapor to pour onto them, contracted hepatitis and gotten pregnant here; this is the place to witness to magical underbelly of today’s burgeoning post-punk scene.

This Hisses is such a band. Though I’m sure they would prefer not to be labeled, as no band actually likes that; they are so called because of the incredibly hard notes that back up the languid and beautifully dark lyrical content of their catalogue. Patrick, their guitar maverick, is quite demure in real life, but as I knew from their album ‘Anhedonia,’ that I was going to witness massive shredding.

Julia doesn’t look like your typical disenfranchised punk singer. She is operatic, and dresses with an air of femme fatale. Red dress, smokey eyes, and a come-hither-so-I-can-scream-in-your-face expression; she is the epitome of vocal talent and stage persona.

It’s possible that JP is one of the most dynamic drummers I have ever seen. He creates a huge space as he uses his kit, standing sometimes for emphasis, moving all the way around the symbols so as to hit the skins like a Taiko drummer; all accented by his artisanal facial hair.

I am blown away by the assuredness they project while on stage. Their songs feel like small pockets of dispelled knowledge; truth that one needs to learn the hard way. I’m sitting with my back against the sound booth, my feet vibrate on the wooden bench when the bass hits. Everything in the bar that is nailed down oscillates. I am in a weird space where physically I feel massaged, and emotionally I feel messaged. For forty minutes they are the last band on earth, and we are the last listeners. Ahhh, punk.

Look out for MVRemix’s upcoming interview with This Hisses.