In Stockholm we introduced the Swedish police to the English expression Shit or get off the pot. At first we were confused by their random harassment but, in time, we managed to turn the tables and confuse them, feeling redeemed and triumphant, with our witty anecdotes. Here’s what happened exactly: We played a ballsy set at the city’s schwankest Scandic Malmen hotel lobby venue where the finest citizens of Stockholm (and they are some of the finest on earth of course) let loose their shiny hair and tapped their fancy shoes and, generally, banded about the low stage and took to shebanging and shindigging and bashing around. During the show Dan realized that his microphone was actually long enough to lead him wholly outside the venue. Covered in sweat and still singing his heart out he met with a perplexed bouncer in the frosty night air who tried to close the door on him before realizing that Dan was in fact the “star of the show” he was trying to protect! We continued to rile the crowd by describing our exhausting and troublesome experiences from the night prior in Copenhagen’s entitled weed city of Chrisitiania. Dan refers to them as “Fucking Hippies” and I concur that it’s “Nice to be back in civilization where there are actually less rules than in their anarchic squat quarters” and the crowd, mostly, yelps with agreement…except for a few stoners most likely. The show is truly a success. And we are happiest that our friends Carl and Axel and Patrik and Kalle and Aki and Stefan are there for it. So we were in high spirits when we left the bar and went back stage to do some press with our dear friend Victor Moreno from Madrid. We were just finishing off a lengthy chat and photo shoot when three of the most uncool-looking plain-clothed officers busted in on us. (My immediate thought was that if these are actually undercover cops they need to learn to dress better to bust up the folks in the finely dressed Stockholm hot spots!) In truth, we didn’t believe they were even police agents at first. When the first meathead cornered Dan and asked him if he’d been drinking, Dan said, “Who are you?” and then asked to see his badge. Still unconvinced and feeling like he might be getting shaken down from some scary fake cops whose intentions might be more duplicitous than the real ones, he raised himself up a bit and said, “Of course, I’ve been drinking. The venue gave me drink tickets.” (Truth be told, we didn’t even have booze any where near us because we were doing an interview in our backstage! They’d really chosen the wrong people to bully) And then when the second cop asked Dan if he’d ever done drugs before, Dan laughed and said, “Well yes of course. Who hasn’t done drugs in the history of their lives?” I laughed and said, “But sir I regretted it immediately.” And poor Victor tried to protest, “Do you guys realize that these are the people who just got off stage? You have this all wrong my friends.” His dulcet Spanish tones should have softened the mood some but they didn’t. As they continued to try to berate us, I ran up to the hotel lobby and told the reception what was happening and then proceeded to round up the head of security. I returned to the “scene of the crime”, where no crimes of any kind were being committed, just in time to hear Dan saying, “Have you heard of the expression Shit or get off the pot?” Cop number three shrugged and Cop number one said, “No.” So Dan explained, “The concept is this: if you aren’t going to make me pee in a cup or strip search me or arrest me, I’d like to go have a cigarette because this is just irritating and a waste of my time.” I took Dan’s hand and said, “Yes, baby, I feel like I’m being harassed and I’ve filed a complaint with the hotel staff.” With perfect timing the largest bouncers and hotel manager descended the flight of stairs and asked to have a word with the now lowly, poorly dressed idiotic undercover cops with nothing to do on a Wednesday night but try to “stir the pot” that we were apparently sitting on. And then it ended as swiftly as it had begun. And then we proceeded to actually get just a little bit drunk.
Home sweet home. As Dan and I cross the border into Croatia we realize we have more recently been in this heavenly nation than in our actual home city of Montreal. The signage feels more familiar than Quebecois francaise and we are eager for the comfort foods of cevapi and kaymak and the choicest onions and soft smoky bread as if we were experiencing the cravings of returning home. When you have been on the road (non-stop) for over four months, these details are enormously rewarding. In Zagreb, I feel home. Wholly home. And the moment we cruise up to our beloved Hotel Laguna, with it’s kitsch 70’s décor and proud Telefax operating signs and postcards of parking lots, we feel welcome despite the unsmiling staff. In fact, because they are so consistently sullen, we feel even more hearteningly received. Dan and I take our few hours of free time to stroll these well-known and loved streets past the stadium in search of our favourite Bosnian kepab stop and into Teatre & TD for trustworthy espressos. We feel restored. And when we arrive to Tvornica Kultura, the tremendous Mate Skugor is ready with open arms. He is wearing a t-shirt that reads “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet” and, if you have had the immense pleasure of meeting this man, you know that it’s sort of true. Mate was the first person in Ex-Yugoslavia to take a chance on our unknown band way back in the day and he built and fostered connections in this region that have enabled us to continue returning time and again with a growing fanbase that floors us every time. In truth, Mate changed our lives. He is a humble man and trying to express our gratitude for what he has given us – for our hearts and brains – has never been made easy by him. He is dismissive about the wondrous effect he has had on the music industry in these parts but his legacy is known by every lucky fan of subculture music. He is a living legend and dear friend. We are forever indebted. And today he is eager to let us know that we have had to jump to a bigger venue because the pre-sales alone would have oversold the smaller room’s capacity. We are shocked and delighted to say the very least. “It’s like a hometown show,” he winks and then curls his arm around my neck into a sturdy hug. After a swift and perfect soundcheck with utter professionals who even take the time angle hazers and spot lights, we do an interview with the country’s foremost rock journalist. He has interviewed every band from Sonic Youth to REM to Azra and gone vinyl shopping with fucking Mick Jones but mostly we talk about rock during the fall of Yugoslavia and the end of communism and brand new tattoos and Canadian versus Croatian politics. We are all in agreement that most people are wrong; that we need to revolutionize our governments and that the injustices in this life are also paralleled with these specific joys made possible by the wonders of our personal work – playing rock shows in Zagreb for example. We talk for such great lengths that I don’t realize that we are actually late for our performance and I have to slap on some lipstick to get into the right frame of mind. Dan swigs the vodka to work some courage through his veins and we both hurl ourselves into it. Nervous and terrified. There are so many people here for us that I am almost sick with terror. As soon as I am on stage, I feel I could cry with joy. I look into the upturned faces and feel so overtaken by love that I can hardly contain myself. It is pulsing. I am covered in sweat by the second song. Everything shakes in me. To the bone. I am alive. After two ferocious encores, I am ready to meet my chosen family and I rush back to them. Our intrepid interviewer is absolutely covered head to toe in sweat – he looks his happiest and I feel proud. A rapturous and beaming Ivanna is standing by the stage with a gift for me – a felt flower that she has carried in her purse for years with a sentimental value that makes my heart double. A coal-mining Metal head, who dragged his nephew to our show for inexplicable reasons, bestows his compliments through comparisons to the heaviest acts he’s ever seen. I am shocked to have them in attendance. And of course our most loved Croatian couple (the folks we happily shared some tour dates with in our van so they wouldn’t be forced to follow us via other methods of transport!) rocked harder than ever before, their faces glowing. And finally back stage, I meet Dan’s beguilingly pretty and smart friend (also named) Ivanna. She is slim and strong and sharp. She offers us the most incredibly thoughtful presents that anyone has ever given us: a SIGNED copy of Zizek’s Parallax View and a DVD of her favourite movies and the film program that she helped curate and an Oliver Mandic record. The fact that I have been reading everything Zizek has been writing and now have an edition with his actual illegibly scrawled autograph with a dedication to my very husband makes me feel sublimely proud. I hug her with passion. She is intensely lovely and I want more time with her. With Ivanna and her friends, we are taxied to the apartment of her fellow philosopher pal who is (goddamnit really?) translating the works of Zizek into Croatian. He is a fucking genius and makes me embarrassed to share his youthful twenty-nine years. I am in awe. Wide eyed and humble in their company. As we drink with these perfect humans who give me strength about humanity, I scan the bookshelves and swap jokes and truly feel the most at home I have likely ever felt in my life in this man’s home – full only of novels and non-fictions and mismatched wine glasses and the dregs of a myriad of boozes. This riffraff share my disdain for life in general but my perseverance in the specifics. I am full hearted.
So, Zagreb, you are certainly something to write home about….. but where would I send the postcard? To your doors? Can it be in a self-returned envelope so I can anticipate one day living amongst you?
I’m a big fan of Nancy Sinatra and Dan knows too well that when I am happiest I often strut around in a pair of shoes and clumsily sing through “These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do and one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.” It isn’t the sweetest of songs but my greatest joys always have an element of evil to them. So I will tell you, whoever you are, that the shoes that you took from the stage of Tvornica Kultura after our concert were enormously well-loved. I wore them nightly, during nearly every single show we played across this globe, for a good number of years now. Please wear their black leather and gold studs with pride because I certainly did. I wore them when I was happy and when I was tired and when I was nervous and when I was strong and when I was lucky and sexy and excited and I loved them very much even though they were cheap and wearing out. I try to be a good woman and I love things to their deaths, so I hope you give those shoes of mine a new great life.
One of our most memorable shows occurred in the charming city of Cologne. It was not memorable because we played particularly well or because the venue was particularly unforgettable or because the staff were necessarily noteworthy. And it was certainly not made memorable by being well-attended. In fact, it drew only seven people if my memory isn’t embellishing those numbers. (God I hope I’m not exaggerating!) But against all odds, that show has become one we frequently attach great importance to. Perhaps because it was, indeed, our smallest audience it was made immensely special. We shared the underdog ambitions with that handful of folks and I will always remember it for being full of earnestness and energy and, above all, humour. We even brought out our backstage snacks and shared our chips and chocolates and booze and cigarettes. By the end of it, every one knew each other’s names and, likely, a whole lot more. So in returning to Cologne we were expecting a rather similar turn out. We were hoping for “over a dozen this time” but even with those low expectations we had our fingers crossed. So, I tell you this, with passion and genuine relief: we were awed and spectacularly surprised by how many of you came to our show. This time, Cologne!, you have made yourselves memorable by packing yourselves in great numbers into the Blue Shell venue. And we will remember, too, that our dearest dearest friends from Macedonia’s best band Bernays Propaganda were there to share the spirits. And we will never ever forget that all your hollering and dancing and stamping forced us to do two encores. TWO ENCORES!? It was fantastic feeling. Truly. I am still amazed. And I was even more amazed when our tour manager JC elucidated another genuinely stupefying and heartwarming fact after the evening was over. When I questioned the audience if any of the seven members who had attended our first show in Cologne were dedicated enough to be amidst the masses presently, I had heard no reply. But JC spotted you, shyly raising your hand in affirmation. I am jaw-dropped of course. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your continued support. We are still the underdogs, of course, and now there’s more of you underdogs in our pack. Nothing could make me more proud.
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There is a common saying among the poorest people who perform in the Carnivals of Brazil: “Only the rich like modesty; the poor prefer luxury.” It is said, of course, with pride because their costumes are the most glamourous and eye-catching of all.
As a kid my own nickname was Flash n Trash because I delighted in red shoes and big gold baubles and purple make up and slicked back shiny hair and all things with sequins and feathers and I enjoyed running fast and ruining everything in my wake. In fact, my mother continues to find humour in my kitsch jewelry, odd pattern matching and eye shadow choices. In my family there are certain things that “only Alexei would love.” It is said tenderly about things that are leather, things that have loud geometric motifs and things that are gold. My sister recently found giant chandelier charms and bought them for me to make giant earrings out of. My father, whose interest in fashion is relatively nil, once bought me a lime green suede mini skirt. I love shiny things, no matter how frequently I break them. Like the nearly moneyless women in Russia who dress in faux furs and bright lips and are said to “dress like prostitutes” while the well-to-do prostitutes themselves prefer business suits; and in the same vein that fake gold faucets and knock off flat screen tvs are found in favelas and slums the world over, perhaps it is because I do not actually have much money that I relish in the things that make me feel fancy. So it is with genuine pleasure that we hit the eye-candy shopping streets of Paris. And it is with even greater pleasure that, for the most part, I can stick my nose in the air at the highest of haute couture. It is with great pleasure, of course, because I would not be able to afford the fitted Gucci black suit adorning the mannequin or the mannered Prada grey sheep skin tote bag and I wouldn’t want them anyhow. Don’t get me wrong: I love fashion and frequently the pages of magazines flash with the boldness of the runway collections that do not hit the street level. I love Balmain leather jackets and Balenciagia shoes and Missoni fabrics and DVF body suits and Prada capes and Commes Des Garcons mock bonnets and everything Chloe Sevigny wears but the items that tend to make their way to the pretty boutique shops of La Belle Ville are more modestly cut and for working women “with good taste.” I do better at Korean trinket shops (rainbow coloured crystal earrings – yes please!) and second-hand shops (giant black wooden chain necklace – If I may). I’m not particularly good at fashion. If I could I would love to find the time and energy and money and skill to pursue it and maybe one day I’ll give it a go. But for the mean time, putzing around in Paris with Dan in our clothes that stink of four months of straight touring with holes in our socks and our boots and hair that needs cutting and dying and styling and jeans that are ripped (not intentionally “distressed”), I feel pretty fancy. I have my lipstick on and, because I lost my “practical” jacket, I’m also wearing a fluorescent red suit jacket meant for stage. It doesn’t cost a lot to make me feel fancy. Which is a good thing. Trust me.
P.S., Citizens of Paris, I love you. At Point Ephemere, you came in your best duds. Not the most costly ones because you looked most fabulous. And it is easier to party if you’re wearing neon and fringe and black lame tights. And you did. You were fabulously energetic and beautiful. You made me feel like the richest person on the planet. Walter, Clemence, Aymerique, the folks from Atlanta Georgia, the folks from Shanghai, our dear friends Thien and Yasuko and our new friends from Hong Kong: You gave us one unforgettable night in Paris. One amazing aspect of this band is that our crowd is increasingly multicultural – narry a show passes now without attendees from all corners of the earth. “I saw your show in Singapore xie xie, I saw your show in Cluj-Napoca multsu mesc, I saw your show in Turku kiitos ”…. It is becoming one of the things I love most: we have played in so many places that they are all becoming equally represented all over this earth.
If you have been in a band long enough, you have likely met this breed of soundman: He is German and efficiently so. He is long-haired and yellow-toothed. He has likely never worn an item of coloured clothing since the day he was able to dress himself. He chainsmokes. He talks very little. The only band he likes from Canada is No Means No. He thinks the younger generation (presumably including you) are a bunch of “fucking imbecilic morons” who don’t appreciate good music. He is wiry but square and curt but not unkind and he has good posture though he looks like he hates life. If you have been in a band long enough, you will likely find this (un)exceptional specimen either heartwarming or annoying. We manage to feel both ways about the gentleman at Gleiss 22. We are always keen to hear about the horror stories of tour managing punk bands around Europe and interested in the histories of a home-town that generates equal pleasure and disdain. (We thought Munster was a type of cheese but now we know better and we’re sorry that the fact that your city is a skateboarding world capital causes you more frustration than amusement. We happened to like it very much and even visited some of the head office quarters foregrounded by half pipes and graffiti because we were, in fact, so smitten. Skate or Die.) And we loved the sound you gave us – we could hear everything pristinely but not without the character of your beloved monitors. But Dan felt a little icily when he was scolded about pushing his voice too hard. He told you he was “coming down with something, feeling ill, and under the weather” but you still felt the urge to grumpily impart a lecture. Certain that you were, of course, the better musician in the room. But we laughed it off. And we’ll see you again soon, with open arms and minds. As always. Because it is our job. Just as it is yours. For better and worse. But mostly better.
Tilburg is most likely the show where we caught the bug. I could very surely point fingers at the culprits. But it wasn’t their fault exactly and they were the kindest of gentlemen so they will remain unnamed. In fact I wholly sympathize now, rather belatedly, with just how bad they were feeling. Each member of the supporting band ran through a litany of complaints, the grievances that were taking turns in their lungs and throats and sinuses. The ailments that had taken over their limbs and organs. Their weak elbows. Their fever-addled brains. Their sweaty palms and depression. Their tight chests, their snotty noses, their queasiness and nausea and vomiting. Paradoxically it was a very strange place to get sick: it was certainly our cleanest back stage ever (well lit, well tended, shiny counter tops to boot) and the venue was held in an austere modern art gallery that seemed impenetrable to contagion (It was more suited to housing giant ceramic penguins and manifestations of anti-religious effigies than agents of disease). The sound technician even swapped every microphone and replaced new DI cables wearing white stage gloves. Even the hotel we stayed in that night was a schwank Mercure room that wouldn’t seem a likely breeding ground for infirmity. But some times when you least expect it: infection worms its way into your very pores and veins. We denied it for as long as we could but it took hold. And sorely caused immense heart ache for us all. Through my haze of the delirium that followed for the next week of long days, however, I remember that Tilburg was memorable for these reasons: our most devoted (and truly beloved) Dutch fan Lindsay arrived early with a gift. She is a talented artist so when I say that she painstakingly spent hours crosshatching a drawing for us do not presume it was amateurish in any way. This was no kind of doodle. It was a masterpiece despite her most humble intentions to undermine her own talents. And it will be framed and loved by us forever. I will also remember that Nick and Tao from Vietnam were in attendance and caused the crowd to loosen up and even shimmy some. Two of the coolest looking girls I’ve ever seen threw angular dance moves at me all night. I felt absolutely 100 percent healthy and full of life and thriving and right as rain. Little did I know a plague was upon us. Of course not one of us is immune to illness entirely no matter how high our spirits but it certainly feels unfair. Life on the road is grueling as it is so when sickness burdens you on top of those exhausting conditions, it can truly feel nearly impossible. There just isn’t time for sleep and recovery or time to find pharmacies and health care. And because we have made it a mandate in this band to never cancel shows unless we literally think we are actually dying, we continued to perform (to the very best of our abilities) every following night. So, I will reflect on that night in Tilburg fondly despite the secret evil it contained, creeping into us unbeknownst to us. Our strength has been tested but I hope we mustered enough.
SOLD OUT SHOW!
Okay so perhaps it doesn’t mean so much if the club is the size of an oil baroness’s walk-in closet but, heck, it meant a lot to us to sell out Brighton’s The Hope. And it meant even more that the folks who crammed into the room were adamant fans. Mikhail Bus from Poland and the intrepid Spidey and Don were in attendance as well as Beth’s sister and two Sri Lankan brothers who danced fearlessly at the foot of the dwarfish make shift stage. Two lesbian couples barely witnessed the spectacle as they were too intent on keeping their lips locked during the most anthemic moments of the evening and there were many. We hadn’t had much time to stroll the Coney-Island style boardwalk of Brighton Beach and we missed the sea and salty or sickly sweet snacks that are famous along the promenade but we did notice a much more lively downtown than we’d seen in our last visit. Brighton is one of England’s quirky gems and it seems the true freaks and artists of the area have all amassed themselves here, sharing studio spaces and galleries and running risky businesses of the hearts’ great whims. I am most at home in places like these. The unsure bets. The big chances. Where small dreams are most realized. I am heart-warmed by Brighton’s best intentions. It seems like a city most truly evolving from it’s multifarious manifold. It is only in rare places such as these that I feel one can really mete out their most ballsy ideas and claim the rewards of being their most strange selves. And it is only in places like these where a little band like ours can pack a room so tightly we had to turn folks away. We’re sorry fans but we do promise to return to your warm shores.
“If rain is what makes England great then Manchester’s yet greater.” – Paul Hedon
Or something like that. And it’s true: Manchester weather does not let up. On television, we watched the weatherman turn out a veritable thesaurus for “drizzly” as he described the current temperatures and upcoming damp, thunderous, cloudy, light precipitations, heavy rains, and certain showers. It is sure to be grey, wet, trickling, inclement, chilly, bleak, unseasonably wintry, stormy times full of dark clouds and lightning bursts and wind gales with lots of atmospheric pressure and heavy meteorological conditions. “Put your Wellies on, England.” The forecast is not good. You might want to have a spot o’ tea to warm your spirits to boot. As four ourselves, we’d crossed a continent and an ocean from surprisingly sunny Seattle and it was certainly feeling that way by the time we were in Manchester. I was definitely feeling the unfriendly elements as if they were a personal attack. (And why oh why was my jacket disappeared by the wind and waters or a cunning thief during our ferry ride between Canada and America when I would shortly need it most?! My heart was pleading against these cruel new climes.) Luckily Dan knew a secret that would warm me through out: authentic Sichuan food with its delectable ma la spices and prickly ash flower peppercorns and smoky chiles. The meal absolutely saved me. And though the attendance to our “Deaf Institute” gig (the venue being a converted hospitable for the hearing impaired) was not in the multitudes, we kept warm-spirited. Like most shows in Manchester (we’ve been told by many musician colleagues and friends and fans) it certainly felt like the sound technician and promoter were glumly going through the motions of “another show, another night” but we managed to rile the small crowd some. And though the set times were kept very strict in order to preserve the entirely unattended successive Club Night and though Dan’s microphone line was cut off by the surly engineer when he scraped its meshy metal head against his guitar for a wee bit of ya know punk rock effect, we managed to make some of the crowd laugh at our jokes about Manchester’s notorious sweatshop of good bands. Through out history certainly a lot of sad and angry men have made good use of their unhappy upbringings here after all. A lot of angst created a lot of genius songs which certainly helped me bear my most angst-ridden times as well. We’re both enormous fans of the Manchester sounds and we’re happily schooled, while still on stage, on the new ones being created. So, Manchester, despite your unfavourable environs and frequently aloof and crusty technicians and bored rock promoters, we’re happy to have tested the waters, dipped a toe in even. We hope next time it fucking storms, of course. Because you’re important to us. You’ve meant a lot to us actually. Next time I’ll come prepared for an even greater sloshing. I’ll wear my rubber boots if I have to.