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Escape Velocity

Q: Are We not Men? A: We Are Women! Canadian Noise Gents Interviewed
Charles Ubaghs , January 15th, 2009 01:11

The Quietus loves Women, so we thought we'd take them on a date to a noodle bar to talk their new album, snow, and white noise.

There's an argument to be made regarding the merits of isolation when it comes to the creation of music and art. Freed from the gravitational pull of the major urban hubs, their scenes and the ravished media hordes howling for fresh blood, the best works produced in less populated locales are often labours of love subsisting on a plucky DIY approach that's impossible to replicate in modern urban environments.

They may not hail from a rural hut in the deep, dark depths of Alberta, but Calgary's Women are a group of men who turned confinement to their homes during the arctic Canadian winters into an advantage with their self-titled debut. Recorded onto tape and produced by Sub Pop artist, and local boy made good, Chad VanGaalen, the album's ten tracks flow from This Heat style noise and ambient drones to pristine pop that sounds as if it's been left to soak in a dusty bottle labelled ‘lo-fi, echoy reverb' for days on end.

Having already drawn favour from more than one noteworthy blog since the record's North American release last year, our own John Doran felt strongly enough about the band to place them in his best of drone and sundry noise of 2008 feature, even though the album is only out in the UK this month.

Women are mighty indeed. So, we recently sat down with Matt and Pat Flegel, Chris Reimer and Michael Wallace in a noodle bar off Soho Square before their London debut at the Borderline this past December.

Ladies and gentleman, we present to you: Women.

Where are you from?

Chris: We're from the worst place on earth.

Which is?

Matt: A little town called Calgary, Alberta...naw; it's not actually the worst place on earth.

You had the Winter Olympics there.

Chris: Yeah, about 20 years ago.

Pat: We had these bear mascots, and they're still on the welcome to Calgary sign.

Chris: They took them down...

Pat: Oh did they? Oh yeah, it says, what does it say? ‘Heart of the New West.' No, it says catastrophe of the human spirit. They changed it, and there was an add-on.

We're about to have the Olympics here in London. How did it affect Calgary?

Chris: We're the only city that made money off it. Everyone else just failed.

Matt: That's because at the opening ceremony they probably just shot a gun.

Chris. Yeah, that's why. That's the reason (laughing). They spent 10 dollars on the opening ceremony.

What's the meaning behind the name?

Matt: There's not necessarily any particular meaning. I came up with it and everyone else said okay. We didn't want to sit around a table talking about what we should call our band. We needed a name and we thought it was funny.

How did you become a band?

Matt: This is my brother (points to Pat), so basically we've been playing music together basically straight out of a vagina.

Michael: Me and Pat met in grade five. I was actually going to play guitar, and he was like ‘No I play guitar, you should play drums'.

Pat: We played ‘Tourette's' by Nirvana in music class, grade five.

Michael: Yeah, for extra credit. I was playing like banjo, all in the same line. I was like, 'Check it out, I know 'Smells like Teen Spirit' (starts to sing riff).

Pat: Oh yeah, I remember...(laughing)

Chris: And it's actually still pretty much all there.

Michael: That was in an alley, I remember being in an alley with a snare drum. Oh shit...

Matt: Okay, I met Chris on a street corner in grade seven.

Chris: Yeah...

Matt: Uh, and then, what the hell happened?

Michael: ...and then on another street corner, you guys found me and then we went to my house and jammed out to Lenny Kravitz.

Chris: No, we did... we did do that!

Michael: But before that we did loads of songs.

Pat: No man, we did like...

Michael: But I remember Kravitz.

Pat: No way man, I will deny Kravitz to the grave.

Matt: We've played together since we were young. Like high school rock.

How would you describe your music to the unfamiliar?

Matt: Post-apocalyptic, barrel, fire rock.

Pat: Chinatown, LSD, dystopian, future art trash...

Chris: ...noodle bar...

Pat: ...noodle bar rock.

Why go the lo-fi route with the record?

Pat: It wasn't necessarily meant to be lo-fi. We were recording things straight onto a computer at first and were like, ‘What the fuck is wrong here?' We were freaking out.

Chad Van Gaaleen: These guys didn't have as much gear as I had. So they recorded with me. Actually, we tried to go pretty hi-fi. If you listen to ‘Black Rice', there's a little bit of tape hiss, but it's pretty robust. It's the best song I've ever recorded. I had to fight for that track.

Do you mind getting labelled as a lo-fi band?

Matt: It's fine. We're going to get lumped in with something.

Pat: If you're going to get lumped in with something, it's better that we're that then like a rap-metal revival.

Chris: I'd rather be lumped in with that, because that's kind of what we're going for, but we just don't get that yet.

Pat: Yeah, we were really off the mark...

Chris: We really fucked up...

Pat: ...our speed rap-metal album (grins). But yeah, that's how that happened. We were trying to make it sound really good, but then eventually we felt like something felt wrong. It sounded really restrained. The recordings felt really tight and weird and so we started getting inebriated and using tapes and...

Chris: worked better. The recordings sounded better.

Pat: Yeah, it sounded better.

There's been some mention in certain corners that you recorded some of your vocals outside?

(Group groan)

Chad: I have like a portable tape deck and we went out to the mountains to like this animal tunnel. And fucking Pat, you didn't have your lyrics going. We ended up over dubbing that, to the reverb tracks. So there's lots of vocal overdub hazing through like tunnels

You weren't knee deep in the snow the whole time?

Matt: Not for the whole record.

Chad: No, not for the whole record. I was the only one with a parka on. You guys were in like rock clothes.

Pat: I was freezing. It was a fucking frozen river man. I was lying in a pile by a frozen river. Like lyric sheets flying in the wind, this is actually true, my lyrics actually blew over the water at one point. It was just one day though, and it was like ‘Hey, let's go into the wilderness and mess around'. We did use some reverb but usually I lie and tell people we recorded a lot of the vocals singing into a culvert.

Chris: Let's just lie about something else now.

There's been a lot of adjectives thrown around regarding your sound. There's certainly a noise element to it and a pop side as well. Do you feel like it's fair to draw lines between the two? Or do you see them as one and the same?

Chris: It's all the same stuff really. It all comes from the same place. I think the pop stuff is really kind of nervous and claustrophobic, as is the noisy shit. And they blend together really well. As you say, people can think the album is really disjointed and doesn't make any sense, but I really think it's a whole piece. In the recording process we scrapped a couple of songs because it didn't fit. So I think this is definitely... on a whole it works and I think the next one on a whole will also work. But yeah, the noise with the pop is definitely what we do.

On the pop aspect, some have said it has a bit of a 60s vibe in some ways. Do you see yourselves as a vintage band or are you more forward looking?

Matt: I don't think we're trying to sound vintage.

Chris: Those are just the pop songs that we like, that's probably what comes out.

Matt: I think there's a bit of things sounding kind of 60s but basically every band in the world is trying to rip off the Beatles or the Kinks. It's like find someone in a band that doesn't like the Kinks, in the world.

What outside of music has an impact on you?

Chris: I think where we live. It's really cold for six months out of the year, so it forces you to stay inside. You need to do something or you'll go fucking crazy.

So in some ways the album came out of the winter blues?

Chris: It's just the only thing you can do. You can't go outside. You can't go for walks. You can't ride your bike. You stay inside and play guitar, so we write a lot of stuff.

Or you drink...

Chris: ...or you do both, and that's why this album exists.