Without a doubt, The Feminists are one of the busiest bands in town. You’ll be hard pressed to fi nd an act that plays as many shows as they do. I did a tally earlier this year and discovered that they took part in 14 gigs (all in Vancouver) within a short three month span. But when your live shows are as delightful and rocking as theirs you shouldn’t mind bringing your music out to the masses. After all, what better way to build a fan base than to let more people see you play?
The Feminists are Ferdy Belland, Keith Grief, Allyson Mara and Mike Zobac. This interview took place inside CiTR’s old vinyl record library (a favourite among visitors to the station) after their energetic performance on Live from Thunderbird Radio Hell.
DiSCORDER: My favorite thing is always to start with the history of the
Allyson: The band started when Keith was my boss at Sam the Record Man; he had a band and I was in jazz school. I was a total jazz snob at that time and he’d be like, “Oh, I’m playing shows. You should come check it out.” I was like, “Yeah sure, I’ll come and watch your stupid little band.” And I went and saw Hunter Gracchus, his band, and was very surprised and thought, “I have to play music with this guy.” I had a jazz trio and I invited him to come out. He came and saw us and said that we might be a good group to play softer songs that weren’t getting played in Hunter Gracchus.
Keith: I had this notion in my head that I was going to be like Tom Waits, but it didn’t turn out that way. [Laughs]
Allyson: We did play his wimpier songs and there was a lot of jazz influenced stuff, but then when Ferdy joined, we started redoing heavier songs that Hunter Gracchus has already done. And now it’s just all rock n’ roll all the time.
Keith: Plus it was good because it means that I didn’t have to write more songs.
Allyson: It really was when Ferdy joined the band that everything changed for us. The last year and a half has been completely different then the two years leading up to that for sure. The name of the band is worthy of note. I’m sure many people will interpret it as a statement of sorts.
Keith: It draws strong emotions. As many people who are going to like it are going to hate it.
Mike: When we fi rst asked Ferdy to join the band, we exchanged some volleys of emails on whether we should rename the band or not. [Imitates Ferdy] “Oh, it’s not a really good name.”
Ferdy: Well, at fi rst I didn’t like it. I thought it was the kind of band name you’d find from a punk band from Lloydminster or something
like that. But then they started explaining about how all four of us are feminists, and men can be feminists too because if you exclude people from the discussion you can’t solve the problem. Although we don’t really have pointed political songs…
Allyson: No, the music is not about feminism at all. For me I just thought that it would be great to have a chance to explain ourselves
whenever someone asks us about the name. That’s what I want; I wanted a chance to talk a bit about why it’s not a terrible bad negative thing to call yourself a feminist. And that is totally the perception. These guys get a lot more flak for it that I do.
Keith: If you want to think that it’s ironic, I say go right ahead. You can if you want. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. [Laughs]
You went on a cross-Canada tour awhile back. Where did you go?
Allyson: We drove from Vancouver to Sydney, Nova Scotia. The whole thing took us six weeks. We played 27 shows. There was a lot of
Ferdy: It was good to see the other cities in Canada. It was nice to see our musical peers from scene to scene. It was good to play in
Winnipeg: Our shows in Sudbury were both really good. We played a good show in Moncton—hooked up with this other band called The Ride Theory who became our tour buddies, as we bumped into them a few times on the road. There were dead shows to be sure, but that’s indicative of any tour that any band takes.
Wasn’t there a bad story with Montreal?
Ferdy: Oh yes, the Montreal story. We’ve been scheduled to play the Jupiter Room. I was excited at first because it was the first room
that Sam Roberts broke himself in. He played the Jupiter Room, then Zaphod (in Ottawa) and I thought “Wow, we can do the same!” So we showed up, and I knew something was up because it was right next door to a tombstone factory. We go upstairs and the place was a mess from the rave that happened last night. And there was not one poster that got put up; it was Sunday night and no one knew we were there. Basically to make a long story short, we played there with The Ride Theory. We played well for the eight or nine people who were there, sold two CDs actually—which is a telling tale in itself. But
in the end we didn’t realize this was a pay-to-play venue, as most of Montreal’s venues unfortunately are.
Keith: It’s actually pronounced “le pay de play”.
Ferdy: [Laughs] In any case the bar manager informed me that we were responsible for paying the remainder of the soundman’s fee,
which was being taken out of the cut at the door. And there was a bit of initial financial confusion at first in which certain members of the bands got duped, but finally I put the hammer down. I said, “Look, we are not going to do this. You have a live venue here; it’s your responsibility to pay the soundman as a member of your staff, as you would the waitresses or the bouncers.” [Imitating the bar manager’s voice] “No, it’s not how we do it here and you owe us
$75!” So I told him to go fuck himself, in front of the shocked members of The Ride Theory.
Allyson: And Ferdy let us all out. He said, “Go fuck yourself,” and then he turned and started walking. Before that, during the last song of
the show, Keith and I had ended up screaming at each other. Keith threw his guitar on stage and stomped off the stage in the middle of my keyboard solo. So, The Ride Theory, who’d never met us before, their little eyes were wide open, they didn’t really say much at this point, just fell into this single-fi le and neatly trooped out after Ferdy Belland. We were all like little ducklings and followed him out the door.
Your just released your new album She Could Be. What’s the difference between it and your previous album?
Ferdy: The production is heavier. It was fun to record with Cecil English just for the notoriety of being able to record with Cecil English
(SNFU, DOA, NoMeansNo) and I can grill him for NoMeansNo trivia and all that. The production is a little thin and indie-rock on the first album. The songs are good but we could sound punchier. With Mike Southworth he made us sound huge. It’s much more of an alive sounding album.
Allyson: I think the thing that made it for me is the vocals. When we did the vocals with Cecil it was really hard for us because we were singing all the vocal parts together and we just didn’t have somebody who could help us. We knew we were singing badly or singing out of tune sometimes but we didn’t have anybody that could help us fix that. When we were working with Mike, he was such a great musician and has such a great ear that he helped Keith and I get really good vocal takes. It sounds great.
The Feminists will be back on the road heading across Canada in
September. For more information on the band, visit