Victoria, Victoria! & Pyramid Power

It was a bit of an upset when Victoria, Victoria! took the top honours at Shindig 2006, beating out hotly-tipped indie-poppers The Organ Trail and choral supergroup The Choir Practice, but it goes to show that, at CiTR, nobody's more popular than an underdog.

Victoria, Victoria! entered the contest determined to win, and their talent, tenacity, and sheer hunger for studio time helped them triumph over other bands who, in the end, didn’t have the same need for what the Shindig prize had to offer (The Choir Practice and the Organ Trail both already had recordings at the time of the finals).

More importantly, Victoria, Victoria! are a refreshing new act on the Vancouver scene, only recently blown in across the Strait from their namesake hometown. Four longtime friends, they each bring unique personalities to their sound, and they have the cohesion and chemistry that only comes from musicians who learned everything they know about their craft together. Chris Gaudet (guitar, vocals) is a commanding frontman, robustly bearded and literarily inclined, often tweed-blazered and armed with only the most flavourful scotch. He sings with a familiar strangled charisma, borrowing David Byrne’s nervy passion and injecting it with unselfconscious bloodiness, complemented by the disarmingly addictive white-soul yelp and skinny guitar sound of Jonah Gray, an Emily Carr grad who co-edits Vancouver’s most opulent and unconventional new art magazine, Pyramid Power. Johnny Payne is the band’s drummer and fun-loving everyman, a hot dog and hockey enthusiast who can usually be found behind the counter at Zulu records, giving high-fives and monopolizing the turntable with records by The Kinks, The Beatles, and CSNY. Joe McAnally (bass) does double duty as the band’s backbone and pelvic bone: as the group’s most musically-trained member, his elastic bass style gives Victoria, Victoria!’s catchy garage-pop the propulsion it needs to get shows up to dancing speed.

Unlike so many bands of the Myspace era, Victoria, Victoria! are miraculously free of pretension and insecurity. They bear allegiance to no trendy subgenres or ironically-appropriated subcultures, and they learned their chops by delving deep into the the most classic 60’s pop, rock, and soul. The members of Victoria, Victoria! have an encyclopedic familiarity with vintage hits without the fetishistic obsession with recreating the past that usually comes with it. They’re among the most good-natured bands I’ve ever met, and their sincere passion for lasting quality in songwriting leads me to believe that they’re more than capable of writing songs that other young bands will want to cover twenty years in the future. In that light, the Shindig judges picked right: they saw future classics.

So how long have you guys all known each other?

Johnny: I met Jonah when I was sixteen. And now I’m 23. So…I can’t add those years. I think it’s eight. Maybe seven?

How about Chris?

Chris: Jonah and I have known each other since our Lego days. So, like a year.
Jonah: We should note that none of us are the founding members. And none of the founding members are still in the band.

When was the band founded?

Chris: In maybe my Grade 10 year, by Ryan Flagg and Ross McKinnon.

Johnny: Ryan was the drummer before me.

And in what order did you join the band?

Chris: Jonah and I joined at the same time. We were the additional players to fill out their band, which was a punk band with ambitions to play “jazz punk”, though I don’t think they ever firmly defined what that was.

Were they called Victoria, Victoria! already?

Chris: At that time, they were called The Exceptions.
Jonah: After a long-standing ambition of Ryan’s to name a band The Exceptions.
Johnny: And then Ryan joined the navy, and Jonah and I did a movie together. We met at an acting workshop, and he asked me to be in his movie, called Life’s a Beach.
Jonah: Can you not print that?

You went to an acting workshop?

Johnny: Yeah, at the Belfry Theater in Victoria. Jonah liked my style.
Jonah: That’s true. You can print that.
Johnny: And then a few months later, I ran into him at a Denny’s and he said his drummer had just joined the navy.

So, if the band falls through, are you guys going to go into acting?

Johnny: No.

Why not?

Johnny: I’d rather go into professional gambling, you know? Something that’s hit-and-miss all the time. That way I’m stayin’ on the edge.
Chris: It would be too much pressure…

To be hitting it all the time.
Johnny: Exactly. You gotta fold a few hands.
Chris: It would be too much like your domestic arrangement.

So at what point did the band become Victoria, Victoria!?

Chris: I think it was last year.
Johnny: We should mention that The Exceptions were exclusively a cover band, almost. We had a few originals. Maybe seven.

Covers of who?

Johnny:Oh, lots of bands.
Chris: Mostly 60’s rock, garage rock.

I thought it was supposed to be “jazz-punk”?

Chris: Well, that was very early.
Jonah: I think before they actually sat down and tried to play it.
Johnny: I think the closest we ever got to a punk song was Billy Bragg. But we did a Dion and the Belmonts song.
Jonah: That was the thing about being a covers band. We had to have about two hours of music…
Johnny: Because we’d play on Pender Island all the time, and we’d have to play about four or five hours a night.
Jonah: So we played the set two times.
Johnny: We did an album around that time of all our originals…that we play none of, now.

Do you still have that?

Chris: Oh, yeah. It’s called Breaking Up with The Exceptions.
Johnny: Because it was the last thing by The Exceptions before we stopped calling it that. Plus we’d all kind of broken up with our girlfriends while we made the album.

When did you all move over here?

Chris: Well, Jonah moved over here for school, so he’s been here four years. Johnny moved over to be closer to Jonah, and that was last year. And I just moved here this September.
Johnny: Joe still doesn’t live here. He hangs out in Nanaimo. I don’t know what he does over there.

Is he going to move here?

Johnny: I hope so.
Chris: He’s pretty committed to the Nanaimo lifestyle.
Johnny: He goes to Malaspina and studies jazz. He’s really the most committed to music of all of us. The theory of it.

So he plays jazz bass?

Johnny: Well, he can. Not with us, though.
Chris: Or if he does with us, he doesn’t tell us.
Johnny: We wouldn’t know the difference, anyway.

So, you write the majority of the songs, right Chris?

Chris: Well, these days. Although I firmly believe that they’ve been writing songs and just holding out on me.
Johnny: It’s a long-running joke in our band that I’ve always wanted to play guitar, because I used to for a while when we were the Exceptions.
Jonah: We won’t let him.
Chris: Johnny, what did you used to say was your middle name?
Johnny: Oh, Johnny “Metis” Payne. There were rumours that I may have been a real-life descendant of Louis Riel.

Were these rumours ever disproved?

Chris: Oh, they were validated.
Johnny: They were never validated! They weren’t based on anything! Except maybe my…uh, courage.
Jonah: And his rebel charisma.

Chris, what are you doing now? You go to school, right?

Chris: Yeah, I go to UBC. I’m doing my Master’s in literature.

Are you hoping to teach, or to write?

Chris: Well, I’m thinking writing more than teaching, but I’m in a program that trains you to be a teacher.
Johnny: He’s looking to stay in the band as long as I can muscle him into doing it. As long as I can stay stronger, physically, in my upper body, he’ll be in the band. But if he can beat me in a fight, he’ll leave.

So what you’re saying is, the band is in a precarious position these days.

Johnny: Oh no, not really. He keeps us on the ropes.
Jonah: Well that’s important. Our band is based on physical dominance.
Chris: I think one of the reasons we’re sloppy at shows is that our practices are mostly just feats of strength.

Maybe you should work that into the show.

Chris: We thought about that, but for insurance purposes, we’d have to hire spotters. And then we would have had to have only half a beer each as our wages.
Johnny: Plus, they’d have to be in the band, and people can’t remember that many people’s names.

Chris, I read some of your poetry in Pyramid Power. Do you think poetry is still a vital art form?

Chris: Sometimes it is.

Do you write a lot of poetry?

Chris: I do. I think I write poetry all the time.

How do you approach that differently from writing songs?

Chris: I think that songs, for me, can be failed poems. If it gets too rhythmic or repetitive, I can file it away and maybe make a song out of it later.

Are the other guys going to start chipping in with the songwriting?

Johnny: I’ve always had a bit of a complex about bringing songs to the band.

What if they let you play guitar?

Johnny: Well, that could be—
Jonah: Not gonna happen.
Johnny: Usually, when we practice, we come up with ten joke songs, and out of that comes one good song.

So what happens to those joke songs?

Johnny: They stay in my mind! I remember them forever. Songs like, “Mr. Toad”…
Chris: But that’s a beautiful song.
Johnny: And “Deer by the Side of the Road (I Saw You)”.
Chris: The brackets are important. Then there’s the “Bear” song.
Johnny: But the “Bear” song, we used to play all the time. We don’t play it anymore, for a reason. That one was really “indie rock” sounding, like a rockin’ beat with a disco-y thing in the chorus.
Jonah:It’s the closest we’ve ever come to being a novelty band.

So, how do you think of your music, in terms of style?

Chris: I think we’ve all decided on “garage-pop”, if anybody asks.
Johnny: I don’t really like the term “indie rock”. Especially since we didn’t even really know what that was, back when we used to play songs like that one. We played covers of old 60s songs, and then when we started jamming around and writing our own stuff, it came out of that.
Jonah: I’m not saying that I’d agree to labelling us “indie rock”, but I think maybe John’s too sensitive about it.

Are you all as into 60s rock as Johnny is?

Chris: I think so. But if I’m just hanging around listening to music, it could be 60s rock or it could be the Talking Heads.

I hear a lot of Talking Heads in you guys.

Chris: Also, Jonah and Joe are both huge gangster rap fans.
Johnny: Jonah has got me into tons of the music I like. I am always trying to give something back.

Did you like the newest Clipse album?

Jonah: Yes I did. You can print that.
Johnny: I’ve gotta say that we mostly listen to older gangster rap.
Jonah: I’d say I like all gangster rap.
Chris: I actually liked the new Clipse quite a bit, too. But more to the point, I’ve been listening to the new Jay-Z record a lot, and going through his back catalogue.

So what are your ambitions for the band? Are you looking to do this full-time?

Chris: Johnny’s giving me the thumbs up.
Jonah: Well, he’s just looking for any way out of that crappy job at Zulu.
Johnny: Yeah. No. I like my job. But I want us to be a full-time band and do a recording and have it be something good.

Are you going to adopt any kind of gimmick, like matching suits or haircuts?

Chris: Oh, we had that.
Jonah: We used to always wear matching suits.
Johnny: Always.
Jonah: Well, they weren’t matching. They were more “ghetto” than matching. But we all wore them.
Chris: We’ve also talked about matching rhino-tusk penis sheaths. [uproarious laughter]
Jonah: The ladies like ‘em.
Johnny: Uh, Jonah once wore a robot suit. We could bring that back.
Chris: I think our gimmick is more like being crushingly handsome. That’s sort of our schtick.

When I’m standing near the front at your shows, I’ve often felt a sort of pressure in my chest. I guess that’s what it was.

Chris: And you thought it was nausea.

Or drunkenness.

Chris: I think of myself as a latter-day Billy Idol.

Jonah, how much of your time does Pyramid Power take up, compared to the band?

Jonah: Not very much. Most of my time is, like, surfing the web.
Johnny: I think you’re gradually trying to make the magazine and the band fuse into one thing.
Chris: We’re going to start singing the articles.
Jonah: Eventually, it’ll just be a singing magazine-o-gram.

What is your vision for the magazine, and what’s your specific role?

Jonah: Well, I think it’s that I’m the co-editor with some other guys. What I’m hoping for is just that the second one should turn out a lot different than the first one. My view is that we just take it as it comes and try to make it different every time.
Chris: Speaking of vision, I’ve been thinking of writing a short story about someone who is an augur, but they only reveal well-known past events. Like, he’ll be walking down the street and see an eagle attacking a cat and say, “It was Brutus and a gang of republicans that killed Julius Caesar!”

Isn’t augury just reading entrails? Or does it encompass reading all kinds of signs?

Chris: Well, there’s different types of augury: augury of birth…
Jonah: What about soothsayers?
Chris: Well that’s a similar sort of thing. But I think entrails, like someone who reads horse entrails specifically, is a horospex.
Johnny: I keep pushing for Jonah to put a nice, like, Sears Portrait Studio photo of me on the cover of the next issue. With maybe a wool sweater-vest on.

Have you guys ever toured?

Chris: Other than the Gulf Islands?

Have you ever experimented…with drugs?

Jonah: I’m afraid my grandma is going to read this.

How about girls…on the road?

Chris: Have we ever conducted experiments with girls?
Jonah: Like, conductivity?
Chris: Water displacement?
Johnny: Saelan didn’t think we’d pick up on his Last Waltz reference.
Chris: Ryan, who we were talking about before—he really held down that function of the band.
Jonah: But it’s hard, because he was much more fit than any of us.
Johnny: He’d take off his shirt first song, like, not even sweating. Just, “Check it out, ladies.”

And he was in the navy?

Johnny: He was in the navy, he took dance lessons, he went to school, he worked, he was a lifeguard, he took Latin drum lessons…
Chris: He was always frustrated because he wanted to use his Latin drumming in our songs.
Johnny: It didn’t work. His polished Latin stylings didn’t work nearly as well as my, uh, lack of ability to play at all. Which they seemed to like a lot better.

Do you guys see any changes happening in your music as you go to record your first album?

All: We’ve become more commercial.
Chris: Well, since all our songs aren’t really related thematically, I think we’re just hoping to record a set of singles, with as few extra steps as possible.
Johnny: Like Thriller.
Chris: I think the prize is for twenty hours of recording time, but we’ll probably pay for twenty more hours.
Jonah: I think it’ll be an EP.
Chris: We’ll probably record seven or eight songs and end up with five or six.
Johnny: Going back to whether our sound is changing, we’ve talked a lot about how we’re entering our “psychedelic” period, and I still hope that’s the case. Especially with Sacha painting my drum skin in a more colorful scheme.

Are you guys worried about the so-called curse of Shindig?

Johnny: I’m not worried about it. Everybody keeps scaring me about it at Zulu. It’s not going to happen for us. We’re going to break the curse. We’re going to break its back. Like Guile in Street Fighter.

What have you guys been listening to lately?

Johnny: Well, right now, we’ve been listening to the soundtrack to Urban Cowboy.
Jonah: It popularized the cowboy look in the 80s.
Johnny: This morning I listened to The Essential George Gershwin, which my uncle gave me for Christmas. That guy just pumped out the hits, eh?
Chris: I listen to Sparks a lot.
Johnny: I’ve been listening to Bowie’s Station to Station lately.
Jonah: Your Blues, by Destroyer, and ESG’s Come Away With ESG.

Oh, hey, I almost forgot: why “Victoria, Victoria!”?

Chris: I’ve tried to distance myself from that name, but I think I’m embracing it now. It’s not a reference to the musical “Victor/Victoria”, which I don’t think the two people who came up with it ever heard…
Jonah: Well I came up with the first half, “Victoria”, and John came up with the second half.

I think, in the region, people are going to take it as referring to the city.

Johnny: Well, that’s the first thing, it’s where we’re from. But there’s also the Kinks song.
Chris: Or if you won the Tour de France, and you were Spanish.
Johnny: Or if you were winning the Spanish Civil War.
Chris: This is where we learn that Johnny is a fascist, and a Franco sympathizer, so he would shout “Victoria, Victoria!” at the end of the Spanish Civil War.
Johnny: It could also be the name of a girl that none of us really know.

I think your name also participates in a trend towards an increasing embrace of punctuation in names.

Chris: It’s like in The Commitments, with the punctuation in the name, and the repeated name. What’s that band called?
Jonah: And, And, And.
Johnny: I like that we learned nothing from that and came up with a retarded punctuated name.
Jonah: I think the beauty of a punctuated name is that it’s always spelled wrong. Of course, there are bands that have manipulated that, like with They Shoot Horses; they change the punctuation and the size of the letters all the time.

You guys have never played a show with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, or You Say Party! We Say Die!, have you?

Jonah: We played a show with them, but we kind of hijacked it.
Johnny: We did one when Joe wasn’t there. We played a few songs without bass, and then Matt from Run Chico Run came and played drums and I played guitar and we did “Gloria” and “Money”, with Shane, from Love and Mathematics and The Choir Practice, playing bass.

I’d love to hear you play “Gloria”.

Johnny: “Gloria” used to be our staple. We’d end every show with it.
Jonah: Was it the Shadows of Knight version?
Johnny: Their version sucks. I would never say we played their version.
Jonah: It’s virtually the same as the Them version.
Johnny: Blasphemy.