I’m With The Band

by Joshua Gabert-Doyon

illustration by Gina MacKay
illustration by Gina MacKay

For those of you just joining us, Sex Church is a Vancouver-based band with a dark, suffocating and frenzied sound, that hovers somewhere near post-punk. With that said, they were surprisingly good-humoured when I spoke to them outside of the Cobalt before their show with Defektors and Detroit-based Human Eye.

“Beef bourguignon: it’s really plain, but really good,” says bassist Nick Groessl.

“Yeah it lets everything kind of simmer,” continues frontman and guitarist Levon Olsen. They’re discussing what kind of food their music would be. They’re quick to unanimously agree (between repressed chuckles) on the French delicacy.

With two album’s already to Sex Church’s name, the band has a third currently in the works. “We’re writing it, working on it, it’s simmering” says Olsen. He cites the, “the drudge of daily life” — though it’s hard to tell how seriously he’s taking himself.

When I ask about “Wrong Side,” a track off of their 2012 EP Somnambulist, Sex Church’s drummer admits the band didn’t have anything definite planned, but decided to work things out while recording. Olsen takes a shot at explaining the general development of a Sex Church song: “We basically make a map of a song and we have a structure, a loose structure, and we take it from there.” This lack of rigidity is what makes the music so hypnotic; everything hinges on a balance between distressed vocals and droning, cyclic noise—a balance they toy with extensively.

It’s no secret that the members of Sex Church often seem like they play independently of how their audience is responding. “I’m either staring at the floor or at my hands the whole time, and once in a while I glance up and see the audience,” says Groessl. No grand performance, no deep connection with the audience, they play in their own worlds.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate when the audience is into it, that’s still good,” Olsen explains, “but to me sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re playing to two people or at a venue like the Biltmore when it’s fucking packed.”

Despite their lack of showmanship, the band’s sound is intensely visceral. Their inaudible but fervent vocals, paired with the repetition of the phrase “daily life” during our interview, speaks to a broader sense of alienation. In a city full of neon signs and buzzing machines, the inability to communicate is a big part of their tangled sound. When I ask them about gentrification and the shutting down of venues in the city, their drummer believes that it “contributes to a sense of frustration.” Olsen takes a moment to think: “Yeah sure, but the bigger picture of Vancouver is like, gloom, and poverty plays into the [pauses] I work in the Downtown Eastside. Every morning I walk past hookers and see shit in front of my warehouse doors.”

When asked how they decide if a song is too abrasive, smiles show up slowly on Sex Church’s faces. “It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about frankly,” answers Olsen, with a coy grin.

“I try to get some really high pitch sounds during my recordings, that are like, painful,” Caleb Bouey, the band’s other guitarist, gleefully adds. When it comes down to it, Olsen says he’s completely unconcerned with how listeners react to Sex Church, “except for the person that’s paying to put it out.”

While their sound is occasionally disorganized, the band’s ability to soak a listener in an extended shoegaze jam shouldn’t be underestimated. Sex Church is all about tension; their music hinges on the tension between muffled lyrics and highly distorted instrumentation. A raw and chaotic sound coming from guys who acknowledge the sometimes vapid nature of city life.