Calgary quartet Women began as a project: four old high-school pals deciding to make a record to fill in Alberta’s frigid winter months. Roping in local analog-equipment-hoarding weirdo (and Sub Poprecording artist) Chad VanGaalen, Women rolled tape on a set of short, sharp, fragmented tracks in a basement, a crawlspace, an outdoor culvert, and by the side of the river. The resulting record, Women’s debut self-titled set, is a tape-hiss-draped work both mysterious and immediate. Standing outside of a Vietnamese restaurant in Hamilton, guitarist/vocalist Chris Reimer spoke.
Interview: 9 October 2008
You’re in the middle of three solid months on tour. Is it weird to have your life planned so far in advance?
“It’s kind of hilarious: you want to make plans with your friends, and you say: ‘Let’s go for coffee! How’s April?’ It feels weird, but it’s also kinda nice, because playing music for people is the only thing we really want to do.”
Has it always been that way?
“Well, I started playing guitar when I was 10, and started jamming with [Women’s] Pat [Flegel] and Mike [Wallace] when we were, probably, 13. We were the guys at school who played music. We’ve been in bands on and off since then; most of my life has actually been spent making music with the dudes in this band.”
What were your teenaged rockbands like?
“We were, the four of us, in this thrashy math-rock band when we were like 16. We don’t really like to talk about it, it’s kind of our secret past. It was pretty hilariously bad music, and not too relevant to what we’re doing. After that, we did stuff separately. I —this is kind of funny— played drums in an ambient band. I’d sit there for 20 minutes, not doing much, and then play for this hectic five minutes, then sit around for another 20, then that’d be our set. Then Mike and I started playing guitar and keyboards in this experimental electronic-pop called Azeda Booth. But, now, we’ve had to almost give up playing with them. Women has a pretty hectic touring schedule. ”
When Women were conceived, did you have specific hopes or ideas in mind?
“At the very beginnings, it was pretty up in the air. We just wanted to make music together again, because it had been a while. Pat had some parts, I had some parts, so we were just practicing in people’s apartments, working on ideas, and gradually this thing started to form. We started listening to music together again, hanging out a lot, and forming an idea of what we wanted Women to sound like.”
What was that idea?
“It was influenced by what we were listening to: a lot of that New York no-wave stuff from the late-’70s, a lot of really brash, experimental, angry guitar music. And then experimental English bands, from a similar era, like This Heat and Swell Maps. And Pat’s a big fan of Skeeter Davis, so there was some older country-ish pop in there, too. We were really into recording at the time, making it sound kind of old and grainy. And we really wanted to write really smart music that kept us interested. A lot of stuff we were hearing, as of late, was kind of boring.”
Did you spend a lot of time discussing things, at the beginning?
“We still do. We don’t ever stop talking about [our music]. We always end up going in circles, and driving ourselves a little crazy. Even just coming up with a description of how we want ourselves to sound. That’s always a problem: not being able to clearly communicate exactly what it is you want to do.”
Was recording, or the way that you recorded this record, an important part of your sound?
“Entirely. When we approached the recording at first, we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have a lot of the songs even finished, we just wanted to start recording [with Chad]. But we sort of went about things in the wrong way: doing it straight to a computer, all digital, and trying to make sure that everything was really clean, and you there was this clear separation of each instrument. It just sounded horrible. So, we started doing things live off the floor, straight onto tape, and doing a lot of really experimental sh*t, like recording in strange spaces, or outdoors, or at weird distances. The idea was to not put any barriers in the way and do whatever we felt like, no matter how stupid it seemed at the time. We came to realize, in playing, it was all about being intensely focused, and not caring if you didn’t hit every single note. We really like the results, so that’s how things’re always going to be in the future.”
I spoke to Chad VanGaalen recently, and he said he felt like he had a lot of battles with your band, Pat specifically. Was that how it felt to you?
“Yeah. We’re kind of music a**holes; we’re very specific about the things we like and the things we don’t. [But] we don’t always know what we want. So, we’re kind of hard to work with. Sometimes I couldn’t work out who was being more of a perfectionist, Chad or us. We did a lot of takes on a lot of things. One song in particular, we re-recorded, I don’t even know, 20 or 30 times, using different people playing different instruments. We got it eventually, but, by that time, let’s just say that Chad’s patience was wearing a little thin.”
Was part of that shuffling-things-around essentially you still trying to forge your identity?
“For sure. We’re more comfortable with what we’re doing, now. We’ve always been good at playing with each other, we’re just getting more confident in what we’re doing with this band. Even now, we’re trying to make sure we do a good job every night; not just getting drunk, playing horribly, and then beating ourselves up over it.”
Does your band draw on the spirit of the lo-fi movement?
“People always use the term ‘lo-fi’ when they’re talking about the record, and I don’t necessarily agree with that. In some ways we do draw some influence from that, but I don’t think we fit in with other bands who’re so openly doing that right now. We had songs, and we recorded them a certain way because we wanted it to sound a certain way, but a lot of those bands, the recording basically is the song. They’re just three-chord rocksongs, and they wouldn’t sound cool unless it was all tape-hiss and overdriven. I like a lot of those bands —like Times New Viking— but to me it just seems like tape-hiss for the sake of tape-hiss.”