Roberta Bondar get darker with 'Caustic'

Photo by Andrew Carver

Photo by Andrew Carver

The dense, murky rock of Ottawa’s Roberta Bondar has gone even darker on their new record Caustic, reaching for the avant garde while retaining a grunge feel that would make them fit between the Cranberries and Smashing Pumkins on some ‘90s radio show.

Caustic was recorded mostly live off the floor in one day in December in St. Alban’s, one of the oldest churches in Ottawa. You can hear church organ throughout the record, adding another layer of dissonance to the harshest moments of Caustic.

It’s a different approach from their last two EPs, which were tracked separately in different living spaces and after-hours in a cafe they all worked at.

“Live off the floor creates more of a performance piece,” says singer / guitarist Lidija Rozitis. “The room itself plays a very important role in creating a tone for the album. The acoustics in that church were amazing and we all felt really comfortable even though we only had one day.”

As they worked through the Caustic material at St. Alban’s they could feel their late-night post-punk bouncing off the church’s walls around them, setting the tone for the record and providing lots of low end.  Lidija says you can especially hear the impact the space had on the slow-burning title track.

“A room can influence sound of the final product. Every show you perform is slightly different depending on the acoustics of the room, and who’s in the room, the reception of the audience,” she says.

While the band has some shared tastes in music, there are sounds flying in from all over, from the heavy to the meditative. Lidija says one of the things she loves about writing with Roberta Bondar is that each member sees the song from a different viewpoint.

“We all like to do things that are weird,” she says. “We’re not trying to emulate a certain sound, but trying to think about how to make new sounds.”

The band won’t be playing many shows for the rest of the year after POP Montreal and the Ottawa Implosion Weekend in October, and they’ll likely be thinking about tweaking their name too. Last week the band received a letter from representatives of Dr. Roberta Bondar, the Canadian scientist / astronaut the band is referencing, asking them to clarify they are not affiliated with the doctor.

When we speak it’s two days after the CBC, National Post and Ottawa Citizen have reported on the request from Dr. Bondar, which they found out about from a post on Lidija’s Facebook profile.

“At no point has anyone talked about the music at all. Especially with The National Post it was like we were just dumb kids trying to get more hits on our YouTube video,” says Lidija, adding there was never any conflict between the two parties.

For a band that sells their music on cassettes, she says it’s pretty obvious they’re not trying to profit off the doctor’s name. It’s just a tongue-in-cheek reference by an independent group.

“As a band I wouldn’t want to measure my success by being on the front page of a shitty conservative national newspaper because they realized a band has the same name as a relatively well-known Canadian icon,” says Lidija.

Roberta Bondar play O Patro Vys September 19 at 10 p.m.

Q&A with Hiroshima Shadows


Kieran Blake of local punk trio Hiroshima Shadows answered some questions about the band and their new record ahead of playing TRH-Bar September 19. Here's their self-titled tape, available for PWYC download and released last year via Born Recs.

How long has the band been together? Are you (Kieran) the main songwriter, or do the other members write too?

The band was formed over 4 years ago but I'm the only original member. It was originally me, Hannah Lewis who left to focus on her band Red Mass, Emily Bitze who moved to Toronto and formed Milk Lines with her husband Jeff Clarke of Demon's Claws, and a string of exploding drummers not unlike Spinal Tap. The current line up with Nick and Phil has been going strong for a while now, and it feels like the best fit; I'm the main songwriter and I definitely come in with an idea in mind for bass and drums but they come up with cool stuff I never would have thought of.

How do you decide what you write is "Hiroshima Shadows" or will find a home somewhere else? Do you always write on guitar?

Hiroshima songs are always written on guitar, or sometimes I just use a distorted bass if its a 'riff' driven song. There's almost no crossover between writing band songs and when I'm writing songs for my solo project because they're such different mindsets that I have to get into. There was one song that I felt was a bit too weird for my solo stuff so I roughed it up a bit and brought it to the band and that became "Drug Skill" on our record that's coming out later this year.

When is the Hiroshima Shadows record coming out?

The new album is completely finished, but we're seeing if any labels want to put it out.. if they don't it'll be out in some form by the end of the year. It's different in that it was recorded properly in a studio and mastered by a professional — we took a bunch of the old songs from the tape we released and recorded them with our newest songs — so the biggest difference is that the songs sound juicy now instead of half baked.

What do you like most about playing loud, aggressive music?

Well it's very cathartic to perform it, and its really fun to have people jumping around at your shows, but it's also refreshing and necessary for me as a songwriter to let loose and write about stuff that concerns me but I wouldn't normally write about. Like socio-political shit that would make me feel like a preachy douche if I was playing an acoustic guitar, or I can get away with sleazy songs about sex and drugs. My solo project is pretty inward so the band is outward. It's fun because it covers the other side of the spectrum of being alive. Solo I'm Dr. Jekyll and in the band I'm Mr. Hyde.

When looking up the band on Facebook I saw you made a personal account for the band. Did you find you weren't getting to the people you wanted to reach without paying Facebook? Would you rather the band not need to have Facebook (though it seems like a must-do for bands these days)?

Yeah, exactly. On Facebook pages they have this feature that tells you like "This post reached 14 people" and they also say "Do you want to boost this post?" And we have hundreds of fans on there that aren't seeing stuff we post so I feel like its a scam. So we made a personal profile and added all the fans. I'd like to one day just have a Twitter but I feel like people don't use Twitter as much -- you should add @hiroshimadows and make my dream come true.

How did you connect with Push&Shove?

We were hooked up with them for our Pop Montreal show, but I haven't heard much about them, they're a new thing right? So far so good; they're putting on some good shit this year.

Hiroshima Shadows are playing TRH-Bar September 19 at 9:30 p.m.

Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) are having more fun than your band

 Talking about a band's name is usually a pretty lame way to start an interview, but with Toronto-based sloppy drunk pop punk 6-piece Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) the question had merit. How would you pronounce that name exactly?

"The way that we intended it is they would go 'pkew! pkew! pkew!' and then just say 'gunshots' as boringly as possible. But people call us whatever they want. It depends on their level of enthusiasm," says singer/guitarist Mike Warne.

Most bands don't put sound effects into their band name, but Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) are probably having more fun than most bands.

"We started the band as a joke. Me and the guitar player Jordan drew a picture of me and him on stage with Brodie [singer Brodie Matthias Bocelli] being the manager on the side of the stage. It was supposed to be a joke where we played synths and stuff, but we decided to play real instruments," he says.

"We weren't very good at synths."

Some of the guys had been in bands together before, but they had all worked together and knew each other for years. The band is full of guitars and they all sing. Every word is meant to be screamed back at the band live.

"A couple of us had been in bands before and they weren't fun. There was the work that is being in a band. This has the work, but it's still like hanging out," Mike says.

"We just hang out and drink, and now we hang out and drink and practice."

Their sound will be immediately welcomed to anyone who lived off of the Fat Wreck Chord punk of the '90s and early 2000s. Overtop of all that the lyrics usually revolve around how their best days are behind them, but we're going to get piss drunk with our friends so life's okay.

"I never played synth, it was fun to play around with, but we were never going to get good at them. Guitar is my instrument. I got a guitar when I was in grade seven or eight, and the only thing I listened to was Punk-O-Rama 1, 2, 3, 5, all those ones. We just started [writing] songs like when we were starting music."

It only makes sense to go back to the music of your youth when you're trying to face the future, bottle in hand.

"It's one of those things where it's easier to take seriously when we're making a lot of jokes. If you're in an indie band you're writing about emotional, serious things," says Mike. "The focus is more on having fun than making the most artful recording."

Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots) play le Divan Orange Sept. 18 at 6:00 p.m.

Hardcore Heresy

The biggest difference between a black metal record and the latest from anthemic anti-Christian punk band Crusades is that only one compels you to sing along.

Perhaps You Deliver This Judgment With Greater Fear Than I Receive it, released last November, is a rallying cry for secular thought and a damnation of Catholic oligarchy—with its lyrics tracing back to the 16th century.

The record revolves around the writing of philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was executed in 1600 for refusing to denounce his theory that the Sun was just another star in an infinite universe. Every song title is a loose translation of Bruno’s Latin texts, and the record’s name was Bruno’s response to his death sentence.

“Bruno’s story actually came to me as a result of a lengthy obsession with Roman Polanski’s film The Ninth Gate and Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s novel The Club Dumas,” says Dave Williams, guitarist and singer of the Ottawa-based four-piece.

The Ninth Gate, based on Pérez-Reverte’s novel, centres around a fictional book by Aristide Torchia derived from a text by Satan himself. Torchia’s character is thought to be based on Bruno.

It’s the philosopher’s solemn, hooded face on the cover of Perhaps You Deliver…, an image taken from his dark, imposing statue in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori, where he was burned at the stake for heresy.

The atmosphere set by the record is the heaviest thing about it—a combination of the record’s theme, its cold, raw production and Williams’ almost academic approach to composition.

“I’m only really interested in writing single, cohesive pieces, both lyrically and musically,” says Williams, who has a degree in musicology from Carleton University.

“Creating a mood, an atmosphere, it needs room to ebb and flow, to breathe. Until we start writing 20-minute-plus songs, it’ll continue to take a full record to make that happen the way we want it to.”

The record is almost deceptively heavy; it’s easy to get caught in the vocal melody before realizing the underlying intensity—furious, metal leads and crushing, shape-shifting rhythm.

As they hone their sound, it continues to move beyond the more straightforward melodic punk heard on their first LP, 2011’s The Sun is Down and the Night is Riding in, be it the hymn-like vocal phrasing of “The Transport of Intrepid Souls” or the ‘80s metal shining through the second half of “The Art of Memory.”

It’s a product of the band branching out of their collective comfort zone.

"As we’ve grown closer as musicians and friends, we’ve gotten more comfortable with bringing our individual influences to the table and working to incorporate them into our sound,” says Williams, which for him meant pulling more from hardcore and metal.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Ottawa by Mike Bond, who also worked the board for 2012’s Parables EP. There’s nothing pretty about Bond’s production style. It sounds the way punk should—dirty, booming and huge—while crafting an array of metal guitar tones.

“We grew up playing music with Mike, and as such, we share many sonic touchstones that I’ve asked him to strive for,” says Williams. “Whether it’s Cave In-esque tones or Barrit-style cleans, Mike knows exactly what I mean and that goes a long way toward achieving a specific vision.”

Crusades is a band all about composition. They have wives, “real” jobs and Williams is a father, but they’re already planning to work on their follow-up LP this summer, and aim to go on an East Coast U.S. tour in the fall.

They’re also now backed by Gainesville-based No Idea Records—a dream come true for Williams.

“No Idea has been my favourite label for many, many years, and to now call it home is surreal, humbling and crazy,” he says.

The feeling is mutual. No Idea signed Crusades after the label’s publicist, Tony Weinbender, was blown away by their set at The Fest, the annual punk festival in Florida he organizes.

And while this record is an immediately engaging performance of furious punk rock, the intent is far beyond just that.

“The hope is that, by combining an intense atmosphere, a passionate message and memorable songwriting, what’s being shouted back at us will have more behind it than just volume and melody,” says Williams. “It’ll have something that people can connect to, with lyrical and musical complexities that reveal themselves a little more with each listen.

“‘Whoas’ and ‘heys’ have their time and place—but doesn’t everyone prefer to sweatily scream something that just might give them chills as well?”

Originally published by The Link Newspaper.

Viet Cong Out of Cowtown

There's nothing like a 50-show tour to put a new band through its paces.

Viet Cong has rattled and clanged through half of the tour supporting Victoria's Freak Heat Waves, taking them through the United States and across Canada and back. It’s a daunting proposition for a band less than a year old, but Viet Cong isn’t exactly made up of a bunch of fresh-faced kids.

The band has the rhythm section of Women, the now-defunct post-punk prodigies that were were one of the best bands to come out of Calgary.

“The idea is to jump into it. It's hard to feel like you're doing anything when you're stuck in Calgary playing the same venue over and over again. We needed to get out of there,” said Viet Cong singer and bassist Matt Flegel.

Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace are joined by guitarists Scott Munroe, who Flegel had played with in the Chad VanGaalen band, and Daniel Christiansen, previously from a Black Sabbath cover band. After extensive touring the strain started to show in Flegel and Wallace’s old band—a brawl at a Victoria show in October 2010 marked their last onstage appearance. Guitarist Christopher Reimer passed away in his sleep 16 months later.

In Viet Cong, Flegel and Munroe take main songwriting duties, their sound ranging from fuzz-laden drone to straight pop. Their self-titled cassette surfaced online a few weeks ago as a collection of mismatched home recordings, leaving impressions of the punk and shoegaze their old projects are known for.

For Flegel those songs are just the orphans of the Viet Cong sessions, and the band is currently sitting on a cohesive debut record—they just need to decide who they’re going to put out the album with.

The new material also adds more synths and drum machines beats into the mix.

“We’ve been bringing that into the fold as the tour goes along,” said Flegel. “This is very much testing the waters.

“Monty [Munroe] is playing synth on almost all of it; it’s becoming more of a lead instrument.”

Even with the new sounds, however, Flegel believes his generation’s time has passed. According to him, all the best music in Calgary is coming from the 20-year-olds.

“It seems like it’s getting better culturally in Calgary in general,” he said. “It hasn’t always been that way, it’s been a kind of bleak place as far as culture for a while.”

But for those who do stay, bands like Women, and now Viet Cong, show that it’s possible to make it as a band in Cowtown.

“The young dudes probably look up to us, but they don’t know how much we respect them already,” said Flegel.

Originally published by The Link newspaper.