Interred Views: Sister Ray

31/08/2017

Sister Ray performing at the &Loan Gallery

Nanaimo BC’s Sister Ray were a band that shouldn’t have existed and shouldn’t have ceased to be. Circa 2007 the local underground scene was, as so many such scenes perpetually are, obsessed with loud, fast, punk-inspired indie rock. Mel Mundell and Jakob Rehlinger were both in reasonably popular loud, fast bands (The Sheds and The Clap respectively), and wanted something different. Something slow and quiet. Something the audience could lay down on the floor and nod off to. That is, if they dared lay on any of the grime-covered, pre-gentrification floors of Nanaimo’s decaying downtown venues and DIY spaces. Intended as either a challenge or an affront to their audience, Sister Ray’s somnolent tempos and soft-spoken whispers tamed the beast for a short time, earning them a loyal following and respect as one of the city’s top talents, destined for greater things. Like many bands full of promise, they broke up too soon when life tore the duo in opposite directions and different parts of the continent (Jakob to Toronto and Mel to Portland). Sister Ray left behind one album, several unrecorded and forgotten songs, and a lot of unrealised plans as their legacy.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary expanded reissue of their seminal album on Arachnidiscs Recordings, Jakob and Mel reconvened via Facebook to reminisce about the rise and fall of Sister Ray.


Jakob: It was ten years ago we started the band in Nanaimo [a small city on Vancouver Island]. What are you memories of that time and place?

Mel: I remember us both having Internet girlfriends that we were pining over. I remember walking to your apartment for practice and Nanaimo feeling vaguely desolate.

Jakob: It was a wasteland we both wanted out of. Those were the peak meth epidemic years. So much boarded-up commercial space. Between the skeleton of the abandoned Malaspina Hotel and the giant pit that would become the convention centre, downtown looked like Syria.

Mel: And I remember us playing a show at the Queens and the stage seeming ridiculously high up for some reason and it altogether being a ludicrous venue for us.

Jakob: Yeah, the Queens show was ridiculous. Probably a Tuesday or something too. I think only Adrienne and Breen showed up?

Sister Ray at The Queens

Mel: Yes, we could always count on Adrienne and Breen, our super supportive fans. I remember you being in lots and lots of other music projects, ha. Is this the case still?

Jakob: I am still in a bunch of projects. I actually just put an end to BABEL which I guess was becoming my main solo project back then. I’m in Moonwood with my wife and two nice dudes and somehow I might be currently playing bass—the one you used in Sister Ray!—in a band called Stargoon with some of the same people. And I always have too many solo studio projects, like King Pong Dub System which is credited with one of the remixes on the reissue. What about you? Have you been keeping up with music?

Mel: I played in a surf-y low-fi band Bushtit for four years or so but members moved away and I haven’t done anything since. Yikes that was like three years ago! I miss it but I don’t drink and smoke anymore, a.k.a. go to bars, so I tried joining a community choir as my new band last year. And then we sang Grease songs and I had to leave.

Jakob: Ugh. No doubt. I’d heard of Bushtit. Though did I know you were even in Bushtit? Anyway, you guys were great! I don’t actually remember how Sister Ray even came into existence. Despite being fond of each other, the idea of us just getting together to make music seems absurd to me in a way. Yet, it was a serendipitous, magical pairing. Do you remember how it came to be?

Mel: Once we formed Sister Ray I wondered why we hadn’t played music together sooner. But when did we make a set plan to do so? I have no memory of the actual logistics and I too find it hard to believe. Did someone else suggest it? Did we connect over a particular band?

Jakob: Well, Nick Cave was big for both of us. Huge. The first Grinderman album had just come out and we liked it. But, no, I think that came out well after we were playing together. We were both into Swans, I think. You got me more into Teenage Jesus at the time. But nothing that really sounded like Sister Ray, exactly. We never talked about Low or slowcore bands I don’t remember. And I don’t think we were like, “Hey what if Kim Gordon or Lydia Lunch had fronted Mazzy Star?!” Do you remember being into any bands like what we were doing?

Mel: Not really. I was definitely into all of the above, including Low to some degree, but the darkwave-y stuff much more. I think Sister Ray was derived from the mood of all the music we liked in common stripped and slowed way, way, way down.

Jakob: Way down. One of our initial intentions was to be slow and quiet, which we definitely were, at least compared to what everyone else in town was doing at the time. I think I wanted to chance to play guitar a little more atmospherically than my other bands had allowed.

Sister Ray at Fascinating Rhythm

Mel: I agree, the goal was to play music as slowly and atmospherically as possible. I wanted us to play shows where the audience was laying on the floor, I wanted us to play while laying on the floor. I wanted to be able to take a complete deep breath in between notes. I remember feeling a deep sense of calm after our practices.

Jakob: I remember us both almost falling asleep by the end of practice. We’d rate it as a success if one of us was nodding off. I’ve played a few Moonwood and BABEL drone sets that almost achieve that. In some ways I keep trying to go back to Sister Ray. Have you listened to the songs recently?

Mel: I hadn’t listened to the songs recently, but I listened to the reissue all last night finally and although I cringed at times at my own timidness, it sounded better than I remembered.

Jakob: Ha! Yeah, I think you we purposely trying to not scream like in The Sheds. I guess it could come off as timid, in a way. But I hear more tender or delicate or… a better word I can’t quite place.

Mel: Ha, it’s true! There is an understated quality to the whole project that allowed for a lot of intensity I think. The bass playing is basic beyond belief, but l hope I’ve improved since then.

Jakob: I liked the super basic almost brutalist quality to the bass playing.

Sister Ray news paper clipping

Mel: I’m glad. I liked it too just think it needed to be rougher and more defined with effects maybe. Playing with you was a dream come true. Sister Ray is my favourite project I’ve ever been in. It’s the music I’ve always wanted to make.

Jakob: . It’s one of the most pure things I’ve ever done. We were really making music for ourselves, no concessions to genre or popularity, almost throwing two fingers up at everyone else at the time playing uptempo punk-inspired music. But everyone loved it. I often wonder if we’d have kept it pure or what would’ve happened if we’d carried on. I know you wanted to put down the bass and start playing guitar and I was really nervous about that. I think now, it’d have been the right choice. Get rid of the drum machine too. But will we ever know?

Mel: I wonder that too. Sister Ray was a very healing project for me and playing that way did feel more about a personal need and a lot less about popularity or accessibility. In terms of where it could/would have gone? I honestly feel like we had 10 more albums in us, ha. I can hear the drum machine holding us back at times, but I also think it kept us awake at others. I think more confident bass playing or guitar on my part would have worked. Your playing, for me, is guitar at its best and we would have needed to keep that. Reunion show! I need a project like Sister Ray in my life again. Now wish me all the luck finding a Jakob in Vancouver.

Jakob: Good luck. I’m one of a kind! As are you. Hopefully we can work together in some capacity someday.


The reissue of Sister Ray releases on 9/11 2017.

 

 

 


Interred Views: Everything Is Geometry

24/06/2015

Around about the turn of the millennium, back in Nanaimo, BC, the guys at a record store I hung out at told me they’d been to a great all-ages punk show at the youth centre and I should check the next one out. I was in my mid-to-late-twenties at the time and I remember recoiling slightly as if they’d just said, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

But they were right. It was a great scene. This unpleasantly snarky punk teenager who’d come into the store and spew communist rhetoric had an amazing, violent, blood and vomit spewing band called The Crusties. Eventually I somehow became friends with Richard Holiday Cartwright and we started a dance-punk band called The Clap. That didn’t work out as well as we planned (probably my bad) so I started The Urbane Decay and he started Down With Everything.

To best of my recollection and understanding, Everything Is Geometry evolved out DWE. That was circa 2007 and roughly coincided with when I skipped town. Since then he and (other core member) Kristjanne Vosper have built up an impressive body of work and he’s relocated to the far right hand coast of the country, New Brunswick. This is where I caught up with him via the magic of Facebook.


k&k

Arachnidiscs Recordings: So, I need to do an interview with you. About the tape.

Richard Holiday Cartwright: Sure. Fireaway. I’ll delay my burrito.

ADR: I don’t actually have any questions yet. Burrito it up.

RHC:  Aight. I’m going to see dinosaurs in two hours.

[Time passes]

ADR:  You grew up in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. Now you live in Fredericton, New Brunswick on the complete opposite coast of Canada. How’s that workin’?

RHC: Its a different planet with different languages and different customs, all of which still confuse me. Three months a year its a pretty nice place. Fall and Spring.

ADR: Ontario, or Toronto at least, is only nice three months of the year too. We were spoiled back home. What about the indie music scene? I’m not sure I know what’s going on in F-town. Is anything happening?

RHC:  There is a scene, one that veers in a very prog and gloomy direction… maybe not gloomy, but more gloomy than the west.

ADR: Like doom metal?

RHC: That is pure gloom. no… maybe not gloomy… but less sunshiney.

ADR: Do you think that’s influenced by the geography? Weather? Economy?

RHC: I would assume its weather related. It probably has some reactionary basis too, there’s a lot of jangly adult-oriented music on the east coast.

ADR: That makes sense. I think the reaction against Great Big Sea fuels many a band across the country.

RHC: Also, I don’t necessarily mean gloomy in a negative way… I live in a bubble where I expect everything to sound like an all ages show in BC sounds. Obviously things don’t and that’s not a bad thing and its not something I should expect. That being said, there’s a band from Sackville called the Mouthbreathers who are pretty amazing and NVN from Saint John are pretty rad too and they do sound like a BC all ages show.

ADR: I know exactly what you mean by that. But for readers who haven’t experienced a BC all-ages show, describe what one’s like.

RHC: I wouldn’t know where to start. Ideally, Repoman-esque… I always expect every band to be a punk rock band. Or at least rooted in that

ADR:  Repoman-esque describes the entire Vancouver Island scene perfectly. Though I haven’t lived there for over seven years now. Did it change much between 2007 and, say, 2014?

RHC: Nope. Maybe slightly more stoner skewing

ADR: More stoner? Vancouver Island got more stoner? How is that possible?

RHC: More dispensaries? It’s noticeably moreso.

ADR: Amazing. Are there more Bob Marley shirts?

RHC: I think that markets been over saturated for years.

ADR: That’s an understatement. But I know what you’re saying about the bands not sounding like BC all-ages shows. In Toronto the only ones that I notice really do, actually have BC roots. It seems to be something that doesn’t traverse the prairies.

RHC: Yah. It’s possibly because a lot of those bands don’t tour outside of the west coast and into the U.S.

ADR: It’s a weird thing I never really thought about before. Also the basic attitude though. Audiences and bands in Montreal seem to be more akin to BC audiences and bands. More genuinely enthusiastic and supportive.

RHC: I can see that. Halifax is similar as well.

ADR: Maybe it’s nothing to do with anything. Just small pockets of awesome. Speaking of the West Coast, KV is still there. What’s the status of EIG? Will there be a live version again?

RHC: We are in discussions of possibly doing something this summer or fall. I think the consensus is that we would like to but… you know… stuff. Time and space

ADR: It’s a lot of miles. We just drove to Montreal for a gig. That was a lot of time and space.

RHC: I saw. Did you actually play with that hood on?

ADR:  It’s my new thing. The hood hides the audience from my gaze. Or vice versa.

RHC: People go expecting a braided beard and golf hat and they get a Jawa.

ADR:  I’m all about fucking with people’s expectations. What about new EIG material. All recorded by sending files back and forth through email?

RHC: I prefer in person, but we’ve done a few things by mail. I’m in BC twice a year. And I’ve still got half my recording gear there at my parents’. We’ll finish off a new thing in August.

ADR:  Well, that’s actually more recording than Moonwood has accomplished this year. And we all live in the same city. Or same mega-sprawl at least.

RHC: I’ve asked a bunch of other people to help with the new stuff, so we’ll see if that puts a cramp in my timeline.

ADR: If I’m one of those people. And I think I am. I will do my best to mess things up.

RHC: Dinosaurs was kind of boring.

ADR: Yeah, I haven’t been very motivated to go.

RHC: If you’re not going to see it in a theater, it’s probably not worth seeing. It’s loud and crashy and full of computers fighting other computers

ADR: Like the computers get up and walk around and bash each other?

RHC: Something like that. Were your parents excited about that picture in the paper. Or were they are the ones that sent it in?

ADR: Very. People keep walking up to them in the grocery store, or where ever, and asking them about it. No, it was arranged by the NXNE publicity people. I have no idea why they thought it was something that needed doing. Just spreading the brand to retirement communities across the country I guess. I sent in that picture myself, actually. It’s from my wedding. It was the only one I had that met the insanely huge resolution requirements. They wanted an 8×10. If you play NXNE, there’ll be stories in the Nanaimo Bulletin about you.

RHC: “Richard holiday Cartwright makes good” with a crayon picture.

ADR: It’ll be glorious.

RHC: I’d accept that.

ADR: Film and cinema influences pop up a lot in your songs. Conscious?

RHC: Like what? Specifically. If it’s something obvious its probably conscious.

ADR:  I felt like all your songs were about, like, Un Chien Andalou for a while. Or something. And horror film imagery. But not in a horror way. Like references.

RHC: That’s probably unconscious. I can’t remember doing that on purpose. There was a period with a lot of McLuhan references. That’s probably as referency as I’ve gotten in EIG.

ADR: I could be projecting, as well. So no dino songs in the works then?

RHC: No planned dino songs.

ADR: But think of the cover painting. [RHC painted the cover for 2015].

eig2015small

RHC: Ah, I’ve never seen the movie that the picture’s based on. It was a still I found in a book called A Pictorial History of the Motion Picture Serial.

ADR: You mean the man on the wheel under a saw blade?

RHC: That’s the one.

ADR: I’d watch that movie.

RHC: Those movies are hard to find and tedious to the point of nearly not being worth the set pieces. But, yeah, man on a wheel is a great image. Bodies in gears, etc. It’s like a socialist creed.

Romantic.

Everything Is Geometry’s latest EP, 2015, releases on our NO LOVE imprint on June 29th. You can order it here.


Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.


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