New Fries has never been interested in being a band; Yet, the Toronto-based experimental band have become one of the best kept secrets in the city. New Fries have gained notoriety for their unconventional, ever-changing sound, and their rapturous live show.
“This band is not looking to accumulate in a particular way that would gain
membership to any of these imagined worlds.”
Never afraid of collaboration or change, latest record release ‘Is The Idea Of Us’ is a product of working closely with Carl Didur (Zacht Automaat, formerly U.S. Girls), resulting in a new direction, focusing more on space and repetition, finding the in-between and reflecting on it, examining that transition.
“I distinctly remember talking a lot about anxiety when we were making this record”.
The album has some of ‘their’ favorite New Fries songs— ‘some I genuinely cannot believe we wrote because I like them so much. And so in that light, I’m happy to share them on this record.’
How are you?
This is Anni, I’m here solo in this interview. Hello. I’m ok all things considered. My tiny world is hazy but fine, and that’s a lucky thing. I’m deeply worried for the world on so many levels, but there are no quick words for that worry.
Covid-19 has certainly impacted, if not changed society for 2020.
Do YOU have any noted personal changes, conspiracies, new habits, books, as a band or as individuals?
I had extra time on my hands when I was unemployed in March and April (since then less so). Back in the early weeks I was re-learning calculus foundations which calmed the mind.
I’ve been attempting to grow vegetables in my front yard that has variable sunlight, making it a bit of an experiment. I’ve been re-reading a lot of Donna Haraway. I wonder about 5G to address your conspiracy theory mention specifically (haha). I am obsessed with this podcast True Anon. They do a really good job of cutting through a lot of the bullshit of the media, current political culture and events and are just so funny. Jenny (drummer) and I spend a lot of time talking about it and one of the hosts, Liz Franczac.
I definitely feel that your attitudes regarding your art was a curveball back in 2014, 2015, or very much underground, and yet very present now, with the NO WAVE vibe being touched upon by more present bands.
When I first caught your presence it seemed that the band were on the cusp of Torontopia hype, which you always admirably rejected!
Personally I am invested in making music to play shows, I care less for the process of recording music and pressing records. I find it stuff-y and in the case of this project, an inadequate representation of the spirit of its mission. I of course collect records and love recorded music, but when it comes to this project I find it distracting and flattening. That isn’t a reflection of the quality or generosity of engineers we’ve worked with or our label. They are all—by some stroke of luck and confusion—willing to work with us, and are unbelievably inspiring. All that said, ‘Is the Idea of Us’ (our new record) has some of my favorite New Fries songs—some I genuinely cannot believe we wrote because I like them so much. And so in that light, I’m happy to share them on this record.
I think we need to clarify what we mean when we say ‘Torontopia’, which often gets erroneously conflated with the Broken Social Scene/Arts and Crafts world. Torontopia references a scene heavily affiliated with Blocks Recording Club and bands such as Hidden Cameras, Kids on TV and Barcelona Pavilion. This scene was very queer. Bands were full of non-players. Blocks sought to operate as an artist cooperative, not a label. I think any reference to New Fries in relation to this world is a real honor because in so many ways these people approached music with an inspiring attitude—one that is open and hazardous in its approach to music (noise), welcomes all levels of playing, and was not careerist. We’re talkin’ bands that played two shows total, and then wrapped up. We’re talkin’ some really bad sounding music (trash, camp). We’re talkin’ a lot of fun, free-feeling music and
performance. I think we’ve failed at many things Torontopia by these standards. But we’ve also kept many of these values close to heart when most necessary. Hi Steve Kado!
I got to ask, why do you think you are not ‘well known’ in a grander audience sense sine the Vice coverage? (who cares?! Just nice to get around, sometimes, haha!)
I’m not sure media coverage has done much for our band, with all due respect to those who do that work (I’m assuming almost always for free). Perhaps it sparks curiosity in a random passer-by online (I trust that happens sometimes), but otherwise the economy of music ‘content’ online is suspicious to me. Content is often purchased by labels and is simply a routine re-wording of press releases, which makes it pretty disingenuous. All that said, thanks for these thoughtful questions.
I think any “growth” this band has experienced is from playing shows. I have committed to being so real and disgusting and raw on stage—playing with Jenny and Tim who support and demand that rawness has been transformative. I have also witnessed this commitment to rawness in my bandmates, giving so much energy and really letting go while performing. I am so proud of this. Any genuine conversations or connections I’ve had from playing music have centered the amazing release you can feel at a live show, especially from a noisy aggressive band (both as a performer and an audience member). This is the stuff. Not some Vice article.
Do you feel that the project has finally come full circle and cooler as a three piece? I feel that it suits the band, in this present time, as the artistic project in motion, you have always been!
Yes, there’s a bit of that full circle business. Not sure about cooler? What is cool? I think it simplified our sound for this record and forced us to re-evaluate the project. It definitely made us reflect on what it was like to make music at the early stages of this band, and that time was exciting and full of possibility.
How is the creative process differing now as a 3 piece, since the departure of Ryan (Carley)?
Some things remained constant; we pretty much always start with drums and bass and then add everything else and we continued with that process. But Tim/Jenny as our rhythm section for the first many years was so fire-y and solid. This new rhythm section with Jenny and I took on a different feeling. Jenny was very patient with me. Jenny also reduced her kit to three pieces and watching that limitation shape things was a lot of fun and certainly new.
Jenny and I love Tim on guitar (one of our favorites ever, even) and we were very excited watching him write with it while juggling searching for electronic sounds.
Please tell me about the creative process behind Is The Idea Of Us and working with Carl Didur (Zacht Automaat, formerly U.S. Girls)?
Carl is a tape expert. We knew these songs didn’t have much going on in them so wanted them recorded to tape for added texture and warmth. We really trust his musical sensibilities, as we love the music he makes. He shaped a lot of how the songs sounded in the end—he added keys here and there and filtered pieces of songs through sounds of his choosing. He was also very open to the collage form the record took on and was key in making that happen. I would say he was less of an engineer and more of a collaborator.
What do you consider ‘outsider’ or ‘Indie’ music, and is there such thing as
‘mainstream’, and ‘experimental’ or even ‘selling out’ in a modern competitive musical climate?
I’m not at all invested in these categories. This band is not looking to accumulate in a particular way that would gain membership to any of these imagined worlds. Beyond the practicalities that make music making possible and a desire to tour new places, we haven’t made creative or practical decisions to make this band our career. In many ways that has shaped our approach. I see a lot of “outsider” music operate dogmatically and a lot of mainstream music use its platform to do interesting and important artistic/political things. I think everything is complicit in capitalism and full of contradictions. I believe in people in all these different imagined worlds surprising with unexpected decisions.
BLM has been in conversation for the last few years, if not as part of much larger rhetoric for decades, if not centuries; yet we, as a society remain ‘distant’ to any resolve, or equality in the broadest terms. Artistically speaking it has always been more accepted to accept, thank goodness!
However, do you feel, by in large that there is a lack of diversity within the
experimental scene, or in band music (A la guitars & drums); is there something more for us all to strive towards for greater participation of all peoples?
Thanks for this question. To be honest this feels like a hard thing to find quick words for. There is absolutely a lack of diversity within our “experimental” scene but I don’t think that is because BIPOC communities are at all distant from musical experimentation, as many music scenes in Toronto dominated by BIPOC artists demonstrate nothing but experimentation and musical excellence. There are also many BIPOC in our scene who are pillars, so I don’t want them erased in this conversation.
I have observed (from my very white place) that there are fragmentations in Toronto’s many music scenes and I’ve respectfully considered how that sometimes makes sense given cultural specificities. The sorts of “bridges” built (often by institutions) can feel insincere or antagonizing under the guise of inclusivity and diversity (institutional words I am suspicious of). But also I wish for more bridges, always. I wish for the reparation of resources from predominantly white cultural scenes to Black, Indigenous and other artists of color. Though this thought is about gender, I’ll share it anyways. I would often watch bands (many men) play fundraiser gigs for causes like Girls Rock Camp and often think “instead of this
fundraiser show, why don’t all these men choose their favorite irreplaceable piece of gear and give it to a young woman to have forever?” I believe in this material relinquishing of power.
I don’t think the music scene New Fries operates in needs to play host in some sort of patronizing/charitable way. I do however feel invested in making our scene less antagonizing for BIPOC to be part of. I am also very excited by collaborations that bring people of varied experiences (musical, cultural and political identities) together naturally that reflect the true desires of all those participating, without hierarchies or dynamics of guest/host. I think these sorts of relationships will happen when white people shed white supremacy from our minds, hearts and bodies. I think as an individual that takes a lot of inner work, a lot of listening and
a lot of letting go of power and control. I’ll leave that there, open-ended in this continuous process of learning and reflecting and acting. But will also say that the potential for more openness and creative ease for all in a music scene is urgently necessary.
What has been the biggest ‘learning curve’ since being in New Fries?
Collaborating. Finding a point on a map where everyone is contributing what is true to themselves but also compromises healthily for what’s best for the collective project.
Ooof—what a ride.
Why do you do what you do?
I am interested in energy transference. The one that happens between Tim, Jenny and when we play shows live. Something happens that doesn’t happen in any other relationship/experience in my life. I am also interested in the transference that happens in a live show between performers and an audience with the tool of music and all its mysteries/absurdities. Experiencing this with my bandmates and a room full of friends and strangers is so wild; I can’t believe I figured something out where this is part of my life. Music is incredible and I believe it in a big way.
Do you still consider NEW FRIES a band made up musicians and non-musicians ? –
You could have used the phrase ‘Beginners Mind’ for the album title, which I saw you use in a recent interview! Jaja.
– I agree!
So then, how did you fix on the title, Is The Idea Of Us?
Oof, naming this record was a frustrating experience. We couldn’t decide and all pushed back on the different ideas floating around. I think Jenny wanted to call it “PMS” (hahaha).
As many things New Fries, it came from a fleeting comment within an argument and that always feels like the right place for us to grab words from.
Do you consider this to be your most ‘challenging work to date, as a band?
I find many of these songs very easygoing
· ‘We’ve never been interested in the tradition of songwriting—though we’re interested inmusical elements like repetition, space, and dynamics.’ Tell me more!
I distinctly remember talking a lot about anxiety when we were making this record. How space and repetition in arrangement create an anxious feeling, something a bit different from the clear communication of noise or dissonance or attack or (in terms of vocals) screaming.
The three of us are variably interested in these musical elements as tools. I think I can confidently say none of us care for the tradition of the song .
If you are not songwriters then what are you?
Feral animals? John Candy fan club officiates? People who prefer food and movies to music? We’re kind of like ticket scalpers.
Do you hope to continue your musical journey with Telephone Explosion, and yeah, how is the kinship between artist and label?
We are terrible to work with. We named 10 songs identically on this record (“genre”), which sent Jon of TE on an administrative wild goose chase for weeks (sorry Jon). This is a question for Jon and Steve (who I adore and trust).
Would you prefer for the music you create make your audience dance, sing or
Dance at the gig, sing on the way home, and think about at 11AM the next day.
How does influence and comparison differ for you as artists, and does any of it matter (comparisons to No Wave, or your Canadian contemporaries)? I mean, to coin Oscar Wilde; great artists borrow and genius steals.
I like the idea of bands being sponge-y vs. stealing. I love when bands are excited about all the music they are moved by, point to influences directly, and interpret in ways that don’t completely obscure where they came from. Perhaps others disagree, but I think Stereolab does this well. DNA were absolutely the band that made me want to play music when we first started (as well as loads of local bands). The no wave scene (and not just the music part, also the theatre, film and performance parts) was an urgent invitation to just play and not give a shit about how. And I liked it much more musically, compared to other self-initiated/punk music scenes like Riot Grrl or straight-ahead punk. Plus Arto Lindsay remains my favorite guitar player—the movement, attack, and embodiment of his instrument playing is exactly what I’ve been sponge-y about. And I forever come back to No Wave as a sort of foundation when I’m lost. I forever love the spirit of deconstruction, pieces laid out detached but still connected as a sort of music index or anatomy—rough and suspicious and true. And I love the nihilism and the rhythm and the aliveness and the joy and mischief of dropping in on something you know nothing about and how that frees up the approach from any rules or expectations.
The lyric, from the track, ‘Ploce’ ‘It is a mind thing’? resonated with me in the purest sense. Please tell me more about how to ‘push the body’ and the inspiration behind the song!
Similar to No Wave being a foundation for me so is this text by Kathy Acker ‘Against Ordinary Language – Language of the Body’. She describes this beautiful awareness of the body while training as a body builder. She sites the simple language of things like counting reps as a way to quantify the in-between of what is happening with the body and the verbal language that would describe what is happening with the body (giving it meaning). Now that I think about it, that’s probably why I really loved the shirt we photographed for the cover of the record—it’s a mix of numbers 1 through 9. I was always so inspired by her awareness of this, her naming this, and I always found exploring this in-between totally world-expanding.
And I believe a lot of what she is describing happens while playing music. I always think about this text when I’m lying on a mat while exercising—belly down and the wetness of my breath bouncing back at me off the mat. And I think about it while working with my body in the sense of having these acute and quick choices to push harder but feeling the mind getting in the way. I am aware of that slow sludge-y space between the body acting and the mind processing. So yes, those lyrics are a big piece Kathy Acker, and a big piece the strange relationships we have to our bodies and our neural processes and the space in between. I write all that down and I can only think “damn, athletes are incredible”.
Amy Lockhart is talent personified. Kudos on the video, how did you all bump into one another?
Always been a big fan of Amy’s work. And Amy is a friend. Jenny has worked with Amy a lot over the years with her publishing house/risograph printing press Colour Code.
What does the next year appear like, in your minds?
Hard to say, to be honest—taking this time day by day.