Tag Archives: Sonic Boom

Q&A: Anna Mayberry of HSY and ANAMAI talks folk roots, contemporary dance

HSY's Anna Mayberry gave Toronto a free taste of her solo project ANAMAI with a Sonic Boom in-store to support her new EP in November, but tomorrow night (Dec. 11), ANAMAI plays another free gig at June Records. Photo: Tom Beedham

HSY’s Anna Mayberry gave Toronto a free taste of her solo project ANAMAI with a Sonic Boom in-store to support her new EP in November, but tomorrow night (Dec. 11), ANAMAI plays another free gig at June Records. Photo: Tom Beedham

Interview by Tom Beedham

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but with ANAMAI playing a free gig at June Records tomorrow night (Dec. 11) and HSY playing The Drake Hotel Thursday (Dec. 12), the stars seemed lined up right enough to make this an appropriate time to let this go.

Although she released an EP with HSY just back in September, Anna Mayberry dropped a release of her own under the alias ANAMAI just last month: the Alter Coals EP. Joined onstage for the first time by a full live band consisting of Allie Blumas (Doomsquad), her mononymous HSY bandmate Jude, and David Psutka (whom produced the EP), Mayberry supported her new release on Nov. 15 with two Toronto performances – a free afternoon in-store at Sonic Boom’s Kensington Market location, and a club gig at Holy Oak later that night. Following the Sonic Boom gig, Mayberry and I huddled by a wall outside the Augusta Avenue shop and talked about her new project, growing up in a Toronto folk community, and how contemporary dance influenced HSY’s video for “Tartar Mouth.” Full interview below.

Tom Beedham: You seem to have created some pretty distinct voices between what you’ve done with HSY and what you’ve put together with ANAMAI. How do you approach writing material for this project as opposed to what you’ve done with HSY?
Anna Mayberry: I think that the way I write songs for this project is really different from how we write songs for HSY right now. With HSY one person will bring in a riff and we’ll kind of just jam together and make it together. These songs are kind of more fully formed in my head. And it’s also like a different atmospheric vibe that I’m going for with these songs. There’s some similarities and kind of darkness and letting noise laugh over the songs that happens in HSY, too. But yeah I think they’re just coming from a different artistic idea with HSY. It’s a bit crazier.

TB: Where are you hoping to take things with ANAMAI now that you’ve got the EP out there?
AM: I’m working on a bunch of new stuff. I hope to record over the winter and write new songs and stuff. On the EP it’s just three songs, and I have more that I play live. There’s a pizza song in there. I’d like to do a little bit more vocal looping – not necessarily more poppy, but just a lot more layered vocals – and kind of push in the same direction that the EP’s started us in.

I drive boats in Toronto Harbour in the summers. So yeah I basically have one more week of work left and then I’ll be free to sing all the time all day.

“…we wrote down names for dance moves that haven’t been invented yet and then we’d kind of shout them out at each other while the one person was dancing…” -Anna Mayberry (on filming the video for HSY’s “Tartar Mouth”)

TB: When did these songs come about?
AM: When I was living in Montreal I wrote most of the songs there. I was studying for my BFA in contemporary dance at Concordia. Contemporary dance. So art dance.

TB: Did that inform the “Tartar Mouth” video [for HSY]?
AM: Yeah! I guess so. I felt like for that I kind of directed people’s dance moves, but I wanted them to kind of make up dance moves. Our process was we wrote down names for dance moves that haven’t been invented yet and then we’d kind of shout them out at each other while the one person was dancing so I guess in terms of that it’s kind of interpretive. My choices making dance work are always to kind of use the dancers and get them to contribute, so in that way it’s kind of related I guess.

TB: Most of the lyrics you write are from a first-person perspective. At least it’s true for all of the songs on the EP or “Space Girl” [from HSY’s Sick Rey cassette]. Is there something you find particularly interesting about that perspective?
AM: I think it’s nice to write from a first-person perspective because it kind of just grounds some of the lyrics or some of the stories. Coming from a folk background, pretty much everything is written in the first person or like a story about specific people because they’re these kind of recurring characters or recurring themes and everyone who sings the song, they’re taking it on. I really like hearing a woman sing a song that’s written from a male perspective or vice-versa. That’s a nice folk thing that happens. So I guess I’m just tied to that in a certain way when I write songs. That’s how they come out.

TB: Let’s talk about that “folk background” that you brought up. I read on Chart Attack that you grew up in a folk community in Toronto learning traditional English and Irish music. Appalachian folk, too.
AM: Yeah. My parents do English folk dancing, and I basically grew up having these kind of crazy folk parties where at certain points people would be playing fiddle and banjo and piano and whatever in the living room, and then in the kitchen, people are all singing these kind of big sea chanteys or ballads or whatever. And the fun of that is everyone’s kind of getting drunk and trying out their harmonies, and it could sound really good or really bad, but it’s just very inclusive, and it’s kind of like if you’re going to be in that room you have to be singing. So I guess I just kind of practice singing when there’s no pressure on and it’s a good way to do it I think. It’s a good way to learn to sing.

TB: You mentioned people playing banjo and stuff – did you join in on any of that? When did you start playing guitar?
AM: I played fiddle a bit when I was a kid. A lot of my parents’ friends are professional musicians and I was taking violin lessons. So every time there would be a party in the morning all the fiddle players would teach me songs when I was a little kid, maybe seven years old, and like [simulates fiddle noises] on my little half-size violin so yeah I mean I guess I trained that way and then guitar I took some lessons when I was a teenager like everyone does and tried to learn Jimi Hendrix kind of thing. I couldn’t play the Jimi Hendrix.

TB: Do you consciously bring any of those influences from your childhood into your music now?
AM: Yeah I think so. It’s an interesting thing. I feel like I wouldn’t be making this kind of music if I hadn’t played in HSY or played a lot of shows with HSY before that. Because I think that the way I grew up seeing folk artists starting their careers or playing or whatever, it’s just a whole different network, a whole different scene. I’m kind of taking that folk stuff that is in my blood but putting it into the scene that I live in versus playing for a bunch of older people sitting down.

Photos: ANAMAI live in-store at Sonic Boom (Kensington location) – Nov. 15, 2013
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Weird Canada is getting behind cassettes in a big, $50K way

Canadian indie music website to use FACTOR grant to distribute music, champion technological accessibility

Cassettes overflow a KFC bucket display atop a table for Sonic Boom’s Cassette Fair held Sept. 7. The event was held in honour of the first annual international Cassette Store Day, where Weird Canada spoke of plans to feature cassette releases in its upcoming FACTOR grant-funded distribution service. Photo: Tom Beedham

Cassettes overflow a KFC bucket display atop a table for Sonic Boom’s Cassette Fair, held Sept. 7. The event was held in honour of the first annual international Cassette Store Day, where Weird Canada spoke of plans to feature cassette releases in its upcoming FACTOR grant-funded distribution service. Photo: Tom Beedham

On Sept. 7, a hefty serving of audiocassettes filled a KFC bucket to the point of overflow atop a table in the Annex location of Toronto record supermarket Sonic Boom. Ripe for consumption and low in calories, what’s been dismissed by some as a stale format for decades, the audio cassette has seen something of a revival amongst recording artists in recent years, this year prompting an inaugural, international celebration of the medium – labeled Cassette Store Day (hence the format’s prominent situation at Sonic Boom on the Saturday).

While Sonic Boom’s locations are most revered for the breadth of music they offer consumers through vinyl media, its Annex shop spent the day housing a “Cassette Fair” at the front of its store featuring offerings from cassette-release toting labels Arachnidiscs, Artificial, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Bennifer Editions, Burger, Buzz, Daps, Feather Hat Guy, Healing Power, Heretical Objects, Hosehead, Inyrkdisk, Kinnta, Mathematic Recordings, Medusa Editions, Not Unlike, Optical Sounds, Pansy Twist, Pleasence, Reel Cod, and Telephone Explosion.

Also tabling at the event were representatives of renowned indie music website Weird Canada, a publisher about to get behind cassettes in a big, $50,000 way.

After a stressful grant application process that had Weird Canada Executive Director Marie LeBlanc Flanagan up late writing (and rewriting) a proposal to the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR) on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, in the spring, Weird Canada was informed it would receive a $50,000 FACTOR grant to build an online store and distribution service.

“Basically what we’re going to try to do is connect record stores with bands, with fans, with labels, and send these cassettes all over Canada,” Flanagan told Burden of Salt while taking time out from speaking with consumers and those curious about the table she was working at the fair.

But why cassettes?

“Well, I feel that we as a culture, and our generation, really desire a physical medium,” said Flanagan. Speaking on the subject at a bustling record store, it was a suggestion that preached to the choir, but it didn’t yet clarify why people should be interested in what some now call an archaic recording medium.

Flanagan went on to explain that people should look to cassettes because they open doors for artists that other physical media cannot.

“We desire something physical that we can touch and collect and keep as a symbol of our music, but it’s really hard to release physical media,” Flanagan elucidated. “It’s expensive; it’s complicated; cassettes are the cheapest, easiest, actual physical, tangible media that we can access. The accessibility of technology means a lot.”

In deed, Weird Canada founder Aaron Levin has had some personal experience dealing with pressing records to vinyl.

“I put out a record and, yeah, it’s really expensive,” said Levin, leaning in front of Flanagan to get a word in. Levin also commented that the fallout from pursuing that particular physical medium can become intrusive. “When [records] don’t sell you have like 300lbs of stock that you have to live with.”

He calls cassettes “a very viable and accessible option for people who can’t release vinyl.”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Weird Canada will even roll out some cassette releases. After recording a Wyrd Fest showcase the publication threw at Toronto’s Music Gallery, the website has been granted release permissions from the venue to sell 100 cassettes of the concert, which featured performances from Jennifer Castle and Colin Bergh covering each others’ material, Zachary Fairbrother Feedback Guitar Orchestra, and Soul Sisters Supreme. They also have a project called The Weird Canada Releases, which will give rise to some cassettes.

While some have railed against the reemergence of cassettes as signaling cultural decay favouring an inferior recording medium and consumer exploitation, pointing to how less of the information recorded in a studio can be heard from cassettes when the medium is held against other formats like vinyl, Flanagan and Levin stand by the medium and say the “audiophile” argument is pushing a moot point.

“These cassettes aren’t taking away from records that would’ve been, they’re creating room for music to emerge that wouldn’t be without the cassette,” said LeBlanc. “This is a space in between for people that can’t [afford to] press a record.”

The argument also falls victim to deflation when it is brought up that most contemporary cassette releases come packaged with download cards linking the purchaser to digital recordings of the same music.

“But people don’t just want the download card, they want the cassette,” stressed LeBlanc. “They want the art and they want to touch it.”

“I think people want things to sound good, but most importantly they want the result of their creative expression to exist in the world and to be enjoyed by people. And tapes are right now the best format through which to do this,” said Levin.

Weird Canada’s distro is set to arrive in January 2014.