The Ghostly Hounds Deliver Witch Folk With Soul

(as published in Naked Underground Montreal February 10th, 2016)

Like the siren enchanting the sailor into the depths, Francesca Daoust’s voice may drown you, but what a sweet death it will be.

At their EP Release Party at Le Cagibi last Friday, the Ghostly Hounds vocalist delivered a soulful performance that gripped the packed room.

“It’s such an intuitive thing for me,” Daoust says of her music, “I don’t have any music theory background, and I’ve been playing alone for so long that [on this EP] it was a lot of work figuring out compositions and how to communicate what I was looking for.”

Daoust began jamming with stand-up bassist and Massachusetts import Matthew Dorfman in mid-2015. Shortly after, they were joined by ex-Brass Mob trumpeter Suzanne Stirling and classically trained Syrian violist Zafer Zephyr to form Ghostly Hounds.

Zephyr plays his viola much in the same way he speaks: with a humanity and sweetness perfectly attuned to those he’s working with. “One of my favourite things to do is find parallels in different genres or hear a melody being expressed in different modes,” Zephyr explains, “I try to incorporate Arabic or Klezmer tunes that I’ve played in the past, and I always find something that fits -in my humble opinion -into what Francesca’s singing.”

To talk of an entirely different style, Stirling’s trumpet brings a brassiness to the group that underlines both Dorfman and Daoust’s backgrounds, as the singer attests to: “Jazz has been a huge influence for me, even though what I play isn’t jazz. Before I started playing my own stuff, I always sang in jazz bands. I really love having horns.”

Indeed, Stirling plays with a targeted ease that gives the Witch Folk group a laidback quality that makes their shows a joy to watch. At one moment at Le Cagibi, the West Coast native jumped playfully beside Daoust’s mouth trumpeting to do a solo that electrified the crowd.ghoustly hounds 2

“It just feels so good to have the other sounds, and it inspires me,’ Daoust expresses, “There’ve been a few songs that I’d started writing and just given up on that have turned into full songs since jamming with these guys.”

Daoust will be the first to admit her songs can be dark, but she denies that they’re depressing: “All my songs have been written when I’ve been at my worst, but I write to uplift myself and get myself through [the difficulties].” The tracks, which she’s been performing and reworking for years as a solo artist, are more hopeful than tragic. On “I Pray” she laments, “This flame gives life and yet it also burns. How many times before my lesson’s learned?” but wonders, “If I continue will I lose my skin, or will I break through and find the answers I hold within?”

“I Pray”, along with “Crone,” “A Cliff” and “Month of Tears” were engineered and recorded by stand-up bassist Matthew Dorfman in theCapsule Sound Studio mere weeks after the band was fully formed. While the exceptionally adaptable musician supports Ghostly Hounds unique combination of instruments beautifully, he was less familiar with the recording process. “I’d never done that [work] before, so the technical skills were really interesting to learn,” he reveals, “When you listen to your own music, it’s a very different experience than playing it in the moment. You’re forced by the recording process into creating a product that’s concise and polished, and it makes you listen and think differently about how you then speak as a musician, and how everything fits together.”

Looking to the future, the band is open to all possibilities. “I feel like the Montréal music scene is so vast,’ Daoust points out, “It’s a city that really nurtures creative growth and collaboration; there are so many people that are looking to play, looking to put on shows, looking to discover new music. It’s a big part of why I moved here.”

While this summer’s Westcoast tour and festival shows are still in the works, this March you can catch Ghostly Hounds on tour in Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Ottawa. For venues and schedules, visit them on Facebook or Bandcamp.

The Tall Shadows’ Rock Orchestra

(as published in Naked Underground Montreal March 11, 2016)

I Shall Not Be Moved, the new album from Tall Shadows, is like a beaming smile on a brilliantly awkward teenager: “There’s a lot of weird shit going on,” admits vocalist and songwriter Owen Fairbairn, “[There are] little time changes [and] lots of dissonant chords, but I want it to sound pleasing to the ear and kind of fun.” The group is successful, because tracks like “Freight Train,” adapted from the song by legendary North Carolina blues/folk musician Elizabeth Cotton, and “I’m Glad” are equal parts moody and playful. The latter, Fairbairn explains, “is really a cover for dark emotions.”

This muggy underworld comes from a rich mixture of experiences, because Fairbairn’s storytelling is as much about bars and breakups as monsters and myths. His love of folk music informs many of the tracks, bringing a sense of journey to the album. “I wrote “Behemoth Leviathan” on a raft in my head,” Fairbairn tells, “Me and a friend hitchhiked to Whitehorse, built a raft and took it to Dawson. It took about 12 days. I only brought 2 books so at some point I had to occupy my mind with something.”

Yet, the depth of Tall Shadows musical awareness is impressive. The title track was inspired by a classic gospel song, originally a testament to one’s unmoving faith in God. With the addition of rock bassist Matthew Dorfman and jazz drummer Brandon Goodwin, the group turned it into a swinging ditty about life and death complete with enchanting choral breaks.

While Tall Shadows are purely a rock group, they have a genuinely academic past. Goodwin is a Concordia grad and jazz ensemble player, and Fairbairn began his musical journey with the violin at age four. “I was a classical kid, so [with Tall Shadows] it’s kind of like I’m trying to write chamber music for a rock group. I write more like a composer than a songwriter.”

A continuously evolving trio, their album reflects their ever-changing influences. I Shall Not Be Moved has been released in downloadable and tape-cassette forms, but the group hesitates to call it a finished project. “The instrumental tracks on the album, “Cassels” and “Challies,” were originally incorporated to make thtall shadows sitting.jpge stage set work better,” Dorfman says, “so there’s a certain intrinsic link between the recorded music and the live performance in a way that there isn’t always with other bands. The live idea is recorded on the recording, and the recorded concept gets reflected live.”

As the album continues to develop on the stage and in the studio, the group is looking to add ever more influences to its sound. “I want it to eventually be like a little [rock] chamber orchestra” Fairbairn declares, “I like to have independent instruments doing different things that squeeze through the cracks and fit in between what I’m doing.”

The next addition to Fairbairn’s dream orchestra will be the cello and viola, natural choices considering his past. They are set to make an appearance at the Tall Shadows album re-launch April 16th at La Plante. Before then, you can catch them atCasa Del Popolo on March 13th. To preview the tracks off of I Shall Not Be Moved, check out their Bandcamp page.

‘SPEAK’ at the TEDx Gastown Women’s Conference

In late May of this year, Anja had the honour of performing her spoken word poetry at the TEDx Gastown Women’s Conference in Vancouver alongside many other talented, powerful women. Below is the video of her talk, ‘Speak’, in which, through poetry, she encourages women to talk about their bodies.

Why Addressing Men’s Pain is Key to Our Collective Healing.

As published in Elephant Journal on Aug 10, 2015

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When I was invited to perform at the TEDx Gastown Women’s Conference in Vancouver, the last thing I thought it would do is inspire me to help men.

I came to the Fearless conference in late May ready to speak about the female body and connect with strong women—entrepreneurs, writers, adventurers, healers, artists, and leaders—on women’s issues.

I left with something even more profound: a change of heart.

One of those entrepreneurs, Devon Brooks, co-founder of Blo Blow Dry Bar (a blow-dry-only hair salon with locations across North America), was the one who made it happen. In her talk, Brooks told the story of her rape at 18, being held at knifepoint in her early 20s, and her consequent PTSD diagnosis.

She also told a story called “Sunday Brunch” that shifted my understanding of what it means to heal from harassment and assault. Brooks explained to us in her talk how, one winter day, as she locked her car to join her husband and son for brunch, a group of men hurled vulgarities at her. Later, surprised to see them in the same restaurant, she approached them. “Rage would have been easier,” she told the audience.

Instead, she sat down with the men and asked: “Do you have any idea how you made me feel? I’m a rape survivor. When you say those things to me, I feel unsafe in my own body.”

In her words, Brooks carried the air of someone who, long ago, used to choose rage. Someone like me. Someone like most women. In my own speech, I talked about sexual harassment at a young age, the medicalization of the female body, and the need to speak openly.

You’re sexy!” the boys would yell at me on the playground, “I wanna have sex with you!”

I’d go home shaken, unsure of what the hell that even meant.

I’d gotten past rage by the time I’d written my poems, but I wasn’t sure what was next. Could it be that Devon was right?

I sat there stunned by her bravery, and unsure of my own.

I asked myself, “Can we really use love—not rage—to reach those men who just don’t ‘get it’?’”

If I’d asked Brené Browne, author of Daring Greatly, the book that inspired the TEDxGastown Women’s Conference, she would have told me that we have no other choice. In one chapter of her book on vulnerability, Browne discusses the difficulty men have with vulnerability. She says, “men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: do not be perceived as weak.” Cue the conquest mentality that leads some men to sexually pressure, assault, and harass women in an effort to prove their manliness.

In light of this, I think that Brené Browne would have re-worded my question to, “How can we use our own vulnerability to access men’s?” After all, like the schoolyard bully and his victim, the true root of the problem is not how they treat us, but how they see themselves.

Amongst our men today there is a gaping collective wound. We are facing a generation of men that is struggling to align itself with ever-changing social norms, while still being constricted by traditional expectations of what and how a man is supposed to be.

In her chapter on men, Browne explains that because they are so afraid of being seen as weak, men live in “boxes” of shame. One male participant affirms, “You only really have three choices. You spend your life fighting to get out [and] you always feel angry and you’re always swinging. Or you just give up and you don’t give a shit about anything. Or you stay high so you don’t really notice how unbearable it is.”

That’s not exactly an environment that encourages love, respect, and intimacy in relationships.

In the media, it doesn’t get better. In Hollywood, our male protagonists are still James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Don Draper—stoic, cool, panty-collecting “lone wolves”—the only kind of man men are allowed to be. We’ve yet to see a male protagonist who shows his children he loves them, listens as his wife talk about her feelings, express his own sadness and fear, and respect himself. These images simply don’t exist, and it’s a tragedy.

On the other hand, we are slowly seeing an increase in strong, independent, feminine female leads like in Mad Max and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games on the big screen. Our young men are falling short of both the impossible and outdated traditional standards of masculinity and women’s expectations of them as equals in the modern world where gay marriage is legal and Bruce just became Caitlin.

In my own research for a project called The Storied City: Montreal, a participant recounted to me how he’d broken down after a female friend pressed him, in frustration, to talk about his feelings after his divorce. “She was more equipped to talk about these emotional issues. I was not.  I lacked in training. I didn’t have that kind of connection with my own emotions. When we are growing up men are completely disconnected, or we are demanded to be disconnected, from our feelings. No crying, no vulnerability.”

Yet, in Daring Greatly, Brown writes, “In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us [women] recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust.” Women learn these images, too. That’s why it is absolutely vital that, like the damsel in distress, we all subvert harmful male stereotypes that make it difficult for men to be their true, loving selves.

So how do we do that?

In the spiritual systems of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc., the balance between masculine and feminine is essential to growth and wellbeing. We all naturally have our own unique combination of these qualities. The problem is that in the West, we’ve separated ourselves into two genders, each of which is allowed to have but one set.

But over the past 150 years (in the West), women have beat this segregation.

We’ve gone through suffrage, the workforce, and abortion rights with the help of masculine qualities—qualities like assertiveness, forward motion, ambition, analysis, and independence. Heterosexual men haven’t had these same human rights-based struggles, so they need to be encouraged—not shamed or shunned—to express their emotions (not just anger), be nurturing, and speak about their struggles. We need to instill the feminine—receptiveness, emotional awareness, intuitiveness, and communication—in future generations so that our boys can grow up to be well-balanced  men who are spiritually strong and have no rhyme or reason to harm or disrespect others.

If we want to truly engage men at the heart level (which is where healing happens) we have to let them wobble, stumble, and even cry. If we can do this as a society, we will not only ensure the well being of boys and men, but the safety and joy of women and girls. Until the roots of male aggression—frustration, pain, a sense of failure, shame—are addressed, they will continue to be expressed at the expense of women.

Yes, rage is easier, and yes, we women still need to defend ourselves and fight for our rights, but if we really want to see a shift, let’s teach through vulnerability, if not through love itself.

You

You’re a fucking puddle.
I looked in you and saw my reflection
and then I fell in and drowned.
No one ever taught me to swim
in something so shallow.

You’re a fucking rhinoceros.
One of those white ones
that only come out for queens and goddesses.
I’m sitting there admiring you
and then you ram me through
the fucking heart.

You’re a fucking mini skirt.
Some people say
you make my legs look long
and my morals look questionable.

You’re the fucking ocean.
You remind me of everything I am.
You nurse me back to health
and laying my hands on your skin
I remember where I belong.

You’re a fucking credit card.
One with a bad interest rate
that I usually keep in a drawer somewhere
‘cause you’re too risky to keep in my pocket
but every once in a while I pull you out
and ignore the realities.

You’re a fucking cowboy.
You ride me like no one else can.

You’re a fucking sunset.
You make me cry and smile at the same time.
One more or less,
depending on the colours in your skies.

You’re a fucking God.
I get on my knees and pray to you.
Pray that you’ll fit in my throat
and that you’ll always stay with me because

You’re a fucking mountain.
One with steep cliffs and jagged edges
that split my hands when I try to hold you.
One with slippery slopes I bash my face on as I try
to move towards you.
One with crevasses that threaten to devour me
if I make     one     wrong    move.

You’re just too large a job
for any one woman.
You’re a treacherous

fucking climb.

To The Sailor Tying Knots in My Stomach

fetal

The whole day
I felt three million faces pressed up against mine.
The whole day
I smelled their rancid breath and
all their dirty words and fake ‘I love you’-s and
what they mutter when they’re alone.

My best friends were too heavy for me.
I shrunk under their words.
The muggiest day and the most melancholy sunset
and the winning game couldn’t get me to come outside myself.

So I spent the night curled up in the fetal position in bed throwing up and yelling at the sailor tying knots in my stomach:

‘Whenever you’re ready you can stop!’
‘Whenever you wanna stop is fine!’
‘Just please stop, okay?’ I begged him,
‘Because I’m losing my mind!’

He just kept on tying them,
one-two, one-two.
‘There’s a storm ahead,’ he explained,
and I sailed off into the night, half-whole.

My dreams, they kept telling me things like

‘Stay away from Courtney!’ (or Caroline, or whatever her name is)
and, ‘You’re lazy, you’re falling behind,’
and, ‘I’ll never stop being in love with you,’
and, ‘Your heart is weak.  You’ve gotta do yoga,’
and, ‘The cancer’s back,’
and, ‘I know you’ve always wanted to try it with a woman,’
and, ‘He fucked someone else tonight.’

But I just want to sleep.
I just want to breathe
without all these disturbances,
without all these people whispering to me
constantly.

Their mouths keep moving, though,
and I can’t cover

my ears.

Venus

venus

Venus flows from my fingertips like new rain down a dirty gutter.
She wipes away the mud on my legs from my many falls.

Venus brings
flowers into bloom
cats into heat
and lovers together
just to see me smile.

Just to see me laugh.

She throws herself off bridges so I can see her float,
her chiffon dress made love to by the
warm       strawberry         summer         wind.

I feel her as I’m standing there in Marin, on the edge of that California cliff,
looking down past the rock grass, thick and           juicing.
Down, towards the ocean, now foaming at the mouth.

I smell her hair, her fingertips,
the smooth warmth of her inner thighs in
the ocean spray kicked up by surfers
licking waves
under the bridge’s bend.

She tilts my head to one side and          whispers secrets in my ear as
I look up at heaven in the

muggy San Francisco sky.

And I feel her here in this small town
where all the men know how to touch me.
Know how to be in charge and
grasp my hips and
hold my face when they kiss me.

I feel her as she overcomes me,
as she cuts away my bridges and barriers and spins wool
of my wants            and desires.
I feel her as I moan and groan in a room packed with people
and devour every sweet curve
of this man’s neck
in this small town
where everyone talks.

In this small town where the men tan like the sweetest olives and
lay with you under the summer sun
on towels faded from years of laying
with crazy women

under the Balkan sun.