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Organ - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 22 / 7 / 2005

Organ - Interview


The latest in the recent line of Canadian bands to make an impact in Britain, all-girl five piece the Organ have made an instant impression with their intense stage shows and melancholic songs. Front woman Katie Sketch talks to John Clarkson

Over the course of the last year or so a large number of Canadian bands have gained exposure in Europe and especially in Britain. Acts such as Arcade Fire, The Dears and Hidden Cameras have all released well-received records and played successful tours to full houses. One of the latest Canuck bands to start to make an impact in Britain is The Organ, a five-piece all-girl group of 20 somethings from Vancouver. The group, which consists of Katie Sketch (vocals), Debora Cohen (guitar), Ashley Webber (bass), Shelby Stocks (drums) and Jenny Smyth (Hammond organ), first formed in 2001, and self-released a debut EP ‘Sinking Hearts’, which was recorded for $100, in 2002. An album, ‘Grab That Gun’, which the band decided to re-record after scrapping its first recording, followed in 2004 and was co-released by local Canadian labels Mint and 604 Records. The Organ have played with a wide variety of contemporary bands including Interpol, The Walkmen, Hot Hot Heat, The Von Bondies, Arcade Fire, The Dears, The Soledad Brothers and The New Pornographers and have become renowned for their intense stage shows, which involve almost no physical movement and find all five members standing virtually stagnant on stage. When ‘Sinking Hearts’ was released in Britain in April, to coincide with the band’s first UK tour, Pennyblackmusic said that “the influence of girl-fronted early 80’s synth acts such as The Passions and The Tourists, and especially melancholic fellow Canadians Martha and the Muffins shines through”, but said also that “with Cohen’s pealing stabs of guitar ; Webber’s dark, spiralling bass ; Stock’s thunderclaps of drums and Smyth’s brooding, powerful Hammond organ, The Organ, however, have much which is distinctly of their own as well.” It meanwhile found Sketch’s “angular, bruised lyrics and soaring, echoing vocals”, which told of ennui, lost loves and self-harm, to be “a revelation”. The Organ have also drawn regular comparisons with both The Smiths and Joy Division. They, however, deny that their music is miserablist, and Jenny Smyth has been quoted in the press as saying that she finds it “happy and cheerful.” The group has a new single due out in Britain on the Queens of Noize label soon. ‘Grab That Gun’ has also just been released in France on the Parisian label, Talitres. The Organ started a second two week tour of Britain in early August. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Karen Sketch on the eve of the tour. PB : The Organ was born out of the ashes of an instrumental group Full Sketch. Who were they ? KS : Jenny Smyth was in Full Sketch, as was my best friend Barb and another really good friend of mine called Sarah. We broke up because Sarah moved to England and Barb moved to L.A .to do a Master's. PB : How long were you together ? KS : About a couple of years. It was more of a hobby band. It wasn't particularly serious. We used to practice before we had a show, but that was about it. PB : How did The Organ generate out of that ? KS : When the band broke up, Jenny and I were still in town and decided that we wanted to play in another band together. I also wanted to sing this time. It was a matter then of finding the right people and that proved to be really difficult. PB : Is it true that some of the members of the band didn't have very much musical experience before they joined The Organ ? KS : I don't think anybody really did. When Jenny started playing in Full Sketch with me, I used to have to show her how to use her fingers. She played everything on two fingers at first. The first time that Shelby sat down at the drums with us was the first time that she had ever played them. Ashley had never played bass before either. Deb had played guitar but she couldn't play standing up. She had to sit on the floor, so it was very elementary guitar. When we first played, it sounded a little like a Grade 7 band rehearsal or something like that (Laughs). I actually think that the 'Sinking Hearts' EP sounds a little like that as well, which I think makes it quite endearing. You don’t have to be a great player to write catchy songs, or songs with meaning. PB : The band went through a lot of different incarnations before settling on its current line-up. Is attitude to you then far more important than technical expertise ? Were you just looking for people of a similar mind set to you when you put the band together ? KS : Yeah, there are so many people who say that they want to be in a band. You tell them that you want to practice four of five times a week, and they say "Oh, that sounds fine", and then they don't show up to practice the next week because it is too much. I kept with the people who are now in the group basically because they were willing to practice five days a week and they actually showed up. That's how it worked. PB : Your background is actually in classical music and you studied the violin until you were 16, didn’t you ? KS : I did. Yeah ! PB : When did you first become interested in rock music ? KS : I always have been interested in pop, but I didn’t think I would ever actually be involved in a group and I didn’t do anything about it until I was 18. I then eventually started playing with friends, and to audition for groups and to answer ads from people who wanted singers and things like that. PB : You also started working as a studio technician in your late teens, didn't you ? KS : Yeah, a family friend, Ron Obvious (Renowned Canadian punk producer who has worked with D.O.A. and The Subhumans-Ed), was building Bryan Adams’ recording studio. He needed someone to do the wiring and I needed a job, so he hired me to do it and so I got in that way and got to see how studios work. I figured out pretty quickly that I did not want to be an engineer. In fact I realized almost immediately that I wanted to be a musician. It was really valuable what I learnt when I was in the studio though. PB : What do you do as a day job now ? KS : At the current time I am doing some companionship work for a disabled man, but for the most part I don’t have a job. The band isn’t really making enough money to pay all the bills, but I can’t really hold a job down either because of the amount of touring we are doing. I sub-let my apartment when I am away, so I can afford the rent (Laughs). PB : The group has drawn critical comparisons with various 80's bands and with Joy Division and The Smiths in particular. Is that something you’re happy about or is that something you get really tired of hearing ? KS : It's neither really. I don’t really pay attention to comparisons anymore. I agree that everyone needs a reference point. It’s fine for critics to make those reference points. I agree with at least some of it and sometimes all of it, but it all depends upon how those comparisons are made how before I would consider them. They say that I sound like Debbie Harry as well, but I don’t get that at all. I disagree. In some cases I think the critics are only hearing what they want to hear. PB :You’re often seen as melancholic. Jenny Smyth has, however, said that she sees the music as "happy and cheerful." How do you and the rest of the band interpret the music ? Do you see it as happy or sad ? KS : I think that everyone sees it as the same way. It’s kind of a little of both. We don’t sit around and talk about what we sound like ever (Laughs), but I would say that everybody in the group sees it as a little of both. I don’t see the music to be over-the-top agony or anything like that, but I don’t see it as particularly light pop either, so it kind of straddles a fine line. PB : You all come from Vancouver. It’s a very, very beautiful city, but it’s also an isolated city. It’s a long way away from other cities, and, like every other big city, it has its share of problems. You get most of the inspiration you’ve said for your lyrics from just walking around the streets of Vancouver. How much of a direct bearing do you think coming from Vancouver has had on your lyrics, or do you think you could have got that inspiration from any big city ? KS : I think I could have probably got it from any big city. We’re straight in the heart of one of the biggest drug problems in North America, but that's all perfectly normal to me. I do find it a little bit depressing that you do become a little bit immune to things like that. When you’re living somewhere it can be hard to separate your life from it. It’s hard for me to know how much of my life is affected by living in Vancouver. It’s hard for me to step back and look at it that way, but I do also think and would agree that every city has its problems, and I really feel that anybody could probably be writing the same thing as me. PB : How much of your lyrics come from personal experience ? KS : Probably most of them. It’s another thing that is hard to say. I don’t think that my lyrics are particularly fictitious, but I wouldn’t say that they were all literal either. PB : Much has been made in the press out of the fact that several members of the group spent their teens feeling very alienated, and were the sort of people who were outsiders and didn’t hang around in the popular groups at school. Is that something which has been distorted by the press ? Is there any truth in that ? KS : There is some truth in that. Everybody besides Deb is very sociable though. We are relatively outgoing and have a decent amount of friends and stuff like that. Only Debs has some real social anxieties. We’ve all got social anxieties to a certain extent. I would say that we are all self conscious, but we’re outgoing too. We can go to a party and have fun. PB : You’ve got a really intense, but compelling stage performance. All five of you hardly move when you are on stage. Why does that happen ? Is it because you're shy ? KS : It’s just the way we are naturally on stage. When you’re with your friends you’re not shy, but if you get on stage it’s like public speaking. You just freak out. We’re not natural performers by any stretch. I don’t get really nervous before every show. I do though for the occasional show, but I don’t ever feel fully comfortable up there. It’s a very odd thing to do. It’s a really surreal experience for me, and I would definitely say it’s the same for the others as well. PB : You seem to earn quite good reviews for your shows. KS : I have read many bad reviews as well, saying how boring our shows are and how nothing happens. Some people say that we’re really intense and interesting and that we are not like other bands. Others say that we’re really boring because they want to see us bouncing around and doing windmills or whatever (Laughs). PB : There have been a number of Canadian bands, acts such as The Dears, Arcade Fire and Hidden Cameras, who have become popular in Europe and especially in Britain during the last year or so. Is that something you have been particularly conscious of as you have prepared for this tour and also again when you toured Britain in April ? KS : I am aware of it. I don’t think it makes any difference to what we do as a group though. I am aware of it because they are friends and because we have played the same gigs and shared the same stages with them. I am friends with Joel from Hidden Cameras, and we have played with Arcade Fire, so we know those guys. We toured with The Dears as well last year. You’re aware of Canada being named as a hot country these days. It doesn’t make a difference to what we do though. It doesn’t mean that we plan our schedule around anything to do with that. PB : It must, however, be inspiring and something that you must be proud of to see your friends' bands taking off. KS : It is inspiring. If your friends’ band can do it that then you can do it as well. When Hot Hot Heat took off, it was inspiring to see them do it. They are friends of ours. I remember when nobody cared about them. It is inspiring to see a band work hard and do well. That's how I feel when I watch other bands become successful and go on a tour in which break even and actually “make money.” It gives you hope for the future that you too can do it. I would imagine that if all my friends’ bands were struggling and not getting good reviews we would all have a feeling of hopelessness. There are so many good groups who don’t get credit and who are not recognized. I know lots of bands in Vancouver who I think should be doing better than they’re doing, and who should be more recognized than they’re being recognized. I can’t understand why they’re not and it is frustrating to see that. It’s good, therefore, when you see bands you know doing well. PB : ‘Sinking Hearts’, which is your only record to have come out over here so far, was recorded very quickly and cheaply. Your album ‘Grab That Gun’ must have been much more expensive as you scrapped the original recording sessions. Why did you do that ? KS : Because I thought that the sound wasn’t that great. I thought that the mix wasn’t that great and I thought the performances weren’t that great. A lot of the attention went into picking the right mics, the right equipment and what it was recorded on, but not a lot of attention was paid to how the performances were being played, which is the exact opposite way of how I would have gone about doing it. I said to both our Canadian labels “if you put this out, I can not sell this album with a straight face”, so they said “Okay, you can re-record it, but your budget is small this time”. PB : Are you pleased with the final results ? KS : Yeah, I am. I am not 100% satisfied, but it was worth the trouble. I think I was really hard on myself second time around.I also found myself ending up running the show. I really didn’t want to end up in that position, but I put myself in that position. Everyone was exhausted and the album should have been ready months before. It really set back a lot of things for us, but I am really pleased with the way it turned out. If it had turned out that way the first time I would have been a lot more pleased. Having to do it twice was pretty painful. PB : It has just been released in Europe on the French label Talitres. Are you hoping that that it will be given a British release as well ? KS : Yeah ! I am hoping that it will and that will be secured in the next few months. There is a label interested and we are touring, so I am hoping that will be released in the New Year. PB : You’ve got a single coming out over here as well in the next few weeks. What’s that going to be ? KS : It’s going to be ‘Memorize the City’ and it’s going to be on Queens of Noize. It will be released on September 12th. PB : Final question ! You’re touring Europe at the moment. What plans do you have for the future and when you get back to Canada ? KS : We are touring America again in September and hope to be back in Europe in the Fall. I want to tour as much as possible, and on the down time from touring to start working towards the next album. I am not at the moment sure who is going to release the next album. Our Canadian labels are wanting to put the album out really quickly, but I think that ‘Grab That Gun’ is not that well known in the States and that we need an American label as well. I don’t think the album has reached its maximum audience yet. I don’t want to begin work on a new album yet until we have finished fully promoting this one. PB : Thank you.

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Interview (2008)
Organ - Interview
The Organ broke up in December 2006 just as they had started to taste success both in their native Canada and Europe. Have briefly reunited to record 'Thieves', a final set of six songs, singer Katie Sketch speaks to John Clarkson about the reasons for the all girl group's abrupt break-up

live reviews

Late Room, Manchester, 17/7/2006
Organ - Late Room, Manchester, 17/7/2006
Back to see Vancouver all girl five piece the Organ for a second time, Dixie Ernill at the Late Rooms in Manchester watches them play a fiery and aggressive set and onceagain prove themselves to be very special indeed
Metro, London, 15/8/2005


Memorize The City (2006)
Atmospheric and ambiguous latest single, re-released from last year, from Vancouver-based all-girl five piece, the Organ
Grab That Gun (2006)
Brother (2006)
Memorize The City (2005)
Sinking Hearts (2005)

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