It’s been several years since we’ve heard new material from noisy proto-punk act The Famines. Perhaps for good reason: The duo split time between two cities, with ex-drummer Garett Kruger residing in Edmonton and guitarist-singer Raymond Biesinger living in Montreal. Biesinger, for his part, is also one of our favourite Canadian artists—and balances the Famines with his career as an illustrator. Accordingly, the last thing release we’d heard from the duo came via The Complete Collected Singles comp, released in 2011 via the now-defunct Mammoth Cave Recording Co. It’s been too long.
Now, the Famines have returned, but with a few changes: Kruger’s left the band, and he’s since been replaced by drummer Drew Demers, finally anchoring the duo in Montreal. And they’ve put together a host of plans for 2015, including playing Guelph’s upcoming Kazoo Fest, Saskatoon’s Mosofest, and the Ottawa Explosion. There’s a new LP on the way, too, but first, they’ve teamed up with Psychic Handshake to put out the “Stay At Home Club / Who Wants Disarmament” single. We’re stoked to premiere its A-side today.
Psychic Handshake, however, won’t be issuing the single as a cassette, 7-inch, or digital download. Instead, they’re releasing a paper single—purchase one, and you’ll receive a gorgeous Biesinger print (which you can see above) along with a download code. It’s a damn good idea, if you ask us.
Prior to the release of “Stay At Home Club / Who Wants Disarmament,” we caught up with the Famines to talk about their lineup change, their latest single, and their plans for 2015. And they have priorities. “The most important thing on the docket,” says Demers, “is slaying park beers once the snow’s gone for our hood.”
It’s been a few years since you’ve put out music with the Famines. What’s new with the band?
Drew Demers: ME! Another new thing was being able to play Lawnya Vawnya in 2014. It was the first time the band has been to Newfoundland and it was unreal.
Raymond Biesinger: It’s been too too long since we put out music, and the biggest “new” thing is having a new lease on life. Drew joined the band in early 2014, and we quickly got down to business, getting to know each other, rehearsing, writing, playing some fantasy-level shows, and recording. After years of stress and labour doing things cross-country, being a duo of Montrealers has made getting a lot done feel easy and fun.
Right. With Drew replacing Garrett, you’re fully a Montreal band. Has being in the same city made it easier for the Famines to operate?
RB: Absolutely. The approach [between Garrett and I] was a tense one—I’d fly to Edmonton, or he’d fly here, and we’d panic jam for two nights before cramming as many shows as possible into a week and a half span. Those were desperate tours. We had no time to write new material, just enough time to get old material tight. We were constantly worrying about getting paid enough shows to pay WestJet.
Now, Drew walks 300 meters from his house to mine every Monday, and we take things from there. We’ve managed to record two singles and an LP worth of new and backlogged material, all during evenings and weekends. We can do fun, one-off shows without having to string together a tour to make ends meet. I know this sounds absolutely normal, but it certainly wasn’t a normal Famines thing between 2010 and 2014. The stakes are now low. We can actually experiment.
What’s it like working with each other?
RB: I’ll make Drew blush when saying this, but he, as a person and a drummer, brings heat and warmth into the band. Clearly he’s a technical machine and knows what he’s doing, but he plays like a human. Does that make sense? Either way, I’m delighted to yet again be the worst musician in the band.
We’re definitely experimenting more and following the trails Garrett and I never had the time to consider. One of these new ends—the A-side of the new single—musically, has a biting, sarcastic, kitsch the band has never deployed before. The B-side has a defeatist, melancholy, doom that’s also brand new. I might even say the new songs are easier on the ears. We’re more keen on reproducing the threat of violence than violence itself.
DD: Consider me blushing. Raymond is a great bandmate and an equally great friend. Outside of our friendship, we also get along well musically, which I think accounts for how quickly/easily we wrote enough material for two singles and an LP. He’s also one of the most animated bandmates I’ve ever played with, spending as much time on the stage as he does in everyone’s face in the crowd.
I’d say we’ve developed some serious band ESP, which we used to full effect recently banging out a noise jam version of “The Rumour Mill” while the League Of Lady Wrestlers Montreal body slammed each other on a mat several feet away from us.
That rules. We also love the idea of having a paper single—it’s a beautiful way to have a physical release without making, say, a cassette or CD-R. How did you come up with the concept?
RB: This thing is, in a way, something that sprung out of the corpse of Mammoth Cave Recording Co. We had a 12-inch lined up and recorded for them, but the delays were going to be awful (as it turns out, eternal) and we felt we needed to put something—anything—out, to pass time before its eventual release. I’d been looking at the cost of using idle UK broadsheet newsprint presses for an art catalogue, and it turns out the costs, runs, and turnaround times were really appealing.
After a band meet in which Drew and I realized how much of a screw-job vinyl was for bands our size, we connected the dots and made a format that corrected all vinyl’s problems. We wrote the songs in early February, recorded them to tape with Christian Simmons at Drones in Montreal later that month, finished the art and layout that week, ordered our print run in early March and received the run exactly a week later. To quote Mike Deane at Psychic Handshake, “Now that’s the kind of turnaround I am not used to.”
And how’d you end up working with Psychic Handshake?
RB:We brought the idea to a few Toronto labels, but either they couldn’t see it, or just weren’t willing to sign on to something like this without hearing the music first. Mike at Psychic Handshake dropped me a line about another thing, and it seems like we were on the phone enthusiastically talking about the paper single idea 15 minutes later. They signed on shortly afterwards.
DD: Talking about all the newness going on with this band, this Paper Single is a definitive first as well. It’s been 4 years since the last Famines release so it was important for the first new single to be something drastically new and also different than anything the band has done before.
Let’s talk about the music itself. “Stay at Home Club” is hilarious, but is it also a nod to Olivia Mew? On the flipside, what inspired “Who Wants Disarmament?”
RB: I’m sure we’ve all heard a lot of party songs. “Stay Home Club” is the antidote to that, a greatest-hits package of the worst moments Drew and I have ever had while being out of the house. That chorus hook just felt like a sarcastic, overblown and awful party, and it forced that on the rest of the song. Olivia’s actually a great friend and I’ve thanked her for the title and inadvertently helping with the theme, but I can tell she’s a little weirded out by it. “Who Wants Disarmament?” is what happens when you listen to back episodes of Russ Roberts’ EconTalk too much. Depressing.
DD: “Stay Home Club” is an absolute banger. It sort of wrote itself, right down to a spate of lyrics coming into existence as it was being recorded. My favorite part about the song is probably the fact that it feels like I’m partying while I’m playing it. As for “Who Wants Disarmament?,” it definitely stands out in the Famines catalogue as being the most down-tempo bummer of a song. It has become the set-ending show stopper, bringing things to a close on the lowest note possible.
Pick up a copy of their paper single on Thursday, April 9 at Princess Cafe in Waterloo, Friday, April 10 at Kazoo Fest in Guelph, Saturday, April 11th at Johnny Jackson in Toronto and at Montreal’s L’Escrogriffe on Saturday, May 9. Or purchase the single via Psychic Handshake.