MEET VANCOUVER POST PUNK BAND TALL MARY

Tall Mary, known for their debut album When Will I Find Something New on Kingfisher Bluez, blends noise rock, post-punk, and performance art, playing guitars with awls. Their name reflects a personal journey of self-discovery, resonating with themes of gender non-conformity and mysticism. With influences ranging from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to Death Grips, Tall Mary is poised for extensive touring and work on upcoming releases. 


How did the band form and what does the band name mean?

The band went through some other names first: “Mountain Blanket” and “Sapling.” Originally, it was drummer Brodie Hovanessian and I. Brodie was into more metal and I was into more freak-folk-kinda-stuff. As a result, we combined mountain (harsh) with blanket (comfy). As you can already hopefully sense, this name is shit.

 “Sapling,” on the other hand, could be a great doom or noise name—we might use it someday. It just didn’t end up fitting. “Tall Mary” was a result of me doing a creative writing MFA during lockdown and realizing I am trans. This album (which I had been working on with Brodie here and there since 2016) began with topics like nature, capitalism, and mindfulness. Although these themes remain in the album, it took a hard turn toward the gender non-conforming experience between 2020 and its release. This turn felt right. In the earlier years, I didn’t quite understand who I was, so I looked outside myself to find topics. Looking back, I see that the focus on nature was avoidant and priveleged.

 Tall Mary was the perfect name because it sounds like a drag name, it leaves just enough room for interpretation, and its religious tones speak well to the avante garde mysticism we employ. On one hand, I am tall and gay so in a way I’m a tall mary. On the other hand, it’s a kind of scary name. Tall Mary sounds like someone who will dominate you. Most importantly, it looks great in thick fuck you letters.

 Previous musical projects? How'd you first get into music?

My Dad and my childhood friend Chris got me into music. The first song I loved was Sunshine of Your Love by Cream. Classic Rock and Blues provided a foundation for me, and through having crushes on twee indie types I got into those recycling classic sounds like Tame Impala. Once I finished high school, I got really into King Crimson via my dad. This venture into indie and then prog pushed me into an edgy phase I’m very glad I had where I embraced the “weirdest” music (and like everyone not quite appreciating it at first, but pretending I did to seem cool). Of all of the obligatory edgy college kid bands I got into—Animal Collective, Swans, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.—Death Grips had the most profound impact. Something about the uncompromising harshness paired catchy banger vibes showed me how to enjoy and feel something rather than just liking it because it’s “cool Pitchfork music.”

 Tall Mary is the only musical project that I’ve fronted and written myself. I also play bass in a Vancouver punk band called Swather (hardcore/thrash vibes).

 First concert that you ever went to?

The first real concert I went to was Godspeed You! Black Emperor on their 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! tour (Nov 3rd 2012). After this first earplug-less feeling of harsh mystical artistic rapture, I was addicted to this kind of experience.

 What's your writing process like?

I tend to layer between messed up, sober, messed up, sober. This leads to a lot of wine and weed, but also many days of ascetic focus. To avoid worrying so much on what people think and create things genuienely fresh, I need to be pushed and punished beyond what is reasonable. To polish, I need patience and sobriety. In some lucky times (usually around strict deadlines so stressful albeit jubilant), a song will form in 3 or 4 sessions. Usually, it’s more like 8-15 three+ hour sessions of sculpting before the mixing/mastering. Usually, generation slowly cascades into overthinking and then understanding.

Creating guitar loops is very important to me as a way to almost “paint” and worry less about concepts—worry more about hypnotization and banger moments. A crucial part of my process is creating 100 loops and choosing only the 10 best. However, loops aren’t everything. I also keep a notebook of lyric hooks or riffs (a big passion of mine being bass riffs, such as “Herd” which started with a bass riff).

As one of the rare people who did a creative writing degree with a songwriting focus (a slowly growing, yet still tiny academic field), I had the chance to work with Canadian songwriters Tariq Hussain, John K. Samson, Christine Fellows, and Leah Abramson. I was also lyrically and deeply influenced by my poetry mentors Sheryda Warrener, Bronwen Tate, and Billy Ray Belcourt. A highlight of this for me is Tariq Hussain’s focus on exercises by members of Wilco—mainly by Jeff Tweedy in his book “How to Write One Song.” Beyond mumble tracks—a technique I used to shape “Saturday Boy—” Tweedy’s “20 Minute Song” exercise was crucial. For the 2020 Vancouver Writer’s Fest (hosted over Zoom due to Covid), I participated in an event where MFA students improvised writing in response to prompts to demonstrate what doing process-informed MFA pedagogy is like. In response to a prompt, I created a song using my looper for over 200 attendees in 3 minutes.

This was a hyper-version of Tweedy’s exercise to write a song in 20 minutes. It forced me to say: a) whatever appears and has emotion must become the honest centrepiece, and b) I have no time to question myself, I must choose the heaviest thing and repeat it.

Because I value experimentation/punishment/genre-subversion so deeply, this “create the thesis and repeat it, you have only minutes to distill” is crucial for adding direction to the swarm. As in Swans’ “Coward,” mantra orders self-interest into narrative and perceived brutality.

What other artists or songs inspire your music?

I feel like I could write a whole novel-length project on the 10 bands I’ve chosen for this playlist, so I’m gonna go point-form here to keep it digestible:

-“Pain” by Ragana

-It’s like if heavy but juicy shoegaze had black metal lyrics you could hear, and lyrics that speak to love in a revolutionary context—the context of the trauma doled out by oppressive systems. Tall Mary’s guitarist and I have been meaning to see Ragana for a decade at this point. For the fifth fucking time, we can’t see them because we have a show the same night as their show—Jul 26th 2024 XD (vomit emoji)

-“My Friend, Blood Shaking my Heart” by Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit

-I first encountered this by grabbing Blank Form Editions’ (New York) “April is the Cruelest Month” LP by Masayuki Takananagi New Direction Unit. I found it in one of Vancouver’s best record stores, Dandelion Records—before a brutal fire changed their location. Sine my mom was raised in Japan as the child of conservative missionaries, counter-culture Japanese art holds a special place in my heart. Tandem to my parents’ gradual refutation of evangelicalism (my father grew up in Ecuador at an equally abusive boarding school) is avante garde Japanse art magnifying, yet attacking scary nationalist forms. The perfect example is Butoh dancer kazuo Ohno, who is my #1 artistic inspiration.

For those of you who haven’t read the Blank Forms blurb associated with Takayanagi’s vinyl release, consider this: Takayanagi was orginally a master of Americal colonial “cool jazz—” a form deeply invested in campy American traditions. The instant he heard the Chicago Transit Authority’s 1969 song “Free Form Guitar,” Takayanagi discarded colonial American forms and shifted focus to pushing the envelope—producing what the status quo sees as grating.

With an album called “When Will I Find Something New,” it’s clear our band Tall Mary loves newness. Masayuki Takayanagi’s New Direction Unit are a huge inspiration. Guided by litearture like Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s After the Future and Mark Fisher’s writing on Hauntology, Takayanagi’s violent refutal of colonial power—the concealed structures of the bomb-droppers—guide us to new directions that shock and upset.

-“Baby Doll – Live at Max’s kansas City . . .” by Teenage Jesus & The Jerks

Through my obsession with New York no-wave, I managed to somehow get into Teenage Jesus before getting into Soinc Youth. For about a year I was totally obsessed—to the point where I ordered a Bootleg Teenage Jesus shirt via Redbubble. The way we use our awls in Tall Mary (the ‘screwdrivers’ we play guitar with) is incredibly inspired by Teenage Jesus

-“Anne Bonny” Death Grips

-I could choose so many Death Grips songs, for this is my deepest musical crush. The meeting of banger and poetry perfectly touches. On GP, Hot Head, and Punk Weight come to mind. Yet “Anne Bonny” and the Government Plates connect to my writing best. The repetitiveness of the drops, and hypnotic 3d addiction in general, fuel my dreams as a transperson. If you grew up with Runescape and gender troubles, this DG album is for you.

 My best life example is Death Grips’ penetration into every friend: radical, conservative, open, closeted. Everyone wants to do drugs and lose their mind. The thumbnail of the rapturous antidote spins around and I consider buying more.

Ableton is best because of the loop. What I have learned is that low tuning and loops make substanceless chunky riffs easy. It is focus and the surprise of wind or sun that help one avoid numb grooving.

-“Flattened & Silent” Natlak (formerly Nature Lake)

 -The first time I saw Natlak—when we played together at the Astoria—I decided this is

my favourite Vancouver band. Listening I think of not only Black Midi, but also a Canadian favourite of mine: Fitness from Edmonton (who recently broke up ;_;). I can’t wait to see where natlak go, as their balance of catchy noise breakdowns and poetic freedom floors me. It’s revolutionary.

-“Mutant” Arca

-From the perspective of composition and sound design, this is to me one of the most important pieces in the 21st century. Looking at the cover art for just one second, you’ll know if you’re trans.

-“Gold Chain Punk” Soul Glo

-With beautiful and genuinely fresh genres like Powerviolence, I am absolutely shitting myself when a band speaks to marginalization with honesty and art. Even if just one single band was this beautiful, it would keep me from ending my life as someone genderfucked. The music is not about me, but I feel its penetrating honesty as a pariah. Many of my trans friends have been compeletely saved by this art.

-“Jameson Fitzpatrick talks to Andre Bagoo” The Poetry Society podcast

-Speaking of trans stuff, as a poet “I Woke Up” by Jameson Fitzpatrick is crucial to me. I recently blushed when Fitzpatrick commented on a Tall Mary post of mine.

The poem beautifully relates to my frowns in the direction of “comfy” music both indie and popular. If many members of society feel disgusted by me having a beard as well as tits, is being “comfy” really feminist? This might be edgy, but can your soft and comfy music really allow room for the challenging of subtle facist habits? Does your pop attention span allow for radical change and dreams?

-“Frankie Teardrop” Suicide

-A beautiful tragedy. When I first “got” art was as a suicidal 17-year old seeing “The Seagull” at the Ashland Shakespeare fest. This hypnotic, surprising, and narraive song shows us that we truly relate to unbelivable, yet real explosions of identity.

-“Bloom” The Necks

-I am deeply inspired by artistic and textural blast-beats. In songs like “Light Blue,” I tried to work with a junction of calm and beyond. The Necks are some of the best improvisors in the world. The minimal, punishing bass in songs like “Mosquito” are part of what I have to show every real friend before they become real friends with me.

What's the live experience like and your philosophy on playing live? Do you think the music live should be identical to the recorded version or should it be it's own thing?

Creating clean and balanced sounds (rather than having 20 pedals creating a terrible noise floor) becomes important to me as I play live more. However, sounding just like the album with no room for dynamic adjustments is fucked. I prefer music over writing because it grounds me in the physical. An in-the-moment performance, like jazz, interprets with specificity. If no change is allowed between performances, the form becomes like a nation in its depraved stagnation.

Has the band toured? What has the touring experience been, best shows?worst shows?

 We’ve toured small local distances in BC, such as to Kelowna or the Sunshine Coast. In fall 2024 or winter/spring 2024, we will for sure start doing West Coast & East Coast tours. It’d be great if we could make it to Europe or Latin America where it seems like people have longer attention spans for music. However, this probably depends on how grant applications go and how we manage to survive.

What's up next for the band?

 In a year or two from now, expect our next LP Electrician. Until then, we’re focussing on trying to engage with some touring and some festival experiences. You can also expect music videos soon!

https://www.instagram.com/tallmarynoise 

 

 

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