|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Stemming a voice
By Christina Vardanis
"I showed up for my audition for Tommy in a cast, road rash all over my legs and bruises covering the rest of my body," says Stem crooner Anne Francis of a slight pre-audition mishap with a streetcar. The vocalist and guitarist of the Torontonian band then adds, with just a pinch of bitterness, "I didn't get it."
Playing opening gigs, flirting with death at the hand of public transportation it's all the same for a band trying to pay their dues and break through the club scene into mass recognition. Francis and lead vocalist Terri Quayle hailed from our own Forest City before moving to Toronto, with wide-eyed dreams of forming a band and playing the 'big city' circuit. Adding on lead guitarist Michael Griffin and bassist Ray Gould, Stem became a hard-hitting and dynamic reality.
The innovative debut CD, amusingly short of details, boasts a solid rock base while maintaining a raw sound that's both haunting and melodic. With influences ranging from Gould's affinity for British pop to Quayle's alternative bent for bands like Pavement, Francis is the self-admitted "anomaly of the band" with a die-hard love for musical theatre.
"Whenever we go to a bar with karaoke, it's like 'see ya later guys' and I embarrass them for the rest of the night. But you know, somebody's got to do it."
Members of a band are usually considered smaller parts of a more important whole. However, it's the individuality of the 'smaller parts' of Stem which distinguish them from the influx of cookie-cutter bands saturating the music industry. Each have different reasons to get up in the morning that go beyond the world of Stem. Quayle spends her free time riding radio waves around the city, while Francis is an actor, performing in Toronto dinner theatres.
"I figured if I was doomed to be working in the food industry for the rest of my life, I might as well make it theatrical," she jokes.
Quayle, Gould and Griffin each take turns at wearing the lyricist hat and maintain creative control over their own material. "That way, each song has its own creative bent," explains Francis. This strategy translates to a CD less concerned with social commentary and more concerned with the expression of human emotion.
"Even [the one political track] "a little excited" doesn't focus on the masses getting screwed over, it's a personal battle," says Francis of the album's cathartic overtones. The title, amusingly short of details, alludes to the less-is-more attitude of the band, as their heart-felt lyrics bypass "the little things and get right to the issue at hand."
With the recent addition of drummer Deryk Freeman, their next album will have more of a 'pop feel' with inspiration drawn from bands such as Sloan and The Beatles. "We had kind of a post-Nirvana thing happening with this album," admits Francis. "Pop is the direction we seem to be heading in right now."
The unique and captivating voices of Stem will ring through Call the Office tomorrow night, as they open for local pop-fun outfit Sister Someone. Catch these two rocketing bands, before they hit the stratosphere.