March 23, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 90  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

FemBots take a snapshot

By Brian Wong
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
WHOA, CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, LADY. The FemBots are set to hit the Elements Lounge tonight. Hopefully they’ll leave the axe at home.

There are Fembots, those villainous, robotic women from the 1970s sci-fi series The Bionic Woman, and then there is the FemBots, a Toronto band that releases folk-inspired murder ballads and protest songs.

But the latter Bots have little interest in taking control of a weather machine or Las Vegas. Instead, Dave MacKinnon and Brian Poirier have focused their efforts on combining dark country songs with a textured experimental backdrop.

“We’re just after interesting sounds,” MacKinnon says. “It could be anything, and there’s a fair amount of field recording. At one point, Brian would wander around with a little cassette recorder and just record anything: crazy people talking on the street, sirens, whatever. We’d sift through those and use bits and pieces in the songs.”

The use of eclectic sounds — such as toy instruments and answering machine messages — is prominent on the band’s 2000 debut Mucho Cuidado, which will be re-released by Paper Bag Records this summer. But on their latest disc, Small Town Murder Scene, released independently last year, MacKinnon and Poirier shifted to more song writing and conventional instruments like piano, guitar and violin.

The record is roots-y and eerie, raw and intimate, especially on songs like the twinkling “Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist” and the lilting “Broken and Blue” for which a video was recently completed. Filmed at the site of many-a-school trip, Black Creek Pioneer Village, and directed by Chris Grismer, the video is based on Chester Brown’s 2003 graphic novel-bio of Louis Riel and re-enacts Riel’s hanging. It’s fitting imagery for the FemBots given the vivid nature of their songs.

“We don’t really do a lot of autobiographical writing,” MacKinnon explains. “The majority is more written like vignettes or short stories, and almost all third-person stuff.”

It’s these vignettes the band has been playing to audiences for almost a year now, and though the songs have changed while on the road, MacKinnon is still satisfied with how the songs sound on the original album.

“Brian and I have always been of the mind-set that once you’re finished a record, it’s finished,” he says. “And you’re better to think of it is as a snapshot of what you were doing at that moment in time, as opposed to the ultimate perfect version of those songs.”
On tour, they have fluctuated between a four and six-piece band. Their upcoming shows will include Julie Penner on violin and Jason Tait on drums, but MacKinnon is hesitant to call them official FemBots.

“Oh, I don’t know!” he laughs. “They are [members], yes, but it’s a tricky thing. The band seems to function quite well when the decisions are made by the two of us; it streamlines stuff so that you can actually get things done. And at the same time, the people we’re playing with are in a bunch of other bands as well.”

FemBots’ drummers include Tait (The Weakerthans) and Nathan Lawr (Royal City, King Cobb Steelie), but MacKinnon believes this is a good thing.

“The band gets to be different night after night — and it keeps things fresh.”

The FemBots invade Elements Lounge tonight. Call 660-6222 for more information.

 

 

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