Montreal duo bring new compilation, art exhibition and live performance to Fredericton audiences as part of Flourish Festival 2018.
Montreal duo The Famines have been at it a long time. Ten years in fact. That’s ten years of continuous recordings and ridiculous tour schedules that have carried the band from coast to coast on numerous occasions. The initial lineup of guitarist Raymond Biesinger and drummer Garrett Heath Kruger came together in Edmonton, Alberta before later relocating to Montreal, Quebec. Driven by a strong DIY work ethic and their “minimalist maximalism” approach to creating music and engaging with audiences and fellow musicians, The Famines and their loosely bound, garage-punk delivery have developed a cult following attracted by both the group’s live performances and their desire to challenge the norms surrounding the role a band can play within a music community.
Drummer Drew Demers joined The Famines in 2014 after Kruger left the group. A longtime fan of the band, Demers was already familiar with the group’s material and quickly found working with Biesinger to be a natural fit.
“I was a huge fan of every song off the Collected Singles album so there wasn’t too huge of a learning curve for me to get the songs right, although Garrett is a power-beast and so every song left me gasping for air,” said Demers. “We started touring in late spring of 2014, our first show together was in Saint John, NB. Since then, we’ve recorded an album and a slew of singles and smuggled ourselves into America a handful of times.”
Biesinger credits the group’s lineup change for helping to refocus the band’s priorities and reenergize a creative outlet that has become an important part of his life.
“Things were so mono-minded and impractical before Drew,” he said. “Garrett and I were insane and never said ‘no’ to impossible things. We’d tour Canada completely twice in a single summer, release incredibly expensive art things that would only maybe break even years afterwards, stack up double shows any night we could, and then we’d get super uptight and overstretched and not have the common sense to call it stressed-out depression and do something about it. We’d drive two fourteen hour days in the car alone and then play a show without a break. Drew and I are far more focused on making sure being in the band can be exciting and interesting but not hurt us.”
Part of the duo’s revised plan of operations focus on what Biesinger calls “scene reinforcing”. He is hesitant to call it “scene building” because through their travels, he and Demers have come to learn that what people consider to be a scene is something open to interpretation. A scene could be 15 people or 150 people or 2000 people. The only real ingredients needed are the people creating and enjoying each other’s art.
Their idea of scene reinforcing led to the creation of a compilation series featuring many of the bands Biesinger and Demers have met on the road. The first compilation, Pentagon Black No. 1, was released in 2016 and featured 23 songs from groups spread out across the country. The release, and those that followed, have been released as digital downloads coupled with original artwork in the form of a 20”x30” newsprint poster or a postcard.
Pentagon Black No. 4 was released today as part of the band’s presence at Flourish Festival 2018 and features 19 tracks, each recorded via cellphone, an idea first used on Pentagon Black No. 3 as a way of placing all the artists on equal ground while adding to the project’s unique overall aesthetic.
“We felt the one-take, no-edits phone recording thing was something worth repeating,” said Biesinger. “It puts all our favourite creative types in space they’re familiar with but not invested in, and given that absolutely minimal cost of entry, they feel they can experiment in a low-to-zero risk environment. Like, Steph Yates (formerly of Esther Grey in Guelph) applies her melancholic lyricism to an original Bossa Nova song of hers for the first time. Vancouver’s Fashionism probably had to put their phone in the oven to get the sweat out of it post-recording. And Special Costello just sang about love to his phone while driving around outside Halifax. These are not studio tracks so much as experiments, diaries, and notes to selves. And it’s thrilling to think that there’s no way to hear it unless you actually interact with one of the bands and get a postcard in your hand.”
“Lisa Czech (who did the artwork for No. 3) did the artwork again this time around, and thematically the two are connected,” said Demers. “Pentagon Black No. 4 seems to visually finish the thought that was started with the last one. The other thing that is really fun about compilations three and four is that because everyone recorded using the same medium, it sounds as though every artist recorded in the same room, despite being provinces apart from each other.”
The fourth compilation in this series will be available this weekend at Flourish Festival and includes tracks from Property//, Klarka Weinwurm, USSE and several others.
In addition to a live performance and the release of a new compilation, The Famines will also be exhibiting a collection of artwork from both the Pentagon Black series of releases as well as the band’s own discography released under the Pentagon Black label.
“The art show element of our time at Flourish is going to be a representation of the body of work that The Famines have produced under Pentagon Black,” said Demers. “This includes all four compilations, as well as some Famines singles, possibly a PRIORS record, and a very rare Pentagon Black release that I’m the only person in the world that owns….not to be too cryptic.”
The exhibition will include a total of ten pieces including work by Biesinger, Hamilton, ON tattoo artist Sweet Dave and Montreal-born artist Lisa Czech. The show will also include download codes for all corresponding releases.
The Famines play Saturday afternoon along with Motherhood, Whoop-Szo, Klarka Weinwurm and The Lonely Parade at Shiftwork Studio, where the art exhibit will also be on display. As an added bonus, everyone in attendance will receive a copy of the new compilation. See you there.