Elizabeth Powell of Land of Talk : Q&A, Part II
In part two of her in-depth interview with QRO, Elizabeth Powell treads some deeper terrain, including her home country and the pitfalls for women in music.She talks about what Canada does – and doesn’t – do to support Land of Talk, making the video for “Speak To Me Bones”, her feelings on women in the industry and women in general, what she’d do if she wasn’t a musician, and how she’s both a heterosexual male and a transvestite…
QRO: Do Canadian bands really get serious state support, as is the urban legend in the indie scenes, south of the border?
EP: Like government support? Yes, that’s the only way that I was able to– Oh wait, no, I didn’t get that grant, which is why I had to pay out of my pocket for the EP. But I think Patrick Watson got that one, so that’s cool.
QRO: There really is like a state support?…
EP: Yeah, it’s called ‘Factor’. That is like Canada Council Funding for the Arts. That’s the only way we can tour and stuff. We applied for a tour for the past one that we just did with The Rosebuds. Mind you, I have to pay everything up front. And we get a little tour support from the Canadian label – it’s not much, but anyway… Without Factor, we’d be fucked.
QRO: You ever had visa issues, with America?
EP: Yeah. I can’t even actually talk about it, right now – That’s how many issues we have…
QRO: What are your feelings, American audiences vs. Canadian ones?
EP: Seeing as we’ve had more of an opportunity in the states, Americans are fucking rockin’ our hearts right now. In Toronto we get a great turnout, in Quebec we had great–
I think it’s just, we tend to be lucky, with getting the people who’ve heard of us are usually the ones who like trying to keep their finger on the pulse.
QRO: You’ve been getting a lot of press lately, from both sides of the border (CBC Radio, Spin.com, etc.). Is there any that’s been particularly special?
EP: Yeah, being able to be the like little, uh, what do you call it?, ‘on-location correspondent’, like the Canadian correspondent in Trafalgar Square for Canada Day. Jian Ghomeshi from Q, he just called me, I had a cell phone, and I was sort of giving him an update.
That was basically my dream – If music never worked out, I would definitely want to work for CBC, definitely.
QRO: You just put out a video for “Speak To Me Bones”. What was making that video like?
EP: It was actually really, really easy, ‘cause the director, Jeff St. Jules, who was a kid we went to university with, he was in the film program in Concordia, and a friend of Bucky and Chris’ also, from the east coast, he had such a concise– ‘cause we’d already asked him to do a video, before we even knew whether or not we’d get a grant. We were like, ‘fine, screw it, we’ll just give you two thousand dollars, and make the cheapest video you can.’ So we had this whole concept of this pile of trash, like a big, huge, almost like a notebook, of blank sheets, amidst this debris, and it would just slowly, like each page would tear as the rhythm got more feverish and quicker, the sheets would tear off accordingly.
It was all black and white, really simple, not really many angles. And then it was just a lot of, whatever you call that, ‘technique’, which it seems like Jeff does really well. There was no like big, whatever you call that, what do you call that?, pre… Just like he wasn’t like going off on such a genius he was, and all the meanings behind this, and your motivation – He just said, “Play”, which is easy; that’s what we do.
Land of Talk playing the “Speak To Me Bones” live at Bowery Ballroom, NY:
QRO: Has it gotten on like MTV, or MTV2, or any sort of Canadian version?
EP: No. Maybe if I was wearing a sexy little number…
QRO: What is your reaction to the idea of the ‘attractive girl frontwoman’?
EP: It’s just a really easy way… I’m not saying that girls who are obviously not wearing as much clothes as they could, I’m not saying they don’t have talent, or they didn’t work hard. But I know in my situation, I feel like it would be really easy.
I look more like a transvestite when I’m wearing make-up and a dress. It actually just doesn’t look good. I’m making it into a big, political thing, but bottom line is I actually look like a little bit of a weirdo whenever I wear make-up. I look like my brother, in drag, which… he looks actually better. I look like Bill Murray in a bird mask, wearing lipstick.
I do think the whole sexuality… It’s a decision. At this point, sometimes it feels like it’s not even feel like a choice, sometimes it seems so… handed to you, even when a stylist is like, ‘Well, you can wear this’, and you can see the jeans and like the button-up shirt on the rack, but they’re not offering that to you, at first. Initially, they’re gonna say like, ‘Well we got you this kinda see-thru tank-top.’ Okay, well, obviously, like I could do that, but I also don’t have to, and I don’t think it’s going to take away from… I think sometimes, it maybe takes away from the actual music.
But then there are singers like, I don’t even know here name, from Blonde Redhead, and she could go up there naked, and be like, a beautiful thing; it wouldn’t be stupid. It’s just like I think it’s your intent, how comfortable you are with your body. I’ve seen men on stage, in barely nothing, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s gross’, and then I’ve seen men on stage, in barely nothing, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s so appropriate. They’re just being completely honest.’ I think with women it can be the same way.
Sometimes, I’d love to be able to take my shirt off and when, when it’s really hot, but I wouldn’t even do that if I was a dude!
QRO: Both “Speak To Me Bones” and “Summer Special” seem to have a certain ‘Don’t pick on girls’ address to guys in them…
EP: You know, the whole “Stop spitting on girls” is actually addressed to girls. I don’t really think it’s necessarily about heterosexual relationship, man and woman.
I don’t know, a lot of those times, it just comes out, just a stream of consciousness, and I think when I was writing that, I was thinking about this specific guy who was a little bit of letch, but he was such a good, sweetheart, I knew his mom, so I knew that like wasn’t the whole picture with him, but basically what he gives off is like being a dirty pervert, just getting hammered in bars, and being very predatory. And then once you’re at that point when you’re drunk, you kind of are just like, ‘Grunt, grunt’. Like the alpha male thing comes out.
But I don’t know, it’s not really about one thing. It’s also just about like, girls are girls’ worst enemies. Women-to-women can be some of the most horrible shit you’ve ever seen go down, all the backstabbing, all that shit, which luckily I haven’t really been exposed to too much; I have a really solid group of friends.
I don’t know what that was. “Look at those girls, so young, so young, still piss their pants” – Yeah, that was my distaste and my sadness at looking out my window, while writing “Summer Special”, and seeing two girls walking down the sidewalk in just like little belly tops, wearing lipstick, and they had purses, and they were wearing short-shorts, and you could see just where the bum meets the top leg; you could see like the cheeks of it. And I just thought, they don’t even know… the power that has, and there’s a lot of people that don’t know what to do with their urges. I don’t know; that just made me sad.
And it’s just like, that’s your self-image. When I was running around when I was seven years old in track pants and my brother’s old baseball shirt, that’s also, like aesthetically, how I see myself in pictures, like how I see myself in reflections in the mirror. You identify more, more of a free, fun thing. I know how I get, if I have to wear dresses for weddings, I go out to a special event, you get self-conscious. You don’t need that as a kid; you really don’t need to be worried about your tummy.
Land of Talk playing the “Summer Special” live at Bowery Ballroom, NY:
QRO: Did you think of yourself, at least when you were younger, as a tomboy?
EP: Yeah – I hate that word. But it was just ‘cause I grew up in the country, and I had a brother, and he had a dirt bike. The closest neighbor, she was a girl, but she ended up being a tomboy too – like all the girls in the country are tomboys…
QRO: Singing about that stuff, was it just to express your feelings, or were you hoping to change minds?
I like to just put myself out there, like, this isn’t a very orthodox way to live your life, especially as a woman, but it’s really doable, it’s really necessary. People need music in their lives, and I find it really full when it’s written by a bunch of different people, not all like 23-year-old upper-middle class white dudes or something, like I don’t know, let’s just say. I’m not saying I’m really exotic or interesting.
QRO: Hey, you’re Canadian…
EP: You know what I mean, though? The same way that like Mary Margaret O’Hara, the same way that Feist (QRO album review), when I was sixteen years old and she was in this band called By Divine Right, and I was dating the bass player, and we all had this spaghetti dinner. Feist was just there in that moment, ‘cause she was in that band, having spaghetti with me, saying like, “Honey baby, follow your dreams, man. Like, look at me, give yourself the five-year plan, do an eight-year plan.” She was there, and I obviously would listen; her words would ring true more to me, ‘cause she’s a woman, she was doing what I was doing. She’s not much older than I am; she’s just super-organized. She was determined, and there was no shame in it, no like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna try to do my ‘art’’, she was like, ‘This is my vocation, I do this, I’m serious about it, why not? I deserve it.’
That was cool, that she was– not that she should be shameful, but she was just shamelessly like, ‘Oh, yeah, plan your path, make your whole thing, do it, go for it, it’s very attainable.’ She just made everything very attainable. So yeah, that, with all these women, like Emily [Haines] from Metric, just being like, you don’t have to have a like a pretty, flitty voice, and that in itself makes it that much more interesting to listen to. Like it makes you want to listen to her voice, you’ll be like ‘I’ve never heard this before; I’m listening…’
So yeah, I’m glad for all the women.
QRO: “Speak To Me Bones” also has a certain ‘girl power’ or ‘girl-rock’ vibe to it, or is that an unfair description?
EP: I don’t know, it could be used that way, and I wouldn’t mind if say like, a kids TV show wanted to use it for something like that, that’s fine. But I also wouldn’t mind if like a gay boy band wanted to cover that song, because I know all that happens. It’s just in a sexual environment, whether that be like gay men, or gay women, or straight women, or men.
That would be cool, actually, to get like a boy band, gay cover band to do that, but saying, “Stop hitting on boys you love, stop spitting on boys you love”… Just sort of the whole ‘fuck ‘em and chuck ‘em’ thing – I think that could translate across the board, too.
QRO: Do you think it could be used from a heterosexual guy’s perspective, to tell other guys…
EP: Yes! Sometimes I feel like I am a heterosexual dude; sometimes I feel like that’s my perspective. I hang out with enough of them…
QRO: You said you dropped out of Concordia University’s music program?
EP: Boo. I’m an excellent student, and that school… They just weren’t ready for me.
QRO: How do you know what songs are going to be singles?
EP: You really don’t.
QRO: Who decides?
EP: It’s always like an e-mail that’s sent, ‘Oh, what should the single be?’, and I go, like, ‘How ‘bout “Street Wheels”?’, and then our manager is like, ‘Mmm – is that a joke?’, and I’m like, ‘Yeah’, and then he goes, ‘Well, how ‘bout “Seafoam?”, and then the record label goes, ‘How ‘bout “Speak To Me Bones”?’, and then, we both go, ‘Sure, I don’t care.’
So I guess it’s the record label, I don’t know… I have full say in it; I just don’t care.
QRO: How did you know when Applause Cheer Boo Hiss is finished?
EP: When the money runs out. I think that’s what was perfect about Applause Cheer Boo Hiss: we just couldn’t do it anymore. That’s it.
QRO: How’s your new drummer, Eric, been working out?
at the Menomena show, and I remember him saying, “That was a great show!”, and I was like, “Yeah, thanks, here’s the CD. Gimme ten bucks.”
So yeah, it just helped that he loved the band, that he knew all the songs, and that, when we were playing “Magnetic Hill” in rehearsal, he said, “You know what, I think you’ve been playing it too fast. Why don’t you play it the way I’ve been listening to it, on my headphones? You’re like walking down the street; it’s more of like you’re truckin’ along…” He reminded me of the way the EP should be, ‘cause we were speeding things up after a while.
QRO: Do feel that, when you know songs so well, that you tend to speed them up?
EP: Yeah, you forget that not every song is like, ‘Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do’…
QRO: Have you gotten to play on-stage with any of the bands that you’ve toured with?
EP: Yeah. We would get on-stage with Menomena for their last song, and I would try to play Justin Harris’ bari’ sax. Never got a sound out of it, but it was fun.
And then, with The Rosebuds, we’d always get up on stage and sing two of their last songs in the set – I forget what they were called – and I started like taking Giorgio’s bass and like playing the outro, and then like slamming it up against [the speaker]. And Chris would grab a guitar and duel off with Justin Vernon, the guitar player. Who’s also in an amazing band called Bon Iver (QRO album review), which will blow your mind; I’m sorry, I’m obsessed with it.
[editor's note: what Powell omitted to mention was that she is dating Justin Vernon...]
QRO: Do you have any great tour stories?
EP: They’re all cheesy, just like, ‘I love touring…’
QRO: Do you have any where everything went wrong?
EP: No. I mean, maybe that’ll come, but we’ve been really… I don’t know.
; like, it’s ridiculous! Like when we toured England, it was sunny every day. I come back to Montreal, and it’s pouring rain.
Nothing really bad, there’s just been like, money’s been hard to come by, and organizing… It’s turning into like a whole… entity?… like a ‘business entity’, and I’m just trying to learn, like, ‘Okay, how do I pay people?’
QRO: You were saying before that, do you feel like, in Canada, you’re ‘not Canadian enough’, ‘cause there’s just so many bands in Canada?
EP: I feel like that will be true, yes, it is true, until we get to be CBC darlings and have some French songs, and then Canada’s gonna love us and they’re never gonna wanna let us go.
If you break CBC, like if you become a CBC band… I want us to have a couple of in-studios on CBC, and really get in there to the listenership, so that everybody knows who Land of Talk is. Then we’ll officially be a Canadian band. As of now, I identify as being an American band. No joke.