With that all-too-familiar concert-silence following the sound check and dimmed lights, The Birthday Massacre came onstage at Portland’s Hawthorne Theatre at 10:45 PM on Thursday, November 18th. No one got the response that singer Chibi received, and what a loud response it was. Considering how intimate the show was, there was no denying who the crowd came to see. With a sound-checking intro to make sure everything was ready, The Birthday Massacre jumped into "In The Dark" and "Lovers End". The perfect first songs with their catchy progressions, dark beats and Chibi playing the rag doll. After that, the entire band head banged in unison with their distinct energy of twinkly beats and nursery rhyme sounds, which are always accompanied by rocking guitars and affecting vocals. Like a gothic pixie straight out of Tim Burton’s dream, Chibi danced around on stage in a schoolgirl outfit and pigtails, making little heart signs with her hand, and blowing kisses to the young audience, who each believed The Birthday Massacre was playing exclusively for them.
The air of confidence the six members gave off was comforting and addictive, as they easily transitioned from their intro, into "Video Kid" and "Falling Down". There was definitely a sense of awe from the audience as the whole band bounced about, and joked with each other as they played each song without error. Although Chibi takes center stage, it is obvious that guitarists Rainbow and Michael Falcore are in charge of putting the final touches in everything from the sound, the look, and the energy of The Birthday Massacre. "Red Star" followed with its synchronized bounce and easy bridge. By this point in the night, they were in their zone, which caused Chibi to become more animated, and the other members to become one with their instruments, especially Owen, who would scale to the top of his keyboard while he played.
There seemed to be some mic and sound problems during the popular "To Die For", but instead of letting the frustration get to them, Chibi and the boys kept connecting with the audience, singing right to them, shaking hands, and continuing to give them little heart signs with their hands. The problem was remedied before they jumped into three songs from the new album Pins and Needles, which was released September 14th, 2010. "Shallow Grave", "Pins and Needles", and "Control" showcased their maturity and well-found niche. Their sound is catchy like 1980s Missing Persons, dark like 1990s Marilyn Manson, and tight like 2000s AFI. The Birthday Massacre is making the right music, at the right time, for the right people. "Looking Glass" from their 2007 album Walking With Strangers was next, followed by musically their best sounding song of the night, "Horror Show", from their 2002 release, Nothing and Nowhere.
As the end of the concert neared, the band announced they would play a few more songs and finished their pre-encore set with the crowd favorites "Blue" and "Midnight". It was great to hear Chibi showoff her growly side as she rasped her way through these before they exited. The atmosphere was even more electric when the band reentered, especially when they announced they would play two more songs: "Sleepwalking" and "Happy Birthday". After their dramatic finish to the last two songs, they said their goodbyes, once again blew kisses to the audience, and finally exited off stage for good. "Happy Birthday" seems to be the finishing touch to most of their shows. There was certainly an air of excitement and buzz in the venue at this point, caused by ringing ears and happy hearts. Toronto, Canada’s The Birthday Massacre are easy on the eyes and easy to love, like finding a friend in the night who will help you blowout your birthday candles, and kill you with happy little hearts.
QRO sat down with Chibi (lead vocals) and Rainbow (guitars/programming/vocals) of Toronto-based synth-rock band The Birthday Massacre to discuss their new album, Pins and Needles, before they took the stage at NYC’s Highline Ballroom on September 10th.
QRO: Welcome back to New York! How does it feel being back at the Highline Ballroom doing another show, and during Fashion Week?
Chibi: Well honestly we love playing here. This is a really great club (QRO venue review), everybody who’s here is really nice and it’s very well organized. We always look forward to playing here and in New York as well. We have a lot of good fans here and it’s going to be a good show. But yeah, Fashion Week, I don’t know, it seems like everything is a little crazy.
Rainbow: Yeah I haven’t really had a chance to experience enough of it to really know, but we like New York.
QRO: So your fourth studio album Pins and Needles comes out in four days. What makes this album new and what makes you excited about it?
R: I think just the way we went about recording it was really fun, because usually as with the last couple of albums we’ve done we’ve recorded them – I wouldn’t say separately, but just the way the workspace is setup we usually have different little areas where we work. This time we did a bit of writing the way we did before. Then Mike [Falcore, TBM's other guitarist] and I went back to our hometown, cleared out a space in a basement and just worked together for about five or six months – it was a really cool process. Mike and I have known each other for a really long time so it was really cool to be able to work so closely with him over that period of time and really focus on the songs, especially in that environment in our hometown. It was like coming full circle. Before we sort of came back and worked on the vocal melodies and lyrics with that too.
One thing that we really wanted to do with this album – we had a pretty specific idea about how we wanted the album to sound and whatnot, so we wanted to have certain elements within the album that were consistent. The way we’ve recorded before was a little bit more haphazard and every drum sound was different, the guitars would sort of vary and [for this album] we just wanted to have certain threads that were sort of consistent throughout the whole thing. Like the rhythm guitar sound, we really wanted to find one main sound that we would accent and we could layer with other things, but really one sound that we were happy with, a consistent kit sound that we would add loops to, stuff like that. So the album has a consistent feel – we wanted to have a really dense, heavy, textural, larger than life feel. So that was really fun and we got to accomplish that.
C: Was it really fun?
R: It was fun! I thought it was fun, in retrospect it was. I was stressing out a lot during the process though.
C: There was some stress – we had a deadline that we had to meet. We got really stressed out and a friend of mine said that a lot of times out of the worst stress the most awesome creativity can come, and I think that was the case. But you know how it is, you get like "How am I going to do this? What are we going to do?" But it came together really, really well.
R: I think that’s the way we were.
It’s like we need the due dates in order to set the fire under ourselves, otherwise we’ll take forever, you know.
QRO: Yeah, I definitely know what you mean. How would you guys describe your music?
C & R: Umm, I don’t know.
C: Really good?
R: Really great? It’s the kind of stuff that we want to hear. We just write what we like.
C: We all grew up all listening to a lot of different kinds of music, and we tried to put those different sounds in contrast, sometimes together into something that sounds really good to us and hopefully to other people.
R: We have pretty eclectic tastes; we have a wide range of stuff like on a mix CD or tape or whatever. The band was just a cool way to put those things together. It seemed sort of a natural, cool thing to do for us. It’s just a combination of all our influences. Hopefully it works – we don’t really over analyze it.
QRO: My next question for you has to do with your new video for "In the Dark". I noticed a lot of horror references and references to past album artwork. Was that something that was consciously included or was it something that just happened as you put ideas together?
C: Yeah, I mean Mike – he’s our other guitar player – directed the video and so he had a lot of ideas for it, and this was the first time that the band has been in full control of the creative process of the video. We’ve always collaborated with an artist named Dan Ouellette. He’s got great ideas so we would always collaborate with him and mix ideas. But this time it was exactly what you were saying – we used a lot of the old imagery, and we like a lot of horror movies. There’s the bed at the end [note: the scene is reminiscent to Johnny Depp's death scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street], there’s a lot of references like that.
R: Yeah, it’s very much a Birthday Massacre video.
C: It was nice as well to have the opportunity to do that.
The Birthday Massacre’s video for "In the Dark":
QRO: I’ve noticed a lot of rabbits in both your album artwork and videos. Is this something that was originally just supposed to have been for the website?
C: Sort of, it was like a transitional follow the rabbit through the areas of the website.
R: And then it just took on a life of its own, so we just brought it through.
C: It’s become our trademark; it wasn’t planned at all.
R: It wasn’t something that we overanalyzed and calculated. A lot of times when you do something creatively you just do it. I wouldn’t want to lie and say it was contrived beforehand.
QRO: Are there any rabbits in the new album artwork or merchandise?
R: Yeah, we sneak them in.
C: We have some new merchandise that we’ve conceptualized while we’re starting this tour and yeah, the rabbit’s there. We’re mixing it up a little, doing some different things with it but, oh yeah, it’s going to stick around for a while. But at the same time you don’t want to put a rabbit on everything, so some stuff doesn’t have a rabbit on it.
QRO: I know you guys have been touring so much, especially promoting your last album Walking with Strangers. How have your own personal projects been going, like your Etsy shop, Goodbye Forever?
C: I haven’t been working on that too much actually. We took almost a year off of touring to focus on writing this album. So during that time I was doing a lot of writing. I’m trying to write a novel and it’s just taking me forever. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to do the final hump and it’s like I can’t get over that for some reason. But there was a lot of time to focus on that and do some artwork and stuff and stay creative while I waited for them for six months for them to come back to the city so we could work on lyrics. That was the focus and then once that’s done it’s been nice to get back on tour as well. Being at home for that long you sort of – at first it’s like "Oh, this is great! I don’t have to pack everything into a tiny little bag and live on a bus for a few months," but you start to miss it too.
R: You can’t completely set up shop because you know in the back of your mind you’re going to have to go away. You can’t get too comfy or start anything too major. So a lot of times when you’re home there are little projects sort of floating around but you want the band to be priority.
C: Yeah, you can’t commit to anything fully because the band is always a priority.
QRO: What do you guys do when you tour to get your minds off of stress in between shows?
C: We all have really good senses of humor. We do a lot of joking around to sort of lighten the mood; I think they’re all out there right now watching funny YouTube videos. You know what I mean? Listen to some music, or I really like to just go in my bunk and read, sort of zone out and that kind of thing.
R: Everyone just kind of does what they want to do. We’ll hang out as a group, but we’ve known each other for so long, it’s easy for any one of us to go and do our own thing. If somebody wants to take a break and be on their own for a bit they can do that, if someone wants to go out and have drinks they can do that…
C: You’ve got to take your time away but at the same time you try to find some fun group activities – go to the movies, you know, just the normal stuff. Do laundry, that’s always fun.
R: But a lot of times it’s just building up to the show. There’s a certain schedule, you’re always in a different place but you’re doing the same things everyday. So everything’s based around that schedule, you usually have a certain amount of hours and it’s usually spent preparing and cleaning up, getting something ready for the show.
C: Waiting for the show, loading for the show, sound checking for the show, getting dressed for the show. Cleaning up after the show.
R: Yeah, that’s usually what I end up doing – it takes me forever to do anything.
C: He’s not lying. [laughs]
R: I’m usually getting ready, getting things together for the show way too early. That’s what I do during the day.
QRO: What are some standout moments that you’ve had playing shows?
C: Oh gosh, there are so many. There’ve been a lot of really amazing experiences and there have been a lot of really heinous, laughable nightmares. Playing festivals in Europe has always been pretty cool. You get this amazing catered meal and there’s a huge field of people and that’s like totally alien. Normal club or theatre tours are very different from that and so that’s really exciting.
R: Wiping out.
C: Falling down.
R: Falling off the stage, that’s kind of notable.
C: [laughs] Yeah, you make a fool of yourself.
R: The last LA show. That was fun because we met ‘The Coop’.
C: Alice Cooper came to our show in L.A. That was pretty neat.
R: I was pretty excited about that.
It’s like nerves. Stuff like that’s pretty cool. He’s hit me in the head with his guitar [referring to Rainbow] and I was bleeding all down my face, I’ll never forget that. They’re having a great time out there… [the rest of the band is laughing loudly in the next room]
QRO: You guys are very energetic up on stage and I think that’s something the fans love.
C: I was just saying earlier we like to have fun at the shows, have fun on stage with each other, and with the crowd as much as possible. If the crowd seems bummed out hopefully, like what you’re saying, it will be infectious.
R: Exactly, it’s contagious energy. Hopefully. It has to be fun for us if it’s going to be fun for anyone else, I think. So we always try to have fun with each other on stage. We’ve always been pretty energetic but when we first started playing we put a lot of time into building up the stages, or we’d have a lot of time because we wouldn’t do shows that often when we first started. So we would dress up the stage and put time and energy into that and we would play the shows.
C: When you’re on tour you can’t really bring along as many stage props or different things like that. The focus is very much on you and your own performance, and so we just tried to just put our all into that.
R: When we started to play more regularly and we were far away it just gave us the opportunity to step up the way we dressed and the energy level. It let us channel our energy into that without having to worry about putting the mannequin up on stage, putting the lights over here.
C: I honestly like watching energetic bands so that’s the type of performance I want to participate in. I like to watch a fun show. I hope we have a fun show.
R: A lot of the bands that we’re really into seeing live are really heavy bands that are extremely energetic live. So that’s something that we really wanted to bring to whatever kind of music we came up with as a band. That was just something we really wanted to enjoy.
QRO: How do you guys go about choosing what theme of clothing you guys wear for a show? For example at your last show in New York you guys wore Boy Scout uniforms.
C: Oh yea! I loved the scout uniforms. I want to bring it back. We do definitely put a lot of thought into that. We want to look cohesive. I mean with this type of music and the type of audience that comes out, if we just sort of walked out in jeans and a t-shirt it just wouldn’t really suit it.
R: It makes it more fun for us. A lot of times it’s like the way we look is an extension of the music and the atmosphere.
C: We’ve done like doctor stuff, the scout thing… I’m really glad you remembered that. We’re not doing the scout thing tonight. We all try and match. It’s important I think, especially when people come out to the shows and they all dress up and make the effort, you know, we all should.
QRO: So what should the fans be expecting in the next couple of months and what are you looking forward to?
R: I’m just honestly looking forward to the different tours and playing the shows. We’ve been recording for so long it’s really nice to get out and start to just perform the songs live. I just really like this – it’s not sort of like a simplicity, but I like having a show each night. I really like how the band tends to evolve as the tour goes on and we all get closer as a group and the shows sort of get tighter and I just like that whole evolution, I’m looking forward to that.
C: Yeah, we have a lot of touring for the rest of the year. We’re going to the U.K. in October and then in November we’re going to be coming back down through the states. So that’s a pretty full plate I think, I’m not looking any farther past that at this point. And the album release will be nice too.
QRO: What do you miss most about home?
C: I just got a puppy a few months ago, so I miss my puppy and my cat, my boyfriend. You know, friends, the usual. Oh look at this [pulls out a tiny slip of paper from her pocket], I got this in a fortune cookie the other night. [Reads fortune] "Keep in mind, home is where the heart is." Isn’t that nice? That about sums it up for that question.
QRO: Is there any advice you would give aspiring musicians/artists?
C: Do it yourself as much as you can. Work with people that you trust. Have an idea and a goal and don’t compromise it. And have fun because if you’re not having fun with it and it’s more of a headache than it’s worth then don’t do it, because if it’s not fun there’s no point.
R: And I think the ideas, any sort of creative ideas with the music, really have to come from the artist and the band. If you do have a label or someone starts to tell you what to do, if it’s not your own idea, and if it’s not something you really like and you’re having fun with, you’re not going to care about it enough to get behind it enough to succeed.
So just make sure you love what you’re doing, you love your music and you’ve got a good group of friends or just a good team and then just run with it.
C: And just do as much of it yourself as you can.
R: I mean yeah, even if it’s not working out at times, if you’re into it that’s when you push and you just keep at it. If that’s really what you want to do then you just make it happen because your belief is what a lot of times is contagious. If you have X amount of people that have tons of conviction in what you’re doing, that’s what’s contagious and that’s what people catch onto and want to feed off of. That’s what makes people like artists. You’ve got to be confident, you’ve got to know what you like, you’ve got to be able to stand by it.
QRO: Is there anything else you guys would like to add or say?
C: Thank you very much for the interview, we really appreciate it.
QRO: It was no problem. I’m really looking forward to seeing the show. I know it’s going to be great!
The Birthday Massacre released Pins and Needles on September 14th, 2010 on Metropolis Records and will be returning to the US for the next leg of their tour later this fall. Make sure to check TBM’s official site to see when they’ll be in your area – their shows are full of energy and are always worth checking out.