photography Mich Chiu
words Sunny Chen
When Babysitter's frontman Kristian North called me, he was en route to POP Montreal to catch Motorhead -- “a classic heavy metal band,” he said – and smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, I was on the other side of the country in Vancouver, wearing pink PJ's, fretting over how I was going to engage in this interview smoothly without a recording device.
The first thing I said when I answered the phone was “Hello? Hello? Hello?” repeatedly, because my earphones are fucked. “Sorry, my earphones are fucked,” I apologized after ripping the cord from my iPhone's ear jack and tapping on the speakerphone icon.
“Hello?” Kristian responded hesitantly.
We made our introductions awkwardly at first, and I could tell he was not expecting someone who sounded like a twelve-year-old. I told him how I wanted to see Babysitter at the Smiling Buddha when I'd dropped into Eastern Canada two weeks ago, but I couldn't make it. “Oh, that's too bad,” he chuckled slightly.
Immediately I felt at ease, and dove into my questions. As it turns out, even though Babysitter just finished their recent tour, in celebration of releasing their eponymously-named full-length album, Kristian admitted that making music “doesn't really pay the bills”.
“We're touring 'cause we're excited to show off our new album – we're trying to sell it — and travelling through all the small towns was really fun, especially Halifax,” he said. “Yeah, Halifax was fun, lots of bands there.”
Babysitter originated from Victoria, B.C., but Kristian and drummer Aden Collinge have both relocated to Montreal to join the Psychic Handshake record label, while bassist Andy Vanier opted to stay on the west coast. “The band's still pretty loose right now,” Kristian confessed as he strolled through what sounded to me like street musician after street musician, singing their hearts out. Suddenly he exclaimed with his voice pitched with excitement like a kid in Disneyland, “I'm just walking past a dancing polar bear right now.”
“What? Like, a real polar bear, or a fake one?”
“No, yeah, it's a guy wearing a polar bear suit.”
I advised him to take a selfie, and so he did.
“I'm in the Gay Village [of Montreal] right now; it's a touristy area, and feels like a big city,” he explained. “But the area I'm living in feels more like a small town, more residential. I can't jam in my apartment, 'cause my neighbour's crazy and complains about my music.”
I asked if his neighbour was old and crotchety, to which Kristian responded, “He's middle-aged, but, like, the later half of middle age, not the first half. But then, 'middle age' means something different to different people; it really depends on your final year, how long you live. Anyway, the rent's super cheap in Montreal. I pay $900 for a two-bedroom apartment. It looks really sturdy and old, with nice hardwood floors.”
Hearing that made me want to fly back to Montreal and set up shop there. “That's so cheap!” I cried out in disbelief, but quickly resumed my semi-professional tone. Okay, I would be lying if I said I sounded professional in any way or form. If only I still had my ex-boyfriend's recording device (he picked it up before I left for Toronto), I could put snippets of this somewhat bumbling exchange on YouTube and get tons of views, and I wouldn't be sitting here for hours, typing everything out. Moving on, I inquired, “Why do you think Babysitter made it and not your previous bands, like Vincat or Pencilnoises?”
“I don't think Babysitter made it,” he laughed. “Also Pencilnoises was just me at 15 years old, recording stuff, and I almost got onto Mint Records.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Mint Records! But it's all about milestones. Things change, you progress, milestones happen.” He laughed again. “How did you find out about Pencilnoises? You can't even find that online anymore. Yeah, it's not on the Internet. I guess everyone has a right for their musical past to be forgotten.”
Thankfully, Kristian's walk to POP Montreal is a long one, because I had a lot of questions prepared (albeit, haphazardly). When asked about his initial interest in punk music, he responded, “Punk wasn't something I listened to when I was 13. [When I grew up,] I listened to everything. The guys [in Babysitter] don't have a strong commitment to a specific music genre. Victoria is a small town and the music scene's a mish-mash. All the bands play together. That's how any small town is. We don't believe in any genre affiliation. As a teenager, [the] Fifty Fifty [Arts Collective] was a pretty important part of my formative years. They had these all-ages shows, sometimes served beer and sometimes didn't; they aren't as active in the same capacity as they used to be. Logan's Bar was important too. I moshed when I was younger, but now I just stand in the back like a grumpy old man. Babysitter doesn't make fast enough music for a good moshing, anyway. I don't like it when I have to sing really close to the mic because the mic hits my teeth.”
During our conversation, Kristian remembered that their first official show as a band was in September of 2010, and he asked absentmindedly if there was a designated gift for the anniversary year, “like 'champagne' for six years, you know, but for five years.”
I told him I come from a dysfunctional Chinese family, and we don't partake in these customs, out of cultural differences and general marital unhappiness. He told me that Queen Elizabeth sends couples in Canada a special letter on their 50th anniversary. I told him the queen is a waste of money. “I have no opinion on the queen,” he replied. I complimented him on using a variety of instruments on Babysitter, like the saxophone (Kristian: “Andy played the sax on several tracks!”), and the flute. Kristian thanked me profusely to the point that I felt weirded out – rarely do I meet a musician as humble. He seemed surprised when I asked him how much glass they smashed in order to record “Maintaining My Direction”, track 8 of Babysitter. “Good ear. We broke about 10 beer bottles, just random bottles lying around. Empty, of course.”
“Of course. I hate wasting alcohol...” and I proceeded uncontrollably on a tangent about my inability to be wasteful.
As the interview moved forward, it was revealed that bandmate Andy is also working on a side-project with “more of a noise, experimental” sound called Highway X, and that JLK (who provided vocals on a multitude of tracks in the recent LP) is considered an honorary member of Babysitter. “We did a tour with her. We wanna play with her more, but our schedules don't line up.”
For the past couple of years, I have been attending Vancouver's Music Waste Festival, and really loving it. Unfortunately, I missed out on Babysitter's appearances in 2011, when they played in an alley behind Astoria “at one or two in the morning”, and 2012 at Zoo Zhop, which was “a crazy show” according to Kristian. “We played with Martine who was part of the Ketamines, from Calgary. I don't know if they've broken up.”
As he lit up another cigarette, inhaled, and exhaled, I attempted to type point-form answers while asking questions at the same time, which resulted in verbal diarrhoea from my end. “How was your tour van this time around?” I asked, a little too randomly, I suppose. I had just remembered an interview online wherein Kristian both complained and admired the extremely unsafe quality of the station wagon they toured in a couple years back, and how they made it to their destinations without crashing and burning.
“What?” he said.
“The tour van? Was it nice?”
“Oh, we didn't use our own van this time; we rode in Lindsay's van” – wait, who is this elusive Lindsay? I didn't bother to interrupt – “it's, like, a '90s hockey mom van. Yeah, it's pretty cute.”
Then, going off from that same interview I listened to prior, I asked, “Did you finally get rid of your blank VHS tapes yet?”
I had to explain to him that I heard him discuss this in an old interview on City Slang. “Oh! Okay, yeah, well, I got these tapes at an auction, and it was such a steal – 100 tapes for $1, at a police auction. They were security camera tapes. Before I left [for Montreal], I actually pawned them off to Maddy from Shake Records, do you know Shake Records? Okay, well, they're a garage rock label from Victoria, so anyway they're her burden now.”
Kristian's reply when asked if he still thrifts (another thing I learned from that same interview – thank you, City Slang) was, “Not in Montreal. It kinda sucks here. Everything's been picked over. But I did go thrift shopping on tour. I think Hagface got irritated with how much Babysitter wanted to go to Value Village everywhere,” he said jokingly, but he was dead serious. He and I discussed the Harper government for a bit (“I probably won't vote,” he confessed) and I asked him what messages, if any, he was trying to send to listeners. “I just hope people enjoy [our music]. I don't usually talk about what [our] songs are about; I want people to figure it out by themselves.”
And finally, as Kristian arrived in front of POP Montreal, I asked him one last question, after I promised I would see a Babysitter show come winter: “What creeps you out the most?”
He had two answers. “Toronto. And emoticons. I don't really like emoticons.”
I was intrigued. “Wait, why does Toronto creep you out?”
“Everyone who's not from Toronto hates Toronto. It's the Canadian thing to do.”
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