Somewhat lost among the throngs of bands these days who prep their sets with “can I get some more reverb in the vocals?,” is a band tucked far to the north in Western Canada who has one discerning quality that separates them from every other psych or garage throwback darling; you can’t classify them as either.
Alberta Calgary’s Women (the band, not the population sect) might have released their self-titled debut (Jagjaguwar / Flemish Eye) at the perfect time to ride the popularity of more traditional throwback bands like the Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls, but they have the uncanny ability to straddle all elements of the noise/psych/garage classification. This might be Women’s greatest — and simultaneously, most detrimental — asset. Whether it’s reviews (The Zombies, Velvet Underground) or touring (King Kahn, Dungen), it seems as though people want to define Women in the simplest of contexts: psychedelic or garage.
[l to r: Patrick Flegel, Christopher Reimer, Matthew Flegel, Michael Wallace photo by Lindsey Baker]
“It is kind of funny, we don’t really fit in with anything,” front man Patrick Flegel admits while talking to me on the phone as the band was on tour, driving just outside of Visalia, California. Knowing full well that there’s “a lot of that reverb vocal thing going on” Flegel understands, but has no appreciation for the classifications. “I can’t say I’m a huge garage guy, I like some garage rock, but it’s not something I put a lot of effort into. Same with the psychedelic stuff, I think some people get the psychedelic thing confused with what I see as noise. Which is definitely something we’re more attached to; bands like Sonic Youth. I probably went two years straight where I listened to The Jesus and Mary Chain every day.”
Flegel, along with brother Matthew and childhood friends Michael Wallace and Christopher Reimer may be young, but they are neither new or dilettantes of the music industry game. At an average age of 23, the band was formed on the heels of many years spent playing in touring bands. As the bio reads, Women has an intuitive rapport that seems to transcend speech from years of playing together, having collectively toured North America and Europe as part of Chad VanGaalen‘s band and with Absolutely Kosher artists Azeda Booth among others. But for Flegel, this has been a much more cathartic music experience.
“I was playing in a band and I had decided that I hated it. And I didn’t want to do it anymore — I had been doing it for a year and was trying to make it something that it wasn’t, sort of struggling with it. So I quit that and started working on stuff and eventually I ended up hanging out with my brother and my friend Chris. We just had a few drinks and sessioned in my apartment, and we were just like ‘yeah, this is what we should do.’”
But what is the sound they “do?” The singles. “Black Rice” and “Group Transport Hall” would imply some very strong pop tendencies. But searching the rest of the album will leave you hard-pressed to find many more with that level of pop.
“Group Transport Hall”
“It’s kind of funny, because we feel like we’re tricking people into coming to our shows, like it’s a hell of a lot noisier than the stuff people have heard,” Flegel explains, referring to the two singles. “Because some people just like those two or three songs and the rest of it they’re like, ‘fuck this.’”
But while Women may be very self-conscious of these perceptions, it’s this noisier, unclassifiable predisposition that makes them such a standout despite their brevity as a band.
“I’d prefer to do whatever I want in this band instead of having a side project to do something else. Like, let’s just do everything.”
“We recorded the album when we weren’t even really a band.” Patrick points out the simultaneous births of both the record and the band and it’s impact on their sound. “We recorded [the debut LP] almost just so we could get ourselves into position to record the next record — to make it the way we want it to be.” Being an up-start outfit aside, the sonic qualities of Women’s debut were just as much a result of confident experimentation. “I think it’s just not being afraid to try anything. Like we had this really abrasive Devo track that almost made it to the album, that I don’t think anyone would’ve liked it if it was on there. It was seriously bizarre.” Flagel says with a chuckle, before finally confessing, “We just kind of record everything that we do and not really put that much thought into it. Like, Chris has got weird ambient shit and I’ve got pop trash and noise trash and we just kind of mash it together. I’d prefer to do whatever I want in this band instead of having a side project to do something else. Like, let’s just do everything.”
So if Women were barely a band when they recorded their album, will their new material be more defined?
“I think it’s going to be just as ridiculous”
Recorded by friend, label mate and Sub Pop recording artist Chad VanGaalen over 4 months on ghettoblasters, a Tascam 4-track and old tape machines in everywhere from basements to, as Patrick points out as the weirdest place they recorded, Anderson Station in Southwest Calgary (“it’s a small guitar part in the song “Shaking Hand”"), Women can boast that their album is a lo-fi masterpiece cloaked in layers of vibrato and guitar wash. The inability to classify them might keep them too niche for the pop limelight, but is ultimately the reason they will get taken more seriously.
Or maybe it’s just being way up in Canada that has kept them slightly under the “it band” radar. At least they have hockey. But so do the Swedes and their tour mates Dungen. “We actually have gotten into fist fights with Dungen over things like the Olympics.” Flegel jokesâ€¦ I think. “We were like, I hate your helmets. Go home! Scum!” Didn’t Canada win the World Cup over Sweden last year? I ask. “I don’t know. They’re pussies.”
Sparking a little ire into an otherwise chill interview and feeling a potential band rivalry brewing, I use this time to end the conversation by addressing the one thing besides their classifications that everyone feels the need to mention; the un-Googleable nature of their name. “You know what?” Flegel asks hypothetically, before heeding his sarcastic warning “The more people say that, the more I don’t want people to find our band on the Internet. I mean it’s like, ‘fuck you guys.’”