Purveyors of: Casting a spell at a secret underground rock concert.
File next to: War Paint, Our Girl, Cocteau Twins.
Witchy, dark, and full of spunky energy, Ace of Wands know how to conjure up some magic. The Toronto gothic psych-rock trio consisting of frontperson Lee Rose, guitarist Anna Mernieks, and drummer Jody Brumell are releasing a new EP on July 9th following their 2019 debut album Lioness. They will be revealing new music and performing at their hour-long summer variety show hosted on the Wavelength YouTube channel, building on the weekly “Ace of Wands TV” series, which has been running weekly on IG Live through the pandemic. This special Wavelength edition of AOWtv will feature appearances from Toronto-based artists Zinnia and Robin Hatch as well as visuals directed by Samuel Scott. Jordan Currie spoke with Lee about tarot, what to expect from their new project, kicking down the patriarchy, and more.
Hi Lee! We’re looking forward to having Ace of Wands reveal some new music and perform at your variety show for Wavelength on June 24th. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the band’s upcoming EP, and what can audiences expect to see at the show?
We are thrilled to be collaborating with Wavelength on this show, and excited for people to hear our new music and see the crazy visuals the show’s director, Samuel Scott, has created.
It has been very tough figuring out the best way to release music in a pandemic, when the normal avenues of live shows aren’t happening. The two songs on the EP are both deeply rooted in ideas of desire, and I feel like that has been a bit of a theme this past year – desiring all the things we miss and learning in to be distanced as a pattern of behaviour. Things like playing shows, but also just seeing friends and family and meeting new people, physical touch, sharing space.
The two tracks on the EP are a nod to those feelings of wanting and revelling in the beauty and destruction that can come with that. There is a lot to love about the feeling of “desire” and rolling around in it. But it can also lead to some dark places… the songs are exploring those contrasts. In a lot of ways, the visuals of the show go hand in hand with those ideas – the psychedelic chaos of nostalgia and having spent too long alone.
Magic and tarot serve as a big inspiration to your music. Why was the “Ace of Wands” card in particular chosen for the band name?
The Ace of Wands card is all about a fiery burst of passion, creativity and inspiration. When I was trying to settle on a name for the project, it felt like the perfect place to begin. I wanted to have a band name that reminded me of why I was doing all this in the first place – to make room for the bubbling forces of creativity within me that are trying to find a place in the world.
What inspired Ace of Wands’s vision and aesthetic of magic? Is there a collaborative effort with your fellow band members?
I’ve always been drawn to the imagery of magic, horror and the supernatural. I can get deep in my own head sometimes and float around in a lot of magical thinking. But I am also obsessed with campy horror movies, sci-fi and mythology. Using the aesthetics of magic and horror in the art I make allows me to keep thinking deeply about things while not having to take myself too seriously all the time. I feel like I can explore the scary, dark parts of myself through the lens of an ‘80s summer camp slasher movie. It feels right somehow!
Anna and Jody are also very into all those strange and horrific aesthetics, and the collaboration really comes out most in the music we end up making. They’ve both expressed interest in ultimately wanting Ace of Wands to become a “horror rock” band and I have to say I’m extremely into that idea.
You’ve been running Ace of Wands TV throughout the pandemic, where you conduct interviews with musicians and artists on Instagram. What compelled you to begin this series, and who are some of your dream guests to speak with?
When COVID hit and we all suddenly became isolated on our own little islands, I was so anxious about losing the community of people around us that we had worked so passionately to grow. It was also important to me to elevate the voices of other artists in the scene, to get a clearer picture of just how “in this together” we were (or weren’t). I wanted to hear the voices of other creators and the struggles they were going through too. I ended up having so many great conversations with musicians, artists, writers, actors, scientists, journalists, teachers… And while every week, Ace of Wands songs would play and we would continue to promote ourselves and our band, the show morphed into this incredible tool for making meaningful connections with artists around the world. I cannot think of anything in my life that has done the same thing in just over a year. I’m open to whomever wants to be on the show, but I have to say some of my dream guests are ones I’ve already spoken to!
Your latest single from last year, “Feminine Values”, is such a fun, dark and energetic kick in the face to the patriarchy. You’ve said about the song, “Is it easier for me to endure the pain of female repression and remain quiet, or challenge the status quo? Is it easier to acquiesce to a phallocentric definition of womanhood, or face the pain of discovering my own?
I resist. I resist the constraints of the male gaze. I resist the objectification of female bodies. I celebrate and honour what is true for me in each and every way those truths appear – in rage, in grief, in sadness, in joy.”What do you think the “feminine values” of women today are? In what ways do you think we, as individuals or collectively, can work to resist and reject the oppression of the male gaze or objectification?
I feel like what things are considered acceptable forms of ‘femininity’ are changing quite a lot right now. And that feels hopeful to me. I suppose the biggest thing I have to come to terms with is understanding what parts of my expressions of femininity come from a place of authenticity, and what parts exist because they’ve been prescribed and habituated but don’t actually feel good. Having the room to even make those distinctions is a privilege, and I feel like that’s a good place to start for anyone interested in kicking the patriarchy in the face. Everyone should be free to explore what feels empowering and true for whatever their gender identity looks like without fear of dehumanization or objectification.
On each new Ace of Wands project, do you and the band feel a need to change or alter your sound in any way, or is sticking to an established tone more of importance to you? If so, how do you want to change and evolve as a musician?
I feel like we have naturally progressed with each recording we make and each new song we jam on. I don’t ever feel the need to change for the sake of it, we just keep evolving because we get more comfortable playing with each other and experimenting. I guess the biggest influence on a change in our sound would be playing live shows and touring. When you play on a different stage every night, you start to feel what songs are really gelling and feeling good. When we get back from tour, I tend to lean into songs that try to capture those emotions.
Performances and interviews from artists Zinnia and Robin Hatch will be featured on the variety show. How did you meet them, and how did the idea of them joining as guests come about?
Both of these musicians are ones I have admired for a long time. They are both incredible songwriters and composers, and both have a background in classical music, which I feel like I am inherently drawn to (I played classical violin for many years and studied it at university). Those classical influences appear in strange ways when you blend them with rock music, and it’s so interesting to see how each of us has done that in a different way. Strangely enough, I don’t think I’ve ever met Rachael (Zinnia) or Robin in person before. We’ve only interacted through Instagram or Zoom or email… I guess that’s a sign of the times. I hope we get to meet in person when this is all over.
Finally, in what ways has your creative process changed since the beginning of the pandemic? Between songwriting to recording to performing, is there anything you’re excited to leave behind, or keen to take with you moving forward?
The pandemic has made the creative process a lot more haphazard for me. I can go through intense periods of creativity, and then long droughts. I think part of that is the lack of regular interaction with my bandmates, other musicians, or just people in the world outside of my apartment. I’m looking forward to leaving that part of this behind, and getting back to a world where I can have hundreds of little interactions with people I have never seen before, feel inspired, and go write a song about it.
Jordan Currie is a writer and editor based in Mississauga and Toronto. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @jord_currie.