Bonnie Trash: The WL Interview

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Purveyors of: heavy, hypnotic riffs, pounding drums, spooky soundscapes, and eerie lyricism. 
File next to: Black Sabbath, PJ Harvey, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine.
Playing: Wavelength Halloween, Friday October 28, 2022 @ ESG Zero (805 Dovercourt Rd.). More info here.

Bonnie Trash is the drone-rock project of twin sisters Emmalia and Sarafina Bortolon-Vettor. Their 2022 debut album Malocchio unspools a real-life horror story based on the stories told to them by their Italian grandmother. 

Wavelength’s Tara Hejazi caught up with Emma and Sara to chat about being each other’s musical partner for life, sharing macabre stories from their Nona Maria as a way to connect with their audience, and the much anticipated release of their debut album Malocchio

*Editor’s note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tara Hejazi, Wavelength Interviewer (TH): All right, cool. So, since you two have been playing since you were 11, what is it like playing as siblings? How do you get over those obstacles as musicians and as siblings?

Emma: It’s interesting you say that because Sara and I were talking a bit earlier this morning trying to figure some stuff out. We’ve grown up considerably where our fights are not as detrimental. For us, playing music with a sibling, allows you to know that you can express a lot of emotion with the understanding that water will be under the bridge at some point in time. It’s our own relationship first and foremost. Music’s great; I’ve got a musical partner for the rest of my life, and I’m hoping vice versa. But you must make sure that you can keep that good and strong. We are older now and frankly, we get tired of having an argument. 

Sara: I also think in terms of having a disagreement, it’s more so out of passion than anything else. And at the end of the day, when we’re when we’re creating music together, that’s the best part of it all. It’s good to know that we can disagree with each other and work that through. 

Emma: Oh, absolutely. You’re not going to agree all the time, of course. But playing music, that’s the best part of it all.

TH: That’s so sweet. Because you are twins, is it true that you have telepathic skills?

Sara: It’s interesting that you brought that up because we were having a chat with one of our friends this weekend, and I don’t know if this is under the realm of telepathic vibes, but we had very similar dreams. We had a couple recurring dreams that we both shared. This is ages ago as kids, which is interesting. And I wonder maybe even as adults, maybe we haven’t shared dreams as often as perhaps we should, but we have had similar recurring dreams. 

TH: That’s very trippy, actually. Oh, wow. So, before Bonnie Trash was born, you two played in an all-female punk band in high school as well as an indie group in your college years. I assume those experiences have influenced Bonnie Trash and your life, as well. But are there any certain experiences during those times that have influenced your music? 

Sara: Yeah, absolutely. When we were younger in high school, being in an all-female punk band laid down the groundwork of wanting to be in a band, playing heavier music. And then in our early twenties, we played in a psych rock band for several years. Out of that we really noticed that we wanted to play heavier music. Not just in terms of playing electric guitars or rock music per se. But the conceptual elements of the music, the art, as well as the lyrical components also had to be heavier. Playing softer music made me realize that I wanted to tap into heavier components in terms of musical composition. 

Emma: I think part of it too, is you’re going through an age where you’re trying to redefine your personality. What you enjoy, your identity, and finding out who you are. There’s always that little scratching off an itch; deep down, you really like heavy stuff, so maybe you should try to do that more. But you can’t suppress that little demon anymore. It needs to come out. I think it was that too, and I think that’s what really allowed Sara and I to just say, okay, great, this is our project. We’re going to play loud and heavy and it’s just going to get louder and heavier. 

TH: I love that. Bonnie Trash describes their music as communication theory, social commentary, horror, and integrating ancestral Italian folklore into their heavy and haunting music. How would you describe communication theory in your music as an exact term? And how is this theory shown in your music? Because I know a lot of people aren’t familiar with that.

Emma: Sure. It really was part of how Sara and I started exploring our first EP called Ezzelini’s Dead. I was into the concept of Marshall McLuhan’s idea that technology is an extension of the cell and amputations of the cell. The idea of the computer being an extension of the brain, the idea of a car being the extension of the legs, but then looking at how social media is an extension of the self.

Sara: How stories are an extension of the self as well. 

Emma: Yes, exactly. Looking at this present-day storytelling, especially through social media; what that storytelling means, and then also looking at how we consume those stories quickly and easily. The very idea that you know so much about a single person just by tapping into their Instagram account is really wild to see. It’s kind of freaky, right? You consume that. It’s almost like you’re eating it and you know those stories now. Then looking back on the ways that my sister and I, and other people would consume both stories, and especially this folk story about this cannibalistic medieval tyrant in San Zenone, it was told to [Sara and I] as a horror story when we were kids. Then we would spread it verbally because that’s how we know that story. It’s looking at that disconnect and then looking at, well, what does it mean after you digest that? How nutritious was that story?

When I’m consuming at a higher resolution, let’s say on social media, knowing the different angles of a person’s face based off their selfie, [for example] your brain takes that in. We have so many more angles of that, but I still feel empty. It’s like empty calories. Whereas this one story that we have, we’re gaining that. So, we started playing with elements of story communication, consumption, and then we started extrapolating that through the lens of cannibalism in a way, and Italian folklore. It’s kind of fun playing with the idea of how you communicate and how you intake that. How can you flip that to become a scary story, which is how we started to play with storytelling.

TH: Let’s talk about Ezzelini’s Dead. Looking back on your debut EP, as well as looking at your debut album, a lot of your Italian heritage is shown. How has your heritage affected not only you two personally, but your production and songwriting?

Sara: It’s affected me personally because I hold on to these stories that our Nona Maria told us. Even as a full-grown adult, these stories were told when we were children, and they were so profound and meaningful and engaging that they even make a mark on me today. Using these stories that our Nona told us and putting them into music as a conceptual piece not only preserves her stories, but it also is an archive of her dialect that she spoke. The whole point I think of creating this music and especially the new album, Malocchio, is making sure that our stories are told and that others can hear them as well. Because we think they’re pretty spooky and we hope that other people will find them a little spooky and be able to connect with them too.

Emma: It’s also looking at ‘what does that story look like through the eyes of grandchildren?’ I think that is a theme that resonates with any set of grandkids. A new generation of children who are living in a space that is steeped in its own history. But you’re carrying a history or a series of stories from somebody else who wasn’t there. Who didn’t live there. Who has come here. It’s an interesting thing to see. And I often wonder through the eyes of grandkids, that point of connection is: ‘what parts of stories do you know and what parts of stories do you not know?’  Because you’re here and [your grandparents are] like, that’s old country or whatever. Right? That’s influenced the way that we make music, too, because it’s looking at the way that you tell that story and understanding that it’s not fully your story either.

Looking back on the dialogue, we did it because it was fun. At first we thought, “great, she’s going to tell the story. She’s going to tell it in the way that she wants to tell it, and we’re not going to change it up.” And then when we were playing live with it, [because we always play snippets of her speaking], we suddenly had people come up to us and say, “Hey, I know that dialect. My grandparents speak that dialect, or I grew up speaking that or I know these stories”. It’s almost a way to say, “Hey, where you at? Do you know this? Is that so?” It’s a cool way to connect. And it’s fun, you get to see who’s around and who knows those stories. 

TH: Awesome. I know that Nona Maria is a huge part of this album. Other than storytelling, how else has she influenced your life, both musically and just personally?

Sara: You know, outside of all of the scary stories that she told and her real-life horror stories that she experienced, she was such a positive, wonderful woman. Incredible cook, amazing person in terms of her generosity and kindness. I’m really taking those attributes and making sure that I try to be positive every single day, and act with kindness and cook good food. So, yeah, she’s quite a big influence and I miss her dearly. She’s absolutely a wonderful woman. 

Emma: Also, not to take yourself too seriously. 

Sara: Yeah, don’t take yourself too seriously. And she was very, very funny too. So even with all the scary stories that she told and that we incorporate into our music, I can assure you that she was a very humorous and very, very positive woman. 

Emma: And hold your friends close and keep your family close, too. She still had one or two friends who she grew up with, and they came to Guelph and then they were all [living] in this condo space. They all lived in the same building 

Sara: As they were older, which is wild. 

Emma: So, her friends were close. They called each other every day. I think it’s an important thing to maintain deep friendships.

TH: That’s so cute. Good friendships. That touched my heart.

Sara: And whatever sort of family that you’re born with or your chosen family as well, (Of course, that can be such a vague word now) it’s just important to keep your friends and family close.

TH: Yeah, for sure. So, I was wondering what you think of songwriting as cultural preservation.

Emma: Hmm. Well, I was initially looking at it as a way of having two perspectives on a story. It’s looking at the storyteller or the grandparent, then having the grandchild interpreting that story, and then looking at how do you hybridize that story for yourself? Because you could repeat your grandparents’ stories. But again, those aren’t yours. They’re the stories that they told you. Then it’s how do you reinterpret those stories based off the lessons or what followed you from that story. And I think that’s how we interpret her meaning and then bring it into our realm of meaning and aesthetic. Does that make sense, Sara?

Sara: Yeah, I think from the lyrical side, (as the lyricist in Bonnie Trash), the lyrical component very much is based off all of these stories that she told, and they could be little elements of some of the stories as well. For instance, “Silence Is a Killer,” one of our singles that’s out right now. That song is all about how to ward off a Malocchio. And through the song, we really talk about how you can also be one with the Malocchio. So keeping it close to you, not being afraid of it, but keeping it close so that you know what it is. Sometimes it can overtake you, and sometimes you enjoy that, [but] you must be really careful when you do that. So that’s an example of one of the songs and how we incorporate the story of the Malocchio into songwriting.

TH: I got chills. Out of all the folklore you’ve heard from your grandmother, which one has stuck out the most to you two, and why?

Sara: I think for me, the one that stands out the most is the story of when her [Nona Maria] and our Nono had to move back to Italy after moving to Canada. They had to move back for a period of time. While they were there, she told us the story of how our Nono in the middle of the night was closing up the house, turning off all the lights… 

Emma: For context though, we should probably go into context. Sorry to interrupt. The old house that they moved back to was our Nona’s family’s place. It’s an old farmhouse. [There were] animals in the middle, you’ve got some random stuff here and there and there’s an outhouse. [When you] move back and you really move back into the country sort of idea. So, it’s dark, it’s ominous, it’s creaky noises, [it’s a] really old building, things like that. Anyways, go for it. 

Sara: Yeah. One evening he was closing up the house, locking all the doors and turning off all the lights. Then something struck him quite hard in the back of the head. And this is something, it wasn’t someone. [This] was something that always stuck with me as something very scary and frightening. And, you know, you have to interpret these possibly as an omen for them to leave that place and move back to Canada. Because perhaps it sounds like they were no longer welcome. But anyways, that’s my interpretation. That’s always really, really stuck with me.

Emma: Mine is the idea of this character called the Stregatti. They’re not really witches or wild strangers, they’re almost like these spirit things that show up at the door and knock on your door, saying “Can I come in?” Of course, as a kid, you say no, or maybe, yes. [But the] thing is, if you say no, you could have a Malocchio placed upon you. I know that this character could be steeped in superstition or steeped in suspicion. The idea that, “Oh, well, now evil has been placed upon me.” I keep playing with that and wondering what that means on many different facets. [That’s] been sticking with me. 

Sara: I’ll have to add another story too. [It’s about Nona Maria’s] sister who unfortunately, rest in peace, passed away very, very young. She apparently received the evil eye a long time ago and had to have an exorcism performed to rid her of some evil spirit or the Malocchio. These were the stories that we heard growing up. They became almost normal to hear these stories. Whether or not they were exaggerated, who knows? But to us, to me, I think they’re all very real and they’re wonderful stories to share. 

TH: You both live in Guelph, but I know that you two spent time in Montreal and Toronto. What made you guys stay in Guelph rather than the bigger cities? Is it the scene that you liked? Is it just a nicer place? 

Sara: I think the biggest reason to have moved back a number of years ago, (seven or eight years ago now) was to be closer to both of our Nonas, Nona Maria and Nona Shirley. So being close to them was really, really important. To be able to see them, to care for them, and to enjoy being with them because they weren’t getting any younger. It was really wonderful to be close to them. 

Also, [it’s] a fantastic city, [we have] a lot of wonderful friends here. The arts community is fantastic, very supportive and just wanted a little bit more of a low-key vibe. Is that what people are saying? I don’t know. It’s quite wonderful here. It’s really nice to be able to honestly go for walks – there are so many trails, and breathe some fresh air, and that’s what’s really special here. 

Emma: There is the ability to be entirely alone. I think that’s part of it. 

Sara: Yeah.  

TH: Would you say in the [Guelph] music scene especially, artists are more competitive and or are they more supportive of each other; they want to help their other fellow artists up?

Emma: Very supportive. 

Sara: Very supportive. I don’t even know if the word competition or competitive would even be something to describe the arts community here. There are so many incredible people and musicians here, some of them, [we’re] very grateful to say that there are friends as well. Off the top of my head, some of the greatest acts coming out of Guelph are our friends from Nicolette and Nobodies, they’re fantastic. Our friend COTS, who actually just moved to Montreal, but they’re also from here. There’s also Ten Boy Summer. Our drummer, Dana Bellamy, she’s in a band called Habit. So many fantastic musicians and bands coming out of Guelph. 

Emma: I think too, it’s a small scene.

Sara: Very small. 

Emma: We’re having a venue issue. We don’t have a lot of venues. So there’s always this necessity to have a community to put on shows because there’s a need. It’s just a matter of making it happen. It’s awesome. Or if you want to start something, you’ll have a group of people say, “Yeah, that’s great. Let’s make this happen”. It’s a lot of “Awesome, let’s make this happen.” 

TH: And for the last question, actually, second last question:  if you two could describe your debut album in three words, what would they be?

Sara: I’m going to go with what Josh Korody said. Love Josh Korody. He is the co-producer, mixer and audio engineer for Malocchio – a wonderful producer and musician himself. He called it emotional, apocalyptic doom.

TH: Ooh, I love that. So beautiful. And for my last question, what is something you want to tell your friends, your fans, or anyone who’s just reading this? 

Sara: My message is, thank you very much for the support and the kindness and for listening to our music and hearing the stories that our Nona Maria has shared with us. We can’t wait to put out the new record and more music as well. So, thank you very much. 

Emma: I’m going to second that and say, hey, if you like what you’re hearing, we are playing our release shows in Toronto on October 28th and then October 29th in Guelph. Check out the Wavelength website for the Toronto show. For Guelph, check Instagram @bonnietrashband

Sara: The 29th in Guelph has sold out. So, for those who can’t catch us in Guelph, please come out to the October 28th show at ESG Zero, presented by Wavelength Music with Twin Rains and The John Denver Airport Conspiracy playing on stage with us.

TH: Congrats on the sold-out show in Guelph. That’s amazing. Good job, guys.

Emma and Sara: Thanks!

Bonnie Trash will be playing our Wavelength Halloween show on October 28, 2022 at ESG Zero (805 Dovercourt Rd.) with The John Denver Airport Conspiracy and Twin Rains. 

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Tara Hejazi is an inspiring creative and huge music enthusiast.

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