Animatist: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: non-4/4 rhythms, progressive, jazzy math-rock

File next to: Zazen Boys, Jaga Jazzist, Tortoise, Black Midi, The Mars Volta

Playing: Saturday, November 20, 2021 @918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education. More info here!

We meet at Danielle and Brent’s place. The lights are dimmed. Men I Trust is playing on low volume. There’s a Moog Mother-32 chilling on the desk. Turns out we all went to see GWAR with Napalm Death a couple days prior. 

What exactly is Animatist and how did you guys start?

Ian Hinds: Brent and I went to high school together. I played in another band and we recorded at Brent’s house. He showed me some of his stuff. I instantly dug it, we jammed and shit just clicked.

Brent O’Toole: Ian and I both looked like goofballs at school. Ian had dreadlocks and looked like a stoner, I was trying my hardest to look like John Lennon. We used to call each other stupid nicknames in the hallway. Ian’s was Shroomy and I was Lenny for John Lennon.
I was recording the band Ian mentioned and asked him to play the whole kit. He played “Roulette Dares” by Mars Volta (whom I was into at the time) and ripped it perfectly!
It kinda built up after that. I went to Guelph University and met Danielle. Then it became a three-piece. At our second show Steve walked up to me and said “I’m your new bassist”.

Steve Cook: I remember you were paying at Rancho. At the time I was really getting into Jaga Jazzist and what you guys played gave me Jaga Jazzist vibes so I was like “I wanna be in this”.

Would you consider the transformation that happened between Seeds EP (2009) and Face Club (2017) a conscious effort or more of a natural progression?

Brent: Seeds EP was just us trying to capture what we were into at the time. Then I went to University of Guelph to study guitar. At that school there was a lot of emphasis on free jazz, fully freeform music, noise music. So, trying to make songs like Radiohead turned into this distorted version of that original idea. Also in Guelph there were a lot of sick bands so you were always trying to be better and weirder and noisier.

Danielle Fernandes: Yeah, I don’t think we were going for a particular sound. We don’t necessarily have the end product in mind.

Steve: Sorta like iterative refining. There’s no grand plan. Even though it sounds like it was planned because we’re trying to make it sound organic.


What are your musical backgrounds?

Ian: I started playing at age 11 with a teacher. I remember the teacher was showing me “Adam’s Song” by Blink-182 and I picked it up fast. And that was it.

Steve: I had this older cousin who was showing me cool music and he was obsessed with Flea. This was the first time I really started paying attention to bass. I was really lucky because everyone wanted a bass player. I was in a band with Brent’s cousin, Shane. That’s how I met Brent.

Danielle: My dad is a musician and I learned a lot from him. I started when I was 6. I did classical guitar and a bit of piano through childhood. When I was 12 I had to choose a band instrument so I chose the saxophone. At the university I did classical saxophone. That’s where I met Brent and we started making free improvised music. I never thought I would be in a rock band because I played sax.

Steve: I think you play it like punk sax.

Ian: One thing worth mentioning is that we have uncannily similar tastes in music.

Do you feel it is beneficial to your music?

Brent: Some of our favorite bands are lesser known and not that many people sound like them. For example we all like Zazen Boys and I think when all of us like a band that sounds so different it brings us in a direction to make our music similarly unique.

How much does gear affect your music? Do you think it’d be the same with a frying pan and a pair of spoons?

Danielle: I am the synth person but I’ve never played it before this band. If we were to replace it with a frying pan I’d be so happy because I hate gear.

Steve: I use a 6-string bass in weird tunings. If I had to use someone else’s bass, even if it had the right number of strings I’m in trouble because the strings might just snap.

Brent: I don’t really like guitar. I’m good at navigating it and it feels the easiest for me but I don’t like a lot of things that the guitar does. So I started amassing a bunch of pedals. I think we’ve gotten really used to the way we create sounds so if you take out any part of it we’d be making completely different music. It would still be jazzy, math-rocky, weird time signatures but texturally it would be different. But I don’t think gear makes it what it is.

Steve: I think it does.

Brent: Shit, I gotta think about it now.

How did your approach change between Face Club and Inverted?

Brent: Face Club was recorded in my parents’ basement. We engineered it ourselves. We had to do it track by track because there wasn’t enough room for everybody. My main goal for Inverted was to bring that live energy to it. It helped a lot with really honing the tracks and not thinking that we can fix the mistakes later.

Danielle: Recording Face Club, we just couldn’t get it to sound the way we wanted to. I had to re-record my parts over and over. And then a week later we’d have to do it again. On Inverted we learned how to do it better.

Steve: I’m pretty sure “Weird Digits” is the first take recorded off the floor.

How did you spend the lockdown?

Ian: Smoking copious amounts of weed. A lot of gaming.  A lot of self-loathing. It was tough. I’m sure there are people who stayed productive but I was just out of it. I found it really hard to ease back into it. For the first couple of months it was like “what the F?”

Brent: We had one session for two or three days to put a thing together for Lingua Franca Festival and then fucked off for another year.

Danielle: We hardly ever cancel practice. We met every week for five years. Lockdown was a huge disappointment. We had Inverted ready to go, ordered vinyl. Had shows lined up at the end of May 2020.

Brent: I run a label, Glue Gun Records, and didn’t know a lot of things a label should be doing. I focused on that during the lockdown, trying to help other people release their music. It worked out and I think that’s why we decided to put out Inverted on Glue Gun. That’s one good thing.

How does it feel doing live shows again? Do you feel like something changed?

Danielle: God, it was like riding a bicycle. At our first rehearsal back we played and it was pretty good. Turned out we still got it.

Steve: We’ve always been really harsh on ourselves.

Ian: It’s a double-edged sword.

Brent: Makes us super-tight.

Ian: That’s the thing, it’s gotta be.

Steve: We care.

Brent: Our first show back was an outdoor show at Drom Taberna. Most people were sitting down not wearing masks and for a moment it felt like the pandemic wasn’t going on.

What does the future look like for Animatist?

Brent: We have a show coming up on November 20. The main mission is to get back to playing live. And then we’ll try and write some songs that are a little different. When the festival season comes up in summer we’re hoping to get on a few things.

There’s not much info about you online (yet) what would you like people to know?

Danielle: Just come to our show. All that “where you’re coming from?” is just fluff. Come to the show, the music it says it all.

Brent: Yeah, we’re sick live! Come see us live.

Ian: I think we can solve world peace with our music.

Animatist  will be performing on November 20, 2021 at 918 Bathurst with Marker Starling and Nina Savary. More info here.


Nick Maniutin is a Toronto based musician and blogger. His blog focuses on weirdos and outcasts from all sides of music spectrum. He also makes experimental electronica as Kettle Whistle.