Bernice: The Wavelength Interview (POP Montreal Edition)

Purveyors of: Modern soul-hugs and subtle R’n’B caresses
File next to: THOMAS, Snowblink, Tropicália
Playing next: WL617 Friday Sept. 19 (tonight!) at La Vitrola (POP Montreal)

Bernice sees Robin Dann’s songs brought to life by Thom Gill, Colin Fisher, Dan Fortin, Felicity Williams and Phil Melanson — some of Toronto’s most amazing musicians (members of THOMAS, Not The Wind, Not The Flag, Bahamas and more) in gloriously ascending joybursts. Given that crew’s ties to the local improvised/avant scenes, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of subtle tricks lurking under the soulful grooves. Joe Strutt chatted with Robin online.

To start things off, how often do people assume that you are a person named Bernice?

A lot! But I like it. Somehow it makes a lot of sense for me to answer emails, or respond to the sound person, as a person named Bernice. Makes things a little more mysterious for myself, I think. 🙂 Snowblink told me to make leading a band into something like myth making, and that’s become a part of it, for me.

How did Bernice, as a band, get started? Did you have a specific sound in mind to go with material you were writing, or was it more something that emerged from the people you were working with?

I did have a sound in mind, but I didn’t know how to find it. Thom helped me so much at the beginning, when all I had was a bunch of songs and the desire to make them into a record. I’ve told him this before, but when it comes to music (what we know, but also how we make it), I think of myself as a frog that skims across the water, catching the small stuff and winking at the sky, and he’s a whale underneath me breathing it all in like plankton. I guess the other band members are assorted sea creatures too, and over time it really has become something way better than just performing the songs I write live, and I do believe that our next record will allow that to come through in the sound.

How did you first encounter these amazing musicians?

I met Thom and Dan while studying at U of T about ten years ago, and Feli, Colin and Phil faded into my life in really natural ways, through friends. I felt with all three of them that when we finally met it was about time… Like meeting is almost an afterthought because I already had them in my psyche somewhere.

The musical relationships extend beyond Bernice in some more experimental directions. What else are you working on?

ASMR buds is a small (but growing) collective I started with Colin and Felicity. We play music for the community of people whose brains tingle and buzz when they hear certain hushed sounds – a crinkling wrapper, whispered ingredients from a cereal box, ice cubes cracking in hot liquid. Our next show will be on a first Thursday of the month *hint* during the long winter *HINT* (an ASMR search on youtube will take you to some crazy places).

In January, Claire Harvie and I are putting together a trio piece with Phil for the Emergents series at the Music Gallery in Toronto. Felicity curated the night and for the moment, all we can say is that we’ll be referencing the gestures we unconsciously absorb from our parents – think Dad dances, Mom laughs, soft sounds and glowing lights, spinning objects and long melodies.

I think all of the musical projects that have emerged from this group of people are connected because we spend a lot of time together, and have developed a sort of image-language-aesthetic. Like so many groups of close friends, our sense of humour has developed into a pretty absurd, and absurdly specific realm that we can dip in and out of. Mostly everything we make, though, seems to come from that place. We love each other and so we inspire each other and our creative output is just another reflection of our love!

You’ve been performing some ace tunes that haven’t been on a release yet. Is there a new album on the horizon?

Thanks! Yes! 🙂 🙂 🙂 More on that soon, but things are well underway on a next record.

You’ll be representing T.O. at Wavelength’s POP Montreal showcase. Is there anything else you like to do or that you’ll be checking out in Montreal?

I’m in Montreal a lot because Phil lives here… Maybe one last park afternoon? As for the music — I want to see Sheryl Crow so badly. Unfortunately she’s playing at almost exactly the same time as us, so I really need to figure that out.

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. Thanks for your time!

You are welcome, Joe.

– Photo by Aviva Cohen (Wavelength Music Festival 13)