“New Country lives in a condo and goes to the cottage and has different values and aesthetic than his freak cousin New New Country smoking salvia and drinking tea on the wrong side of town. But they can appreciate each other, I think.” – Simone, $100
At the end of May One Hundred Dollars joined Fucked Up with playing a free show at Toronto Reference Library (review and photos here). In the aftermath of that unique outing, Music Vice quizzed $100’s singer Simone Fornow about her band’s involvement in the show, their music, and what country music means to them.
Natascha Malta, Music Vice, Toronto – I caught you last Friday with Fucked Up at the public library. Seems like an unlikely combination. How was it that you both came to be booked on the same bill?
Bands are like gangs. One of our affiliate gangs is Fucked Up because we enjoy each other’s performances and are friends. We get along well as people and like playing together. The big difference between us, I suppose, is the sonic difference between hardcore and country music, but you’ll notice that we’ve both broken out of the audiences to which our respective genres might traditionally have limited us. So if there is a greater genre of break out bands, then we are of that same stock.
People use a lot of prefixes to describe the kind of music that you make. Alt-, psyc- anything to modify the word country. How do you describe the thing you do?
We play country music the way we want to hear it nowadays considering all the changes in the world, and in music. Which is to say, there’s no doing Country music better than George Jones did it, so we’re not doing throw back stuff – there’s no irony involved or an effort to reproduce those old sounds. We draw on his influence and from other performers like Don Wiliams, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and at the same time were bred on psychedlic and grunge music. If New Country music, like the stuff you hear on CMT, sees pop musical production fused with a kind of country music cheer leader and jock caricature – like Brad Paisley, who I often really love- we play the New New country which is like like New Country’s brooding grunge cousin, you know? We have the same grand parents, but see things differently. New Country lives in a condo and goes to the cottage and has different values and aesthetic than his freak cousin New New Country smoking salvia and drinking tea on the wrong side of town. But they can appreciate each other I think.
Do you find as country musicians you’re met with much resistance?
No, not really. I mean some younger generations don’t get it because it doesn’t speak to them yet. But the truth is everyone gets older and starts to listen to country because by virtue of their age and the condition of the world, most people get sadder. Ears get blown out and need nicer melodies, and calmer music that still contains feeling, so they often open up to country. Country music is hurting music, so it works best if it catches you at your most vulnerable- that’s when Jones really speaks for you.
You’ve done singles that have taken Fort MacMurray and Vancouver for inspiration. Does your music take much of a cue from Toronto? Is there any irony in a band of urbanites making country music?
Our singles about Fort MacMurray and Vancouver are part of a project called the regional 7″ project, which is an interesting concept for me challenge myself in respect to writing. I wanted to take stock of Canada’s living mythology and try to contribute to it honestly. There are some ways in which we who live in this state, despite its vastness, are all connected. For instance, the country’s wealth is very much drawn from those Tar Sands, so I have something to say about that, not only because of that wealth but because so many people we know travel to work out there, and so many people here get sick from an oil economy. If our personal lives are microcosms of a larger happening, or if larger happenings reverberate in our personal lives, then the country song, which deals with personal heart ache, can be a good way to describe the larger scene. People recycle pain in so many ways, and we’re all connected and disconnected in these ways. Those singles were an effort at working in the balladic tradition- telling stories about real things that are going on right now.
I draw from my experiences all over, and of course yes Toronto, because I’ve lived here all my life. We’re shaped by where we are. We’re in Toronto, but we’re also in Ontario, and Canada, and North America, and the West and the North, and the World and the Universe, so all those places influence my writing. And all those places are influenced by what they are not- I mean a place is only a place because it’s not somewhere else. So what it’s not also affects what it is. So I’d say we also draw from where we’re not.
Country music has come from the city for a long time – remember Nashville? There’s no irony or kitsch or tongue and cheek or whatever you want to call it. We just love the instrumentation and the form.
It seems like often, your band is using the songs as a platform to campaign for social change. How important is activism in your work, and do you think activism has a place in the music scene?
I’m not campaigning for any social change through songs, I’m writing about what I see and feel- the different heart aches and bummers of the world- because they are what I know and sense acutely. Maybe that will change, but it’s just what I see right now.
Activists usually point out problems and then offer solutions. In the songs we write I don’t offer any plan for what should happen or what people should be doing to mend that heart ache. So i don’t really know where you see that platforming- though you’re not the first person to say it. So to me it brings about the question, “why do people see us as activists?” I think being an activist is hard, and it means having a plan, and it’s grueling creative work and risky work and I admire it. Playing music in Toronto isn’t risky, or grueling. So perhaps that notion that we are activists speaks to the political apathy in predominantly white independent music scenes in North America, where people tend to be in the city, rootless and isolated and therefore don’t see much of less privileged people’s struggles. Perhaps people are so inactive and disconnected that even calling things as one sees them is considered activism. But that’s a sad state of affairs, when there are all these real activists running around fighting deportations here in Toronto, fighting for their land or working on housing issues, or dealing with the courts, the police, the immigration system with such strength and grace, and then some musicians get called the activists. Those people are the activists and should be honored as such.
Activism is not part of my musical work, and I find most efforts at “activism” through music to be misguided charity for the most part, because for the most part charity is misguided in that it never tries to get at real systemic change. I think when musicians have personal ties to organizations that are doing good work in local communities, the music can have a real life in that community and that’s something great and vital to that community. I have my own life within a community, and that is what it is, and it is only in part musical. We write music because we love music, and we like making records so we put them out. Not because we think we will resolve a land claim, or do anything useful in a political way. So again, no this music is not part of a platform.
The vision your band gives of Canada is pretty bleak, and not wrongfully so. Is there anything in the Canadian sociopolitical climate that’s worth celebrating right now, and do you think you’ll be writing any more positive songs right now?
I think there are some great movements of people resisting the larger powers- No One Is Illegal is a movement I admire very much. But you can learn about that at: toronto.nooneisillegal.org, not in a song. Oh, and Grassy Narrows have been resisting for so long, freegrassy.org.
The large scale concerts the library is throwing still kind of blows my mind. Have you guys played in any other unconventional places in your time?
Oh we played on the Island on a dock and in a nice church, a lemonade stand, in Dawson City which is unconventional but for some other reasons. I was just stoked on the Library because I love the library, especially the well carpeted Reference Library where you can get any magazine from the past. It’s like a secular church.
And we ask this one to everyone. What’s your vice?
Oh that’s too personal of a question.
© Natascha Malta, Music Vice