Inspiration comes from the strangest of places it seems. On This Hisses’ new album – the haunting high-ball of blood and glitter that is Anhedonia – the Winnipeg-based three-piece found themselves turning not only inward towards themselves for points of inspiration but to their surroundings as well, finding the muses of song within the streets of their hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“Winnipeg is an amazing place and there’s an amazing artistic culture people may not know about, but in many ways it’s a bit of an island as well” explained Julia Ryckman – This Hisses’ lead singer and bassist – when I recently had the chance to chat with her on the cusp of the release of her bands’ sophomore LP. “And there’s struggle that comes with that – but we used that energy and tapped into those feelings. A hard winter and hard times can bring something out of you, and I think with this album we used that and did the best writing we could do.”
It would seem fruitless to argue otherwise. While the band earned much praise and cred for their dark and twisted debut record Surf Noir, their new album Anhedonia is a brash push forward. A beautiful collision of musical styles and genres through the gritty filter of punk rock and surf, Anhedonia is the band’s strongest collection yet and one that’s tapped to earn them an even bigger audience.
And as This Hisses’ released Anhedonia Cadence had an opportunity to chat with their front-woman about the album, the songwriting process and how a little Twin Peaks crept its way into Anhedonia’s inception.
So it must be a pretty busy time for the band. You guys have the new album, and the single is getting some airplay. How’s everyone holding up?
We’re feeling pretty good. We’re very proud of this record. The first record we made was something we made going into the studio after being together for two months – we just kind of went in to get some stuff down. We didn’t really have a solid idea of sound or direction – we just wanted to lay some tracks down. The album ended up doing really well, but by the time it came out we already kind of honed our sound and pushed it much deeper into the place we are now. So [Anhedonia] feels like a long time coming because we’ve had our sound for a while and this is the first recording that really captures that.
Anhedonia is such an incredible title, but I’ve got to admit I have no idea what it means.
The word describes a psychological state where a person is unable to experience pleasure – it’s a medical term that basically describes that condition. And although the band is not in that state whatsoever, I think poetically speaking it’s an interesting concept, especially if there’s things you’re struggling with. So the title track of the album talks about a protagonist struggling with seeking physical pleasure, and has had so many negative experiences with that that it makes sense to talk about their struggle using that term, not in a clinical way but in a poetic way. Like when you wish you could feel desire, or you wish you could just turn off that feeling and be another way.
Wow, that’s actually pretty grim.
That song is a bit grim. But this album is one that is in a way is musically greedy. We wanted to have it every way, both emotionally and musically. We wanted some songs that were darker, reflective and with a real sense of melancholy with more aggressive tones. But in those same songs we wanted some beauty – some beautiful chords. Something that is haunting, but at the same time soothing.
With a song like “Icelandic Blue” it’s a straight up love song – it’s croony and joyful and celebrates love. Then there’s songs like “Winter’s Grip” which is about this exact time in Winnipeg – where it’s really cold, you’re half way through winter and you’re starting to get cabin fever and you’re starting to lose your mind. You just can’t wait to see the sun again. It’s kind of a nod to the incredible creativity that happens in Winnipeg that comes from being stuck inside – it’s a testament to the power of the intense artistic drive in the city.
So there’s a mix of emotions, and some playfulness in the lyrics and melodies – but like I said, we wanted everything. We’re really inspired by David Lynch because we see that in him. With a show like Twin Peaks he wanted this sweet soap opera-layer underneath this mysterious show about murder and evil. We like bringing themes together, instead of just focusing on one or the other. We want the dark and the light together – the joyful and spooky.
It’s a good mix for sure. There’s a great cinematic quality to the songs – on one hand there’s like these dark murder ballads and on the other you have these great surf tunes that sound like they could’ve been on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. There’s definitely a big sound with these songs – was that what you were going for?
We went into the studio with a very clear idea of what we wanted to get with every song, and we really wanted that big sound. We’re a three-piece band, and we try to balance that expansiveness of sound with also trying to not have too much. As a three piece it gives us some space and we really try to cultivate that space and I think that makes everything more effective. The guitar isn’t too big – so what it does seems huge. Same thing with the vocals. There’s not too many layers or harmonies or other things that may distract.
It had that vibe for sure, especially with the bass. For me there was a real BRMC-feel to the bass, where on some songs it really stood out as the driving force of the song. What that fun for you as the bassist?
Absolutely. But it’s funny, I actually have a classical background in music. So I’m a piano and classical singer by definition. And I tried to learn the guitar, but I could never connect to it – but the bass is like the left hand of the piano. So it made so much sense to me – there’s so much rhythm there, but you can still combine it with melody. And because I sing when I play the bass I find there’s an even better compliment; it’s like my voice is the right hand and the bass is the left hand of the piano. And the thing I experience with this band more than any other that I’ve been involved with is the connection I’ve had to the drummer [drummer’s name]. And he never quite connected with a bass player like he has with me – we’ve just got a great musical chemistry that allows us to hone in together and work as a solid machine.
What’s the song-writing process like for you guys?
Everything about this band is completely collaborative. On this album – like the last one – I’d bring the bare-bones of a song, just a vocal melody or a bass line, and we’d work on it until it became a full on song. On this album there’s even a song that Patrick [Short – lead guitarist] had worked an early version of with another band, but it didn’t really go anywhere, so we re-made that song into “Winter’s Grip”. Sometimes he’ll bring a guitar riff and I’ll write a vocal to it, or I’ll bring a bass riff and he’ll write a guitar track for it. And JP [Perron – drummer] sets how we structure a piece and how long certain sections are. Everyone’s in there, everyone has their hands in the song, and it just works for us – so we’re going to keep going that way.
Are there any songs that stick out for you personally or that you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m proud of every song on this album, but I guess for me a song like “Blacksmith” is an important song. I felt like I was able to do something vocally in that song that I always kind of held back from doing before. Like the timbre of my voice in that song was uncharted territory for me. And even while writing it we all thought it was a very strange song, but it worked for us. Even now I think it’s such a strange song [laughs]. It’s a pretty awesome feeling when you look back on your work and even still say to yourself “Wow, how did we make that?”
“Anhedonia” is another stand-out track for us, because we really went for a quiet feel with it – just get to as quiet as we could get, but then just go as loud as we could get. We played with dynamics on that song more than any other. And the last song that really connects to me is “My Love He Shot a Sparrow”, because that’s a love song about my grandparents, and how they met and fell in love. Vocally and lyrically it’s one that’s really close to my heart.
Awesome. So for you guys enlisted Matt Peters for the production on this, and it seems he really captured the band’s sound. There’s always the issue with production in Canada where it’s often a cookie-cutter approach, but you guys have a very unique sound that got across on this record. What was it like working with him on this album?
We love Matt. He is both a friend and peer of ours and the only person we’d want to go into the studio with. One thing we love about him is he can be different things to different bands, but he knows we have a sound that defines us, and he’s not there to change our sound but to help us get that sound on the record. So if it means making suggestions – like he did on “Blacksmith” asking us to do the chorus twice at the end – it’s all meant to help us with our vision. He always understands completely where I’m coming from a vocal standpoint, so it’s really important for me to work with him. And it’s the same with JP and Pat – he just understands the language we speak and is behind us all the way. When you’re in the studio he just makes you feel amazing – he’ll do the long days with you, he’ll give you a push when you need it and he’ll equally give you the space in the studio. I mean, you may not know this but you can find yourself in hard emotional places you could’ve never anticipated in the studio [laughs].
Oh yeah, the creation of music is a very intimate experience, so to have someone you can have that artistic chemistry with must be an amazing thing.
Yeah, and for us we’re all musicians, and we all have to have other jobs to pay for the luxury of being musicians. So when we’re doing things like record in the studio it’s everything to us, and it’s exactly where we want to be – it’s where our dreams live. And when we’re there it has to be amazing, it can’t be any less than that.
We kind of hinted at the creation of your first album Surf Noir and your approach. How different was the experience of making these albums for the band?
The biggest difference is with the albums was the development of our sound since the first album. We kind of sat on that sound for a while before recording Anhedonia, so going in we were a lot more prepared than we were with Surf Noir. But also we were ready for a different kind of album this time around – we were ready to work on production and had given a lot of thought to the details like ‘what kind of reverb do we want on the guitars or the vocals?’ We were ready to add new textures to the percussion; we were ready to add other instrumentation like cello and organ. We wanted it to be more produced, but still capture a very live sound and capture the raw energy that makes this band thrive.
And how have the songs been translating live?
When you’re in the studio and you think so much about what you’re doing for recording, and then you have to take it to the live stage you just feel…I don’t even know how to describe it, maybe familiar? Like you’ve come to know it so well that you actually have a chemistry with everyone in the band, so everything is just so tight. So playing a song live becomes like this strange mental and physical space that you inhabit. I think the songs just get better and better the more we play. And even though we had some extra instrumentation on the album we don’t have live we chose to use them sparingly on the album – we didn’t want to make an album that wasn’t reflective of our live sound. So whatever was used, I don’t think anyone will really miss when they see us live.
So what’s next for the band? Are there any big plans to tour the record?
Absolutely – we’re going to be hitting the road in late April. So far we’re heading west to Vancouver/Victoria and back – and all the towns in between. Right now we’re figuring out our eastern tour dates. We’re also really interested in making our first music video this year – and Winnipeg is such a fantastic city for film, it just makes sense for us to work with the filmmakers here to produce some videos. So touring and videos, that’s the plan right now.
For more information on This Hisses click here.