Published Aug 22, 2009Some loves disintegrate under the scrutiny of the wicked world; others are nourished by the attention. And each half of Lullabye Arkestra — Katia Taylor and Justin Small — loves the way the other looks in the audience's eyes.
An element of showmanship has marked their relationship from the start: the two met over the course of a couple shared gigs, back when Small was playing in Do Make Say Think and Taylor in Deep Dark United. A mutual love of hard rock sealed their union: "Do Make are pretty space rock and droney, and at the time Deep Dark United were pretty Captain Beefheart-y, playing all kinds of strange stuff. So nothing was giving us our Motörhead fix," says Small. Thus was Lullabye Arkestra conceived: Taylor on bass, Small on drums. Half a decade later, the band — once running in excess of 12 members — has stripped itself down and recorded Threats/Worship, proof that they are heaviest as a duo.
Of course, Taylor's and Small's partnership has strengthened over the years, marked by traditional signposts as well as musical ones. The couple's first wedding is both a testament to their dynamism and proof of their fondness for theatrics: "I went to meet Justin after he'd finished a tour in Europe, and we went to Italy for ten days," Taylor says. "We were feeling romantic, so we said, 'Why don't we just marry ourselves here in Italy?' So we found this Elvis impersonator sitting in a bar in Florence, and we thought, 'Oh shit, wouldn't it be awesome if we got him to marry us tomorrow?' We tried to make an appointment — with this crazy, drunken, singing Elvis guy — and he said that he couldn't do it. So we said 'Alright, how about right now?' We went around the corner onto the steps of a cathedral, and the Elvis, who didn't speak a word of English at all, married us at two in the morning." (A second wedding back home was more traditional.)
Over the years, perfecting their brand of fun-loving, aggressive rock'n'roll, the two have shared their thunder. Friends have helped out onstage, including a few reliable back-up performers — I hesitate to call them "dancers" — willing to injure themselves for spectacle's sake, and a horn section pilfered from the Do Makes. It was a classic case of too many cooks, according to Small. "Horn players are kind of a goofy bunch. They don't really take on a whole lot of responsibility, because they don't have to do shit but show up with their horns. So often they'll kind of breeze in when they want, or not show up for rehearsals — I mean, we weren't able to pay any of these guys, so they didn't have any incentive to show up."
Threats/Worship, with its gritty, lo-fi production, raw screams and pounding rhythm section, represents the couple's liberation from unnecessary encumbrances. Unfortunately, the band's former label, the art-rock focused Constellation, rather liked the horn section — it was the one tentative link between Lullabye and its members' erstwhile outfits. While Constellation waffled, Taylor got in touch with long-time friend Nina Sudra, from Vice Records' Montreal office; it proved a much better fit. "I think people who were really big fans of Do Make Say Think kinda hate the Arkestra," Small says. Taylor chides him quietly, and he revises the statement: "Aw, not hate, but we did find ourselves with a lot of confused-looking faces when we toured Europe. I think Vice is going to help us be introduced to a crowd that's eager to hear us."
Boasting a pummelling record and a tight, sweaty stage show, the couple is just a few tours away from an international fan base. "It's kind of our little nation of two right now," says Small. "Our band meetings are done over dinner."