Published Oct 28, 2008Once the rhythm section of Controller.Controller, Ronnie Morris and Jeff Scheven chose to move on together when their band imploded after the departure of vocalist Nirmala Basnayake in late 2006. Recruiting Vanessa Fischer, the fiery mouthpiece from another one of Toronto's renowned indie acts, No Dynamics, the trio formed Lioness. After gigging throughout 2008, the band have finally released their debut, self-titled EP, showing their ability to move on as well as include the elements that made their past bands so revered. Morris took some time out from touring across Canada to answer some questions about how Lioness started, why they kept it to a threesome and the significance of their feminine moniker.
At what point did you and Jeff [Scheven] decide to move on from Controller.Controller and form Lioness? Was it before or after Controller.Controller split up?
I think the inspriation to do something more stripped down like this came back when we were in the studio doing the second Controller.Controller record, listening back to the rhythm tracks, before we mixed in the guitars. With just drums, bass and vocals the songs had a totally different feel - they had a different sense of space, and probably better reflected the directions Jeff and I were interested in going. It was still quite a while after the Controller.Controller split that we finally got around to pursuing the idea, though.
How did Vanessa get involved with you two? Was No Dynamics still functioning when Lioness formed?
No Dynamics was still kicking around until relatively recently, but I think Vanessa really had different ambitions than the rest of her band. She and Jeff had talked about doing a side-project for quite a while too, but, again, there just wasn't a lot of time to do more than talk about it until this past year.
Speaking of Vanessa, I feel that for me, she was the missing link for you guys. I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but what I always felt kept me from appreciating Controller.Controller more was vocalist Nirmala Basnayake, who I never really connected with as a listener. I feel Vanessa has such a strong voice that really clicks musically with you and Jeff. Did bringing her into the fold change how you guys worked at all?
I think it's just a question of style. Nirmala's approach was always more detatched, and her lyrics were sometimes intensely personal, even if they were framed in language vague enough for others to read their own meaning into. That's actually what I love about it. We always wanted the vocals in Controller.Controller to be treated like just another instrument - just one of five elements that made up the song, but Lioness is much more about Vanessa's voice. Jeff and I are happy to be the background this time around.
Do you see much similarity between Lioness and Controller.Controller? Or for that matter No Dynamics?
Sure, in a way we're all still doing the same things we've always done, so there's bound to be similarities, but the sum of the parts adds up to a different kind of whole.
Having gone through the motions of being signed (to Paper Bag), releasing an EP and LP and touring everywhere, is there anything you and Jeff took away from C.C that you made sure wouldn't happen with Lioness?
We had a chance to experience all the ups and downs of being in a band already, so we know what's worthwhile to us and what isn't. We know now there's no point in doing anything we don't want to, no matter what agents, managers or labels might say we "need" to do.
What made you decide to keep it to the three of you? Were you looking to keep it minimal?
We wanted to keep the sound minimal, to try and do more with less, but there's also something about the aesthetic of the "power trio" that we really liked. More than that though, we've also learned how easy it is to start butting heads with people - even with your friends - when you're stuck in a van together for weeks at a time. So, in theory at least, keeping the number of elements down keeps the likelihood of conflict down, and keeps us all sane.
Was it important to capture the sound of the band live in the studio?
We definitely wanted to try and capture the "feel" of the live show, but it's always tough to replicate that in the studio. A lot of things you might do on stage just don't translate to tape. We have a bit more room to experiment in the studio now though, since it's just the three of us, so I think we've been able to refine what we do on the record.
I keep describing the band as sound like "death disco," which is obviously a Public Image Ltd. term, a band whose freeform expression and snaky rhythms you guys share. Is there any sort of music you guys feel is analogous with what you're doing?
We've definitely got an affinity for that kind of music, but this isn't meant to be a genre exercise, by any means. We draw on disco, house and soul music a lot, for sure, but I still feel punk rock at heart. When gas station attendants or border guards ask what kind of music we play, we usually still find it easier to just say we're a "rock band."
Does the band's name have any significance? Considering the amount of passion Vanessa puts into her vocals, I'd consider her lion-esque...
The lion has a lot of meaning for Vanessa. Her mother is Jamaican, and a leo, so I guess she was surrounded by lion imagery growing up. Aesthethically it seemed a kind of strange name for Jeff and I, but it makes perfect sense when you hear Vanessa sing. She's definitely fierce.
Are there plans for the full-length? If so, what can you tell me?
There's definitely plans, but since we've only just got the EP out they're still very preliminary. We've got a lot of newer material we're excited to get to work on, though, so it's definitely on its way.
How did you end up on the New Romantic label? Was it formed just for the band or is it the start of something that will develop into a bigger label?
New Romantic is basically an extension of Linda Bush's management company - she used to manage Controller.Controller, the Organ and the Hidden Cameras, and now she's started to develop a label. This was sort of a way for us to give each other a boost, and it keeps it in the family somewhat. It's good to work with people you know well, and we're excited to see where it goes.