Vancougar Canadian Tuxedo

Vancougar Canadian Tuxedo
East Vancouver’s thriving music scene has filled the Canadian soundscape with a healthy crop of bands over the last few years, but too many have opted for the drugged-out, sombre route. Fortunately, there’s an underground rock’n’roll movement that knows all about having fun, and the ladies of Vancougar are their forebears. Based upon the infectious melodies written and sung by Eden Fineday, the band are rounded out by Becca Stewart’s heavy bass, Megan Johnson’s vintage keys and CC Rose’s straight-ahead drumming. Following the runaway success of their Scratch Records debut Losin’ It, the ladies signed with Mint and holed up in JC/DC Studios to create Canadian Tuxedo, ten tracks of summery garage pop bliss. Anchored by Eden’s foolproof songwriting, the album displays a penchant for four-part harmonies, ’60s keyboards and enough fuzzy bass to counter the saccharine melodies. From the group vocals and climactic guitar solo of "Unmanned” to the addictive chorus of "Obvious,” the blend of crunchy garage with smooth pop is tough to resist. Even when the songs deviate from the formula, as on the sock-hop rumbler "Money” and the waltzing bummer "Lonely Life,” they manage to maintain an infectious, buzzing energy throughout the record. Whether you’re riding your bike down Main and Broadway or kicking it somewhere else in Canada, Canadian Tuxedo is an ideal summer choice.

What is a Canadian tuxedo?
A Canadian tuxedo is a jean jacket with jeans. I didn’t make this up. I don’t think there’s a Wikipedia entry yet but if you Google it you can do an image search and see photos of Bryan Adams and other Canadians who have worn denim on denim. That’s why, on our album cover, we’re wearing all jeans. We like the title Canadian Tuxedo because it’s cool to be from Canada. We tour the States a lot, and when we’re down there we just appreciate being from Canada. We got government support to go to Austin. We’re lucky to be Canadian and we like representing. For so long, America’s been the cool place to be but by naming our album that, we’re saying that being an all-girl band and being a Canadian band is the new cool.

Working on the album for Mint and knowing it would reach a wider audience, did you feel a lot of pressure going into the studio?
I wasn’t sure it would have a wider audience because Mint was still a concept in my head. I didn’t understand how it would play out in my life but I certainly hoped it would. I had no idea what I was getting into really. But I always find recording really stressful. I get really nervous in the studio. I always look forward to it but then I get shaky and terrified for some reason. It helps for me that we’ve always recorded live, so you just play the song, you play it great and then it’s done. All you have to do is add vocals, and I found vocals this time were really hard. I had to do so many takes to get the right track. Dave Carswell, the engineer at JC/DC, played me the scratch vocals, and they were spot on tone-wise. So I went into the studio to do the real vocals and I was so nervous that I got all "pitchy,” as Randy Jackson would say.

Where do you work all day?
I just have an office job. Technically, it’s called information management. I help people keep information in a database.

Is that ever an issue with band stuff?
We’ve never done too much touring. It’s always just been a week here and a week there, and I’ve just been able to use my vacation time. This year, I’m getting married and I’m using up all my vacation time on my honeymoon, but we’re simultaneously lining up a month-long tour in the fall. I haven’t told my employers that I’m going. I just figured I’ve got to do this, so they’re either going to give it to me or I’m going to have to quit my job.

Do you have a favourite tour story?
I lost my pants in Boston. It’s not that crazy. It was really hot and I needed to put on shorts. The people we were staying with, they mailed them back to me. I didn’t have pants for a week and a half.

Where’s your favourite place to play?
We spent four days in Brooklyn and played three shows, and that was pretty awesome. We played a house party in Brooklyn at this guy Jamie’s house. Any time you see a band playing a house party in Brooklyn, it’s usually at Jamie’s house. Then we spent the evening jamming Neil Young songs on acoustic guitars until six a.m. I like living room shows the best. In the scene I came up in, living room shows were where it was at. I saw some of my favourite bands in living rooms when I was really into indie rock in the ’90s. They don’t have living room shows in Vancouver much, so it’s really nice when we can play them on tour.

Where did you grow up?
I was raised in East Vancouver. I lived here from when I was two until I moved away. I moved to California when I was 17. I dropped out of high school; I thought I knew everything. I moved to California, got a green card and was just working. Eventually, I ended up going back to school because I realised working sucks. That’s where I really feel like I became who I am now, especially musically.

When did you start playing music?
I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was 19, and I was 21 when I started my first band. That was in Santa Cruz, California. We were called the What-nots. That lasted for about five years. We always played living room shows. We almost never played the big venues because that was for the touring bands. East Bay punk rock was huge — bands like Jawbreaker and J Church. We were into that kind of stuff. Just total ’90s stuff.

Where did you find your musical influences?
I have an older brother and older sister, and it was so awesome to be the younger sister. They had musical tastes, and when I was really young I just listened to what they listened to. We didn’t have a TV, we had a record player. My mom was into music and we all played instruments. When I was five, my favourite records were Parallel Lines by Blondie and My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. Later on, I was into more stuff like Tom Petty and Pat Benatar — total pop rock, just catchy pop songs. Then I got into Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Cindy Lauper’s She’s So Unusual. Stuff I still really like today. I really like girl singers because I knew from a young age that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be Blondie, even when I was five.

How did Vancougar form and was it intentional to be an all-female band?
Not really. Becca and I met in Santa Cruz, and she lived down there for three years, so we started playing music together. We both played in other bands, but we had a side-project called the Peggy Hills. That was an all-girl band but it was just for fun. She moved back to Vancouver and a few years later I moved back to Vancouver too. I got in touch with her because by then I had been away for so long that she was the only person I knew anymore. I called her up and she’s a bass player and I’m a guitar player and singer, so I called her up like, "Let’s start a band!” I can’t not have a band, Her roommate at the time was Megan, who plays keyboards, so it was like, "Boom! There’s three quarters of the band!” We needed a drummer, but we thought there was something irritating about an all-girl band with a boy drummer. It’s kind of a cliché, so we thought we should just get a girl drummer. We didn’t know CC, but we knew she played for this band the Cinch, and we knew one of their members was pregnant and was going to leave the band, so we went to a Cinch show and got CC to come jam with us. That was back in the fall of 2003.

When you started, did you have any set goals for how the band would sound?
You know, I knew right away that we all had very different musical tastes, and I knew that Becca and Megan were totally into garage rock and I couldn’t get into that; I wasn’t into that scene at all. I didn’t come from that scene and I didn’t know where it came from. It just sprung up and it was all anybody was listening to. I couldn’t really get into it because I’m a pop person. I like stuff that is catchy and I can sing along to. But it seemed to be that the punk rock of the ’90s had morphed into the garage rock of the ’00s, and I kinda wasn’t feeling that, so I thought I’d write these songs and see what we’d do. They took these simple pop songs and made them their own. CC brings the driving poundingness, Becca plays through a Big Muff pedal so it’s super-distorted bass, and Megan plays through her tremolo. The one thing we found that we all had in common, and I think it’s why we sound the way we do, was the ’60s as a starting point. Girl groups in the ’60s, tremolo sounds, harmonies — that’s where all of our musical tastes intersect.

Was it difficult to adjust to each other’s tastes?
Oh yeah. Oh god, yeah. Four girls in a fucking room — there are emotions flying. Also, I was not doing well. I had just moved back to Canada and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was 29, I didn’t own anything. I didn’t even own a bed, I owned nothing, and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I didn’t have a job. I was broke and kinda depressed. I had left my entire identity in California. I was used to being active. I’m a very social person, I used to go to shows all the time or I was in university taking classes and meeting people. Suddenly I was staying with my aunt and uncle in their basement. I was super-isolated, so I was having a hard time. And then I’d bring these songs and the band would be like, "Mmm, no thanks.” I quickly realised that there are some songs Vancougar will play and some songs they won’t. But thank God we stuck it out, because now I feel like those girls are my closest friends and my strongest support structure. As a unit, all four of us have been close for four-and-a-half years, and we work really well together now.

Has your working relationship changed over the years?
I’ve noticed now that we’ve been playing together longer that they’re more open-minded to certain songs I bring. Every time I write a song, I’ll bring it to them and give them the right of first refusal. Even if I don’t think it’s a Vancougar song, I’ll play it for them. I never want to start another band and have them say, "Hey, I wanted that song!” If they don’t like it, I just put it in the pile for another project.

Do you write songs by yourself or as a group?
I’m not very good at collaborating. When I write a song it comes out whole — boom, it’s written. I’ve always told the girls to write a song if they want. It just happens to be that no one else writes songs, and sometimes I wish they would! It’s kind of a lot of pressure!

Now that you’re getting bigger, do you still like the name Vancougar? Do you ever wish you had gone with something more serious?
I love it. I think it’s perfect for us because it’s kinda silly and so are we. We try to have fun. The name suits us for that reason. I’m a language person. My degree is in linguistics. I love the English language, I love puns, I love playing with words. When someone in the band suggested the name Vancougar, I think it was CC, it wasn’t even an original idea. She had some friends who were joking about naming a band that. I didn’t even know what a cougar was when I agreed to be in a band called Vancougar. I just thought it sounded funny. I really like it and I think it’s hilarious. I kinda like that people hate it too; it gets people talking. We got on MTV’s website for having one of the worst band names at SXSW, so how is that bad for us?

How did you first hook up with Mint?
We recorded Losin’ It and we approached Mint to release it, but they were up to their eyeballs with projects. They said it was bad timing, so we went with Scratch. But when Losin’ It came out, Randy especially loved it, and he kept in touch with us via email. We sort of knew they were interested in us.

How often do you write new songs?
I’m just constantly writing. Right now I have seven songs for our third album. It’s called Au Naturale. That’s another thing we do: just sit around and plan. We’re working on a title for our fourth album.

Many of the bands who end up winning CiTR’s Shindig break up the year after. How did you escape the Shindig curse?
It’s funny, we did have a rough year after that. We were fighting all the time, but we fought through it.

How do you resolve conflict as a band?
We know each other well enough now to avoid conflict. Once conflict has started, it’s hard to resolve it. It just spirals. But now we just work it so that in any situation we’re going into we know how to take care of each other. "You need to eat, you need some time to do this,” etc. It’s also about taking the time to talk. There’s so much to talk about all the time with the band. I wish it was just practicing all the time but we have to have meetings so we’re constantly meeting, emailing, and texting. We just try to stay connected as much as possible during the day.

How do you feel when you go back and listen to the album now?
There are still things I wish I’d done differently. When we first recorded it, I thought it was amazing. Then a few months passed and I came back to it and I couldn’t even listen to it. It was painful. I thought there was a wrong note there, that’s speeding up. I’m like that even with my own songs. I’ll write a song and go through this 36-hour period of being so in love with a song and then a week later I’ll play it again and just hate it. It’s a moody rollercoaster thing for sure. All in all, I’m super-proud of it but it’s hard to listen to your own music. Still, this is the first band I’ve been in where I think our albums are good. I like the songs and I like the way we played them.

You mentioned you like to sit around and make plans for the future. What are some of your attainable plans and what are some of your unattainable plans?
We just have this vision of becoming very successful and having the opportunity to tour Europe and Japan, having the opportunity to play music full time. There’s nothing we want more than to be able to quit our jobs and do Vancougar full time. So we talk a lot about what that would look like realistically, and then we talk about what kind of jet we’re going to have. I don’t think we’re very serious about that part. In the beginning we were so far from what’s going on now, so I think we’ve all been very encouraged by the positive attention we’ve been getting. And we’re so excited about Canadian Tuxedo because we feel like now that we’re on Mint more people are listening, and we feel like it’s a really good album. And whenever I have doubts the girls are like, "There’s no way people aren’t going to like this, because they’re really good songs.” The girls really believe in the songs, and I choose to believe them. (Mint)