Where others see limitations, Ice Cream see opportunity. Listening to the duo laugh about the time they forgot one of their synthesizers before a show, or how they recorded all of their vocals on a "devil mic" that they found in a communal box stored in their rehearsal studio, it's clear that neither Carlyn Bezic nor Amanda Crist put much stock in defining themselves by the equipment (or lack thereof) they use.
"Ice Cream are very much just a work-with-what-we-have band," Crist explains. That ethos is responsible for the Toronto-based band's unique sound, and their debut record, Love, Ice Cream, released earlier this year on Bad Actors Inc.
Bezic explains that Ice Cream started "because we both wanted to make a thing that was ours. I had a bunch of ideas I wanted to express that I couldn't really do in any other project."
Ice Cream's two members are both multi-instrumentalists, sharing vocals, guitar, bass, synth and percussion duties, depending on what serves each song, and what either feels like doing. Bezic's primary instrument is the guitar, and while she still uses one in Ice Cream, she appreciates the freedom to play instruments "that I didn't have any kind of previous knowledge of," to avoid letting habit sway her songwriting.
Crist comes from a similar place, saying "for years and years I didn't even want to call myself a musician. I don't really play instruments like a musician would. It's more about using the sounds I make to satisfy a creative need."
Though they had some formal music training, high school marked the beginning of their earliest efforts to make music on their own terms. Crist formed Huckleberry Friends while Bezic started out playing in Golden Ticket, before moving on to Madam Raz and then Blonde Elvis. These formative experiences reaffirmed the importance of "only playing music with people that I feel really close to," says Crist.
Ice Cream's current studio space is located in the same building where Huckleberry Friends started rehearsing nearly ten years ago. Today, the band shares the space with the other members of Darlene Shrugg, a band that features Bezic and Crist, as well as Simone TB, Meg Remy and Max Turnbull.
Also carrying over from Crist's Huckleberry days is her Moog Rogue. Inspired by the early '00s group Whirlwind Heat, who also used the analog synth, Crist sprung for an identical one on eBay. On stage and on Love, Ice Cream, she pairs it with a MicroKORG XL that Bezic bought from a mutual friend.
Bezic uses the same Monoblock bass amp and Ampeg cab to switch between Crist's red Fender Mustang bass and her own turquoise Gibson SG; the latter is better suited for the bluesier rock of Darlene Shrugg, but works well enough for Ice Cream with the addition of a simple pedal board featuring a wah, delay and chorus pedals.
Both attest that their pedal setup is pretty basic. Crist abandoned her pedals altogether until Turnbull leant her a Big Muff, which she's connected to her synth and has been using to write more recent material.
The duo wrote their first songs in Bezic's apartment. They patched their drum machine, a BOSS Dr. Rhythm, into a boombox, because they only had one amp between them. It sounded so good that it became a part of their regular setup. Bezic explains the appeal, saying "it crunches everything and distorts it, so the sound has this blown-out, machinelike quality."
All of the drum machine parts for Love, Ice Cream were recorded through that same boombox, which Bezic says helped give the record its "consistency of sound and tones." Though each song mines different stylistic territory, folding post-punk, analog electronic and R&B over one another, it's their limited instrumentation that really gives their music a common denominator.
With the material they've been writing lately, the concepts guiding their next record and live show are diverging. They've been using Ableton to craft backing tracks for their live set, so they're not as anchored to their instruments. "Being able to move around and perform more onstage is something really interesting to us," Crist says. Bezic adds "we're playing with being watched, which feels like such a specifically female experience."
Limited equipment hasn't hindered Ice Cream, and though they're incorporating new sounds, they remain untethered from their gear in a way that drives both their concepts and creativity. "If you want to make music, there's no excuse not to," says Bezic. "You can do it with any kind of gear and make something that you think is good."