Women’s Meticulous Sludge

Women’s Meticulous Sludge
Women are a fun interview. The words "semen” and "douchebag” have already worked their way into our conversation (in various contexts), along with a bad Chris Cornell impression or two. At least one of the Flegel brothers (guitarist/vocalist Pat and bassist/vocalist Matt) has clipped his toenails while talking over the speakerphone, according to the other. But the normally light-hearted Pat Flegel has a moment of self-consciousness when I mention a math-rock band the members of Women played in after high school. "I would actually appreciate it if you didn’t mention that in the article,” he says. "It’s just kind of humiliating.”

It’s a minor footnote in the musical lives of Women’s members, but a telling one: it’s taken years, but Pat, Matt and their childhood friends Chris Reimer (guitars and vocals) and Mike Wallace (drums) finally have a collaboration they can be serious about. "I’ve been playing in bands for a really long time, and for the first time I feel like I really give a shit about it,” Pat says. "[Often] your intention and what’s actually happening are completely different things, and as a result, the stuff I was doing before, I’m just not proud of. It’s just like, if you wanted to paint something — oh, fuck a painting analogy? Jesus Christ. I’m not going to do a painting analogy.”

While Women’s music is as playful as its members, the men involved are devoted to getting the sound right. Recorded by Chad VanGaalen, their self-titled debut took shape in random locations all over Calgary. Soaked in static and stylistically varied, listening to Women is like cranking a radio dial slowly from the oldies channel to the college station. Certain tracks sound as though they were recorded in a mineshaft, and others are pop songs with the bedroom four-track’s distinctive stamp. The whole thing is as meticulous as it is messy, the result of a months-long obsession that had at least one member quitting his job and moving back into his parents’ house.

The record began as little more than another gag in a long line of hijinks. "Me and my brother had a few songs, or half-songs that we decided to record, and I guess it was just an art project, something to do during the winter,” Matt says. "It was a timewaster — in between November and March there’s not much to do here, so we thought we’d do a project, basically like doing crafts.”

Women’s members have been fending off boredom together since childhood, from "supersoakers and T.P.” to scribbling violent pictures in school notebooks. "I was in Mike Wallace’s grade five class at a Catholic school a couple blocks away from my house, and he was in the back, throwing erasers at kids’ faces — he was a complete animal,” Pat says. "I befriended him and we started hanging out, and then later on that year we played [Nirvana’s] ‘Rape Me’ in music class for extra marks.” The little bastards got off easy. "We were kind of horrible kids… I remember, on several occasions, our grade five teacher breaking down and crying, just talking about herself in the third person. Kind of losing her shit. So the music teacher kind of appreciated anything she could get out of these little assholes.” It was Chris Reimer who weaned Flegel off of "Bad Motor Finger-era Soundgarden,” albeit slowly. "I befriended Chris in the seventh grade, same Catholic school, and we started playing music together… he was listening to really obscure, pretentious shit. He was listening to Can — his parents met at a fucking Captain Beefheart concert. That’s the perfect way to sum Chris up.”

For Reimer, Wallace and the Flegels, fucking around has always had a musical component. When Women’s preliminary attempts sounded too polished — not totally reflective of the band’s collective attitude — the boys drew on lessons learned over years of troublemaking and began to experiment with haphazard recording techniques. With the ever-resourceful VanGaalen acting as a DIY technician, the group ventured out into the frigid Calgary winter to find the right atmospheres for their offbeat tracks. "Chris did a guitar solo in a train station in Southwest Calgary, using, apparently, the same four-track that Stanley Kubrick used… Chad just finds all these glorious things somehow, accumulates them and uses them with lucky people like us,” Matt says. One song was taped "beside a frozen river, in December or January. It was like minus 20, and Chad was just standing above the tunnel — one of those big tunnels with corrugated tin all around it — and he was crouching at the top with a little four-track and dangling the microphone, and my brother was singing into the culvert… I think we got Wendy’s after that.”

Prowling the frozen city with a tape recorder had an insidious effect on Pat Flegel. His description makes the process sound more like a struggle with substance abuse than a "why the hell not” project. "For four months of my life, that’s all I worked on. I quit my job and I just coasted, and I lived in [my parents’] house. It was a very obsessive process,” he says. Getting the perfect muddy feel became his singular fixation. "It’s kind of funny because it sounds so careless and haphazard, and that’s exactly how I wanted it to sound. But — not in a ‘Canadian rock band’ kind of way — there was a lot of drinking involved. Just to take the edge off the music, because if you get something clean that sounds like the last Interpol album or something, it’s just gross.”

As the band continually stress, the album isn’t as disorderly as it seems. The Flegels grew up listening to their father’s Everly Brothers and Skeeter Davis records, and the band members are ardent fans of post-punk. The Everlys inspired the harmonies, and bands like This Heat and Swell Maps (who, coincidentally, featured two brothers and two of their high school friends) provided the primary inspiration for Women’s makeshift recording techniques. "[With] Swell Maps, there’ll be a complete shift in the dynamic range in the recording — they’ll be playing something, then they’ll cut it into playing the exact same part in a different room in a completely different situation… you can tell things were recorded in hallways, or in bathrooms,” Pat gushes.

With a genuine accomplishment under their belts — the record has passed critical screenings with flying colours — and now in the midst of a gargantuan tour, the band members are their easygoing selves once again. The personality factor certainly won’t hurt their burgeoning fan base. "I’m barely speaking English at this point… I can’t exactly work with disabled kids and talk like I’ve been talking, in a minivan full of drunk dudes for the past month. So my apologies if I’ve been a little like, you know,” Pat says. "We’ve been laughing our asses off pretty much this entire time. I can’t think of a half hour going by without me laughing my ass off.”