Published Mar 28, 2013Creating the perfect outlet for your musical inclinations depends as much on circumstance as skill. Thankfully, upon making the jump to Toronto from the Canadian wilderness (well, St Catharines, ON and Saskatoon, SK), studio engineer Josh Korody and part-time hairdresser Jesse Crowe finally kicked their shoegaze dreams into reality. Beliefs' self-titled debut record (which you can listen to here) is as searching and multi-paced as a cool, diamond-speckled river flowing through humid climes. While the album was self-recorded a year ago, the band recently enjoyed their first North American tour; half those dates were booked by Jesse the old-fashioned way — calling venues, liaising with promoters and rooting out local bands. We caught up with Josh and Jesse at SXSW, pondering the opportunities for up-and-comers in marginalized musical towns and winding up with a sort of guidebook for Canada's music hubs. We also discussed furniture and hairdressing, because of course we did.
Jesse, tell me about musical life in Saskatchewan.
Jesse Crowe: I went to a fine art school growing up, and my stepdad's a music teacher, so music was always the most important thing for my family. I formed a shitty, non-genre-specific punk band at school when I was 14, and I've been singing or playing in bands ever since. There was a really good music scene in Saskatoon. I mean, everyone was really well supported — good bands and bad. You were just congratulated for the fact that you'd put the effort in to start something.
Does it boost confidence, being in that kind of scene?
Crowe: It's good to start in a small space. Maybe if I'd tried to start a band that shitty in New York I'd have just been squashed like crazy, because it's not cool enough.
Would you be in a slightly more cool (and perhaps insufferable) band had you been exposed to a more competitive environment?
Crowe: Yeah, totally. I'd be in something just brutally awful by this point. I would've surpassed cool into new age, or Enya or something. But really, although you're always going to be a subject of your environment a little bit, what I like is what I like. It was always going to be shoegaze.
And you moved briefly to Vancouver before Toronto?
Crowe: Yeah. I like to be busy. Vancouver was really expensive, and you had to work really hard to make anything happen — but nothing seemed to happen. Whereas Toronto, you can work a normal amount at your normal job, and still have a lot of time to do your own projects. As long as you can work within your own struggle, Toronto's really good. People around you will grow together with you.
What would you say to a Saskatoon musician with aspirations to broaden out?
Crowe: You know, I have music mentors in Saskatoon that make music far beyond most of what I've heard in other places. I would say you don't have to move — you can stay in a small city if you really like your community, and there's probably a huge benefit to that. But go on tour. Put yourself out there, because otherwise you're gonna get stuck, you're gonna get frustrated, and nothing's gonna come of it.
Josh, you started in St. Catharines.
Josh Korody: Yeah. St. Catharines is mostly catholic, pretty clean, a pretty safe small town for the most part. There wasn't a lot of diversity thrown my way as a kid. Around high school and college I started to feel a little stagnant, but then I found our local music scene. The one benefit of being in this little community in Niagara is it has its own little music scene. By my early 20s I was trying to play outside the city, but for the most part everyone was in school, and that was their main priority. Or they were settling down: full-time job, getting married, buying houses. It definitely felt like once you hit your mid-20s you either had to leave or pick something you're gonna work at. I wasn't ready for that at all, so as soon as I moved to Toronto it all clicked. I met Jesse and we started this band, and I met a bunch of people and eventually built this recording studio with another producer [Candle Studios, co-run with Leon Taheny, which you can read about here]. But I'm kinda glad that I got to grow up in a small town. We created this little scene that you had to try hard to break out of.
How did the two of you meet?
Korody: I met this guy, [former Beliefs bassist] Pat McCormack through a couple of people I recorded. After he came to see my Niagara band, Elk, play in Toronto, we bonded over some music and he invited me to this birthday party. But his parties — Pat doesn't drink or anything — he makes it really fun, he usually will cook for you. So that party was a pancake party, and he just made you these amazing pancakes — any kind of pancake you wanted. I met Jesse at that party, just a couple of months after arriving in the city. [He trails off...] Jesse's doing jumping jack's behind me. She's trying to distract me. But yeah, I think Jesse came up to me and just started talking.
Crowe: I was like, "Woah, who's that cool guy? Never seen THAT cool guy before."
Were you thinking "Maybe this is the guy for my band"?
Crowe: Ha! Finally, I've found my musical comrade! Um, I dunno, yeah? I had a weird draw, like I had to talk to Josh. So maybe in the weird subconscious world I was looking for that.
Had you approached other people?
Crowe: No, it was really good timing. My previous shoegaze band had just broken up in an obnoxious kind of way but I hadn't approached anyone else, because I was trying to be comfortable enough playing guitar and singing at the same time before I found the right people anyways. And what happened with Pat, the birthday guy, was that he decided he wanted me to play in his band, Les Frauleins, and he just forced me to play guitar live. He pushed me to the point where I felt like, "Hey, I can actually do this. I'm not the greatest, but I can be onstage and play guitar." And within that week, I met Josh. So it was serendipitous that Josh was there at Pat's birthday.
It's interesting (and sensible) that you consider all this to be coincidence; I read an interview with Blue Hawaii recently, where Raphaelle was getting excited because she and the duo's other member AGOR share the same birth stone. I see that as a kind of Montreal thing — am I wrong?
Crowe: Oh, you're not wrong. But me and Josh share the same birth stone too, did you know that? We were born five days apart in the same year. I mean, Montreal's such a hippy-trippy place, but you know what? I love that. It's like, so ridiculous and such an incredibly open scene that sometimes rolling into Montreal from Toronto, it can be like, "What next-level world am I walking into right now?" But at the same time, that's great, because it pushes the envelope. It might not be your thing, but at least it's different. And I have a collection of stones at home, and [bassist] Dustin even gave me one for my birthday. So... watch your tone. I'm clutching the arrowhead around my neck right now.
Josh, you've worked in your studio with people like Moon King, Dusted and Rituals, as well as plenty you probably have no interest in whatsoever. Have you had any Klaus Kinski experiences — people going off the rails, screaming?
Korody: Oh, totally. I've had some prima donnas for sure.
Usually lead singers?
Korody: Yeah, it is usually. I get it, though — most bands and musicians are so broke. It's such a big thing for them to book a few days. They could've been saving like a year just to do that. It's everything. For most people, they're working jobs that they most likely don't even like, and their band and their music is everything. They're only here for a few days, and they want this to be amazing. So you have to roll with it. I definitely feel like I'm 50 percent an engineer, and 50 percent a psychiatrist.
Crowe: 20 percent babysitter.
Jesse told me you guys watched [cult slasher horror movie] Sleepaway Camp with the Woodhead brothers [of Spiral Beach, Doldrums, Moon King renown...]. Are your tastes generally high- or lowbrow?
Korody: I think highbrow. Jesse, you love expensive stuff. Booze and food...
Crowe: Wait, can I answer for myself? What the fuck?!
Korody: We're not cheap, that's for sure.
Crowe: We're somewhere in the middle.
Korody: Besides [drummer] Joel...
Crowe: Joel is the lowest of brows. But he is also the youngest. I like foreign movies and records and things. I like to eat salad.
Korody: I think for how little money we make, we like to have nice stuff.
Crowe: I have a cheap coffee table.
Korody: And you always have a bottle of scotch in the house. I have tons of friends that, if you had a bottle of booze in the house, it would get drunk in a day. I think we're pretty chill as far as that stuff. Once you start creating a space, too, you start getting into furniture, and actually caring about that stuff.
Crowe: You don't realize you actually like having some pretty kitschy, cool stuff. You're like, "Wait a minute — I'm my mom! I'm just like my mom!"
Korody: Yeah, and when you get your own studio, you have to ask those kinds of questions. What coffee table speaks to us?
How has SXSW been?
Crowe: It's really rushed, it's really busy. Some of the bigger buzz bands like UMO and Diiv are playing like five times a day, and some of their sets end up being 15 minutes. So I think bands at that level are finding it frustrating. But we're just reaping the benefit. We're playing our showcase and the rest of time we just hang, looking at the chaos. It's spring break man.
Korody: It's hipster Cancun.
Crowe: It's fucking, scenester mardi gras. I keep expecting to see beads and tits. I haven't seen any tits yet. That's all I wanted to do. But we've seen some really amazing bands: Suuns were amazing — holy shit, they're the best. Earl from Odd Future, Part Time, who played for like five people.
Korody: I got to see the Black Angels, they ruled. And this band on Slumberland: Weekend, who opened for Wire in Toronto but I missed them.
Crowe: Another band I really loved was Savages, a Joy Division-y band from the UK. As a girl playing music, it's rare that you see all-girl bands where you don't even think about it. You listen to it and there's no judgement; it's just good. They totally ripped, and I was inspired by their singer — a little bit from my gothier past. And I've seen Diiv twice, both times really good.
You know Diiv, right? You've cut their hair? How does the whole hair thing work alongside music?
Crowe: Well, I used to know this hair stylist in Regina, SK. He was always fully booked when he came home, made enough money to live, and his clients loved him and waited for him. And he also got to go on tour. So I decided that was what I wanted to do. And it's one of the only jobs where you can decide when you're gonna do it, where you're gonna do it. Technically I could make money anywhere in the world. I have my scissors with me, I know I'm cutting Devin from Diiv's hair tomorrow. I cut his hair backstage at [Toronto venue] the Phoenix in a closet, right before they went on Letterman. So if you wanna see that haircut you can see it on Letterman.
That's kind of impressive.
In a dark, locked closet. If I can cut hair there, man, I can cut hair anywhere.