Dizzy Find Their True Selves Behind a Mask

"I wanted to make sure every single decision was my own and one that I would stand proudly behind," says Katie Munshaw about the band's self-titled third album

Photo: boy wonder

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Aug 16, 2023

Katie Munshaw is the most herself she's ever been in her music. All it took to remove a well-worn metaphorical mask was putting on a real one.

"This is something I've always been really uncomfortable with," she laughs over Zoom from her Toronto apartment, telling me that she even felt a pang of reluctance to show her face coming into our interview.

Across the music videos and in the album artwork for Dizzy's self-titled third album (out August 18 on Royal Mountain Records), the singer appears in an iridescent vintage Halloween mask, which she started wearing as a joke. 

"Then I was like, 'Actually, I feel like this could be something more than just for a video. I feel, quite deep down inside me, that this feels right,'" Munshaw explains. "And that was probably the first visual decision that I have made confidently and unwaveringly for this record, but also I think for Dizzy, ever."

Going into making Dizzy, this was her number one concern: "I wanted to make sure every single decision was my own and one that I would stand proudly behind," the singer-songwriter says. She didn't want to repeat mistakes she felt like herself and her bandmates — brothers Alexander, Charlie and Mackenzie Spencer — had made before.

A few short years ago, they had just been four teenagers writing songs in the boys' suburban Oshawa basement, unwittingly putting together their 2018 debut album, Baby Teeth.

"When you're young and there are a lot of people saying, 'This is who you should work with and this is what you should do for visuals,' you're kind of like, 'Yeah, I'll do all of those things. I don't know any different!'" Munshaw remembers. It was something that weighed on her so heavily in retrospect that with sophomore follow-up, The Sun and Her Scorch, she decided that she needed more control — so the band self-produced the LP.

"And actually, we realized that was a little bit turbulent as well," she laughs, likening the process to overworking pizza dough. "There are so many layers to that record because we just didn't know when to be like, 'This sounds cool. Let's just stop, let's leave it.'"

History threatened to repeat itself when the band spent a week working on their third full-length at a cottage. They called it off, then eventually — Munshaw was very against it at first — left Ontario to spend two weeks writing and recording at a Los Angeles bungalow with Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter David Pramik as their spirit guide.

"I think we were ready to have a new cook in the kitchen that was like, 'You don't have all the answers,'" Munshaw assesses, but that doesn't mean there wasn't more resistance to be found once they made it to California. Single "Open Up Wide" sees her airing her frustrations with Pramik's streamlined approach — and the music industry's demands in general. "Do it once more now with feeling," she coos in a syrupy deadpan, "do it once more now without."

Lulling between states of consciousness, Munshaw's delicate placement of striking truths and devastating burns that has always connected deeply with fans now writhes with increasing pop fervour thanks to Pramik's assistance. While her distinctive writing voice remains familiar, there's a newfound emphasis on the dry wit that she feels is more reflective of who she is in conversation.

"In the past, I've been very concerned about writing something beautiful or metaphorical," she reflects, adding that she can hear her younger self trying to emulate writers she read on Tumblr. "Now I'm more like, 'Actually, I think I have a really interesting point of view, which is my own, and I think that's like the only thing that will resonate properly.'"

The catch and release of the singer-songwriter's pigmented imagery, showing and then telling when you least expect it, are the wings that beat against the ribcage of the band's lucid dreamscapes. "I like that sense of mystery in music," Munshaw says, despite being candid about leaving less to the imagination than ever on Dizzy — from heartbreaking piano dirge "Cell Division" to the sinister "Starlings," which echoes the Baby Teeth atmospherics while adding rip-roaring guitar distortion and an extended instrumental coda.

Although she name-drops the likes of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Death Cab for Cutie's "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" on "Stupid 4 U," it's Alvvays that serve as the paragon.

"That band is such an enigma to me," she says of her fellow Toronto transplants. "I don't want to know what Molly Rankin's bedsheets look like, and I'm glad she doesn't share that. She writes such beautiful songs but still remains so mysterious."

"It hits so close to home that it's like a thought I didn't even know that I felt so strongly about," Munshaw adds of Rankin's pen. "She'll just write it in a song; drop it in the second line of a bridge and you're like, 'Whoa.'"

More than many, Rankin understands the element of the Dizzy frontwoman's experience as a touring musician that inspired her to wear the mask. "People will come up to the merch table after and be like, 'You look like this person,'" Munshaw reflects with a laugh. "Or, 'You sound like this person,' that I don't sound like but I guess is a woman.' It's not a malicious thing; it's just something I didn't really want any part of anymore."

So she effectively removed her appearance from the equation. The singer-songwriter became the "monster you're choosing to believe in," as she puts it on "My Girl," which reads as something of a spiritual successor to Sylvan Esso's "Slack Jaw."

Like dressing up for Halloween as a child or donning businesswear as an adult, there is a sense of both childlike innocence and hard-won wisdom to the stories Dizzy tell, many of which circle back to the inevitability of growing older and changing. 

"I feel like I'm beginning to learn more about myself as a person and come more into myself than I have ever been before," Munshaw says. She hadn't even realized that she'd been playing it safe — but, wearing the mask as armour, she's not anymore. 

Instead, Munshaw and the Spencers are asking themselves new questions: "'How are we carving out our name? What is Dizzy when they're at their best?' That's what this record felt like."

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