Following their dual performance at Folk on the Rocks, the musical group of Mise En Scene was kind enough to chat with the Yellowknifer about their history and their identity.
Yellowknifer: So, tell me how did you get started with your album “Desire’s Despair “ in 2014?
Mise En Scene: “We started making art together and painting, and then we became really close friends that way and then we just kinda decided to go for it, and Steph applied for us to do an Indie band residency at the Banff center – because it was this really cool chance to record with all these producers and stuff, and we got in, and i thought that that was pretty awesome because we didn’t have a lot of experience behind us at that point, we were just kind of like “oh, let’s go do this” but Steph and I went with this attitude like “we’re going to make a new album, we’re going to push this thing as far as we can” we had like, big goals there – so, we went, and we got to record with some of the best producers in the world, but it was only ever meant to be demos – but us, we’re like ‘No! We’re going to release all these!’ So we kind of like collaged all the work that we did a little bit, and that’s how we made our first record.
“We ended up mixing it with Howard Billarman, who is one of the producers there, and yea, if you look at it, it kind of sounds like a collage, and even the art for it is just a whole bunch of different art and fabrics from Steph’s and my closet – we just had big dreams for that, but it was a really great experience and a neat way to make an album.”
Y: I read that you went to Banff and were surrounded by classical musicians and people who could read sheet music, and that wasn’t at all who you related to – can you speak a bit more about that?
MES: “I started playing guitar and sing when I was like twenty, I taught myself, because I was an athlete before, and I just couldn’t do it, and when I stopped playing sports competitively and I got into music – I had always been writing poetry, but I wanted to put my poetry to music, and then that’s when I started doing stuff. But I was really shy about it because I was learning how to play by playing other music, so I would learn covers, and the easy chords I could play at the beginning, right? And then I started to understand ‘oh, these are the chords that go together’ and then you start singing along and humming along, and you know it sounds good and then you just put it together and it becomes very intuitive, and, I’m really happy to talk about this because for so long I felt so inferior because of that – and also being a woman in music, also because we started ten years ago, and the issues are still there – it’s still there – but it’s a lot better than it was ten years ago, like a lot better. So feeling like ‘oh, I can’t play music, I don’t know what key any of my songs are in’ and if I’m playing with a capo – which I love to do because I have a female voice so I want the option to play with range – so, yeah, that’s an A-minor shape, but that’s not an A-minor on a capo – and I still don’t know what that is.”
“But, one piece of advice is – your hired players that you play with and your producers? That’s their job to know that, you don’t have to know that – they just figure out how to work with you. There are so many songwriters who sit down with a whole group of session players who just sit down with their acoustic song and play it once and everyone is like “okay” and they all go into the studio and everybody knows what to do. So, there is a lot more of that than people think, but there is that illusion that ‘everybody knows everybody about music, all of the science and the charting and that deeper stuff’ and that’s just not true. And sometimes when you don’t know that stuff your music is coming from a different place – it’s coming from a real emotional, and instinctual place – instead of following the music of, say, music theory.
“To fast forward – I was at the Banff center, again, for another residency where I met a really good friend of mine and I asked him – so he is doing his PhD on the Viola, he wrote a musical, he plays all these really cool venues in New York, he plays for Broadway – all this stuff – so I asked him “I can’t read sheet music, do you think that’s holding me back” and he was like “At this point? No. It’s not. Actually – you would probably be really frustrated by the ‘rules’ of music, and it would actually make your world smaller, instead of making it bigger.
“And it can make your music less unique – if you start getting the same tool box as everybody else has, then you start sounding like everybody else.
“At the end of the day, art is about reflecting on life, and reflecting on life and emotions, and politics and social justice and your history – and, you know, sometimes it’s nice to learn the techniques, but you don’t need a degree to do that.”
Mise en Scene played twice at FOTR and both times the audience showed up and showed force – proving that you don’t need technical proficiency to rock the free world, and keep an audience entranced.