INTERVIEW

BEN COOK WAS A CHILD STAR! After countless attempts to put it cleverly, there it is, blurted out and in capital letters. And while we’re at it – BEN COOK IS A KLEPTOMANIAC.

thebitters

BEN COOK WAS A CHILD STAR! After countless attempts to put it cleverly, there it is, blurted out and in capital letters. And while we’re at it – BEN COOK IS A KLEPTOMANIAC. Okay, WAS, Ben Cook was a kleptomaniac, but, as he told Australian blog NoGuvNoLuv last year, all that tealeaf-ing stopped when it made members of Fucked Up – his pretty decent hardcore band – feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, neither revelation is easy to keep in once known, and now both are out.

“I guess you missed the Goosebumps and Little Men hits on IMDB?” half questions Aerin Fogel. “Or the Coco Puffs commercial. I recommend getting a hold of Little Men if you can. Ben pretends like he hates it but I think he still knows all his lines, including the amazing a cappella rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ near the end.”

Aerin, a fractured-voiced Suicide Girl-type, purse-lipped here in a tyre yard “because I look good in black”, has clearly studied her band mate’s onscreen work and so impressed was she with that amazing ‘Amazing Grace’ performance that she and Ben formed The Bitters as a reason to hang out (“We wanted to hang out all the time but we both had too much pride to say it,” she says “so ‘writing a song’ became a plausible excuse. This mostly involved scribing detailed treasure maps on the studio walls in gold ink.”).

In the east end of Toronto – their hometown and a city that Aerin is particularly proud of – the pair determinedly found time for their new project, between Aerin’s ongoing degree studies (she’s currently writing her first novel also) and Ben’s commitments to Pink Eyes and the gang. “Anything is ‘hard’ if you think about it that way,” reasons the singer “so the same goes for thinking your commitments are easy to sort out.”

The walls covered in doodles of snake-back ridge and the like, Aerin and Ben wrote, among other things, ‘Warrior’, which is why they’re here in Loud And Quiet. Indecently, the rest of The Bitters’ limited 12” EP, ‘Wooden Glove’, is very nearly as good as ‘Warrior’, as is the current Captured Tracks 7”. For now though, even having obsessed over it for the past six months, the size of this song’s anthemic pop chorus, delivered in semi-cracked, him’n’her duel vocals, remains completely thrilling like nothing else. It doesn’t even seem to matter that no one can make out the whole of the first line.

“It’s ‘…your sword goes straight through my heart,’” says Aerin, ending months of mumbles to the stuttering, swaying melody. “It’s about a warrior who has slain so many victims he is no longer able to take off his armour (skin), because he couldn’t remember how even if he wanted to (which he doesn’t). It’s a story. [All of our songs] are stories. Everything is a story. But a good story has to be told in different words. Worlds. Otherwise it’s hard for the listener to find any way to relate. There’s negligible value in relating a story directly from the experience. No one cares about your break-up ten years ago, they’re too busy mourning their own.

“Anyway, all the songs are about bridges,” she continues. “There’s truth (real experiences, breathing characters, tangible thoughts) at one end of the bridge, and a world of fiction and fantasy on the other. A good song is simply a matter of building the proper bridge between these two worlds – one that anyone is entitled to walk across, and one that doesn’t crumble when you’re halfway along; one that isn’t too hard underfoot, and one that doesn’t rock too much in either direction. And one that is not too long, because a person can get tired walking across a long bridge – you may as well have just gone around the long way in that case.”

Golden-inked treasure maps don’t seem too alien now – Aerin, and no doubt ex-child star/ex-klepto Ben, has a deep and vivid imagination, which isn’t the first trait that springs to mind when looking at a super cool garage band in a tyre yard. But while The Bitters are essentially just that, it’s not as if that’s all they are. They don’t worship at the alter of Billy Childish like so many others, for one (melody virtuoso Burt Bacharach is their demigod – “We recently drove to a casino in one of the most depressing towns in Northern Ontario to witness a confusing medley of his songs done mostly by Vegas-style, TV-dinner vocalists,” explains Aerin. “This also featured Burt himself, tucked up to the piano, and single tears during ‘Make It Easy On Yourself.’), nor do they seek out lo-fi aesthetics as if analogue is a badge of honour – if anything it finds them, out of necessity and thin resources. They make ‘Cave Pop’, a sub-genre they’ve self-coined, which is “murkier and more mystical than Sidewalk Pop and filthier and darker than Dank Pop, which usually originates from the mouth of a cave as opposed to the slimy gut within,” lets on Aerin, which we totally knew anyway.

We also knew, way before this little chat, that this band don’t let little things like interviews prevent them from spinning a yarn and expanding their storytelling skills (Google that NoGuvNoLuv interview for Ben’s description of how he’d have sound tracked Planet Earth) but just in case we had forgotten, Aerin offers, “Cave Pop is not to be confused with Wave Pop (music written while lying on a sunny beach and enjoyed strictly during barbecue sessions) or Knave Pop (music written by, and exclusively for, kleptomaniacs).”

Knave Pop, one presumes is played only on half-inched equipment. As for ‘Cave Pop’, though (remember?), it’s worth paying attention to the three-letter word. “There’s always going to be a straight up pop hook in there somewhere,” say Aerin, which is Bacharach’s doing and the reason we’re ‘Warrior’ junkies; the reason The Bitters are not so comfortably filed between The Strange Boys and Thee Oh Seas.

“Lo-fi bands are creating a sound, not a song,” argues Aerin. “If you took a lot of those songs into a different recording context and tried to re-create them, they would lose their appeal altogether. There would be nothing left. We did two releases with a pretty lo-fi recording quality to them, but it was a question of resources. We don’t listen to lo-fi or really care about the recent onslaught. I’m confident that if our songs were redone in a better studio or without a slew of pedals and makeshift instruments they would sound just as good. ‘East General’, our upcoming album, is mid-fi quality. This is the direction things are headed. Lo-fi is already fading because there’s nothing to sustain it. People want something more interesting out of their music. There has to be a song to back up the sound.”

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