Photography by Gemma Harris
MUSIC FROM THE BACK ROW
Lights out. Celluloid sparkles to life as monophonic drone fills the theatre, velvet curtains draw back and the din gets louder. The film we are about to watch is Female Band. “It’s kind of like a twisted detective drama,” says Anna, whose imaginary vision is laid before us. “God, that sounds so pretentious, but we are very cinematic in our process.” It’s no surprise as cinema surrounds both Anna, the founding member of this duo, and her musical soulmate Melissa: they met and work at the Prince Charles movie theatre in London’s Leicester Square.
“I tried to talk to Anna at first but she didn’t want to know me,” deadpans Melissa, a joke perhaps but Anna backs her up. “I’m genuinely a difficult person,” she admits. “It takes time to gain my trust and Melissa gained it by going to all the right shows.”
Strangers at work, the odd fleeting glimpse across tin-pot venues around town would see the pair eventually bond. Used to playing on her own as Female Band, Anna eventually plucked up the courage to approach Melissa. “She told me she’d been a guitarist and could play the Cello, so she came round for a jam and we’ve been married ever since, musically of course.” Anna bursts out laughing, which sets Melissa off. “Our songs are our babies.”
Something clicked and Anna’s pet project suddenly took on a life of its own. “It’s one girl making music and one girl making noise,” she imparts, and it’s a summary that’s difficult to argue with. Female Band’s music has a paradox at its heart – beautiful lush and ambient textures clash with atonal, jarring, altogether strange sounds to make something darkly experimental and highly original. “It’s so hard to describe, but we like to experiment and we don’t know what’s going to happen before we go on stage,” explains Melissa.
“It’s kind of like a soundtrack to a film, but you have the entire cinema to yourself,” adds Anna, leading us back into pitch black, torch in hand.
Mystery remains at the forefront of the group. Early Internet posts claimed they hailed from Brooklyn but now read Montreal. Wherever they’re from, their mischievous heart remains one certainty.
“I’d like to say it doesn’t matter where you’re from its where you’re at!” exclaims Anna punching the air and clearly showing us her Brooklyn ring in the process.
“I’ve lived in Russia, Sweden, Poland and all around the States,” she continues. “I’m connected to so many different places for so many reasons.”
It’s a nomadic history that suits the band’s music – their minimal sonic experiments have no place of their own so why should they?
A new EP entitled ‘Goodbye New York, Forever’ does hold a (blatant) clue though. The band are releasing it on a limited run of cassette tapes through Italian Beach Babes at the end of the month.
“At first we didn’t want to release our music but the label were so kind and supportive and have come to all of our shows… yeah, ALL of them,” giggles Anna, well aware that they’ve only played a handful so far. Those they’ve played, though, have set people talking; a widescreen mix of white noise, minimal guitar lines that are sampled live and buried lyrics. One recent show made such an impression that members of the audience had to sit down… in a good way.
“It’s a really immersive experience with very little break between songs,” says Melissa. “We played a show in a gallery recently with seats and it felt so right.”
We know they’re heavily influenced by cinematic themes, but what of music? Before I can open my mouth Anna jumps in: “Whatever you do don’t say My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth,” she blurts. “I’ve heard all of Sonic Youth’s records and I didn’t get on with them. MBV I had trouble with as well, which is a constant source of argument for me and my friends.”
OK what do you like?
“Perfume Genius, Jay Reatard, obviously, Raime, who are these guys from London making very beautiful, dark electonica – it’s sexual.”
We also get Melissa’s influences through a fog of laughter – Burial, Four Tet, Joy Orbison. Such lists are normally boring, but with Female Band you can see the dichotomy; the fusion of electronic and guitar parts in their work clearly split through Anna and Melissa’s talents and influences. Melissa even DJ’s house music. “She’s so good at it, I love going along to help out and support,” smiles Anna, the marriage very much in its honeymoon period.
“One band we definitely have in common is Mount Kimbie. We got an email from them but it’s probably because we’ve been sending them fan mail.”
Female band are no more shy of ambition than they are of poking fun. They’ve set out goals for this year already, to play ATP festival, go on Jools Holland and get an email from Mount Kimbie. “So we are well on our way!” they nod.
Hearts on their sleeves kind of gals, Anna hasn’t hidden her admiration for someone else too, and one sentence hangs over almost all of their output so far. “Oh, you mean the ‘I will always love Jay Reatard’ thing on the Internet,” she says. “Well, he was always so acceptable to other bands and other people. He told me once his favourite film was The Vanishing so I watched it and was blown away. Our track ‘Rain Song’ is about that film and about Jay. Each song has a story and that’s where I started with that one.”
Female Band’s own story is developing at pace. We are already through opening credits and into act one. “I have found the place where I can be creative,” says Anna. “When Melissa came in she felt like she was part of this place. I respect Melissa’s opinion and we write together now. It’s almost like Inception; you enter someone else’s dream and become the same dream.”
By Ian Roebuck
Originally published in issue 38 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2012