Teen Tits Wild Wives Bare Allby Hannah Robbins, Photos by David Waldman BUY ISSUE 11 NOW!
A few months back I finally had the opportunity to invite one of my favourite local bands, Teen Tits Wild Wives, to play at one of the Gutterbird shows. It was something special. In the sweaty, beer-soaked din of an industrial loft Teen Tits exploded with a loud, full, and energetic sound. A hundred people danced to excited melodies blaring out from a brass horn; they stomped their feet along with complex rhythms. The ground-level jam aesthetic belied the sophistication of the music which changed within songs from straight tempos to something weirder and more experimental. With three guitars (Alex Low, Cam Whitesell, and Ronnie Cote), Brandon Lim on bass, and Andy Destacamento’s percussion, the sound is rounded out by Gabi Charron-Merrit’s melodic trumpeting. I firmly believe they are one of Toronto’s most fun local acts to follow.
Our interview takes place at their rehearsal and recording studio. I find it after walking down a colourful graffitied alleyway near Queen and Bathurst. The space TTWW shares with a handful of other bands has storage for all of their equipment, as well as a whole wall of VHS tapes and a shabby supposedly DVD/VHS-playing TV that eats tapes and doesn’t play DVDs. They’re starting a collection of empty Olde English bottles, and when you open the door to the room you can hear other musicians having their rehearsals down the hall. It’s a great space to connect with other bands and hang out.
TTWW is a band with a similar spirit to gutterbird. They have moved away from playing at bars and concert venues and have started to focus on playing independent venues. For a few years, they had a live-work style studio space called “The Academy of Sciences,”. While it was a great space for parties, it also allowed many Toronto bands and even touring groups to sidestep the need to play in commercial spaces like bars. The space could be arranged to fit the needs of every show, and its inhabitants had more control over the atmosphere and finances. While their new rehearsal space is similarly shared between that group of local acts, it is unfit for shows. That means that TTWW is now working harder to find independent venues.
Alex says, “We’ll play anywhere. But fuck bars; we play house shows. Anything that’s just not a bar where there’s just a big consumer hole of selling people really expensive drinks.”
After having thought about their favourite venues for a while Cam exclaims, “Okay I got it! Basements!” They laugh, but it’s true: not only are many house shows using basements for sound control reasons, some of the best venues are also situated underground, like the Drake Hotel Underground.
“We played a billion Elvis Mondays at the Drake,” Brandon says.
Alex adds, “He’s the man, William New.” A veteran of the Toronto music scene himself, Will has organized Elvis Mondays at the Drake since forever ago. He uses the series to showcase upcoming talent. If there were patron saints of Toronto new music, he would be one of them.
Gabi brings up another well-loved, though younger, series: “We only played there once so far, but the Feast in the East at Polyhaus was a pretty good time. It’s someone’s loft, a big space with a kitchen.”
“There were lots of interesting projections and environs. They have bands, a guest artist that does the environment, and they’ll have somebody curate the food. The food’s always really cheap, like three bucks,” Brandon explains.
“Yeah Brandon Lim! This guy did the food a couple times,” Alex interrupts, nodding to Brandon, who continues nonplussed.
“There isn’t a lot of live music or shows in the East End of Toronto, but there are plenty of artists, musicians, and people who would go to shows out there.”
This band is full of personality. Ronnie, Brandon and Alex are each quite outgoing during the interview, while Gabi is more withdrawn, only occasionally interjecting with tidbits of wisdom. Cam sits in the corner mumbling rude jokes and Andy doesn’t shy away from outbursts of enthusiasm. These personalities are on full display during performances, and also have led them to a unique way of writing songs.
Immediately when I ask them about the writing process, Ronnie yells, “It’s a secret!”
“Well, Gabi writes all the songs on sheet music and then plays them on her trumpet. And we follow everything that she tells us to do,” Brandon illuminates.
“She conducts us, too,” Alex adds.
“I also make videos and they all have to go home and watch them,” says Gabi.
“Yep, we watch them and study them. It works pretty well,” Alex replies.
“Andy also texts us with song ideas. He doesn’t have the internet but he texts us all the time,” says Brandon.
“Some people have the internet or twitter, Andy just texts us all, all the time. Or pretends he’s filming people with his phone that doesn’t have a camera in it,” Alex notes. They laugh knowingly.
I interject: “So I’m going with ‘Gabi writes everything and gives you guys videos to study, and Andy texts everyone his ideas.’”
“Yep,” Cam agrees. “ The rest of us are just puppets.”
Alex continues, “We also take a bunch of small songs we’ve written and put them together into big songs. And so songs can be a whole bunch of stuff happening in a sequential order. We record ourselves and sample ourselves too sometimes. We have songs where we took one of the recordings, chopped it up, then played it on a sampler and learned that.” It reminds me of the cut-up technique William S. Burroughs used sometimes in writing.
Gabi adds, “We have hours and hours of jams we recorded that maybe someday we’ll listen to and learn the parts to, try to duplicate that.”
In the traditional ways a band can ‘make it,’ there are a number of barriers in terms of getting access to the industry, as well as financial barriers. One way many Toronto musicians and groups are bypassing these challenges is by producing their own recorded music and distributing it through either digital pathways or through outdated media that have become financially accessible. Teen Tits Wild Wives is taking the latter route by releasing some of their new music on tapes. The low-fi media is a great match for their often garage-y style, and it’s also a perfect fit in terms of their methods of songwriting.
Regarding the ‘cut-up’ method, Brandon says, “Our last tape, Chan Sounds, was basically like that.” Released last fall, Chan Sounds is named for Jackie Chan, who some of the group met when he went to Brandon’s parents’ restaurant.
“A lot of Chan Sounds was beats we made,” Alex continues, “or that some of us made on our own and then we mixed it all together here in our new rehearsal space using tapes, video cassettes, and computers.”
It was a way of recording not only the songs you can hear at their shows, but also the process they are born out of. Cam describes it as “bringing the ridiculous practice to the people.”
Alex starts, “We really just wanted to show people—“
“How silly we are! All the time!” Cam finishes.
Gabi agrees, “Chan Sounds is basically what happens here when we rehearse.”
“And the sequel is coming out really soon. Maybe in May. We don’t a have a title yet, but it will be a sequel to our celebrity sounds series,” says Alex.
With the new tape underway as well as shows, side projects, work, and thrice weekly rehearsals, the crew keep busy schedules. “It’s a stressful situation. Everyone deals with juggling various projects, and that’s probably the greatest obstacle as a musician,” Brandon notes.
“Yeah. Making money, with all the costs there are,” says Cam.
“It’s not easy to make it all come together but we all make a concerted effort,” Andy notes.
Gabi adds, “We all did a great job of paying for our album by having shows though, so it’s going forward.”
“Exactly, we don’t rely on other people. We’re DIY about all this shit.” Alex says.
Over the years, Teen Tits Wild Wives has gone through a lot of changes: band members coming in and out, songs getting longer and more sophisticated, and a growing fan following. However, the group always maintains the punk attitude we love them for.
“Everyone wants people to care about them in the long term, and not just see them at a show and have a good time. You want to develop a relationship with people so they’ll care about what you do for a long time.”
Alex mentions how this attitude is one of the reasons he was initially inspired by the band before becoming a member: “Seeing Boxes & Bags who were starting to play music all the time I was thinking, ‘playing music is the greatest shit.’ Playing music live and playing for your friends, it was the greatest shit I’d ever seen and that totally made me want to play music. But changing is a natural thing for anyone who’s going to play music for a long time. Everyone wants people to care about them in the long term, and not just see them at a show and have a good time. You want to develop a relationship with people so they’ll care about what you do for a long time.”
In terms of the ways their songwriting has grown, Gabi explains, “The attitude towards how we write songs hasn’t changed from the get-go. Maybe the sophistication has evolved but at the same time, we still allow ourselves to write gnarly, gross songs that are incoherent.”
The earnestness and sincerity with which this band rocks is one of the best reasons to see them live. Brandon recalls a favourite memory from a show before he had joined: “Cameron and I were in the audience getting a little rowdy and the songs were getting crazy. Then we were pushing each other back and forth and I just got pushed into a place where there was just nothing to brace me from keeling over. I hit my head against the edge of a speaker cabinet and that night was… three staples. After I hit my head I was lying down on the floor and everyone was looking down at me, so I did a kick up off the ground! It was a perfect handspring off my back and onto my feet. I was expecting everyone to be all, ‘whoa that was so rad,’ but their jaws had all dropped because I was gushing blood out of my head. That’s when I realized it was serious. The rest of the night I had a bunch of girls all huddling around to make sure I was ok – they got me to the hospital.”
“I always like when I look over and Andy’s trying to puke on his cymbal,” Alex says. “I’ve only seen you kinda do it once, but that show was fuckin’ hilarious. And then there was the time Ronnie ran around us in front with his guitar’s cord so many times. We all got caught up in your cord and fell down! There was also the time I saw Boxes & Bags at The Centre of Gravity (the East End circus school and sometimes venue) and Ron threw his guitar in the air as high as it could possibly go! The ceilings were like sixty feet, so stupidly high. And then it came right down.”
“Ron was funny that night. Someone said, ‘Why’d you do it?’ And you just said, “‘Cause I knew I could get away with it,’” Cam says.
“Actually, you gave it to me to throw,” Gabi recalls. “I remember you saying ‘Just throw it straight up in the air, nothing else. Straight up, and it’ll come straight back down.’”
“And Jamez was tossing ‘coke’ out into the audience, little bags of baby powder!” says Alex.
“And Jamez is gone now. Miss that guy,” says Andy.
Brandon concurs, “I miss Jamez.”
“He’s always in our hearts…” says Cam.
“He’s always part of the gang though, you know? Blood in, blood out,” notes Alex.
“Nope, he didn’t die or anything. That’s true,” says Gabi
Brandon ends, “If you’re reading this, Jamez, we miss you.” Check them out on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/teentitswildwives