Chic Gamine: Whoever has the most brute strength gets to sing

Categories: Interview
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Who doesn't love Canadians? Wherever they go, a good time follows. And they're just so nice. But for Canadian pop-rockers Chic Gamine, based between Montreal and Winnipeg, nice is just the beginning. The almost all-girl band (four lead female vocalists, one male drummer) have been making waves in their homeland since the release of their self-titled debut album back in 2008, which earned them one of Canada's prestigious Juno Awards for Best Roots Album.

It's not enough to call Chic Gamine pop, though. The leading ladies -- for they are all leading ladies, sharing vocal parts more or less equally -- have a sound that has its roots in old school soul. The '60s-style harmonies stop just short of doo-wop and are pulled off impeccably. The band relies primarily on vocalizing and drumming for its sounds. Without much instrumentation to hide behind, Chic Gamine's songs are laid out like reminders of the days when pop music was more raw sugar than saccharine.

Currently, Chic Gamine is on tour in support of their sophomore album Closer, a powerful, mature pop-centric record with plenty of space for the warm vocals to roam. Ahead of tonight's Chic Gamine show at the Triple Rock Social Club, Gimme Noise caught up with singer Alexa Dirks on the band's new North American tour and details on a new album.

Gimme Noise: So, you guys are currently on tour in support of your recent album Closer. You're just doing a small regional U.S. tour -- Minneapolis, Madison, and Des Moines are the biggest stops... and you're going to... Grand Forks, North Dakota? I mean... really?

Alexa Dirks:
[Laughing] We're just doing what the people want.

What are you most excited for? Are any of those cities new to you?

We've never played Des Moines, or Madison, or Grand Forks. And we're also playing in Colorado at a Folk Festival that's supposed to be really nice. I'm going to be diplomatic and say that we're looking forward to all of it. We just like to play music for people, and you never know when you're gonna fall in love with a new city. We're looking forward to Minneapolis especially because we're playing with friends, and hopefully people want to come out on a Monday night. That should be fun.

Closer came out in March of this year. What has the response been like?

You know, it's been good. It's interesting because the song "Closer" had been out like a year prior to that, so we'd already had some really positive response to that because of a video we had put out, so when the album came out people were excited. Honestly, we're already focusing on a new album, and we're looking forward to promoting that within the next year, so that's where our heads are at.



Oh, really? What can you tell me about the new album?
Closer was super stripped down, vocals and drums -- how is the new album sounding?

We're currently in the writing process still, so we're work-shopping songs, but they sound bigger. We have a live video up on YouTube called "All Night," and it's got more guitar, more synth, more of a bass sound, a little more grit I guess. It's kind of what's coming more naturally to us. There's definitely still emphasis on the vocals and drums, and it's less stripped down than the other one, but it's still in the realm of "Who knows?" because we're still in the process of writing it, and we're just really excited to see how we're evolving. We're still evolving into the band that we're becoming.

You've made it clear that there are four lead singers in your band, not one, and that you all rotate. How does that work? How do you decide whose vocals are best for the song? Do you fight about it?

We fight all the time, but usually whoever has the most brute strength wins. [Laughs] The democratic process of songwriting is that different people bring different songs to the table. That was how we started. Now, we write collaboratively a lot, but before, a lot of the time it would be, "Hey, I wrote this song that I want to evolve this with the group," but it would be their song. Now that we've been writing more in a collaborative sense, we sit with the songs and think whose voice would work best with what part. We've gotten a lot more creative, even with just singing in unison and switching off, so it's kind of fun.

What's the biggest difference between playing to Canadian audiences and American audiences?

It depends where. Especially in the States -- the States are so huge... Well, I guess Canada's big, too. Canadian audiences can be so internal. They'll be super, super quiet for the whole show, and at the end they'll clap their brains off if they love you, but you would never be able to tell until the end. Then they're so complimentary and so nice, because everyone in Canada is so nice. [Laughs] But especially when we play in the South [in the U.S.], they're hooting and hollering throughout the entire thing. They react immediately.... but it really depends where you go.

I'm really curious about the industry in Canada versus the industry in the States. I know that your band has been able to remain independent from a major label -- how that does help or hurt you?

We're still independent, but we're not opposed. We needed to get an album out, and we didn't have a label so we just put it out. We don't object to label support, but we just haven't come across a deal that makes sense to us, so we're still holding out. The industry has changed so much. It's not just cut and dry. You have to sit through a lot of different things to get to a deal that makes sense for your band, and what makes sense for one band might not make sense for another. Sometimes being independent can be awesome because you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself, but sometimes we don't have certain support in the funding department. Still, we've always managed to somehow pull it out of our butts. I don't know how. [Laughs]

What can we expect from your gig on Monday night at the Triple Rock?

[In intense, theme park voice] You can expect the most insane party you've ever been to in your entire life. [Laughs] You can expect... probably a more heavy live show than you might think just from listening to the album. I don't want to use the phrase "rocking out," because that makes me sound like a crazy relative at a family function, but it's really more in your face than you might think from four female vocalists and a drummer. Everyone should come.

Chic Gamine will be playing on Monday, August 12 at the Triple Rock Social Club with openers Ashley Gold and Dear Data. Doors at 8 p.m. 18+. $10. Details here

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