The Courtneys: Toto's "Africa" is our tour theme song

Categories: Concert Preview
Photo by Andrew Volk

Vancouver trio the Courtneys have fashioned a perpetual summer. It lives in the playful demeanor of their self-made workout videos, personality quiz and snapback caps. It lives in their ability to not take themselves too seriously. And it flourishes on the ramshackle joyride of their spirited self-titled debut. It can be hazardous for any band to act as a conduit of the not-so-distant past but the Courtneys reference Flying Nun-era slackers with a fresh vitality that rings strong whether they're gushing over Keanu Reeves or confronting inner turmoil with Slayer maxims.

The sounds may be optimistic, but depth is tangible and Courtney Loove, Sydney Koke and Jen Twynn Payne are grasping at something pure. Indie queens Tegan and Sara have a history of nabbing promising female acts as support and catapulting them into the success they deserve (e.g. Waxahatchee) and so it's no surprise that the Courtneys have taken this role on the band's current tour. Ahead of their Monday performance at First Avenue, Gimme Noise chatted with drummer/lead singer Jen Twynn Payne about life as a Courtney.

Gimme Noise:
I read on your Tumblr post about the midpoint of the tour that you've only cried four times so far. Is that a good number? Have you guys ever been on the road this long before?

Jen Twynn Payne: We've already been on the road for about five weeks so far for this tour and the longest we've ever been out before was only like three or four weeks. I have indeed cried four times and they were all ridiculous reasons. I'd be crying and then laughing because I was crying and then I wasn't actually upset about anything anymore. It was pretty funny.

I feel like I learned a lot about the Courtneys through that list with both the cry count and the "Africa" by Toto play count (it was 33).

Absolutely, that is our tour theme song. We seriously listen to it every morning. Our tour manager recently changed his cell phone ring to be that song too so now we hear it even more often.

How have you had to adjust to being away from home in Vancouver for so long?

It's interesting. Before tour it's always me who is like "I don't wanna go" and I act like I hate traveling and just want to sit in my house and watch TV. I feel like I'm a homebody. But then once we get on the road I am usually very quick to adapt. I'm a Gemini and the other day we found this Gemini keychain and on the back it has all of these traits and Courtney was reading them and she was like "Oh this sounds exactly like you" and then Sydney read it and saw that it said "loves traveling" and it was the only questionable one. I think that I do love traveling, just not the idea of it. Once I'm on the road I'm the most adaptable. You can't get me to leave but then once you do I'm used to it right away. It's strange.

How do you think your music has been received by the Tegan and Sara fanbase?

The shows have been going really good. It's funny having a Tegan and Sara show and then playing these side shows that are just us. It's the complete opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. They both are amazing in their own way. Last night we played this all ages show in McAllen, Texas, and the scene here is really amazing. We're 20 minutes from the Mexican border right now and I guess not a lot of bands come down here very often so everybody was so thankful that we took the time to plat. On the other side of things Tegan and Sarah shows are this amazing event. There's like 2,000 people and their fans are something else. They are really, really dedicated. It's cool because we are opening and I feel like usually when I go see bands that size and there is an opener there is nobody there. But I swear their fans get there the morning of the show and start lining up because they want a spot at the front of the stage, so when we play it's already full. It's pretty crazy.

How did you start playing together initially?

Sydney and I are from Calgary originally and we were roommates there and had another band called Puberty. But then she moved away to North Carolina to go to grad school for Neuroscience. Then I moved to Vancouver and met Courtney there and I was going to school there. Almost a year after I moved to Vancouver Sydney dropped out of grad school and drove to Vancouver basically just to play music and start a band with me. And so I said we had to start a band with this girl Courtney. When she and Sydney got to Vancouver we jammed and that was like May of 2010 I think. At that point we jammed all summer but then Courtney got a job in Montreal so she moved there for about eight months. It wasn't until she came back that things got more serious and we played our first show.

Did it seem apparent that aside from geography that the project had potential?

I don't really think we were even thinking about it. We wrote a bunch of songs before she left and we recorded them in the jam space and then she left and I remember listening to them with my friend Pat and even though they didn't have vocals yet he was like "these are so awesome." It was weird though because when Courtney was gone Sydney and I actually started a different band and I didn't even think about the Courtneys. It wasn't even on my radar at all. When Courtney came home it was our friend's birthday party and we ended up playing it. We jammed for like two weeks and played it and we still didn't have vocals. We hadn't found what we are now yet, it was the very early stages. It took a few shows to really get an idea that we were going to continue with it.

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