I thought I had’im. ‘the famines’ had released an earlier album on vintage 8-track, with an accompanying booklet. And so in a nod to the anachronistic nature of such a release, when I called up Raymond Biesinger to discuss their upcoming performance in Calgary’s Commonwealth Bar & Stage (Dec 30th), I asked him to hang on a minute. And then, I dialled my phone.
No, no: you don’t understand. I didn’t push any buttons or keypads: I dialled my phone. It’s a rotary phone from my dad’s home office 40years ago. Definitely an antique. And Raymond, without missing a beat, dialled his.
I, accomplished journalist and interviewer,was struck speechless. When was the last time two rotary phones were used for a cross-country conversation? Kind of appropriate for the famines, though.
“I don’t even own a cellphone,” admits the famines’ bassist/guitarist/vocalist/graphic designer. Actually, he plays bass but they don’t have a ‘bassist’, as he “plays a 6-string Melody Maker rip-off that’s had its neck “broken approximately 8 times. I have 2 of them that are identical in all respects because of that breakage habit. I have no guitar pedals, except for an A-B-Y switch, that turns the signal from the guitar into two, and 1 end of it goes into a bass amplifier, and the other end goes into a guitar amplifier.”
Raymond says that this is to eliminate the need to hire a bassist, but if you’ve listened to ‘the famines’, or if you’ve read the commentary in their ‘berzerker-DIY-rock’ reviews, you’d know that it’s not simply a financial consideration. And Raymond admits to it after further discussion:
“I’ve played in 2-piece bands since about 1998 or so. (This is) the first time that I’ve thought really hard about the tone and the technique that I’m producing. In a 2-piece band, the name of the game is to make as much as possible with as little as possible.. . . And I guess over the years my technique has developed into this strange hybrid of baselines, followed by chords, followed by me soloing, all on the same guitar.. . . I think that keeps it interesting for me, and dramatic and interesting for a listener as well.”
And what about the other half of the famines’ 2-piece roller-coaster? ‘Cause that’s what it is. If you consider the material on their The Complete Collected Singles CD, it’s a bit like those urban cowboy movies where city slickers would climb on the motorized bull in the bar, and hang on for dear life while it threw them around with an energy that was defeatable only by unplugging the thing. When Garrett Kruger’s drums kick into gear on “Hi Hi Hi”, you’d better hope both Raymond’s guitar cords are firmly plugged in, as the rhythms, complex, driven, and concise, leave nothing to the imagination.
Raymond agrees: “Garrett is a phenomenon on the drums: I’m eternally happy that I get to play with him.
“One of the foundational concepts of the band (and also of his art practice) is a 4-line manifesto: We live in such a fortunate time and place, where we’re wealthier than most of our ancestors, and technology is so accessible where we’re able to do much more than we have in the past, . . . the most interesting thing you can do is impose limitations on yourself and live within them. So what ‘the famines’ do is take 6 strings, a drum kit and a voice, and take it as far as we can.”
Raymond mentions that, though they’re a “noisy garage band, there’s still a pop sensibility” within it. And outside of it.
“I appreciate creating in a vacuum: I like finding my influences off-medium. What inspires me in my illustrations career, and my art in my music, isn’t so much ‘Oh my God! Pink Floyd is amazing!’ as it is ‘this idea of minimalism,!’ or ‘these political or economic ideas,!’ or ‘these visual art ideas!’ And applying them to music.”
Don’t be put off by the fact that we then discuss the definition of synesthesia, which is a sensation being detected by a different sense (‘hot sounds’, ‘loud visuals’, ‘blinding flavours’). It’s just part of the different layers going on in the band.
As Raymond says himself, the famines are “Garage Rock for people who are bored of Garage Rock.” Come find out for yourself.