Listening to Montreal band Atsuko Chiba can most accurately be described as an Experience. I say accurately described because in reality, there are few words that can properly capture what happens to one’s brain and emotions when Kevin McDonald, Karim Lakhdar, David Palumbo, Eric Schafhauser, and Anthony Piazza all get together and play music.

This is mostly due to the fact that Atsuko Chiba is much more than five people playing music together. It’s a force all its own, almost an autonomous being with its own energy, life, and purpose.

Without getting too carried away, it’s safe to say that these five very talented people have managed to combine their ideas and abilities to create something so seamless, it acts as one unit. According to them, their music would not exist were it not built on a solid foundation of teamwork and trust.

“It’s like a freight train now,” guitarist Karim Lakhdar said. “Everyone has the same purpose, no one’s second guessing, no one has one foot in the water, everyone’s all in. We’re five guys with a drive, it creates a good energy. If you’re not feeling it that day, you have someone else to help you out.”

Bassist David Palumbo agrees.

“It’s really comforting to have four other people share that same vision,” he said.

A last-minute show put on by students in Concordia’s electroacoustics program – where guitarist Kevin McDonald and Lakhdar studied – brought the five of them together on a stage for the first time almost two years ago.  Since then, they’ve managed to put together a full-length album and are very close to finishing their second full-length, which has been in the works for a year.

Their signature sound, which falls under the umbrella of experimental but includes elements of psychedelic, punk, post-rock, metal, and prog-rock, is the result of an organic writing process whereby everyone pulls their own weight and feeds off the others.

When it comes to writing music for Atsuko Chiba, McDonald says there is no real formula.

“Most of the time, one of us comes up with a cool idea and that becomes a springboard,” he said.

“We try to set a certain mood,” Lakhdar added. “We want it to feel like a certain place or thing, that we might even invent; it only makes sense to us.”

He compares the writing process to a relay: one person brings an idea forward and someone else picks it up and brings it further. DSC_0058

“[For this album], we had bits and pieces, song ideas and transitions in mind already,” said Palumbo. “But besides that, we had a whole concept for the album, kind of like a story that we referred to every time we were working on a song. The music is very visual so we almost invented this whole world where these characters live.”

Although these concept ideas that the guys are referring to are very abstract, the listener is definitely left with the impression that their album is a work that needs to be listened to almost completely from start to finish.

“There are some songs that you can listen to individually for sure, but on some level we’re imposing a long listening experience on the listener,” McDonald said.

A somewhat bold move in our internet age of short attention spans, downloading and listening to songs on shuffle. However, Atsuko Chiba are not opposed to people listening to their music for free and definitely see the internet as a strong ally for a local DIY band.

“It’s almost like a business card,” Palumbo said. “Listen to my album for free and if you like us, come see us at a show or help us out any way you can.”

“At the end of the day, I’m happier knowing that people are listening to our music than anything else,” McDonald added. “But I also want to keep playing music, so where do you draw that line?”

“You have to trust people, that’s what it is,” Lakhdar said.

Atsuko Chiba performed at L’Escogriffe on October 12 as part of Montreal Psych Fest. From left to right: Karim Lakhdar, Eric Schafhauser, Anthony Piazza.

The band emphasizes that they have a lot of support from friends inside and out of the music scene, something that is crucial to Atsuko Chiba’s survival. Whether it’s for the album art for their first release, Animalia: Several States of Being, done by artist and musician Gianni Berretta; or mixing and sound work by “6th unofficial band member” Matthew Cerantola, the band benefits from collaborations with others in the music community.

“A lot of the work people do for us right now is free, so it feels good to have people that believe in our stuff enough to do that,” Lakhdar said.

Ultimately, it all stems from the band’s own confidence in their work.

“If we didn’t have that conviction, I feel like people wouldn’t really give a fuck about us,” Palumbo said.

It’s a delicate balance: on the one hand, it’s important to stand by your music. But on the other, there’s the acknowledgement that you can always do better. They are constantly aware of this impulse to challenge and improve previous work.

“You can never be completely satisfied. If you’re satisfied, there’s a problem,” Lakhdar said. “You can be happy with something for a bit, like when we finish an album. But as soon as that’s done, we want to move on to the next thing, make it different, make it better. It’s just about continuing and continuing because you can’t stop.”

DSC_0045It’s a universal sentiment felt by artists of any medium. But they admit that it’s important to practice restraint. One way they achieve this is by really listening to the music and paying attention to what a particular song or section calls for.

“You have to be willing to throw stuff away ‘cause you can’t fit more than you have to into a song,” Palumbo explained. “That’s the song at its most pure state and that’s what it should be.”

“Sometimes, it takes doing nothing to achieve that,” McDonald said. “It’s perfect the way it is, I don’t have to add anything.”

It all goes back to the confidence that each member of Atsuko Chiba has in the others to do what’s best for their work. That can sometimes mean putting egos aside and being critical of one another in a way that is positive and constructive.

“If I play something that I’m one hundred percent sold on but everyone else says is not right, I have to understand that these guys are not telling me that I suck; they’re telling me that right now, it’s not what has to be played,” Palumbo said.

“If we talk about it in a way that it has its own life, it’s because it does,” Lakhdar said.  “When we play together, there’s an energy and it wouldn’t be the same if it was someone else.”

“There’s a lot of sacrifice involved in doing this. You’re putting all your time into something, you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve,” McDonald said. “When you’re constantly sharing this super personal thing, there’s no veil.”

Atsuko Chiba perform Wednesday, November 6, 8:30 p.m. at Il Motore with 65daysofstatic and Caspian. Tickets here.

Photos by Bianca David. 

As an arts and culture writer these past few years, I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet artists of all different styles and disciplines. And while most are talented folks, there are those unfortunate times when an artist’s skills are quickly overshadowed by their ridiculous ego. Anyone who’s ever met singer/songwriter Elgin Skye though knows it’s pretty damn hard not to love her.

Starting out in music with encouragement from friends in Nanaimo, this BC native made Montreal home four years ago. I first saw Elgin perform last summer at Fringe Park, and I admit to being one of those gushing fans who bought a CD and made her sign it. Over the past year I’ve happily watched her presence grow in the Montreal music scene, and so I was thrilled when she agreed to meet Forget the Box for an interview.

Every piece of writing I’ve seen about about Elgin (which I’m shocked to say there is very little of) have all used the same word to describe her: adorable. It’s not exactly hard to see where the impulse comes from; while I’m sure she has her off days like the rest of us, with her sweet disposition it seems almost impossible to imagine Elgin has ever been sad or angry in her entire life. For our photo shoot in Lafontaine park Elgin frolicked in the grass, climbed trees and afterwards invited Chris Zacchia and I over for beer and cookies. Needless to say she’s not only a special lady but also a smart one who knows exactly how to win Forget the Box people over.

Knowing her primarily as a folk singer, I was surprised during our chat when Elgin mentioned how she’s listening to bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth lately for inspiration. Along with her rock ‘n roll influences, she’s also added a looping pedal to her set. The looping pedal is a calculated effort to give, as she put it a “bigger sound” to her set. I caught a little of this “new” Elgin sound at this years Infringement Festival; this year’s set definitely had a higher octane feel to it (helped I’m sure by Elgin pre-show ritual of jumping jacks before a set). No matter what the tempo though, it’s always a pleasure to watch Elgin perform because she clearly pours her heart and soul into every moment on stage. Very often you can tell the band on stage can’t wait to get back to their drinks by the bar and trust me, it makes all the difference.

When looking at Elgin I admit it can be hard to see past the nice girl and her sparkly pink ukulele. But after sitting down with her, I realized that Elgin is definitely ready to be known as much more then adorable. And who can blame her? With Elgin her loveliness sometimes overshadows the fact that she is quite a talented musician. I re-listened to Elgin’s demo I got last summer, I noticed that a lot of her songs are in fact much more on the darker side then I remembered. Sure she has her cutesy songs like, Ladies love Zombies (What a woman wouldn’t give/for a man who only wants her for her brains) but a lot of her songs are also about the pain of longing- longing for a better place to live, (Vancouver Sucks) longing for better social scene (All Alone Here), longing for a better relationship (Jetfighter vs. Submarine)

Despite Elgin’s claims to the contrary of not wanting a full time musical career, I have every confidence that she has the chops to make a real go of it if she really wanted to. And with talks of recording and a tour in her future, I think she knows it to. Elgin’s next show is a private loft party on the 28th with Ingrid Gatin and B.W. Brandes. You can email the lady herself for all the info.

Listen to her album and if you like it buy it for 5$

Check out Daniel Torchinsky’s recent podcast featuring Elgin.

Photo by Anita Schoepp

Montreal has a reputation to live up to. We’re the city everyone flocks to for unique talent and diverse artists from various backgrounds. Whether it’s music, theatre, visual arts or the many others, there’s a   layer of expectations that masks this wonderfully heart throbbing city.

Saying this, I’d like to introduce you to Jordi Rosen, one of Montreal’s celebrated local female musicians, who’s contribution to the Montreal arts and culture community reassures us those expectations are met.

Jordi’s musical history began in Toronto where she sung in her school choir and studied piano. 20 years ago she packed up her novel talents and made the switch to Montreal to expand, perfect and share her love of music. To expand, she took up professional singing lessons, alongside the accordion, thanks to Grayson Walker. To perfect and share, she and Grayson started a band, which featured other local artists such as Bruce Cawdron, Joellen Housego and Lisa Gamble. She was also involved in The Jordi Monk Klezmer Contusion and Mopwater.

Having a professional singing background of 16 years, Jordi mainly mixes her romantic and creative vocals with her Casio keyboard, accordion, autoharp/lapharp and bowed psaltery playing. When you go to her MySpace listen to Casio SA-3 and The City Hums you’re sure to be happily, floating down the streets for a week. Jordi’s music has a natural smile effect that reminds you of your playground times, when you first met Xavier or Scarlet (or whoever your crush was) and thought about them during nap time.

Photo by Sandra Lynn Belanger. Loaded: A Tribute To The Velvet Underground (L to R: Will Austin, Jordi Rosen, Ingrid Wissink, Patrick Hutchison & Dave Lines in back).

More recently Jordi’s “playground-times” have been at Sound Centrale, Casa del Popolo with with Shyny Diemindz and The American Devices, and at Le Cagibi, playing with Ingrid Wissink, Caroline Glass, Dave Lines, Abigail Lapell and Gabe Levine. In addition, Jordi’s part of Montreal’s famed Loaded, The Velvet Underground Tribute Band, and took part in For the Sake of the Songs Tributes to Neil Young and Van Dyke Parks. You often find her paired up around the city with other positively notorious local musicians like Jackie Gallant, Will Austin and Annabelle Chvostek, amongst many others.

Jordi’s an artist that welcomes anyone’s ideas or suggestions, supports an array of talented friends and takes the time to make sure you understand you’re always welcome when she’s around. Let’s all just be glad she made the switch our arts and culture community sure is.

Stay in-tune for Jordi’s up-coming video, Fantastic Trip, produced by Gordon Bradley and features Taki 76 and recordings by Alex Olsen. And here’s a nice secret (well not anymore) she’ll be releasing a new CD this year.

Cool beans. Make sure to check out events calendar for up-coming performances by Jordi Rosen and many, many others! Until then, Check out Lawrence’s review of one of Jordi’s shows @ Le Cagibi.