The Birthday Massacre are a Canadian six piece who have blended goth rock, power pop, industrial, nu metal and synth pop since 1999.
Imagine a horror film soundtrack influenced by The Cure, Visage, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Evanescence and Marilyn Manson and topped by a vocal style swinging between demonic possession and sugar sweet early Madonna-esque pop.
Near to the end of their UK tour and just prior to their gig at The Garage, their engaging front woman, Chibi is tired but excited. We escape the venue and head over to Highbury Fields for a chat.
How’s the tour been going?
Really nice. We haven’t been here for four years so it’s long overdue for us to come back. The shows have been amazing. It’s great, we all love being here so we’ve been looking forward to it.
How was the Whitby Goth Weekend?
Really cool. It’s such a cool town just to be in and then you pair that with everyone in black taking over the city. It’s beautiful.
Have you taken in any of the general election over here?
A little bit. When we were in Scotland I saw some speeches by a woman.
Yes, that was her name! I didn’t get to hear too much but it’s exciting.
Where do you stand politically?
I’m a mix. In Canada the three main parties are the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP, the New Democratic Party. I would qualify myself as an NDP person; I’m quite liberal I would say.
On the subject of the UK, I know you’ve cited various British bands as influences, such as The Cure and Depeche Mode. Both visually and musically, I was thinking that Visage and that early 80s stuff might have had some influence too?
Absolutely! We all grew up in the 80s so it’s the sort of thing we grew up listening to, dancing around like little kids – fun pop music, great electronic music, definitely.
Has it affected your imagery as well as the music?
Your novel, Boring Girls, was published recently and one of themes is the sexism within music. Has being a woman in a band been an issue for you?
It has been from time to time. Most of the time I’ve just been happy enough to have other girls along on tour as well, whether they’re musicians or crew or just sitting down for a few minutes and chatting with you, it’s nice. I think there’s a lot of jerks and misogyny in the world regardless of what industry you work in. Even on our last US tour – the guys always go on stage before me and I went to go on for my cue and the security guard wouldn’t let me on because he thought I was a fan. It was like; oh you’re just a little fan girl standing by the side of the stage. He was horrified when he realised but it’s just those kinds of misconceptions about why a woman would be at the side of the stage or why a woman would be travelling with a band. I think the lines can get a little bit blurred.
Oh definitely, I hate that. I was always a big Guns N Roses fan but you hear these stories – “backstage antics” – and a lot of it’s about disrespecting women whether it’s in the music or just the general vibe. I hate stuff like that; it’s horrible. So whenever you hear about bands that are nice guys or you meet bands that are really nice guys, I love it. It’s just a very valuable thing when there are people who don’t act the fool and don’t take those kinds of issues lightly and take it seriously and treat women with respect musically, off stage and in their lives.
Do you feel that women’s rights have advanced in some ways but gone backwards in other ways?
I think you’re absolutely right. I think there are way more conversations now about sexual assault and objectification of women. But then I think it’s kind of strange because I feel that some of the backslide is that women are objectifying each other in the name of liberation, like it’s cool to be one of the boys. You might think you’re getting respect in a roundabout kind of way.
But I definitely think things are getting better and a lot more people are aware and people identify as feminists. But then there are people who are, “I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist,” because they don’t know what feminism actually is about.
If you weren’t in The Birthday Massacre, would you ever like to be in an all-girl riot grrrl band?
Oh gosh, yes! I want to start an all-girl Pearl Jam cover band called Girl Jam. I’d love it! I’d love to be in a band with all girls. I love those guys but, yeah totally!
I read an interview that you did with Eric Blair some years ago where you were advising people not to commit suicide during dark times because things do get better. Do you feel that many bands within your genre have a tendency to glorify suicide and self-harm through band names, lyrics and imagery?
Obviously those bands that are expressing those messages, they’re still here. Maybe it would be helpful to someone who has those thoughts to hear someone say, ok I have those thoughts too but I’m still around and I’m making music and feel all these dark things and I know how that is. Maybe it seems like a good idea, but you know what, those bands are still here and on the road and they’ll come up and shake your hand and give you a hug.
Hopefully it’s taken the right way, taken by somebody who’s looking for something to relate to musically, I hope that’s what it would be. Kurt Cobain killed himself but I’m not sure how many Nirvana lyrics are about self-harm.
What about, “I hate myself and want to die”?
Oh that one! Oh my gosh, of course! I’m forgetting. Fair enough and he did. But at the end of the day he’s just a black and white photograph in Time magazine with the shoe and the gun.
I hope that people would take any kind of lyric or glorification like that as meaning: people suffer, everybody feels like shit a lot of the time but they don’t do anything that bad. It’s like, you’re not alone, I feel that way too but I’m not doing it so you don’t do it either and let’s all get through this together.
Arguably the video for your song, One Promise, where the subjects are faking various forms of suicide and photographing it, glorifies the imagery of self-harm – what are your views on that?
Yeah, I think that’s because it’s the exploration of death. I hate to say it but I’m really into true crime and really into murder and so those images do appeal to me. But it is in that detached sort of way – ooh, let’s set up a photo of a crime scene – and then that’s cool and fun if you’re into the dark stuff. There’s nothing wrong in thinking about death and thinking about those ideas as long as you’re doing it in a non-harmful way.
Do you ever fear for the black clad 13 year olds who don’t necessarily see the subtleties?
Oh definitely, but that’s when you hope they have a good group of friends and they have a caring family. I remember when I was really young I was reading books about medieval torture because I’ve always had that sort of thing and my mom was like, ok so tell me why you’re reading it. It’s about people just being aware of their friends, aware of their siblings, aware of what their children are doing. Just sit down and have a conversation and make sure everybody knows that it’s ok to think about these things as long as you’re communicating about why they appeal to you and thinking about why and knowing that you can always turn to someone.
Do you think that young people these days have more pressure on them due to social media?
Oh yeah, definitely. I hate to say it but I’m so glad I grew up when I did. I’m an adult woman and I’ll look at photos online and I’ll read Facebook statuses where it’s like: “Oh look at me going to a party and doing this, here’s me and all of my friends and I look really good” with the photoshopped sexy selfie. I’m just sitting home alone on a Friday night, not at a party, not looking too good. If it affects me as an adult and makes me feel like I’m a loser who’s unattractive and not doing anything cool, who has, like, two friends then I can’t imagine how it would be being younger and growing up with that. But I have to remind myself that everybody’s trying to make themselves look good on social media. For every hot selfie there’s the twenty that weren’t and it’s all filters. If someone’s at home alone covered with potato chips watching Netflix, they’re not going to post that they’re sitting at home feeling like crap, looking like crap. So I always try to remember the flip side of that.
Many of your female fans in particular must see you as a role model?
I guess so. I’ve always tried to handle myself in a way that I would want anyone at a show feeling comfortable coming up to me and saying hi and talking to me. Obviously there’s the “hot photo shoots” that you do but anyone who talks to me knows that I think that stuff is slightly ridiculous, we can all look good in photos. I don’t do crazy drugs. I’ll drink some beer sometimes and I have a couple of bad habits. It’s important to me to know that people can come up and talk to me and know that I’m not an arrogant jerk maniac. I’m not a partying maniac. I’m pretty normal; I keep it together. I try to!
You and Rainbow share an art school background. Is the band imagery particularly important to you?
Oh definitely, we’ve all had a hand designing merch. I’ve done a few shirts and Rainbow has done a bunch of shirts. Before a singer, I’m an artist and a writer so that’s the kind of stuff I really enjoy doing. I like working on the lyrics and I like doing designs and doing imagery. That’s what I prefer to do.
Does the band have control over all of the imagery and designs?
Oh yeah, all of our merch designs. I mean occasionally we’ll get another artist friend to design but it’s all us, we do them all. I think it’s important for the artist to be involved in all aspects of the creative process if they want to.
Do you think you’ll still be going in another 16 years?
I’m still feeling very creative and we’re all still very inspired. It’s just more that the touring can get a little bit tiring. We’ve been friends for a long time. We can butt heads pretty harshly at times. Most of the time we get along great but we’ve had some horrendous fights when you say you’re going to quit and storm out! Another 16 years, oh my gosh! But hopefully; if it makes sense.
When you’re not on tour, are you all in day-to-day contact with each other?
We’ll usually talk on the phone once a day or once every couple of days get together and work on things. But you also need that space. When we’re just come back from say, 8 weeks on tour, the last thing I want to do is go and eat a hamburger with Rainbow. It’s like: love you, let’s talk in two weeks! You need space or you’ll just end up attempting to kill one another and going, I quit The Birthday Massacre!
Do you think you’ll ever move out to LA or will you always stay in Canada?
I’ve had friends and relationships with people who live in Los Angeles and it is beautiful out there but I like Canada, I like being from there.
What are your plans for the rest of year?
Well we only have one show lined up right now – the Amphi Festival in Germany in July. Other than that, we’re just going to start writing some more, go home and put together some more songs.
Will it be another four years before you come back to the UK?
No, I hope not! It shouldn’t have been this long – I’m horribly sorry about that. We’ll definitely come back before four years.
Interview copyright: Sarah Corbett-Batson. Not to be reproduced in whole or part without express prior written consent.
Images: Carl Byron Batson. Not to be reproduced without express prior permission.