Welcome to the first edition of a new column featuring a Toronto band for every month. We’re pleased to start it off with Army Girls, a two-piece who will release their first EP, Close to the Bone, on September 13 through the Blocks Recording Club. Army Girls is Carmen Elle and Andy Smith. They’re not new to the scene by any means; Carmen’s been involved with bands such as Donlands and Mortimer (yes, named after a Toronto intersection) as well as Austra, and Andy’s also in Heartbeat Hotel. But the forces have come together to bring us an ear-pleasing new combo.
With Carmen on guitar and vocals and Andy on drums, the pair pack a whopping punch. Carmen’s vocals make her sound like she’s been transported through time to an era of old movies, but she’s got the confidence to take her to another level. Her electric guitar playing is raw and exposed, while Andy’s drumming is quick, flexible and light. Close to the Bone is an introduction to this duo we won’t forget, from the melodies, the wails, the changing pace and so much rich energy in tracks such as “The Power,” “Cold & Alcohol” and “Always.”
Seeing Army Girls live is a big part of their dynamic. You can catch them this weekend (Saturday, the 10th) at the Arts & Crafts TIFF showcase at the Drake Hotel with The Darcys, Rival Boys and Samantha Savage Smith. They go on at 8.
Now, get to know Army Girls with our Q&A:
How and when did you start the band?
We started playing together February 2010 under a different name. The first year we started playing together we only did a handful of shows. In the winter of 2011, we recorded our first album and came up with a name and have been performing that way ever since.
Tell us about Close to the Bone. What is it about? What does it mean to you?
Close to the Bone is a collection of songs written in the aftermath of a lot of change. Primarily, I wrote it in response to a deeply awful couple of years. As it happens, it turned out to be less therapeutic and more hopeful for me. I won’t speak for Andy, but for myself, writing this EP has been about coming to grips with bad situations and turning them into raw energy.
What was it like making your first Army Girls EP?
It was really fun. We came at it with a pretty ad hoc approach. We cold called Ben Cook (who is fantastically talented in many, many respects) and set a time and place, showed up and made a rough n’ rushed album in 4 hours. It was a new experience for me. Until this EP was recorded, every recording process I had been a part of took days or weeks or months. This fell together so quickly and turned out pretty much exactly how it should have.
What struck you as a really good idea?
The best idea we had was contacting Ben. It’s rare to find someone who can exactly transfer a sound you envision into hard copy. It’s like asking a stranger to tell you what to wear, they don’t know your taste, your style, your wardrobe… how are they supposed to guess? We were so pleased it worked out so well.
What are you thinking about for future recordings, whether it’s to change something or what you’d like to explore?
Next we would love to do a full length. Unfortunately, for new bands it isn’t always easy coming up with enough money or material to make a first album a full length. We are hoping to go to New York to record the next one; to get lost in a bigger city, maybe and see where we find ourselves.
Do you feel that the music you make in this band is similar to what you make with other projects, or are you going for a certain style?
I think Army Girls is unique to Army Girls. The way we’ve worked until now is not very similar to the other bands we play in, or have played in.
How would you describe your live dynamic?
I think our live shows have a lot of energy. We never play a show without sweating buckets, we always get off the stage feeling winded. We have been described as raw – I like that description a lot because it really neatly sums up how much effort we put into propelling each song.
What venues or areas do you like to play in and why?
Almost anywhere in Toronto is an amazing experience to play. Anything from the Horseshoe to someone’s small grungy basement. Toronto has an amazing selection of alternative spaces which can make that special occasion that much more special.
What’s it like to be a musician in Toronto? How do you draw from the scene?
Being a musician in Toronto is amazing. There are so many good bands in this city to feed off of and play shows with. Starting a new band here after playing for many years in other bands made it easy to get shows and build from there.
You named your band after a random girl you saw walking down the street. Does city imagery or attitude often affect your work?
Definitely. We are both very visual people. Always looking. Noticing the smaller details.
Where do you want to take this band? Carmen, you’ve said how you’ve taken yourself into new territory as a musician by getting louder, so what else would you like to do?
I would like to take this band as far as possible. I want to refine the songs and write many more. I would like lots of people to hear this music and I’d like to play shows with other fantastic musicians. I see possibilities in this band like a mechanic does in the rusted shell of a restorable car; I can see us polishing and adjusting it until it runs beautifully.
Is there anything else we should know about Army Girls?
We will be putting together a new photo blog next month with our new camera from Lomography in Toronto. We are very excited for that!
Follow Army Girls on their official site here.