Toronto’s Picastro have garnered a lot of praise recently with the
release of their album ‘Red Your Blues’, a brooding album of cinematic
proportions where each song stands alone in its own right but, as with many
great albums before it, should really be experienced in its entirety.
album now released in the UK on the trailblazing label that is Monotreme and
with, hopefully, a European tour planned for the Autumn/Winter, we decided,
using the wonder of email, that it was time to crack the skull, apply the
suction and pick the brains of Picastro’s Liz Hysen.
Picastro's album 'Red Your Blues' has pretty much been swamped by a lot of
high acclaim. How much of a shock was the way the album has been received to
you and the rest of the band?
It's hard to tell if the album has been swamped with reviews more than say
another band with similar experience and exposure, especially when we live
so far away. As of right now, it’s been nice to get the reviews that we
have from a variety of sources. I think sometimes I am a little shocked but
how much a writer will "get" the band or the record. When they're bang on,
it can be a shock and when they're way off, it's pretty easy to tell.
in terms of 'getting' the record, what was it that you wanted to capture and
get across with this release?
The composition of the record is very deliberate; it's pretty passive in
tone in the beginning and then gets more aggressive. The arrangements of
the songs are pretty exacting and they are all more or less related to each
other. If someone "gets" it, it just means that they recognize the
wholeness of it. The orchestration of the songs usually throws people off
and they assume we're one of those sad string bands but the songs are
actually songs not jams. The vocals (especially on the album) are also not
meant to come from anyone in particular so the singer songwriter people get
confused. Generally though, the people who like it just like it and they
don't necessarily have to know why.
Comparisons seem to be made frequently between Picastro's sound and that of
such luminaries as Dirty three, Rachel’s or those Constellation Records lot.
Have these been pleasing comparisons for the band or do you find them
ultimately frustrating or perhaps even daunting?
Comparisons are always annoying but inevitable. I do it myself all the time
too. I notice the tendency in
is to compare the band to a female-persona type singer and the tendency in
Europe is to compare Picastro to other bands that use strings. I think I
own one Dirty Three Record and nothing by those other bands so it's funny.
I don't think anyone else in Picastro listens to that stuff either. I do
think our timing has a lot to do with it, the band and that record are
actually like 6 years old but it took forever for the record to come out and
there lots of problems around it so maybe it sounds like we were influenced
by other acts. The comparisons can be daunting but I am slowly learning not
to pay attention to them.
years old? So how come there was such a delay from the songs conception to
them eventually being released? Does this mean there’s also a back log of
loads more Picastro material we're yet to hear?
While the songs were being written and performed, there were lots of changes
in the band with people coming and going. This frustrated the recording
process for me because I never knew which version to use. Finally, we set
on something and made some adjustments so there might be overlap with
certain members. Then there were some label issues. A label in Europe was
supposed to put out the record two years ago but the guy that ran it
disappeared after we had signed the contract. Some of my friends were on
the label and recommended it so I hadn't considered that would happen.
Following this there were even more label problems that I don't want to get
into and...anyway Monotreme had intended to put out the album a year earlier
but there were complications. There is definitely a backlog of songs that
are almost done now and the line-up in the band is pretty steady at the
moment. The new record is just getting finished up.
You recently did a session for Radio 6 over here and then went of on a tour
US. How did these both go? Any new friendships
forged or lessons learnt?
They both went pretty well. We've toured a lot in the U.S. and this time I
finally felt like I knew how to tour properly and how to approach each show.
I met Kim at Monotreme finally which was great. Some nice folks pretty much
Pittsburgh, Baltimore...I love meeting new people. The England part was
kind of a blur. I did learn that Regis Philbin is not as well known in the
as he is in North America and that playing guitar on live radio on a polished metal
stool is really hard. Anyway, I almost fell off of it a bunch of times....
Who on earth is Regis Philbin? It sounds more like a condition than a
Regis Philbin is this American personality, he has a morning talk show and
yells a lot at old people in the audience. For a brief time he hosted a
show called "Who wants to be a millionaire" which I watched, mainly for
him. I think he has been in show business for a long time. Anyway, when I
was doing my undergraduate degree and wasn't at school or work I would watch
this morning show and got an unnatural fixation on him. It’s probably
better that you don't know who he is! It does sound diseas-ish.
He’s bound to be better than Chris Tarrant I suppose.
Chris Tarrant, huh?
Sorry Tarrant’s the chump who invented and hosts the British version of
following on from your touring in the
US, are we going to be graced with your presence
over here for a British / European tour?
We are definitely heading over there for a tour, it sort of depends on
people's schedules but very soon I hope, maybe in the winter. Sooner rather
then later though I hope.
how’s the music scene doing in
Toronto at the moment? How involved are you in the
stuff that goes on locally and what sort of an atmosphere does it have?
Toronto is really good right now. Lots of different kinds of music, lots of
good people. I don't actually collaborate with many folks here, mostly its
long distance stuff on my own or other people's music. The atmosphere here
is pretty clique-ish but I guess it’s like that anywhere. Generally though
I like it because it shifts around more now, you don't have to play garage
rock over and over again to get people to come out. People are pretty
receptive here to new stuff so it’s all good. I like putting on shows for
my friends here too from out of town but that can be hard. I think people
tend to like local stuff more here unless it is a fairly well known band, it
happens more and more these days.
remember reading in a magazine a while ago that one of the guys from Thee
More Shallows also worked as a gardener in order to fund his music. It
always intrigues me what people have to do in order to allow them to do what
they really love, whether that be art, music, etc. So I was wondering what
do you and the other members of Picastro do as well as being in Picastro? If
you have other responsibilities how hard do you find it balancing these with
the creative side?
Actually, a few of my musician friends garden as well. I work as an
archivist so I go through old papers and photos and architectural drawings
and stuff, Evan works as a cook and Zak works at a music store repairing
guitars. Owen isn't really working right now, he plays in a lot of bands
but I think he might be looking for work soon. Personally, I don't want to
do a job that has anything to do with music or anything creative because it
would detract from the enjoyment of it. I am one of those people that only
wants to work on stuff that I like so if I did play music for a living I am
sure I would have to do a lot of things I didn't want to just to compensate
for gaps or for money even. At times its hard to get a balance, I am never
sure that I know my instruments really well but for right now, I am happy to
do both things and spend as much time as I can touring and trying out other
things like making short films.
You make short films as well? Are these narrative based or do they follow a
more abstract train of thought? Do you do soundtracks for any of your own
films, or for that matter, anyone else’s?
Yes, I have started about three and am working on a new one now which I hope
to actually finish. The films are not really experimental but they're not
really narrative based either. They're pretty lose and usually deal with
something specific, they're not mood pieces or anything like that. I have
started a mockumentary too but that one needs some tweaking. So far, all my
films are silent but the sound on the one I am working on now is actually
more involved than the camera work so it will be interesting. I haven't had
much time to score other people's films until recently but I am starting to
get more into it now. It really depends on the film though, I don't think
all film needs music.
This is true but don’t let John Williams hear you say that, he can be a very
violent man when angered. One final question, I read on the Pehr records
website you have a love of ‘Dawson’s
Creek’. With its demise what has filled the void that I’m sure is now
present in your life? Is it ‘The OC’?
Well, films don't necessarily have to be narrative or accompanied by the
same swelling overtures when there is a touching moment. I think I only
watched that stuff while I was in university so I could procrastinate more.
I haven't seen the OC. But I do like TV. I watch a lot of cooking shows and
just bought season 2 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I also watch Freaks and Geeks
and the Office all on DVD. And Jeopardy, I like that show too.
information on Picastro go to