Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Diskettes: An interview and retrospective

Emily, David, and Maggie: The Diskettes

A lot of twee and indiepop groups had that naive, ramshackle sound that I love, but few of them could write melodies like the Diskettes did. 

If Beat Happening had existed in 1960, they might have sounded like the Diskettes. The Diskettes were cute and sweet but also wrote really durable songs with sophisticated melodies and vocal arrangements. I never tire of listening to their songs. 

Formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Diskettes seemed to suddenly explode in the mid 2000s across indie CD-R and cassette compilations with their twee/folk/punk confections that, for me, were a perfect amalgam of my musical tastes. Sometimes when I listened to the Diskettes I felt like they were making this music just for me!

For the sake of being needlessly provocative, I'll rank the Diskettes far above their fellow Canadian artists Ian & Sylvia and Wilf Carter, somewhat above Gordon Lightfoot and Bobby Curtola, and neck-and-neck with Hank Snow. I know that seems extreme, especially in view of Carter and Snow's decades-long recording careers, but I have to go with my heart. If we go by my iPod, then the Diskettes win by a mile. 

Music Weird interviewed former Diskette David Barclay on March 11, 2014. 

Can you help to untangle the chronology of some of your other projects and their relationship to the Diskettes?

The Diskettes were actually started in 2000, when Emily and I still lived in Victoria. We played one show—and therefore were a legit band by even the most demanding industry standard—opening for the Riff Randells at a community center with an audience that was mainly comprised of some sort of daycare and two of Emily's friends. 

By some amazing coincidence, both Emily and I moved to Montreal in September 2000 to attend different universities. During that time we played no music and put most of our efforts into adapting to university and adult life. Parka 3 started around then and played our first show in March, opening for Picastro and Tiger Saw, two bands that continue to this day!

The Diskettes started playing again after I wrote a song for a "bad teen poetry" night hosted by Olivia's 'zine Funtage at the Yellow Door. Leonard Cohen once played there. 

There is a rule that every time you mention the Yellow Door—Leonard Cohen used to play there—you must also mention that Leonard Cohen played there back in the day. 

I played the new song along with a song I wrote in high school for my solo band, the Yatchsmen [sic], about sailing, and a cover of the Halo Benders' "I Can't Believe It's True." I might have also covered Built to Spill's "Car."

After the resounding reception, I decided that the Diskettes should play and write a bunch of songs, which we did. The Diskettes and Parka 3 coexisted for a few years until John, the keyboardist and 98% of the group's musical talent, graduated a year early thanks to his International Baccalaureate transfer credits. 

At this point, New Jersey Greg joined, and the Parka 3 slowly morphed into La Guerre des Tuques (English translation: The Dog who Stopped the War) as Tim eventually graduated and moved back to his mom's house in Massachusetts. 

This group involved many friends, including Emily, and was a very pure expression of DIY and punk. At the same time, Maggie joined the Diskettes on the advice of JR from Ditch records in Victoria, BC, who said, "People like drums." 

We recorded a second album and toured and were pretty much as real as a band can be.

All of this stopped in 2005 when I decided to move to San Diego, California, to pursue a career studying noise. 

The Diskettes played twice more, when Emily visited, but we never managed to seriously continue the band, mostly due to geography and our growing accumulation of age, graduate degrees, and in Maggie's case, two beautiful children. 

I started La Guerre des Mitaines with my partner at the time and played a few poorly received shows. The main idea behind this band was that I would play keyboard instead of guitar, as I did in the Diskettes. Thanks to a horrible, inhumane, armageddon breakup, I changed the name of the band to the Endless Bummer. This was a dark time.

Thankfully, in 2012, I moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, where Coach Longlegs began, followed by the unfortunate news that I had a compelling professional reason to move again, this time to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

Cape Cod turned out to be intensely boring, so I finally carried out the long-running joke idea to start Tool Time—a power trio of Tim Allen on guitar, Al Boreland on bass, and Wilson on drums that play songs about Home Improvement over backing tracks that are constructed solely of samples from the Tool discography. 

Thanks to my enduring connection to St. John's, Coach Longlegs continues to play. Emily and I still hang out. I spend lots of time with Tim from Parka 3 who lives in Massachusetts, although not at his mom's house.

The Diskettes appeared on quite a few compilations. Did you feel like part of an international scene? Which other bands did you see as your kindred spirits back then?

I never felt part of an international scene, but always felt very invested in the Montreal scene and to some extent the wider Canadian music scene. I felt kindred spirits with bands who expressed their view of how and why to play music, more than anything. 

Playing with the Unicorns in Montreal; the Port City All Stars in St. John, New Brunswick, and the Barcelona Pavilion in Toronto; Collapsing Opposites in Vancouver; My Two Toms in Bristol, UK; all felt like meeting long-lost step-siblings to me.

Can you talk about your interest in '50s and early '60s pop? That seemed to figure pretty heavily into the Diskettes.

The Diskettes songs were always reaching for simplicity and minimalism, inspired by doo-wop, vocal music, and R&B. 

On the same note, my favorite album by my favorite band was the reissue of the yellow album by Beat Happening. 

In high school I played in a garage band and really liked '60s Pacific Northwest stuff as well as non-MGM/Boston-sound orchestral pop, so that really just made me learn to play the guitar and write songs in that certain way.

If you could choose someone from that era to record some of the Diskettes songs, who would it be?

I would have the Left Banke record "Museum" or the Wailers record one of the instrumental tracks.

What do you think about "twee" as a label?

I think I found it embarrassing more than anything. We had a Christmas song on a comp called Cwistmas Twee and I had a hard time putting it out on the merch table at shows. I wanted the Diskettes to be a punk band.

Did the Diskettes perform much outside of Canada? What do you remember as the peaks and valleys of the Diskettes experience?

We toured a bit in the US and did one European tour, which was definitely a peak of the band. 

Mostly the peaks were all the fun we had playing shows and recording. The valleys were probably the tiny fights about where to eat or when to stop to go to the bathroom or if we should do another vocal take or whatever dumb shit we thought mattered at the time. 

For me, getting asked if we wanted to put out an album with Blocks was a huge peak. My personal valley was when we showed up for a show in Winnipeg, touring east to west, and found out that there was an early show across the street featuring this band from Vancouver that I had been hearing so much about called P:ano, touring west to east. We went and saw them and they were as great as everyone told me, so after the show I told them that we were playing across the street and that they should come. They didn't come, hence feeding the monstrous musical and "coolness" insecurity that threatened to consume me. Also, getting a speeding ticket in North Dakota was a pretty big low.

Coach Longlegs is your current group. What's your approach with that band?

The component of the band that extends the most from the Diskettes is that Coach Longlegs is about being in a band. We want to be a band that inspires other people to feel like they can do what they want to do, try new things, not be afraid to do things because others might think they are bad at it. We want other people to start bands, build community, and have the fulfilling musical experience of loving some song by a friend's band instead of the hollow feeling that comes from clicking on the latest track by whoever from wherever on whatever label reviewed by whatever website.

Are the Diskettes gone forever? Any chance of more recordings or a reunion?

There has been a long-standing idea of doing a Diskettes album of lieder, but we've seriously been talking about it for 10 years, so don't hold your breath.



Weeknights at Island View Beach (Blocks Recording Club, 2005)
  • Get! Together! / Museum / 12345 / End Points / Jump Up / Party Girl / As It Happens / Elk Island Tundra / Cowichan Knit / Ss Dd / Ashcroft Deliver / Cabin by the Sea / Close Friends Go / Coastal Recordings

Split Tape with Port City All Stars (Pink Triforce/Yellow Mica, 2005)
  • Best Song on This Tape / Do What You Need to Do / Second Best Track on This Tape / Ride On / Another Non Music Part / My Chinchilla (Live on CKUT) / Baby's Fire / Sample Heaven / Suicide Is Painless / THE END

The Diskettes (Humblebee/Asaurus, 2007)
  • Come on Over / Art / Gossip / Bossa Nova Love / Pop Pop Beat / ABC's of Love / Gymnasium / Cardinals / Mr. Lee / Tradewinds / Girl with Sunglasses


Finally Something to Replace Bowling (Asaurus ASA013, 2002)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Art"

Zip-Locked and Loaded, Vol. 4 (Popgun 050, 2003) 
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Come on Over"

Cwistmas Twee (Total Gaylord TGR007, 2004)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Noel"

Hey! Where'd the Summer Go? (Humblebee HBR003, 2004)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Pop Pop Beat"

Good Grooming for Girls (Permafrost FROST 009, 2004)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Come on Over"

Our Hearts Beat Out of Tune (Yellow Mica YMR 021, 2005)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Museum"

How Bizarre: A Tribute to the 90's by Various Artists (Blod-Zine BLD005, 2005)
  • Includes the Diskettes' cover of "How Bizarre" by OMC

You Already Have Way Too Many CDRs (Asaurus, 200?)
  • Includes the Diskettes' cover of "How Bizarre" by OMC

Yay 4 Cuteness (Valiant Death VD-045, 2006)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Do What You Need to Do"

Starting Anew (WeePOP! POP!026, 2009)
  • Includes the Diskettes' "Do What You Need to Do"

No comments:

Post a Comment