HUCKLEBERRY FRIENDS as part of the LUYAS CD release party with the BLANKKET and katie stelmanis at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), tonight (Thursday, August 2). $6. 416-603-3090. Rating: NNNNN
It's hard to approach Toronto trio Huckleberry Friends without an air of suspicion.
An ominous art rock ensemble made up of three uncannily attractive, just-barely-legal girls (two of them sisters) who boast matching bangs, impeccable style and performing arts high school pedigrees, the Friends are the stuff scenester wet dreams are made of.
When you factor in the realization that Huckleberry Friends have managed to cleverly (and quickly) carve out their own niche in the hard-to-impress indie music/art crossover community anchored by acts like Creeping Nobodies and No Dynamics, you have to wonder what their secret is.
Were they genetically engineered to become the perfect poster band for those guerrilla Extermination Music Night excursions into abandoned Toronto? Are they a novelty act concocted by some sick Shaggs fan?
Nope. If Huckleberry Friends are hiding any secret, it's that they've actually been honing their fantastically moody, minimal percussive rock drone for longer than you'd think.
"Back in 2004, we wanted to do a cover song for our friend Slim Twig's birthday, but we couldn't really play our instruments at that point, and the parts seemed too hard," explains Siena DeCampo, trying to pinpoint the moment she and friends Hilary and Amanda Jane Crist became Huckleberry Friends. "So we decided to write a song instead. By December 2005, we'd released a split EP with Slim Twig."
Too young to get into club shows and too nervous to approach local bookers, the music-loving Friends didn't take the typical approach of Photoshopping fake IDs or sulking in their parents' basements till they got "discovered."
Instead, says DeCampo, they and pal Slim Twig tried to make their own all-ages scene.
"We'd put together shows with him and our friends Tropics at the Bain Community Centre, which was connected to the housing co-op where Slim Twig lived. It was so nice, because all our friends from high school and our families were incredibly supportive, and the other bands were - and still are - really good musicians."
Of course, that came after practising relentlessly and immersing themselves even further in trend-defying albums by Roxy Music, the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Bowie and especially Sonic Youth.
Impressively, the threesome didn't get sucked into aping cooler-than-thou, hype-created contemporary cult rock sensations (though they confess to an appreciation of indie pop one-minute wonders the Unicorns). With a foundation of such solid influences, it's not surprising that their haunting songs, built on layers of unaffected vocals, the slow heartbeat of heavy toms, wheezing organ and chilling expanses of space, sound so mature and creepily timeless.
DeCampo also credits producer/engineer Dale Morningstar, who recorded the Friends' latest EP and (barely a week ago) finished working with them on seven new tracks for an upcoming LP, with maintaining the integrity of their sound.
"We really clicked with him this last round of recording," she says softly. "We're on the same wavelength. Dale has this portable near the Island School where most of the recording and mixing takes place, and he built himself a shed beside it that has keyboards and amps and weird instruments. He has this film editor that we used as an amp, and it adds a great distorted quality.
"This time," she continues, "there were a few songs where I wanted to add extra effects, but he convinced us to listen to those tracks without the additions. Afterwards, Amanda and Hilary said they thought they sounded better, and I had to agree.
"I think because Dale's been doing this for so long, he thinks in terms of the future, like maybe those effects would sound good now, but they might not in a couple of months. It's a long-term goal thing. And because we have so much flexibility in the studio, we can make the songs sound really different from the live versions."
As for Huckleberry Friends' live performance, you might think their backgrounds in drama (DeCampo) and dance (both Crists) would lead to high levels of onstage confidence - especially since their shows feel so stylized and atmospheric.
Hilary insists it's the opposite.
"I guess we're all used to performing in front of people, but this is so different. It doesn't feel like a performance in the same way. It's scary!" she exclaims. "Or at least intimidating. People have always been really friendly and generous to us so far, but I still get so nervous!"
Music Clips from the Huckleberry Friends
Where The Ravens Fly