PICASTRO CD release with EVERYBODY GET SICK and PAMM at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, March 31). $5. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
While artists like George Michael and Prince are more than happy to bitch about how they've been screwed by their record labels, some musicians prefer to take the high road.
Take local mood rockers Picastro. Three years ago, the group landed a deal with Los Angeles-based Pehr Records. But, after the label issued the band's Red Your Blues disc, the relationship went south and Picastro were left without a home.
Still, band brain trust Liz Hysen is surprisingly tight-lipped about the whole affair.
"It just didn't work out," sighs Hysen, sitting in a Queen West café sipping red wine. "I wouldn't be on another label that was run by someone in a band."
So what happened anyway? Did the label steal some cash? Insist the band do a Fred Durst collab? Send the masters to Phil Collins for a little remix action? I keep pushing for answers, but Hysen keeps stonewalling.
"It was a bad experience," she says. "That's all I'll say."
Good thing there's plenty of other stuff to talk about - namely, the band's recent trip to SXSW, Hysen's film work (on the day of our meeting, in fact, she's fresh from a volunteer stint at a nearby film studio) and the band's new record, the 10-track Metal Cares.
Maybe she's not willing to dish because the band managed to land a new deal with Polyvinyl Records, the Champaign-based label responsible for indie idols like Rainer Maria, Ida and Of Montreal - a coup, to say the least.
"I actually didn't seek them out," says Hysen.
In fact, the relationship with Polyvinyl started when a part-time staffer at the label (Adam Austin) e-mailed Hysen and told her how much he dug the band's stuff. The pair became pen pals, and when Austin was promoted to a full-time position at Polyvinyl, he suggested Hysen send him some stuff.
"The evolution was nice," Hysen says. "Nothing was forced, and I got a good feeling from them. It was a little more natural."
Originally, the plan with Polyvinyl was to do a split with another band, but once the label heard the tapes, the label flipped and decided a full-length release was in order.
I can see why. Metal Cares is a captivating, haunting slice of discordant indie pop, filled with swelling string arrangements, off-kilter guitar-plucking and Hysen's detached drawl. File this one under heavy shit.
"I'm really conscious of how lyrics can throw something off," says Hysen. "If your lyrics are evil, then the song is evil."
"I hate irony in music," she continues. "I think it's a waste of time. You're either a musician or an entertainer - you can't be both. In my mind, either you want to appeal to everybody all the time or you're more interested in making music."
In fact, given the record's jarring detail and the dynamic intensity, much of it seems inspired by Hysen's obsession with hyperaesthesia, a rare sensory disorder (in her case of her hearing) whose sufferers become abnormally sensitive to stimuli. She's also working on a short black-and-white film on the subject.
"I think I have it, (because) certain frequencies will really set me off," she says. "Even guitars can sound offputting to me. I'm acutely aware of every noise that goes on around me 24 hours a day. I'm not a good sleeper."