CELEBRATION with SQUARE ROOT OF MARGARET at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Monday (November 26), 8:30 pm. $10.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
As she navigates through the streets of Seattle, Katrina Ford sounds low-spirited, even a bit fed up. It could be because before our conversation she'd had a bad Washington state border-crossing experience and is now in the process of reclaiming merch she was forced to leave behind before entering British Columbia.
Or it might have something to do with my mentioning the comparisons dogging her Baltimore-based band, Celebration, since their new joint, The Modern Tribe (4AD), dropped.
Scribes have unfailingly likened the female-led trio to Brooklyn biggies the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. The latter resemblance stems from TVOTR guitarist David Sitek's extensive involvement with the band, from producing/playing on both their records and bringing in most of his TV mates to contribute, all the way to shooting their publicity photos.
Ford says she knew working so closely with Sitek would invite comparisons but underestimated their extent. "Too much," she says wearily. "I think people aren't really giving us a chance. I'm sad that working with people we love and who love us has gotten in the way of understanding where we're coming from or seeing what we do." Ford's unusual vocal7 register ought to avoid Karen O associations, although Celebration did bring in YYY axeman Nick Zinner to play on the song Evergreen. But whether or not Ford wants to admit it, the TVOTR parallels do have merit.
Sean Antanaitis's Hammond organ, used as bedrock for Celebration songs, creates a heavy atmosphere that hovers over David Bergander's erratic rhythms, producing an overall sonic vibe that's not unlike TV's New York art rock style.
But after repeated listens to the psychedelically tweaked Modern Tribe album, I find Celebration do manage to sculpt their own identity. It's an adventurous effort on which songs are framed in a Doors-like way around organ or drums rather than guitar hooks. And Ford's unpredictable melodic path is unique, a triumph that Sitek played a vital part in coaxing out of her, she insists.
"We trust his ears, how he mixes," she says. "He's known us for so long that he can push us to be our best in a way that people who don't know you that well can't, and won't, because they don't want to get that involved. You can't pay for that."
Unlike their self-titled debut, which Sitek also helmed, Tribe is bigger and more cinematic. Celebration made a concerted effort not to be held back by concerns about what the trio could reproduce at live shows.
"We were too cautious on the first record, and the music suffered, " she says. "We have a lot more to say than the three of us have limbs to create.
"We like the balance of three of us in the band, because we have a good working relationship, but we didn't let it hold us back this time. And because of that, in order to do it live we've taken on another person, helping us realize the music we wrote. It's just the next step for us."
If they judge Celebration by the company they keep, critics should soon have a field day with the friendship Ford built on a project they recently worked on.
"We just went to Louisiana to work on Scarlett's Johansson's record, " says Ford about the A-list actor's upcoming stab at indie rock.
"David and I came down to visit. We were drinking margaritas with Scarlett by the pool. She's really down-home, making us margaritas and food. She's so cool, and [her album] is amazing. People are going to freak!"
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Katrina Ford talking about Brooklyn
Writing organ-based songs...
On the band's love for nature!