THE LUYAS with PLACE HANDS and DJ SHORTSTACK as part of Wavelength at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), Sunday (April 29). Pwyc. www.wavelengthtoronto.com Rating: NNNNN
When Jessie Stein swears she's giving up everything except "touring, music and coffee," her future path seems like a no-brainer.
Why doesn't the guitar-playing vocalist/lyricist go on a Women & Songs-worthy tour of world cafés as a lady troubadour?
I can hear Stein, member of recently minted mysterious Montreal ensemble the Luyas, on the line from the Montreal, bite the bullet and shudder in mock horror.
"All this time I've been trying to get away from girl singer/songwriter bullshit cuz it bores me, but clearly I'm missing out on a niche market. I could live on caffeine!"
Stein's attraction to unconventional musical structures trumps any hope of her hitting the coffee house circuit.
And compared to the delightfully bittersweet indie pop she's concocted in the past with S.S. Cardiacs, Stein's new subtly sinister art rock distortions with the Luyas are a substantial step away from the typical singer/songwriter path.
The three-piece, which fell into place this past December after Stein and French horn innovator Pietro Amato consummated their "musical crushes" on each other's bands (he dug the Cardiacs; she was into his Torngat and Bell Orchestre work) with some kitchen party jams (très Montreal, non?). When someone randomly offered Amato a slot on a show bill, they decided to formalize the Luyas by welcoming Bell Orchestre drummer Stef Schneider into the fold.
Stein calls their music, which mixes her reedy vocals and echoing guitar with the fantastical textures created by Amato's effects-warped horn and Schneider's quietly complex percussion, "secretly evil."
"All the songs sound nice but break into chaotic weirdness all of a sudden, and Stef does stuff that most rock 'n' roll drummers don't even know about. And then," she sighs, "my tortured psyche comes out."
That tortured psyche takes the form of jarringly dark lyrics fixated on death, martyrdom and self-loathing. But Stein's writing isn't simplistically sad-bastard angsty. When you can make out her convoluted narratives, they have a morbidly pretty edge, in character for a songwriter who describes herself as "emotional and mushy."
Stein's affinity for romance and drama is another reason she's landed in Montreal (again) after a couple of years ricocheting between that city, Halifax and Toronto.
"Toronto was hard for me. I got caught up in the indie rock paparazzi element. I saw lots of bands and felt like I was part of this big community that challenged me constantly and made me feel inadequate quite often. I like it here because I don't feel the same mania I feel in Toronto. The pace is slower, people don't have to work as much and, at least in the anglo community, the music scene is integrated with other art forms. Montreal feels like more of a Renaissance city."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Jessie Stein talks about how the multitasking members of the Luyas juggle multi-band relationships.
Jessie explains the dark and twisty lyrical themes in the Luyas' songs.
Jessie talks about the differences between the Luyas and her other band(s).