MIDNIGHT MOVIES with CLINIC and SONS AND DAUGHTERS at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (November 5). $15. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Left coast buzz band Midnight Movies - nominated by the L.A. Weekly as last year's best new artist - make spooky-good music that evokes soundtracks for late-night chillers at 60s drive-ins, Dr. Who reruns and campy Ed Wood flicks with teeny-weeny spaceships.
Mixing primal drumbeats, keening synths and psyched-out guitars with the bloodless nouveau-Nico vocal hum of drum-bashing singer Gena Olivier and bizarro impressionist narratives about floating blue babies, "strangling innocents" and the inevitability of death, the L.A. trio seem to be on a single-minded mission to freak out their fans.
You'd think Midnight Movies draw inspiration from, like, bat-eaters or gothy maggot fiends. Even Stephen King and campy slasher flicks would make sense. So it's a shocker when lyricist Olivier cites cites 60s folkies and, uh, Canada's Zen master.
"I adore Leonard Cohen," offers the chipper singer, who sounds about a billion times girlier than her zombie-bride singing voice would suggest, on the phone from a lunchtime stop in Eugene, Oregon. "I got turned on to him in high school. He's so passionate, and he says exactly what he wants to say and makes the music conform to that. And he's really philosophical, which is another ingredient in my thought process when I write - thinking about our place in the universe and afterlife and all that."
Well, the afterlife is sometimes creepy. Especially when it's populated by the undead. Just kidding. Olivier doesn't actually write about corpses.
In fact, although she recently immersed herself in Stephen King's On Writing while passing through Maine, the singer/drummer claims her songwriting process has changed since Midnight Movies formed two years ago, shifting from abstract meditations on metaphysical themes and obtuse stories about other people to first-person love songs that still sound a bit spooky.
The key may be the impressive cohesiveness of Midnight Movies' aesthetic. Both Olivier and guitarist Larry Schemel agree that the seamlessness of the band shocked its members, who met through the time-honoured tradition of want ads in the local paper. Neither can remember exactly what they wrote in their classifieds, but they claim they had no clue as to the high-concept direction their music would take.
"We knew we all wanted electronics and organic music, and we wanted to combine them with a female singer, and that was it," Olivier explains.
Although other musicians floated in and out of the mix, the crew only clicked after they brought Jason Hammons on board to play keys. The three-way vibe was so instantaneous that, loath to mess it up with an outside percussionist, Olivier put to use the drumming skills she'd picked up at age 13.
"As soon as the possibility of me on drums came up, the guys were so thrilled, cuz every time we brought in a fourth member it'd throw off the chemistry," she recalls, adding that they originally wrote their tunes as instrumentals, where she'd only sing during the "super-mellow" parts.
Luckily, Olivier - who used to show up at raves as part of a fire-dancing performance art troupe - was a quick study, since her chilling incantations are the blood-red cherry on the Midnight Movies sundae. They're a note-perfect Nico alloy. Her drumming has a weird heroin-hazed primordial quality that's totally reminiscent of Mo Tucker, but Olivier insists the Velvets played only a minor part in her musical development.
"I only discovered Nico about two years ago, but as soon as I heard her, there was a click. When I was working on projects and when I was younger, I'd always sing really high. I was a first soprano, and I was in musicals.
"Whenever I jammed - I hate that word, but let's use it," she continues, "I'd go straight to the high stuff. I only discovered the lower part of my range right before I started listening to Nico. It was so cool to hear her, cuz her voice was weird and kind of hard to listen to. I liked it for the same reason I like Björk - because it's just so her. It encouraged me to be less afraid of trying other parts of my voice."