With SXSW’s seemingly endless lists of performers all incredible in their own right, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Mise en Scene, however, is one act you definitely do not want to miss. The Canadian quartet effortlessly combines beautiful, heartfelt lyrics with rock instrumentation, giving everyone something to enjoy. Their first full-length album, Desire’s Despair, involved producers Howard Redekopp (Tegan & Sara), Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire) and Tony Berg (Beck) and gave the band quite an entry onto the scene in 2012. Not only did it have a 16-week run on Canada’s Top 50 national charts, but it also received a 2014 Sirius XM Indies Award nomination. The foursome rode that success all over the world with performances in Barcelona, downtown Paris, Berlin and more.
Stefanie Blondal Johnson (vocals/guitar) and Jodi Dunlop (drums) first founded the Manitoba-based band after bonding in art school over painting. These days, they’ve added friends Corey D Hykawy and Dave Gagnon on bass and lead guitar, respectively. Bringing in the two new members to the group allowed room to create songs with more dimension and sounds, which even further enhances the experience of their on stage performances. Mise en Scene knows how to have fun at their own live shows, and according to Do512, their performances are “soaked with emotion.”
Just a few weeks ago, the team graced our ears with a new release courtesy of Light Organ Records. The song “Show Me You’re Real” is the first single off their upcoming sophomore album, Still Life On Fire and embodies the band’s signature marriage of garage pop and indie rock. Huffington Post calls their sound a combination of “’60s pop with strokes of garage rock” and hears a “beachy vibe, reminiscent of the Dum Dum Girls.” The new album will be released Summer 2017, but until then, fans can sink their teeth into the single as well as their performances at SXSW.
To get us all pumped up for their SXSW sets, we chatted with bassist Corey Hykawy about pre-show band rituals, emotional space and French fries. Check out the interview below.
Vinyl Mag: Tell me a little bit about your musical background.
Corey Hykawy: I played in a couple high school bands—nothing serious—and then I was living in Toronto after college, and I came back to Gimli [Manitoba] for a summer and ended up joining a friend’s band. I ended up staying in Gimli instead of moving back to Toronto and played in Winnipeg, played in a bunch of bands and then eventually joined Mise en Scene. That was about two and a half to three years ago now, and I’ve just been playing with them ever since.
VM: What made you want to jump on board with this band?
CH: I’d known the drummer, Jodi, since we were in high school. She had a high school band, and I remember being like, “if you ever need a bass player I’d love to play with you guys,” but it never worked out. And then I’d seen them play all over Winnipeg, we played shows together, and I always really enjoyed the music, I really liked the songs. They both have connections to Gimli, the small town we’re from, and we’re all just friends so it seemed like a good fit. So when they were looking for a bass player, I threw my name in there, and then it all worked out.
VM: What’s the dynamic like between the four of you?
CH: When we’re writing, it’s very collaborative. But we’re also pretty goofy people, so there’s lots of joking and lots of trash talking and stuff like that… a lot of back and forth joking around and wine-drinking.
VM: I’m sure that relationship makes being on stage together more fun.
CH: Yeah, we all get along so well as friends, and we spend a lot of time together whether we’re practicing or just hanging out. I think that helps a lot—just being close friends and being on stage, and you look over across the stage and you see a good friend, and it’s just like you’re there having fun. It doesn’t feel like work, doesn’t feel like any pressure or anything like that.
VM: You did some touring back in the Fall—what was the most fun part about that?
CH: That’s tough, because there are so many different parts of it that all come together. I love touring, but honestly one of my favorite parts is driving in the van from one city to the next and just talking about the show the night before, or talking about the show coming up that night and how we can make it better, or just listening to tunes on the road and talking. And that’s completely ignoring the whole side of playing while you’re on tour, which is also amazing and fun. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing.
VM: What about the most challenging part?
CH: Definitely learning what makes each other tick and when to give someone space and knowing how much emotional space you’re taking up as an individual. Just being aware of everyone’s state of mind…asking someone how they’re doing if they need it. I think it’s just learning to juggle the emotions of four passionate people in such tight quarters when things can be so manic–one day things are going so well, and then the next day you’re stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire.
VM: Do you have a favorite venue you’ve played?
CH: Since I’ve been in the band, we played one in Berlin called Privatclub, and we really liked that venue a lot. I think my favorite would be in Paris when we played the Mécanique Ondulatoire. It was this basement venue, and it looked like The Cavern [Club] that the Beatles used to play in. It had this brick wall, and it was just this really cool, small, dingy basement. It felt like a little punk bar or something like that.
VM: You’ve played a lot of festivals—do you prefer those over more traditional gigs?
CH: We really like playing festivals, because we’re all music fans as well, so you get the best side of music with that. You have your set in the afternoon or evening, and then you have the whole day to watch other bands. Being anywhere where it’s sunny outside in the summer watching music is just the best thing ever.
VM: Do you have any pre-show band rituals?
CH: Not really; we just kind of look at each other. I always try to make eye contact with everyone and give them a little wink or something like that, or just a wink and a smile to let them know like, “hey, let’s do this.” Just hugs and things like that, some high fives, nothing too crazy.
VM: As a performer, what’s your personal mindset when you step on stage?
CH: I don’t really think that much about it, because when I was younger, I kind of got stage fright, so I tried to not acknowledge the fact that I was in front of people. So I guess my approach is just like, we’re in the jam space having fun and not in front of a hundred or two hundred people.
VM: You recently released the single “Show Me You’re Real” off the upcoming album. How does it reflect the rest of the record?
CH: That song is almost the best summation for the album in the sense that it’s a very dynamic song–it’s loud, it’s quiet, it’s fast, it’s slow. I think that that’s a big part of the album. I didn’t write the lyrics, but Stef’s lyrics on the album, that song sums up what she’s going for in all the other songs. It really takes everything and puts it together.
VM: What was the creative process like in making that song?
CH: In the studio when we’re trying out different instruments and different parts, when we have the bass track and the drums down and we’re just messing around with guitar and vocal ideas, that was a lot of fun. The writing process for it was pretty quick. It was one of those songs where they had it written when I joined the band, and then I came in and we didn’t agonize over anything; it just kind of came together. All the parts just naturally fit into place. I find when I’m writing a song that the first thing I play is always the best. I’ll try different ideas or different parts, but it always comes back to that first idea that you play naturally because it’s almost just a reaction to what you’re hearing.
VM: So, for South by Southwest, what shows are you guys playing?
CH: We’re doing the Halifax Pop Explosion showcase at the Swan Dive Patio on March 16. I think that’s also Canada House, which it’s always awesome being around other Canadian bands. And then we’re at Esther’s Follies on March 18 for a showcase.
VM: If a new listener sees your band name on the schedule, how would you sum up what they’re going to hear?
CH: They’re going to hear loud, jangly guitars, some distortion, some reverb. They’re going to hear some sultry vocals from Stef, some infectious melodies coming out of the guitar, and a driving rhythm section with Jodi and I. Just an all around fun time–we try and have as much fun as possible!
VM: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
CH: It’s insane how many bands are there, it blows my mind. Every year that we go, I’ll go through all the bands that are playing and scroll through, and then either based on a town that they’re from or a genre or the name, I’ll just randomly click on the band and listen to a song. I was doing that this year and found this band called Aero Flynn from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I listened to their record and it blew me away. So, I’m really excited to see them. Eric Slick, who’s the drummer from Dr. Dog, is releasing an album and he’s playing there. I really want to see him. He’s a fantastic drummer, and I’m not sure what to expect from his solo music.
VM: Now, our last question that we always have to ask is: do you prefer barbecue or tacos?
CH: I’m definitely a barbecue guy. You know, a burger on the barbecue prepared any way is never a disappointment for me—a burger is just the food for me. You put some fries next to it, and I’m the happiest guy ever. Jodi, our drummer, she and I both love, love French fries, and that’s probably our main meal on tour.