Is Petra Glynt the next Grimes?
After quitting Dentata to focus on her visual art, Alexandra Mackenzie did anything but disappear from Toronto's music scene. Amidst screen printing, drawing, and painting - and being featured as part of the New York exhibit in support of Sisters in Spirit, "Grimes: Visual works by Claire Boucher + Friends" - Mackenzie created a solo effort she's named Petra Glynt, drawing from over a decade of voice studies and the influence of Toronto's thriving DIY noise scene.
You might have seen Mackenzie's visual work around Toronto: she designed promotional materials for Autoshare, and her drawings are currently featured in the main lobby of the Drake Hotel as part of their Dream Chasers exhibit. Now rightly described her work as "fantasy pages from the greatest 70s sci-fi colouring book that never was," but there's much more to Mackenzie's work than fantasy: within her strange, fluid pictures is imagery tied to issues such as the environment, indigenous rights, and identity: themes she continues to investigate in her music.
Mackenzie's band Wet Nurse are a rare but impressive live project, and I myself first saw Mackenzie's huge murals and meticulous line drawings and paintings at live shows hosted in her old studio space: the artist is neck deep in her connections to music in Toronto. Still, I was caught off guard to hear Petra Glynt's Bandcamp demos: Mackenzie can not only craft danceable, interesting, lo-fi psych sounds, but she has a strong and soulful voice, and a fierce perspective lyrically.
Petra Glynt is beginning to pop up live more often in Toronto this year, as Mackenzie hones her sound and prepares a debut album. I caught up with Mackenzie to talk about how her musical projects and work as a visual artist connect.
How would you describe Petra Glynt, and where did the project come from? How much does it tie in with your visual work?
Music has always been big in my life, but since deciding I couldn't commit to being in a full-on band while also trying to focus on visual work, I put together a solo-act. My music doesn't differ too greatly from my visual work, they are beginning to mesh together in concept and intent the more I give them equal time and focus.
The OCAD Student Gallery asked me to curate a music/art event at the Music Gallery back in September, so I took it as a chance to write some new music. I studied voice for 11 years as a kid and teenager, and have since played drums in bands and experimental projects. Somewhere along the way I've grown an interest in making danceable music with heavy beats and drums. With Petra Glynt, I wanted the option to really sing again, for real, or not. I also wanted to sing about meaningful things.
I'm sick of music that doesn't promote anything valuable, that prefers not to challenge things in music and also in the system/society we live in. Things like decolonization, deforestation, indigenous rights or workers rights but in the context of really celebratory, good vibes music. I feel that community gets lost in cities, and communities are groups that have the power to make change. There's too much hustling happening to get together sometimes, and sometimes music can be a very unifying thing.
The 4-track demos on your Bandcamp are rough, but full of feeling and technique. They remind me of some weirder Broadcast cuts, as well as Peaking Lights, but also feel new and unique which is pretty rare. Can you tell us about your song writing and recording process? What instruments are you using - I think I heard a horn or a sax at one point?
Thanks. I recently ordered that 4-track off Ebay, and those tracks are what's come out of it so far. Live, I use a floor tom, rack tom, sampler, and a mic through a loop pedal. That sax/horn sound you hear is a kazoo that I looped with reverb. I program the sampler with sounds I record by mic-ing drums, other percussion instruments, vocal loops, or misc. noise; there are also some keyboard and synth sounds in there. I jam with these things through effects, get real deep and lost, and collage the sounds I like into a composition. I drum to them and sing along, and they sort of come together this way.
I like having a simple live set up; it's important for me to not allow things to get too complicated in performance. Weird out-of body feelings and misc. technological blurps and hiccups can happen live, and I can become less tech-minded. I prefer to feel the music as opposed to handling too many objects. It also makes travelling with gear easier. Sound is the most infinite thing, so I'm open to learning and using different instruments as I go along.
Before I heard your Bandcamp demos, specifically "Sour Paradise," I had no idea you had such a strong voice. Its soul really caught me off guard. How did you first start singing, and who are some of your favorite vocalists?
I started when I was seven. I wanted to sing, so my parents found a teacher in Ottawa named Yoriko Tanno-Kimmons and I stayed with her until I was eighteen. I started out doing musical theatre and classical music, and ended up heavily studying operatic voice. That was my thing for a long time and Yoriko had a hard love approach that made me work hard. She challenged me to sing soprano, but I'm certain now that my range is strongest in the mid-tones. In terms of favourite vocalists, I have an appreciation for all kinds of singing. It doesn't need to be coated in velvet and silk, nor does it have to be technically good. I love the voices of the Baka pygmies in the African rainforest to Chloe from the no longer in circuit Montreal band, Aids Wolf. I like it when people make their voices their own. I'm also not one for favorites.
What does the name Petra Glynt mean?
Its derived from the the words Petro Glyph: rock carvings or drawings that go back thousands years, that often illustrate stories pertaining to the indigenous cultures at the time. They are all over Canada and the rest of the world. There is a Petroglyph park not too far away from here in Toronto. I went last summer and it was cool, but all the carvings were inside this big building that was erected over the site as a means to preserve it. I get why, but it wasn't the experience I was hoping for.
Petra Glynt is a spin on those words. Indigenous affairs are important to me and I feel that they should be for everyone. They lived here in harmony with the land for thousands of years before our colonial ancestors came, and we've managed to pollute and destroy an overwhelming number of land bases across North America and the world in a small fraction of that time. As civilization has grown, we've lost touch with the land, have become dependent on foreign resources and labour and don't know how to take care of ourselves if we had to - and we will have to at the rate we are going. I feel that we could learn a lot from the indigenous peoples and they deserve respect.
Petra Glynt then represents a way to illustrate and work through my thoughts around society and civilization as it changes, and disseminate resistance around some of the oppressive forces it's powered, while also promoting a respect for mother nature for her phenomenological beauty. Reality is really weird and psychedelic, let's not forget.
What musical projects are you focusing on right now - just Petra Glynt, or are there others too? Pachamama and Wet Nurse are two of my Toronto favourites.
Pachamama is another focus for sure - a duo project I do with my partner Brandon Valdivia. We just did some recording with Matt Smith at 6 Nassau in November, and have plans to go back into the studio and do a a couple more songs to hopefully complete a 10" for the summer. We also have a tape single coming out soon through Craft Singles, a DIY singles label from Halifax.
Wet Nurse was a music project between me and Rebecca Fin Simonetti, and it now more or less represents the instances where we come together and collaborate on anything, whether it's visual or music.
Your visual work would be a lot of musicians' dream cover artwork. Have you done many collaborations like this so far, and can you tell us about projects past and future related to art for music releases you've done?
I haven't done a whole lot of cover art to be honest, apart from my own music projects, but I'm totally down for these kind of collaborations with other artists. I started screenprinting for music reasons, though, making posters for gigs or shirts, and ended up majoring in printmaking at OCAD. Recently, I did give a drawing to my friend Airick of Doldrums for "She is the Wave" but there wasn't enough time to come up with anything new, so I grabbed one from a sketchbook. I also did a collage for Toronto's Healing Power Records: a tape for LA synth artist M. Geddes Gengras.
Let's get a bit personal: what led you to commit to being an artist? It's a hard life, and I know you've expressed a desire to be an environmental and human rights activist.
There's a lot about our society that's backwards. The whole thing is insane, which as an artist can be both alienating and inspiring at the same time. There are a few mighty money-bags out there that have the rest of us tethered to their needs. It's hard to find "work in your field" these days, as civilization grows beyond its boundaries of sustainability. It's easier for big companies and corporations to look to other parts of the world for cheap labour then look within their own communities.
This not only kills communities, but the workers are treated badly, the environment suffers from irresponsible manufacturing/whatever practices, the rich get richer, and now we live in a society of scarcity. I would rather fight as an artist, as myself, than fight to be apart of something I don't believe in.
I saw your work for Autoshare: how did that come about?
I was living with my bud Jeff Garcia and he recommended me for the gig. It was definitely one of the more fun design-type gigs I've done. Our job was to make art out of the parking signs, and we could be really open and free with them.
To me your work depicts mythology that seems to comment more on Western culture in general than on one nationality, but I think your work has a Canadian-ness: I see motifs of pine trees and mountains that feel very familiar, and you've used a Canadian bill as canvas. How does your work fit into your identity as a Canadian?
I don't really identify with any sort of nationalism or pride, but for sure the landscape of Canada has shaped me. As a kid, I grew up around a lot of nature and spent a lot of my time in it, so naturally it comes out in my work at times. The bill you saw is a twenty, where I drew on the Queen's face. It was a show poster for Toronto's Not the Wind Not the Flag, Fleshtone Aura, Wet Nurse, and Jax Deluca at the Tranzac. Brandon and I later submitted it to a Monarchy vs. Anarchy show in the east end.
What's coming up for you in 2013?
I will be doing a "residency" with Fin in February, and we plan on recording both of our projects during that time. I don't have plans as to how I will be releasing this first record - whether it's going to be a tape or LP, or if it's going to be with a label - but I do know that it's gonna be out for summer. During the residency, we'll begin planning a tour for the summer as well. The future is exciting. I'm hoping Petra Glynt can take me on some good trips. I'm looking forward to playing around Ontario and Montreal more. I'm also excited to play Electric Eclectics this year.
For art, I've been working on a new series of drawings; I took a few months off to write and work on music, but the winter months propel me into a good state for drawing, and I'm pretty inspired. I'm looking forward to a group drawing show in mid March at Narwhal, and some design and printing for music merch and some clothes I've been making. I'm excited for hanging and collaborating with friends, doing local events, and traveling.
Brandon Valdivia and I are working to put together a show in support of the Idle No More movement for the beginning of February. We're looking to get a bunch of artists and bands together and create a festival vibe out of an evening and night.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite Toronto band to see live? I get most excited about seeing my friends play. I don't have a fave.
Favourite Toronto record store? Local shows.
Favourite Toronto gallery? My friend's studios and living spaces.
Most anticipated Toronto music release in 2013? new Tenderness!