Call & Response: Picastro

Baroque indie band Picastro have flown the Toronto flag worldwide for over ten years now. They have a very moody, introspective sound thanks to lead singer/songwriter Liz Hysen. Her haunting melodies stick with you long after the record ends and her thought-provoking lyrics leave you with lots of questions.

Picastro are signed to Polyvinyl Records - the very influential indie label that is home to breakthrough acts like Of Montreal, Architecture in Helsinki and Asobi Seksu. Their distinct, lo-fi recording approach is refreshing to hear and it reminds me of all the great lo-fi bands I loved in the 90's.

Their three full-lengths (2001's Red Your Blues, 2005's Metal Cares and last year's over-looked gem Whore Luck) have taken them across North America and Europe several times over - perhaps with the help of their high profile collaborators Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) and Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy.

But don't give those cats more credit than they deserve for Picastro's success. This has happened too often online and Liz would like to put an end to it. I spoke to her about the two huge misconceptions that surround her band among other things, including the effect of rain on produce.

Keep reading for the complete interview.

blogTO: Where does the name Picastro came from?

Liz Hysen: I just like the word. A friend and I came up with the name a long time ago and I knew right away that would be the name of the band.

How did the band form?

The band was inititally just myself and Stephanie Vittas, the first cellist. Then I met Kurt Newman and he added guitar and I liked how it worked. Then it kept expanding from there until what it is today.

Who/what are the band's main influences? I hear early Sonic Youth in there and your lo-fi recordings remind me of This Mortal Coil, The Microphones and some Eric's Trip. Are you fans of any of those bands?

I am huge Eric's Trip/Elevator/Rick White fan. I think I started the band before the Microphones actually existed. Other influences would definitely be Sonic Youth, Black Sabbath, early Smog. It changes over time though.

Your line-up has changed considerably over the years. Why?

Members get busy with school, jobs, or don't want to play in a band anymore. I still play music with Stephanie but for the most part the line-up is guitar, cello and drums. People are pretty much welcome to play when they have time, Evan played guitar on the last record so he has been on every single album.

Owen Pallett has played on your records but it seems that his involvement has caused some irritation in the band when people write about you. What's the story there?

A lot of people won't read the credits and assume Owen wrote every string part on the record. It's pretty hurtful to members of the band who worked hard and don't get any credit. Stephanie actually wrote the bulk of the string parts on the first two albums and she is never mentioned. The same with Rachel, even when I am listed as the violinist I don't get credit! For the last record, it was Owen for half and Nick and I for the other half.

Why do some people online think you're deaf?

It was in some early bio that I grew up in a deaf family and some people extrapolated that I was deaf. Just a game of telephone via the internet, seems to happen a lot.

One of my favourite Picastro songs is "Friend of Mine". Do a lot of people gravitate toward that song? Why do you think that is?

It's a great song I think! Very compact and melodically motivated. It's recorded in a cozy way too, I don't think it would have worked if it was in a studio and wasn't so stripped down.

Could you explain the lyric "you fuck like you want to be a friend of mine"?

Oh, I just started writing songs from the perspective of a guy for something new. I thought of it and laughed and thought it was pretty accurate. Just a way of saying someone is a shitty lover I guess.

Have you always lived in Toronto? What do you like best about living in Toronto? What do you like least?

I grew up in Mississauga and moved here when I was 18. I am 32 now. I love my friends here, the amazing food. It's pretty easy to live here cheaply which is what I like most. I wouldn't be able to move to New York and work constantly. I wish people here were friendlier and less predictable but that's about it. It's a pretty harmless city.

What did you think of all the rain we had this summer? Does weather inspire your songwriting at all?

Not really. Maybe snow more but mostly I just noticed the lack of tomatoes! Rain really messes with produce.

What can people expect to see/hear/feel at your September 11 show?

There are some new songs, it's our first show in Toronto in a year which is hilarious since we have played in Paris 3 times in the same time! It will be a fun show.

No Shame presents: Picastro
w/ Leif Vollebekk (Montreal/Ottawa), Luluc (Australia)
Thursday, September 11
Rancho Relaxo
300 College Street
Doors 9pm
$5 Cover

Call & Response is a series of weekly Q&A's with artists from or playing in Toronto. Photo: Trinh Kim Diep.

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