Call & Response: Picastro

Moody, chamber pop band Picastro launch their new album tomorrow night at the Tranzac with Nadja. Become Secret is a somber collection of songs featuring lovely layers of piano, cello and droning guitars.

It's been exactly a year since I last spoke with bandleader Liz Hysen. She writes imaginative songs and plays with a solid rotating cast of musicians in the Toronto scene. The songwriting is, as usual, quite deep and I asked Liz about this, vinyl, and places she likes in Toronto.

blogTO: I read that Become Secret is about "the collapse of everything you know." How does the title and these new songs fit that description?

Liz Hysen: Ha! Not sure it is that drastic. The songs are all about wandering men, biblical ones; characters from books that sort of trade in their identity just to see what it's like. It's a good thing to be a a secret, not many people or things are anymore and it's important.

How did this album come together? How did you hook up with producer Greg Weeks?

Greg and I met maybe 10 years ago, way before he started the Espers. We had planned to do a split and so I went down to Philadelphia a couple of times over a two-year period to record his side and my side. Then nothing happened with it really so I decided to add some other songs that fit the mood thematically. From start to finish though it took a few years. The piano songs I recorded in Toronto with Jeff McMurrich more recently, in the past year.

Does the space you record in affect the way the songs come together?

It depends. For this record, all the songs were pretty much written before we recorded. Maybe some instruments get added in, but the structure doesn't change. If I can record at home, the songs definitely come together differently. They're usually weirder and looser.

Did your writing process change at all for these songs?

My writing seems to change based on the instrument I am playing. I think there were some gradual changes (like singing a lot more than I had in the past) but nothing too drastic.

It seems to me that there's more consistent instrumentation on this new album. Was this a more cohesive "band" album?

I don't think it's more cohesive than past albums, but the mood is definitely the same all the way through and I am not sure that's been the case for all the albums. In general I tend to think of instrumentation first and singing last but this time they were pretty much equal.

You're with Blocks Recording Club for this release. How did you hook up with them?

I asked Owen Pallett about them, I've been really into the bands they have been putting out and thought it would make sense. It's great to be on a label so close to home.

This Friday is the vinyl release party. Are you a vinyl lover? How do you feel about the death of the CD and the resurgence of vinyl?

I love analog anything but I am pretty new to vinyl, I must admit. It kind of makes sense that digital is becoming this whole other concept and vinyl is still alive. It's a physical thing as opposed to a file of sounds. I don't mind it but I do hope people keep buying music in general.

You're playing a festival in Spain this fall. What city? How does playing in Europe compare to playing over here for your band?

The city for the festival just changed, it's in Castellon now. It seems like the band does well in certain cities in general and it's just a lot easier to tour in a country that is into supporting artists and provided the basics like housing and feeding bands. It's great to play in North America but the infrastructure just isn't there. Plus, the drives can be very long. Neither is better really, it's just a new audience and there seems to be enough people into the music overseas.

What are your current favourite Toronto spots to eat/drink/be merry at?

I like Panacea on Bloor, near Markham. It's a vegan store with lots of good food. I like the Tranzac for drinks and fun and Nazareth for Ethiopian food. Wow, I think I only eat cheap food. Vietnamese subs on Spadina. Pho 88... there are some pho spots around me but I can't remember their names!!

Picastro Vinyl Album Release, w/ Nadja
Friday, September 11
292 Brunswick Ave
Doors: 8pm
Cover: $10

Call & Response is a series of Q&A's featuring bands from or playing in Toronto.

Photo: Lisa Kannakko. Video: "Hortur" from the album Whore Luck.

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