Selected Artists

1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1984: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

Portrait of a ~pianogirl~: An Interview with Tessa Baskin

By Edwina MacFarlane

[From RockFile! magazine, June 2004. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.]

We spoke with Tessa Baskin, a.k.a. ~pianogirl~, in a recent phone interview on the eve of her upcoming tour to support her new record, Silent Motet, on her own Drowned Legend label.

Tessa Baskin, AKA ~pianogirl~ (Clubbo Records)Who do you consider your influences?

Well, Beethoven, of course. Liszt. Chopin. Paganini. Beyond that, I really take my influences from my surroundings. The rainbow shimmer of a drop of oil in a puddle — I can’t tell you how many songs have been inspired by that. The coolness of skin sliding through the folds of a satin dress. The paralyzing smell of despair wafting up from burnt toast. One of the songs on my first album was inspired by the clang of the dumpster lid behind Redpath Hall at McGill. Everything is an influence. And influences are everything.

Do you feel you’ve been at a career disadvantage because you don’t fit into the standard industry formats?

[Laughs.] Well, I should hope I don’t! I should hope my music is different and challenging and in between genres. Because what are genres anyway? They’re just labels that people put on things that they don’t know how to process. I hope people are so confused, so baffled, so mesmerized and maddened by the sound of my music that it transcends those labels. If you can describe my music in words, then I’m probably doing something wrong.

Tell me about your relationship with Nhoj Arpendahl. How did you meet?

At music camp, back when we were in high school.

You were high school sweethearts?

Well, we didn’t actually go to the same high school. A lot of people can’t believe this nowadays, since Razorflesh is seen as, like, the coolest band in the universe, but Nhoj was actually kind of geeky back then. He didn’t even own a sampler. He played bassoon. You know what a bassoon is, right?

Yes.

I’m just checking, because, well, most people in this business don’t know much about classical music. Anyway, you can’t play a bassoon and not look like a geek. It’s physically impossible. Nowadays people see the video of Nhoj in his butcher apron sawing synthesizers in half and bathing in their blood, and they can’t believe he’s actually really shy and insecure. [Laughs.] Oh shit — I’m going to be in so much trouble for saying this!

The two of you have never made music together. Do you think you’ll ever collaborate?

Maybe. I don’t know. It’s funny — you’d think that if you put the intense darkness of Nhoj’s music together with the passionate colours of my music — spell “colours” with a “u,” please — that you’d come up with something even greater than the sum of the parts. But when you put two people with so much passion and intensity together in a room, the passion and intensity start feeding back on themselves, and the fire goes out. So we’re still trying to figure out the best way to be creative together.

What should a song accomplish? Do different songs have different purposes?

Every song has the same purpose: to change you. To make you a different person than you were before you heard the song. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a change for the better. It can make you angrier or more depressed or more bored. Just so long as it makes a change. Change is good.

Speaking of change: You’ve been making records for 15 years. How come you still call yourself ~pianogirl~?

The name was always ironic. It was a slap back at the people who slapped me down for being a young female performer without much experience. I feel I’ve taken back the term “girl,” the same way I’ve taken back the term “piano.” I’ve made them mine by bringing them into my own context. I’ve stripped people of the power to use them as belittling words.

When you sit down to write a song, which do you work on first: the melody or the words?

By the time I actually sit down at the piano, most songs are completely written inside my head. The hardest part is making my fingers and mouth move fast enough to get it all down. That, plus making sure to stand back and not stem the flow or censor myself. The day I start having to edit and revise and over-think what I do is the day I give up music.

Tessa Baskin, AKA ~pianogirl~ (Clubbo Records)How involved are you in the recording and production process?

Intimately. It’s all me. Sure, I have engineers and other musicians playing on my records. This isn’t any kind of put-down to the people I use, because they’re all super-talented, but when we go into the studio, it’s like I’m playing them. They become my instrument. The piano has 88 keys, so it’s really like playing 88 little instruments at once. So if I add on a bass player and a drummer and a harpist and a couple of engineers and a producer, it’s really just like adding some extra notes to the keyboard.

Do you see yourself as part of the Medea Media Movement? Are you on the same artistic page as other eclectic female singer/songwriters like Raven MacIlwhane and Narcissa Nightfall?

I don’t know how many times I’m going to have to say this before people get it: I’m not a Goth! Just because I’m dramatic, that doesn’t make me a Goth. That’s so narrow! And I’m not some hippie-dippy, shit-ass Wicca woo-woo-woo woman either, okay? That being said, those guys are both really serious musicians, and they should be treated with respect.

What about branching out into visual art projects?

All music is visual. By definition! But I do think about working in other areas, because sometimes making CDs and videos is so limiting. I’ve explored film scoring, but it wasn’t a very satisfying experience because the director kept trying to dominate me with his ideas for the music. And from what I hear, that’s actually a pretty common situation. I guess I’m waiting for a new medium that has the impact of movies, but where the music comes first, and the visuals bend to accommodate the music.

Any advice for aspiring singer-songwriters?

Don’t let anyone ever tell you what to do.