Twist Is the Band That's Giving Toronto the Musical Exorcism It Deserves
Dismantling societal norms, one t-shirt or guitar riff at a time.
All images courtesy Daily Vice
For our interview, Twist’s lead singer and guitarist Laura Hermiston wears a decidedly assertive and sharp “Fuck The Patriarchy” tee she made herself. The scrawl on the crisp white shirt is jagged; a homemade brazen point that feels obvious but somehow always needs to be said. Hermiston—with lilac coloured hair and a polite, bright, and airy temperament—smiles broadly and proudly says of the shirt, “I was going to wear it in a video but I decided not to. I didn’t want to be like, “‘Premiere my video! But fuck you!’” Laughing, she continues, “My mom saw it on Facebook and was like, ‘I don’t like that.’ She doesn’t understand it, she thinks I’m saying fuck you to my dad and brothers or something. Once I told her about it she was like, ‘oh, alright. You’re so sassy.’”
Hermiston’s Toronto-based band is readying Spectral, the debut record out Aug. 26 via Toronto’s Buzz Records. The music scene in Toronto, while diverse and evolving, has been positioned as either only producing hip-hop or noise. Twist seems fresh and new in that regard; playing dreamy and beach post-punk guitar rock full of nuanced, coming age wisdoms. The 27 year-old musician and songwriter has been performing in Twist for about three years now but she’s been in the tight-knit rock scene for almost nine years. A musical life was almost predestined for her. “My mom married two musicians and with that came everyone in my family became a musician,” she says. “My dad has made a living writing and being part of music writing music for TV. He is the most talented man. I could never write scores for symphonies and he can just do that. Everyone in my family does for a living. I’m the only one who does it and I don’t know, they look at me like, “what are you doing? Get out while you can.’” She began playing the violin and then the flute, the latter of which she was tutored by her neighbour, who was part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The grueling lessons Hermiston endured (“I almost fainted once because she was so intense.”) led her to pick up the guitar in high school.
Forming her first band BB Guns at the age of 19, it started out, she says, “with two other girls and then we added a drummer. It was super fun. One of the girls was already in a band that was doing pretty well in Toronto and she taught me a lot about little things about playing live. She was a lot like a mentor. We didn’t sign with anyone. It filtered out.” While in BB Guns she met Brian Borcherdt from Holy Fuck, who would become a producer and collaborator with Hermiston for Twist. Borcherdt helped establish a structure Hermiston hadn’t really had with her former band, which is to say one more work ethic based than a fun show to play with friends. When the project was initially picked up in the media, many credited Borcherdt as a partner and co-founder of the band, but that is something Hermiston is adamant isn’t true. He’s a collaborator, for sure; someone with whom Hermiston has developed an important writing relationship. “I started doing Twist because we had been working with Brian. He loved us he was our producer...but, like, Twist is me. I haven’t hung out with Brian in like a couple months. He’s awesome but it makes me feel very awkward like, “Brian, don’t think I’m telling people this.”
Spectral is comprised of glossy guitar rock-pop tracks. During the time Hermiston wrote most of the tracks, she was early 20s, listening to the Love and Rockets “No Big Deal” and the Jesus and Mary Chain, finding inspiration in industrial drum machines, simple vocals, and heavy guitars. The post-punk vibe she plays doesn’t feel too far off from Best Coast or early 2000s Strokes, if you swapped Julian Casablancas’ disinterested sounding vocals for Hermiston’s Debbie Harry-esque yelps. What we get on this record is a woman trying to find her place in the world, in a city like Toronto that can be especially brutal on youth. The city is a comfort and haven for innovative and creative (young) minds but it can turn you out and into someone with whom you’re not wholly comfortable. Dundas West, the neighbourhood where Hermiston lives and works—part-time at a vintage store called Chosen and a bar/venue called The Garrison—can be particularly indicative of that; a too often trendy climate where human connection isn’t necessarily held as something valuable. “People say Toronto is super nice but when I go to New York people will strike up a conversation with me. And they won’t here. Maybe it’s the bars I go to. I don’t know,” she says. “I think that at the time I was writing, I often felt very lonely. I was in my early 20s and I was like what am I doing with my life? Should I move? Maybe I’ll meet people there and it’ll be better.”
“Pavement”, the album’s opening track, has a “Hotline Bling” kind of intro before her stark guitar riff starts up, which Hermiston laughs at and says wasn’t intentional. “Actually, it makes sense. It’s a salsa beat. But I wrote it before him, so,” she says with a smirk. She wrote the song while in British Columbia, on a family friend’s property, where she worked for a summer training dogs. “I mean I’m not outdoorsy but I was wearing Dickie suit and riding an ATV and then anytime I wasn’t training [dogs], I was sitting in a cabin, writing. I had so much clarity,” she says. “My life at that time in the city felt so shitty. I just left a job. My contract ended, didn’t know what to do next, difficult time, like my living situation. And so ‘Pavement’ is really cheesy and optimistic, like I’m not going back to the way I used to think, kind of.” The album is a close self-examination—perhaps what every 20-something ought to go through—that reveals itself as a process in unlearning: learning how to unlearn our bad behaviours, to ourselves and others, is one of the most valuable traits. Closing track “Where To Lie” takes on a softer, less optimistic approach, a reversal of sorts to the album’s intro that gestures towards that. See the happiness and freedom on “Pavement” and how far the journey has been away from “Where To Lie.”
We swerve into talking about being a woman in music, ageism in music (and in life in general—dissecting Netflix’s Grace and Frankie and how much we want to be like Lily Tomlin’s Frankie) and how success looks and feels different for each person. Hermiston says she has never been at this level in her musical career and so there are a lot of firsts associated with that: debut record, touring, interviews, and such. When she was 19 in her first band, she recalls complaining to a fairly well-established musical friend that nothing was going as fast in her career as it should, to which she was fastidiously told to cool it; that things take time, whether we like it or not. She believes she’s lucky she hasn’t received any extreme ageist comments or felt the kind of harassment or belittling women have historically felt in music, something of which her peers haven’t so easily escaped. Reading that her voice is ethereal bothers her; feminizing descriptors to fit her simply because she is a woman.
Hermiston says the community, the female-identifying members in particular, are incredibly helpful to her as a musician. “It’s so supportive. It’s like people are sharing other people’s content and saying “you need to go to this” as opposed to feeling threatened and competitive and wanting to ruin other people’s careers because you think it’ll better your own career. I feel like there’s more female musicians. I just got a new female drummer two weeks ago and her name is Sara and I can’t believe how easy it was find a female drummer.” For Death to T.O., the annual Halloween cover band show, this past year, Hermiston played in an all-female Alanis Morrissette band along with some local familiars such as Robyn Phillips from Vallens and Simone TB from Fake Palms. “I’ve never had more fun. I was playing guitar and was like, ‘I just want to play guitar for a band, I don’t care.’ Jamming with those ladies felt so powerful. We should start a band this band would rule. All these smart minds who are powerful and are driven would do so well. It was such a positive experience.”
"Spectral" is defined as "ghostly, wraithlike, or otherworldly" and to have Twist’s debut titled as such is interesting, to say the least; it conjures up a spooky atmosphere. Toronto is full of ghosts; of lessons learned and ones to be learned. Twist, through Hermiston’s lyrics and guitar riffs, has been able to expound on that; Spectral, the album, is a projection but also caution. With her “Fuck the Patriarchy” tee on and forward-looking view, Hermiston is giving Toronto the exorcism it needs.
Sarah MacDonald is a staff writer for Noisey Canada. Follow her on Twitter.