New Fries Don't Believe In Torontopia
Two of the members of Toronto's No Wave-inspired band talk about not being musical, and being influenced by an old SNL performance.
Toronto is a complex and multicultural city where many differing viewpoints and perspectives can be simultaneously represented. Musically, it would be difficult to make that argument if you looked at where all the grant money goes. That landscape is littered with bands on the clean, poppy side of things as can be seen in this breakdown of FACTOR grants by Toronto blogger Paul Lawton. Where clean, poppy bands get attention and are able to play bigger shows to larger audiences, some bands rail against that sound and create something challenging for themselves and for a community without much thought as to how it might be perceived. Their goals are different. There are a slew of great bands making exciting sounds in Toronto right now (Beliefs, Petra Glynt, Eucalyptus, Absolutely Free to name a few) and it’s still difficult to tell if they’ll receive the attention they deserve as the city and musical landscape continues to change. But for Toronto band New Fries, their goal isn’t create a sound, but a spirit.
We spoke with Anni Spadafora and Jenny Gitman, the singer/guitarist and drummer of New Fries, respectively, about the Toronto music community and the idea of ‘Torontopia’ came up. Torontopia was a movement in the early 2000s that threw then unknown bands like Broken Social Scene, Metric and Feist into the greater cultural conversation and made them into what would now be considered the establishment of Canadian music. Anni and Jenny had a problem with that framing of Toronto music, saying, “That community that Torontopia talks about forgets a lot of different communities. There’s not a homogenous scene here. There’s dozens of things happening. Like, stuff that you have no idea exists.” They’re more concerned with weird sounds, they said, and groups like Healing Power who focus directly on Toronto sounds of many differing varieties. Basically they’re into anything that is made with love and is challenging.
The community of sounds that come out of Toronto aren’t all they’re concerned about. They told me of their love of the dirty, grimey guitar sounds that come from Halifax bands like Long Long Long and the unwavering support of Montreal venues such as Drones Club. Without those communities happening nation wide, bands like their own might not exist, or have an audience outside Toronto. They continued to stress that it’s not about the sound, it’s about the spirit, and the spirit can be felt in the community.
New Fries also includes Tim Fagan on bass, formerly from now defunct weirdo punk bands Induced Labour and Rattail. Together, New Fries are releasing an EP called Fresh Face Forward through Pleasence Records. It’s a quick, six song EP that took them two years to record. When I asked them why it took so long, they told me that while they’re a band who are very comfortable in what they do, Tim is the only one who is a real musician, so it took some coaching on his part to figure out how to construct songs that they feel happy presenting to an audience.
Noisey: Anni told me New Fries is made up of musicians and non-musicians. Who in your band is a non-musician?
Anni Spadafora: Tim is the musician. Jenny and I are non-musicians.
Jenny Gitman: I was 100% not a musician when I started.
Spadafora: I was like 18% when I started.
Gitman: I’m currently 5%.
So what makes you a non-musician?
Spadafora: Not being formally trained and never practicing and also not being able to imagine a sound and just be able to make it. Like, to be able to say, ‘I want to make that sound! I’m hearing that sound in my brain!’ but not having that language. So often what we make is, at least for Jenny and I, it’s a lot of chance. But Tim definitely knows how to construct a song.
Gitman: He knows how to bring something out of us. Otherwise there would be no confidence. He’ll be like, ‘Yes! Keep doing that!’ And that’s how it all came together.
Spadafora: For sure. He would give us affirmation. Like, we were shocked that he wanted to do this with us and we’ve always loved everything he’s ever done. Not to put that on him, but the dynamic is really good in terms of making the songs.
So the sound you have now, how close is it to the sound you want to have?
Gitman: I think it’s 100%. There was nothing we were aiming for so it’s turning out well and that’s the best we can hope for.
Spadafora: It’s not what I would have imagined us playing but also it’s what I like to hear live. Like, I’m really glad this is what we’re doing because I’d be bored otherwise. It’s so much fucking fun. And it’s crazy to me to see people play and they look bored. Like, this is the best thing! How are you not having the best time? For us it’s always new and also terrifying and super-vulnerable because we don’t really know what we’re doing. We feed off that in really big ways. It’s less about the sound and more about the spirit.
I saw you guys play a couple weeks ago and I found it both challenging and captivating. Like, there were times where it was danceable and other times where it was difficult to figure out how you’re supposed to move. What are you trying to get from the audience when you play?
Gitman: We definitely want people to dance.
Spadafora: We don’t think about those things at all. There’s not a ton of intentionality. It’s a non-stop shot in the dark. Like, for sure we want a heavy rhythm section. We want really sexy drums and sexy bass and a chaos for sure.
I find your songs draw from New York No Wave. You’re both joyful people where No Wave is a nihilistic art form. So where does that influence come from?
Spadafora: I’m obsessed with No Wave. It’s one of my favourite moments in terms of music based on not giving a fuck about musicianship, relying on chance. Also this sound really relies on a rhythm section, like, it’s super sexy music and really dark. I love that spirit of just doing it more than any other kinds of music that came out of that spirit. The No Wave stuff has always been my favourite sonically. And Jenny loves ESG. It’s her #1.
Gitman: That’s why I learned drums. I just wanted to learn those beats.
You also mentioned to me before that you all responded strongly toward the SNL performance of "Dance This Mess Around" by the B-52s. Anni said there was a yearning toward something after you all saw it. What is that collective yearning?
Spadafora: Jenny, do you remember that moment? We were in my bedroom, we were so wasted. I had never seen this video, like I love the B-52s’ pop hits but I had never heard this song or seen this video. Jenny put it on, there was a bit of silence, I started crying. It’s just so fucking simple and grabbing in ways that is electric.
Gitman: And it looks like fun.
Spadafora: It looks like so much fun! They’re having the best time! And also you feel something that words can’t do justice. Like, they got it. They did it. And it’s super simple and it’s dancey but it’s also really fucking weird. There’s a strangeness to it that feels really mighty.
Gitman: It didn’t feel that powerful until I watched it with you guys but we were just honing in on it. It was great.
Spadafora: It’s that attitude. It’s that not giving a fuck and just being really performative but in this way that’s playful but also stern. It’s all the best parts of everything we love. But it’s super funny. It’s like, they’re taking themselves seriously while he’s playing that toy piano which is not the best gag but it’s just part of it. All those strands are perfect.
Lastly, I have to ask: Where did the name New Fries come from?
Spadafora: We started with other band names but couldn’t settle. First we were Roseanne then we were Boing Voyage. But then we were driving from practice and drove past the Burger King at King and Dufferin and the sign was mangled and it said New Fries and someone said it out loud and we were all like, ‘Yeah!’
Brad Casey doesn't eat old fries - @BradCaseysFace