The Grimes protégée talks electronic music, boys, Montreal and sex addiction.
Words & Interview by Shirine Saad.
Caila Thompson-Hannant, 27, has played and toured with several bands – Shapes and Size, Miracle Fortress, Miracle Life. But she’s happiest recording and playing on her own. In her most recent reincarnation, she is Mozart’s Sister, singing moody tunes while messing with random samples on synthesizers. Her three-song EP, Deep Fear, is an expression of her ‘bedroom paranoia.’
So, there’s another Mozart’s Sister in Denver…
There are a lot of bands and we all live in the same world. These things happen collectively, it’s the same thing that happens in fashion.
When did you get into music?
I have always been a singer. I was probably singing before I could speak. I studied vocals, and took violin lessons and guitar lessons when I was younger. I always did choir and stuff. But that doesn’t translate into pop music I guess. So for this project I guess it started with getting a computer. First I started playing with bands that were more conscious, it was just being rebellious against mainstream culture. But it almost became too conscious. I started making pop because I wanted to involve the body and not the head as much. I got into dancing and thought it was cool. I turned 22 or whatever, and got tired of being angsty.
You’re from British Columbia. Did you study in Montreal?
I went to university for a year. Took a mishmash of classes like history and film studies. If I was going to go back now I’d just study philosophy. After a year I just thought, This sucks. We were touring with Shapes and Sizes; I was doing the songwriting and guitar. We were from a little town on the west coast. It helped me build a lot of confidence in the world.
Why did you move to Montreal?
I moved to Montreal 5 years ago because one of my band members lived here. Montreal was always the best place and everyone knew it. My dad brought me here at 16 and I thought it was the most radical, sex crazed place ever. It was in Canada but so different, awesome, gritty and dirty— I always wanted to move here. I played in a few bands for a couple of years. Been just doing music. Got a few crappy jobs and studied French.
How did Mozart’s Sister start?
In late 2010, I got a computer – I hadn’t had one before then. You kind of need technology unless you’re in an a capella group. Then it became a real thing. To do things by yourself in a place that’s not completely saturated with other influences is incredible. I’m a bit of a loner and all the bands I’ve been with are completely guys, and everywhere you go is like dudes in rock bands. I was like, “Fuck I’m the only girl, I don’t even play any instrument that well.” I went into the studio and there was so much pressure. Making music on my own is a way of not self-destructing and feeling like an alien. I’ve always been intimidated by men. There aren’t very many girls that can help you with recording, engineering or mastering.
So you bought a computer.
A lot of people are doing their own thing because they have a creative drive, and you can safely explore that and create a diversity of sounds. I use synthesizers and samples and drum samples, I’ll create drum samples from a vocal recording. I have a crappy mic and like, [I'll] clap into it. Like straight off the internet drum samples. I used a Juno when I was 6 and a Nord Lead Synth digital synth; I really like it. And then using my voice, sampling it, speeding it up.
I noticed that there’s a big comeback of electronic music, especially in Montreal.
People my age grew up listening to electronic music, Björk, trip hop, deep forest and shit. There’s a lot of that infiltrated into us. Only fairly recently has it been super easy to do our own recordings. It’s only been accepted recently that a digital low fi DIY sound is ok. It’s ok [now] to have this collagy sound that’s not so professional.
What do you sing about?
When I started it, I really wanted it to be upbeat for the most part. But I’m never going to sing lyrics that don’t make sense to me and I’ve always had a bit of hyper confrontational energy in me which I try to not bring out. But it does come out in my music and I wanted to embrace that. It shows in my lyrics and just the way I sing. It took me a long time to sing softly, and about sex and relationships. It’s a huge part of life, so why not? There’s a lot of energy and emotion in romantic relationships. A lot of my songs are about that. “Don’t Leave It To Me” is about feeling tied to somebody through sex and being really destructive to my spirit. I actually took the idea from a Magnetic Fields’ song. It’s about coming to terms with the fact that there’s suffering in life. Now, I’m working on my first album. We’ll try to find a record label. Compared to the stuff that’s already out there it’s gonna be a lot more heavy, rich sounding because I’ve learned how to use my technology. You’re going to hear the production side of it. It’s less DIY.
Are you associated with Arbutus Records, where Grimes and Tops were born?
They’re my friends. I’ve played with Claire [Boucher, of Grimes] and Tops, and we’re all in it together and have helped each other out. And Claire’s been such a huge supporter of me… I know I’m going to have to cope with a lot of comparisons but to me it’s so narrow-minded because it’s so different. I’m totally prepared for that. I don’t feel like it’s going to be a big deal. I think it’s just another thing that Montreal is producing because it’s such a lively, transient city. It makes sense to me.
Want to hear and see more from Montreal? Check out MTV Iggy’s exclusive report on Montreal’s music scene here.