Indie girl bands may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Nunavut, but thanks to Scary Bear Soundtrack, that might change. Originally formed in Ottawa, the synth-pop duo of Gloria Guns (who is Korean-Canadian) and Christine Aye (who is originally from Burma) brought their 80s-inspired sound to Cambridge Bay two years ago (Gloria even wrote a Cambridge Bay travel guide for Finding True North). With the release The Longest Night, their second album and a joint project with Ontario-based artist Avid Napper, Scary Bear Soundtrack continues to dish out their sparkly-pop sound with more than a hint of Northern inspiration. I sat down with Gloria and Christine (via phone, from Iqaluit to Cambridge Bay) to talk music, bandwidth, and...free boots?
All photos of Scary Bear Soundtrack courtesy of Denise Lebleu Images.
ANUBHA: Your sound has been compared to bands like the Postal Service and Stars; how would you describe your music?
Gloria:Oh actually that’s flattering to be compared to those two bands, because we like both of those bands a lot. We’ve been describing ourselves as indie-synth-pop. Synth pop was a musical genre that was really big in the 80’s and has made a huge resurgence in the last couple of years again. It heavily features synthesizers and it has a catchy pop feel to it with a lot of catchy riffs.
You recorded the Longest Night in an unconventional way. Tell us how you accomplished this cross-Canada recording.
Gloria:The whole album was written in a long-distance way. Our musical partner, Avid Napper (aka Charles Lynch), would send us little synth loops by email and then we would take that and we would turn it into a longer song, add maybe some guitar parts to it and some drums to it and some lyrics. Then we would send it back to Charles [in Ontario], and then Charles would add his vocals to it and some of his comments. So it was a lot of back and forth over email. It got to be kind of expensive, in the sense that I kept blowing through my bandwidth, but I think it’s worth it.
That brings me to my next question: How do you think living in Nunavut has influenced your musical style?
Gloria:We don’t have a live drummer most of the time, so a lot of the music has to be written with drum samples written on the computer, a lot more synthesizers written on the computer. So basically a lot of it is electronic. We like the electronic sound, but it also is out of necessity because we don’t have access to live a drummer and also we don’t have access to a recording studio here in Nunavut, so we have to record it ourselves.
The new album touches on a number of dark, serious issues, like sexual violence and suicide. What inspired you to write these songs?
Gloria: We’re both happily married. A lot of songs on the radio are love songs, and I’m not saying that love songs aren’t important, but I like to write about things that I feel the most strongly about. And I’m not feeling heartbroken or jealous and all those emotions that a lot of people write about. The strong feelings I feel are about the social issues that we see, especially in Nunavut. Music gives me a good outlet for that stuff. A lot of the social issues that I read about in the news or come across in my day job and in real life, that provides the source for the music that we write.
I'm thinking of the haunting lyrics of Fault Lines (which will be included on Scary Bear's next album) in particular, a song about sexual assault from the survivor's perspective.
Gloria: Fault Lines was an interesting one. Obviously sexual assault and sexual violence is an important issue, both from personal experiences and experiences with our friends and stuff in the news. I decided to write that song after the Steubenville incident. What really came out of those news stories was a dialogue society was having about sexual assault and rape culture. It was inspiring to see other women come out with their stories. It was when I started to see a lot of this stuff in the news that I decided, you know that? I’m going to start writing about this because it’s unfortunately something that a lot of women have experienced. And even if not every single woman has dealt with sexual assault, the reality is we all live at risk of sexual assault. Which is why we have the line in the song, “Every girl I know lives on a fault line;” every woman lives in fear of this happening. It was a really difficult song for me to write as well, because it’s such a heavy topic. Which is why we put a dance beat to it, because the song isn’t just about depressing people; it’s also about offering hope to survivors. It ends with “I’m going to learn to walk with these broken legs.” The point of the song is to give this message of hope.
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I really appreciated that you included links to support services in your blog post about Fault Lines.
Christine: The first time I heard Gloria play the song, it went to a really dark place. But it did end in a positive note. Bad things happen, but overcoming it and trying to get support is more important.
Gloria: We have made friends with musicians across Canada that we wouldn’t have met otherwise. And we’ve been played on radio shows across Canada and even in the States because of the publicity from CBC. Our most recent thing is that Blundstone offered an endorsement deal, where they’ll give us a free pair of boots if we let them offer our song as a free download at their stores with the purchase of a pair of boots. It also gave us the opportunity to help the rest of Canada be aware of this place called Nunavut, and hey, people live there and there are things that go on there, too.
What role, if any, does music have in the social voice of Nunavut?
Gloria: People love to dance here. Whenever I see live music being played, everybody hits the dance floor. They’re all jigging.
Christine: The Elders, they listen to older rock music, and they talk about Elvis. And then you look at the younger generations, and they listen to not only popular music from today, but because their families listen to older music, they listen to that music as well. I think it brings the generations together in that sense.
Gloria: I’d like to see more opportunities for young people in Nunavut to play music. Somebody should start a hip hop label in Nunavut, because the kids love that stuff, and it would give them an opportunity to express themselves in a healthy, non-criminal way, and it would be immensely popular, too.
Who are your favourite Nunavut songmakers?
Gloria: I’m a huge fan of The Jerry Cans. I’m a huge, huge fan of their sound.
Christine: I really like Tanya Tagaq, too. She’s also from Cambridge Bay.
Gloria: She’s my hero. If we could somehow get a show going, opening for her, it’d be my dream.
Christine: She was here last year and she performed at the community hall. Gloria and I were totally fangirling over her, but she’s from here, and she’s just like, I’m going to go visit and have bannock.
Gloria: There’s another artist that I’d love to see develop more, and that’s Nelson Tagoona. He does throat-boxing and he’s quite a talented musician. And his style of music is unique, so I’d love to see him get pretty big, too.