Crushing on Nightwood

Nightwood is a stylish musical trio from Montreal, whose newest album, Carte Marina, is heavily inspired by all things nautical and dreamy. Amber, Jeremy, and Erin will be playing a free show at Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern on January 19, 2010. Here we talk to the girls of Nightwood about the importance of shopping local, band uniforms, and the best-dressed musicians of all time.

You’ve done some interesting alterations to garments in some of your videos. How do you feel these works fit in with your music?

Amber: The videos were fairly simple to make. We’d set up my laptop in a corner with a time-lapse application to record us while we were making stuff. It’s a bit magical to watch them afterward – we’re still pretty new to tailoring and sewing and so it’s like an extra high-five at the end of a project! We enjoy the creative control that comes with almost every aspect of being an independent band: designing album cover artwork, promoting ourselves – the whole bit. So same goes with our clothes! I must admit that a lot of why we ended up tailoring our clothes is that we can’t always afford to buy new ones- we really put almost all of our disposable income into the band and so tailoring, making, or thrifting our wardrobes is practical.

Erin: It would appear we’re somewhat obsessed with process! I tend to keep little NW mementos (set lists, scraps of paper with lyrics or song ideas, recordings of early versions of songs, etc.) and we even time-lapsed the entire making of our record, which Amber set to the song Bright Girls of Summer for the album’s first music video. I’ve found the process of making art to be artful in itself and am grateful for all the documentation!

What role, if any, does feminism play in your wardrobe choices?

Amber: Choosing what to wear so that I can do the things I want to do in my life can be considered feminist, I think. I really appreciate when independent designers add pockets to their creations in case I need carry stuff in them to pull a MacGyver move to get out of a tricky spot. In the past I used to confuse the reasons why I would dress up for a performance, for example, thinking I had to dress myself up to be more easy on the eyes of others. It’s exciting to think of stage clothes as being separate from my regular wardrobe and somehow an extension of the songs we play. I think that when I own that, I’m asserting myself as a human being and artist, and that’s pretty feminist.

Erin: Yep. Good one, Ambs! Except I find pockets in my purse to be more useful…!

Tell us a little about the process of your wardrobe selections.

Amber: I’ve recently purged a whole bunch of clothes from my closet and kept only the garments that I wear regularly, have sentimental value or are just awesome! This makes getting dressed way more fun and collage-like with all my materials spread out in front of me. Most of my stuff was thrifted sometime in the past ten years or was handed down to me from my mom or step-mother or claimed at one of the many clothing exchanges my buds have hosted. I got my sewing machine a few years ago and that’s been pretty revolutionary for me!

Erin: It’s gotta feel right. An outfit can feel right last Friday, but today it’s totally wrong. That’s why we must tour with a little variety, and why it’s totally acceptable to shake out yesterday’s outfit, disregard the smell and pull it back on.

How do outfit changes affect your live performances?

Amber: Outfit changes definitely help me mentally prepare for the stage. After sitting in the back of the vehicle for hours, schlepping gear into the venue and then soundchecking, it’s a lovely way to transition into a performance. I like to wear dark tights, little black leather boots and short vintage or vintage-inspired dresses on stage with red lipstick and my hair pinned to the side…sort of a Jane Austen-meets-riot grrrl-meets-”Gothic Lolita” thing. I like looking ultra feminine and playing up my (somewhat) small stature which makes it so much more fun to make heavy guitar sounds and belt out weirdo mystical lyrics! I definitely think that playing music with other people is profoundly human and it’s a privilege to share that with others – so dressing up for a performance (for me) is also a sign of respect for those who show up to a rock venue late at night in the middle of January.

Erin: Sometimes I leave the outfit I’ve planned in the car and don’t change from soundcheck to performance and on nights like these that’s just how I’m most at ease. But other times there is definitely something freeing in changing before a show and allowing yourself to shed a bit of your everyday identity.

On your current tour, are you doing anything interesting with clothing to match the themes of your new album, Carta Marina?

Amber: We’re not sure! We’re considering dressing up as sailors to go with our watery, ocean-y, stormy record and I am harboring not-so-secret fantasies of shouting out “swab the decks,” “beer! starboard!” and the like. But we’ll see. A lot of the lyrics on Carta Marina are dream-inspired as well so I also kind of want to dress up in this crazy, lizard-y sequin dress with lots of black eye-liner to play the part of a scaly mystic! Ha!

Erin: I’m not trying to match the album’s theme so much as I am trying to match Amber’s enthusiasm! We usually call each other before shows to make sure our outfits make sense together, like we all used to in fifth grade. We dress differently and our tastes differ, but I think our looks compliment each other somehow. I like when Amber shops for me- she can get me to try on stuff I wouldn’t dream of pulling off the rack but that winds up looking pretty fabulous on!

Bands used to frequently dress in coordinating outfits, but the practice is much less common now. What do you think about uniforms vs. street clothes in performance?

Amber: I think that it’s such a different world in pop music nowadays – a performer’s wardrobe can signal so many different things: who is backing them financially, which demographic they’re trying to target, whether they want to appear styled or unstyled. Street clothes and street style is so easily coopted by different industries including the music industry that I sometimes think of that kind of thing as a type of uniform, for example, “singer song-writer garb.” So it’s complicated. However, I do appreciate when performers make an effort with their appearance, especially folks whose music and performance is about spectacle, for example Lady Gaga, Gwar and M.I.A. It’s just fun! On the indie level (touring bands in Canada), I also appreciate it when folks have fun with their appearance and make an effort to entertain, for example folks like Gobble Gobble or tUnE-yArDs.

Erin: I wouldn’t oppose a uniform!

Do you think shopping locally is important?

Amber: Montreal is such an amazingly creative place – a bustling island city! – with so much local talent that I don’t feel like I need to look elsewhere for shopping. Also, we’re all a bunch of artists so supporting one another across disciplines just makes sense – it’s about creative solidarity.

Erin: We love shopping at Lustre for show outfits & accessories. The designer Yasmine Wasfy is really friendly and is always open to altering stuff for us on short notice! Angie Johnson’s Norwegian Wood designs are staples on our blog and I even got to wear one of Angie’s Elastic Harnesses in some of our recent press photos! Good friend and neighbour Lara Kaluza is a professional thrifter and has started selling her own designs as well. We’ve been thrift shopping with this lady and we envy her skills! We’re also big fans of complexgeometries!

Top ten best-dressed musicians, from past or present?

Marianne Faithfull
Natasha Kahn (Bat For Lashes)
David Bowie
Kazu Makino (Blonde Redhead)
Betty Davis
Shirley Manson
PJ Harvey
Jimi Hendrix
Stevie Nicks

- Interview by Stephanie Fereiro
- Photography by Mike Rollo and Marilis Cardinal

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