Talking Carl Jung and homemade costumes with Vancouver feminist fashion band MYTHS
Don’t let their screeching scare you; MYTHS are the sweethearts of Vancouver’s noise and experimental scene. Quinne Rodgers and Lief Hall comprise the dark electronic duo that mixes performance art with fashion and attack noise assaults with deconstructed pop stardom. For those who checked out the recent Grimes tour, you might recognize them as the beautiful creatures under sheets of opalescent plastic playing back-up for Ms. Boucher.
I first saw MYTHS play at a show in Meaford, Ontario a few years ago. They danced like pixies around a giant homemade prism in elaborate, mirror-covered outfits…with capes. Doused in an amplified rainbow of light, they poured waves of beautiful sound over the crowd and down into the valley of the farm we camped on. Needless to say, I was impressed. Fashion, noise music, and two strong women in one band? I left inspired and still remain nostalgic about that night. I knew I had to see them play again and had to talk to them about fashion, feminism, and their own personal mythologies for WORN.
What do you think the relationship between music and fashion is? Why do people care about what musicians wear?
Leif > My first thought when you say that is that people are always fascinated with the personality behind the creator of an artwork. What drives that creative force? Clothes and people’s personalities are really linked. It’s the way that you express who you are, what you’re into, what you like. People want to know: who is that person? How you dress says something about who you are.
Quinne > Humans are visual creatures. That’s largely how we communicate. Clothing is a language and a code. Being able to see a person and see what they’re wearing—it reads like a novel. I’ve heard other musicians complain about that before but it’s just how it is. You need to accept the visual as part of it; it’s what people are attracted to. It works for us because we’re both visual artists and we love clothes!
After I first saw you play I was left with this overwhelming sensation: I had just seen a mind-blowing performance that I sensed was inherently feminist. After reading up on your work, I wasn’t surprised to find that you cite feminism as an influence on your practice. What kinds of feminist politics drive your work?
Quinne > We were both discovering feminism as MYTHS was created. It was almost like a feminist book club when we were first starting. We read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and had these long discussions about it, and a result the first album was really influenced by this. When you first discover feminist thought you feel like the wool is being pulled off your eyes and we went through this together as friends and band mates.
Leif > It was our first real experience discovering feminism, and it was great that we also experienced this sudden empowerment because we were doing something creative and productive together. You hear about feminist thought in passing, but when you really start to get into these politics things change; it was an exciting time in that sense. Also, you get a lot of feelings coming up—reactionary feelings. These reactions really came out in our music. But we’re also very much interested in storytelling and fantasy and evoking imagery, so even though we were thinking about and wanted feminism to be a part of our work, we didn’t want it to be preachy—we don’t have the answers. We wanted the project to be evocative of these ideas. Our approach to it was to create stories, worlds, fantasy and poetry and let our views come out as something that wasn’t imposing. So in the way that you said you “sensed something,” that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to convey a message subconsciously or in a dreamlike landscape.
When you say reactionary anger I think about a video I’ve seen of you performing costume-less at Wyrd Festival in Edmonton.
Lief > There were three dates for that festival: Calgary, Edmonton, and, Lethbridge and we didn’t really wear costumes the whole time. If was our first out of town gig and we were just a little bit nervous, but we’ve come into our own with that. We did a photoshoot the other day that was a series of Vancouver bands and everyone wore the typical band uniform; causal day clothes, the usual. We decided to just go for it. I wore this frightening yellow ballgown with big ruffles and big flowers on my head. Quinne wore her wedding gown with similar flowers on her head. We decided to just say screw it and go with our own thing.
In the video I saw of that show your aggression seems to come across in a totally different way without the clothes.
Lief > I guess when you strip away the costumes it starts to show a little bit more of the real part of what we’re doing. We enter into fantasy in our work, and the costumes, sets, and visuals are all a part of that. The aggression is different in those settings, it takes on a different meaning. When you strip away all of the costuming you’re left with the rawness of the aggression.
Quinne > Have you ever seen videos of Leif’s old band, Mutators? You could really see the aggression in that band.
Are there characters you play when you perform in MYTHS?
Quinne > There’s the aspect of live shows and being a character, and there’s also the idea of actual reoccurring characters that come up in our work: like the woman with the long white hair. We did an electronic opera and a bunch of characters came out in that. Then there’s also the idea of live performance: how much we are ourselves and how much of it is characters. But it’s really important to us that we’re not some kind of version of something that isn’t ourselves, that we’re not “playing parts.”
Lief > I guess at the same time, every person has different elements of themselves that they can tap into. That was my experience when I was in the band Mutators. People would meet me offstage and be stunned as if it wasn’t the same person they had just seen get up on stage and perform. Sometimes you transform during a performance, you tap into a part of yourself you don’t usually access. We both like reading about mythology a lot: it’s a big part of what we write about, hence the name MYTHS. Carl Jung talks about personal mythologies, and more or less said that because we don’t believe in mythologies in the same way that we have historically, we create our own characterizations of ourselves and other people as these sort of mythic characters in our psyches. Within MYTHS I do think we tap into these parts of ourselves—it’s still us, but it’s a mythic characterizations of ourselves.
Who are your favourite fashion designers?
Quinne > Alexander Mcqueen. I cried at my desk at work when I found out he died. Nobody’s really come close for me since, until recently I discovered Iris van Herpen who is a dutch designer whose stuff is so amazing. Bjork has been wearing a bunch of her work. She’s really technical. She did cyborg, skeleton-like designs that were made with lasers. You put a bunch of material in a box and a laser will go in and solidify the material. It’s also not traditional material for clothing—that’s something I get excited about, when clothing is not just fabric draped on a body, and instead it’s a piece of architecture, an object—film, rocks, etc. McQueen really did that. I also used to say Galliano, but now I feel like a dick for saying Galliano. He’s a dirty thing to like now after his behaviour. I’ll just stick with Alexander McQueen and Iris van Herpen.
Leif > I share Quinne’s love of designers, but I also love Victor and Rolf.
Quinne > They all really influence the costumes for our stage shows, even to the point where I’ve tried to copy some of their designs. We’re not fashion designers though, so it turns out differently and we’re not competing with them. But we do get really influenced directly by stuff. It’s transformed by how we make it and how it’s used.
Quinne, I read somewhere that you used to be a fashion designer?
Quinne > Yeah, quite a long time ago. I’ve always been really into clothing and because of my small stature I had to learn how to sew. So for a while I made clothes, had my own label, and sold them in little Vancouver shops. I stopped because I wasn’t really organized enough to really pull it off. I would make one piece and it would be intricate and handmade and then I would go off and do another design—I never made a bunch in different sizes. It’s perfect for the band though; now I can just go nuts and make whatever I want.
photography & video // MYTHS