Vancouver, Canada slacker pop band, The Courtneys are hitting our shores for their first Australian tour. I love their fuzzy, jangly jams and lyrics about pop culture. The Courtneys are so freakin’ neat, I’m excited to see them live. I recently chatted to drummer/vocalist, Jen Twynn Payne about true crime, wearing your own merch, nu metal, pre-show superstitions and people comparing one girl band to another girl band even though they sound nothing alike.
BIANCA: Everyone in The Courtneys comes from really different musical backgrounds; tell me a little bit about yours.
JEN TWYNN PAYNE: My cousins, who we just toured with, Tegan & Sara are like my older sisters. I was an only child and they used to baby sit me a lot when I was a kid. They were really into grunge. The first CD I ever bought was, Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins. I feel like my first introduction to music was through Tegan & Sara. My parents weren’t really musical people at all. Sydney [Koke; bass/vocals] and Courtney [Loove; guitar/vocals] both have at least one parent who also plays music. My parents don’t even really listen to music, my father occasionally will listen to Abba [laughs]. My cousins were definitely a key influence.
As I got older I started to try and find things on my own. I actually never thought that I would be in a band. I didn’t start playing drums until I was 22. It wasn’t ever really something like, oh I want to be in a band! I never thought that would happen but at the same time I really wanted to just play an instrument. I’ve always been into musicality. I’ve been in bands my whole life.
B: What initially interested you in playing drums?
JTP: When I was in high school, in grade 12, my parents bought me a bass guitar for Christmas. My boyfriend at the time and I would jam. He had a drum kit in his bedroom and we’d be jamming and I’d be like, let me play the drum kit! Let me play the drum kit! [laughs]. He would never let me play it.
When I moved out of my parents’ house and in with roommates, the first roommates I had were these two guys; one of them was a really good drummer that played in a lot of metal bands. At that time I still didn’t play drums but I was really intrigued by him, he was always practicing at our house. Then I moved into another house with guys that were in bands again and they had a drum kit in the basement. They would jam with me. I would go on the internet and look up, how to pay drums. As a kid I would use utensils to play drums on my pillows [laughs]. I remember getting those guys to jam with me and it was really funny because one was into Lynyrd Skynyrd, so we’d play this weird 70s prog rock.
After that I moved into another house with Sydney, this was when we lived in Calgary. I was dating a guy in this band called, Women, they would tour a lot. I told him I wanted to learn drums so he was trying to teach me. He was the first person to actually do that. We played a lot of Ramones and Jesus & Mary Chain, pretty straight forward stuff. Sydney would be upstairs hearing us do this and she was like, we should start a band together! That was how we started playing music together. We started a band called, Puberty. She moved away to go to Grad school and I moved to Vancouver, then she dropped outta school and moved to Vancouver too and that’s how The Courtneys started!
B: When did singing become part of the equation for you? It’s not every day you get to see a band where the drummer sings too.
JTP: I’ve always liked singing. When I was a kid I was in dance and that sometimes included musical numbers [laughs]. I was in choir too. I was one of those kids that was always trying to get the attention of the adults that were around. I’d be like, oh my god! I’ve made up this dance and I’ve made a performance to this Green Day song, you have to watch me do it! [laughs].
B: I did that to my parents too. I used to make tickets and sell them to them to watch me.
JTP: [Laughs] I love that! Totally! When we started doing band stuff, when I started jamming with people, before my first band, Puberty, I thought at the time that maybe I just wanted to sing in a band. When Puberty started the guitarist and I split the vocal duties. I was more into yelling at the time. If you listen to Puberty I yelled a lot! [laughs]. With The Courtneys when we started, I feel we didn’t really know what anything was, it happened because we really liked hanging out with each other and it was a fun thing to do. We didn’t know what we were going to sound like or who was going to sing… blah blah. The first show we played there was barely any vocals [laughs]. The songs were so sparse and instrumental. Somehow we just fell into our roles, it just happened.
B: I find when things happen organically it works out for the best.
JTP: Yeah! That’s how we like to do everything in this band, with no expectations. We do things because they’re fun and it goes where it goes. We knew we wanted bass, guitar and drums, but that was it. Even developing our aesthetic style, it all just happened.
B: On The Courtneys Facebook page you mentioned that a nu metal playlist you guys were listening to while driving to San Diego taught you a lot about yourselves; what did it teach you?
JTP: [Laughs] You just reminded me of something… the three of us are so different in a lot of ways, but the reason why The Courtneys is what it is, is because it’s the crossover area of what we like. Sydney is in an experimental noise band, I really like mainstream pop music and Courtney loves 80s synth-pop like Depeche Mode and the one thing we all have in common is grunge. That’s how it organically came to be what it was because that’s something we could all agree upon [laughs].
With the nu metal thing, we were driving to San Diego and our tour manager Will (he’s in a cool band from Vancouver called, Weed), me and him would always sit up front together. We joked we had assigned seating for that tour because we always ended up sitting in the same seats whereas other tours we’d switch it up. When you’re in the front you usually get to pick the music. We put on a Spotify nu metal play list. We were getting really into it. It was definitely a high school flashback, I feel that’s’ when we listened to that kind of music. Nu metal is pretty great [laughs] there’s some cool things in that genre. We were stoked! We were on tour with Tegan & Sara and a couple of days after we listen to that playlist we were talking to their stage manager, who is a really cool guy names Paul. Will and I talked to him and Paul said his next tour was with a nu metal band, I think it might have been, Korn. We laughed and told him we had just listened to that in the car. We didn’t expect him to go on tour with a band like that.
B: I’ve heard that you worked on a true crime documentary about serial killers?
JTP: Yes. No one ever asks me about this. I love true crime and talking about it.
B: Me too! I like watching Forensic Files and Dateline, stuff like that.
B: I’ve always been fascinated by that stuff since I was a kid.
JTP: Me too, it’s interesting. It was a really cool strange job. I did archival research. It was basically my job to get the crime scene photos and the court documents from the police and news station. There was some very, very intense stuff that I would have to go through and take out before I gave it to editing. I’m surprised that a lot of that stuff is public information, you can get it so easy. It shocks me that you can just get someone’s crime scene photos. I really, really like true crime. Working on that show made me realise that I wanted to be on the other side of it though, I didn’t want to work on a show that was exploiting people’s tragedies. I wanted to be involved in the justice of it. I’m very, very interested in criminal psychology. I think my eventual goal one day is to go back to school and do something in that field.
B: That’s rad!
JTP: I’m excited. I really want to go in that direction but I’m not sure how to get there yet, I’m trying to figure it out.
B: In a previous interview you were asked about Riot Grrrl and it was mentioned that it is a political movement and that all art is political, so by default, and in that way, The Courtneys are political; how do you feel all art is political?
JTP: I personally can’t answer that, I think Sydney said that. When it comes to politics I feel that we’re all on a different political spectrum so, it’s hard to speak as a group about that subject. In regards to the riot grrrl thing, I can speak to that. We get compared to riot grrrl a lot. Sonically I can kind of see it but I also feel like it’s something people are like, oh a girl band… people have trouble comparing a girl band to anything but another girl band. It can be fine but in our case I don’t think comparing us to riot grrrl makes any sense. It’s so a political movement and their lyrics are very politically fuelled. I write lyrics about pop culture. It’s nothing to do with politics lyrically. I feel comparing us is a bit of an insult to riot grrrl. We are not representing lyrically anything that’s important in that way.
For example the other day, we were at a show and the sound person came up to us after the show and was like, I really like you guys! You reminded me of someone. He said I don’t want you to take this the wrong way… as soon as he said that, in my mind I was like ok lets’ here it. It’s gonna be Sleater-Kinney or The Runaways, you know, some girl band. He said, ‘you sound like early U2’. Me and Sydney screamed because we were so excited! We love early U2. We thought the fact he compared us to a band of men was so amazing. He just listened to us and didn’t look at us. We do sincerely love early U2, we used to cover one of their songs [laughs]. We were like, you’re the first person that has got it so right.
B: Lastly, I wanted to ask you about your take on mixing art with business? A band comes together to create art ultimately but then you have to sustain yourself while doing that. It seems like a forever challenging balance.
JTP: Absolutely! I feel as far as the business stuff goes, we’re serious about that aspect. We all have our roles, we don’t have a manager. We do it all ourselves. Courtney handles the accounting and insurance on the van; I handle tour visas and emails; we all pitch in on merch. It’s a cool learning experience. The music part is really fun but the other part takes up so much time.
A really interesting thing about being on tour with Tegan & Sara was getting to see behind the scenes. They’ve created a whole culture and business with all these people that work for them. They’re really, really good at what they do and it was cool to learn from them. We always joke that years from now if we’re not a band anymore we could become a brand [laughs]. Like Adidas or something. You’ll be able to go on the internet and see the brand and the bio will say ‘we started as a band’ [laughs]. The music part will be a very small blip on the radar. We have a lot of fun making merch. The other day we got these tote bags made and I was using one at a store and this girl told me she really like it. She wanted to know where I got it. I was like, this is embarrassing but, it actually my bands bag. She said it was so great and she liked the logo. That’s proof right there that we could be a clothing brand [laughs].
B: I find it funny that you said wearing your own merch embarrassed you. People always seem to get so harsh on that kinda stuff. Bands like the Ramones and artists like Iggy Pop have always rocked their own stuff, I think that’s fucking awesome! If you don’t promote or like your own band merch enough to wear it, like why should I.
JTP: Totally. On tour I wear my own merch, I did at a show on stage. I felt kinda weird but I’m kinda into it. I don’t like wearing my own stuff in Vancouver. For some reason I just feel weird when I run into friends and rock my own stuff. Our tour manager always wears his own merch and I think that’s sweet. I like wearing my Courtneys t-shirt to yoga all the time [laughs].
B: A friend of mine tour managers Gary Numan and at one of the shows both Gary and all the people working the show wore his band’s shirt. I thought that was awesome!
JTP: Oh my god that’s awesome! That’s so sweet. I love Gary Numan.
[I proceed to tell JTP about a pre-show ritual Gary and his band do]
JTP: I am so fascinated by that stuff! We have this really weird thing we do.
B: What’s that?
JTP: I can’t tell you that [laughs]. It’s too weird. I don’t want to jinx it. One thing I can say is that I have weird superstitions I feel I have to do before I go on stage. One of them is, I always write the set lists. I have to write them and then I put them in my pocket and I give them to Sydney and Courtney right before we go on stage. No one can touch them before that [laughs]. I ask them if the songs, or that order is, good for them but they can’t physically touch them before. I don’t know where or why that came from but it’s just a thing now.
Hope to see you at the show! Have a rad day people!