The Birthday Massacre
Live @ Oxford Zodiac
July 9, 2009
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

Fantastical, theatrical, menacing and innocent, are just some of the key words that could be used to outline the ebullient and epic, ‘80s tinged industrial synth-rock, of Canada’s The Birthday Massacre – music which one reviewer called: “Sweet yet sinister, like candyfloss laced with razorblades.” Or if that doesn’t help, think Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Depeche Mode, Emilie Autumn, The Horrors, Sohodolls and IAMX all thrown into a blender, then mixed, shaken and stirred, before being flavoured with chilled, splintered pop and poured into a gothic chalice!

Originally forming in London, Ontario, in 2000 under the guise Imagica. The underground outfit then relocated to Toronto in 2001 and re-christened themselves The Birthday Massacre (part of a lyric from their song Happy Birthday) around the same time, as they felt the name “represented the contrasting dynamic of the music and the band’s imagery.” Throughout the years, the group’s line-up has undergone minor changes here and there and now features: Chibi (vocals), Rainbow (guitar / programming / vocals), M. Falcore (guitar), Owen (keyboards), O.E. (bass / vocals) and Rhim (drums). A collective who certainly know their way around a memorable melody!

Of their hard and soft textured music, which is enriched with exquisite production and Chibi’s silky-smooth voice – a singer who is something of a dark angel and occasionally adopts the role of different characters when singing – a journalist wrote: “Their sound is mostly a fusion of retro electronica and dynamic contemporary songwriting. Elements of children’s fiction and adult fantasy are combined with twisting distortion and euphoric melody, to create a unique and original sound dubbed post-retro.” To date, they have released 3 studio albums, Nothing And Nowhere (2002), Violet (2004) and Walking With Strangers (2007). 2 EPs, Violet (2003) and Looking Glass (2008), and are currently touring the world in support of their new live long player, Show And Tell (2009), whilst also writing new material.

Their bio further elaborates: “Due to their independent success, in 2005 they were approached by the European record label Repo Records (followed shortly by Metropolis Records in North America) and the band began its steady climb to reaching a much wider audience. Exceeding the expectations of their ever-growing and devoted fan base, TBM remain true to the sound that gained them the praise of fans and music critics alike, while further refining and expanding upon their signature sound.”

Visuals are also of utmost importance to the six-piece, with a strong look, striking promo videos, a beautiful interactive website, their famed rabbit logo, a fixation with the colour violet (the sum of two opposing colours: red and blue), plus intense, uninhibited and all-inclusive live shows. Which are an eruption of iconic poses and whirling dervishes that give all of The Birthday Massacre’s songs an extra kick – whilst at the same time, having “a knack for mixing themes of horror and tragedy with fun and satire.”

Notably, both Chibi and Rainbow (who met at college) come from artistic backgrounds, with Chibi once telling an interviewer: “All of us in the band are artists in different ways, and we like creating images and visuals that people respond to and remember. We love horror movies and we love fantasy movies, so we’ve looked for ways to combine the emotions evoked by these types of things into our band. Again, the elements of our childhood’s come into it here, the idea of playing dress up and putting on a show. We want to be received well when we play and have an atmosphere surrounding our music and shows.”

Lyrically, stories, fairytales, dreams and personal experiences inspire TBM’s songs, with Chibi ruminating: “The way we write lyrics, is still romanticised in a larger-than-life kind of way. It’s not obvious, but it makes it more open to interpretation. It’s something that we think is important, because one thing in one song might mean one thing to us, but certain images, certain ideas might trigger different things and different memories for other people, and we don’t want to restrict that and stop that from happening. So we’re trying to create an open-ended, moody atmosphere that is not so literal.”

On the very first date of the group’s new UK Tour, I spoke to the very lovely and radiant Chibi in Oxford, to find out what it’s like to reside in The Birthday Massacre’s underworld…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.If you could write the perfect headline for an article about The Birthday Massacre, what would it be?

“Oh wow (laughing), I don’t even know! Um (thinking)… I don’t know (laughing)! What we try to do, is write music that people feel is very familiar, but at the same time, is new. How about, ‘The Best Band Ever!’ (laughing). I can’t even think of anything… Or, ‘We Love England & We’re The Best Canadian Band In The Whole Wide World!’ (laughs heartily).”

2.John Lennon’s most cherished songwriting experience, was when he felt “possessed” by it. Is this the same for you?
“Yeah, absolutely (without any hesitation)! I mean like I was saying, we try to write music that is very familiar and very personal. So for me, the ultimate songwriting experience would probably be, if I wrote something that was very special to me and then other people could relate to it, do you know what I mean? Like even if a song doesn’t convey something that is literal, you can still hint at a very strong emotion which people can connect with. Yeah, I like that in music (smiling).”

3.Continuing with this train of thought, The Beatles had an unorthodox way of writing songs and once in the studio, were renowned for their agility in making adjustments to tracks from take to take. But, when making your albums, do you ever work like this and do you have a song that’s a centrepiece, which the LP is then built around?

“I think it can depend, because a lot of times we have a demo version of a song and then we play it live on tour, which can give you an idea of what you want to achieve when you do finally go into record it. Like, “What would work good live?” Everytime we start writing a new song, we definitely think about performance, because it’s very different being in a studio to being at a show. So, I think as we’ve progressed in our songwriting, we definitely think about what would be fun to perform and what would feel good for an audience to listen to and get involved with. We sort of go into songwriting with a concept for an album you know? Walking With Strangers, which is our most recent one, was supposed to be more about the touring experience, growing up and spending a lot of time with people that you don’t know. So, all of the songs kind of have that theme, but there was no centrepiece – not really. Just sort of that concept.”

4.Are there any records that you just love the overall atmosphere / sound of?
“Oh definitely! I mean I can’t speak for anyone else in the band obviously, but I really love the band Concrete Blonde. There are albums that I can listen to front-to-back, like Free and Bloodletting, I absolutely love everything like that (smiling)! Because I like albums where there’s no weak song – I feel that way with that band – like there’s no, “Oh, I’m just going to skip this song, I don’t like song 6.” Those albums to me are amazing and I like Angel Dust as well, by Faith No More, I’m a big fan and they’ve just got back together too (excitedly)! I’m so excited, but I haven’t seen them because the shows were only over here. I did watch some footage of them at Download on YouTube though – it’s a such an advantage that you can do that now, as it means that you can at least get a feel of what shows were like that you weren’t able to attend.”

5.Your songs are very melodic – topped off with your beautiful voice – but from all of your favourite music, which melodies instantly spring to mind?
“Oh my gosh. Again, I’m going to have to say Concrete Blonde – I love the dynamic of her voice. There’s a song on the album Walking In London, called Someday? I love the chorus melody there – she’s got this great harmony that she does. So yeah, I love her voice and I love her harmonies!”

6.To date, what has been the biggest surprise in your career?
“Honestly, just the fact that we’re even able to tour! I mean we’re now an International band – we just went to Australia, we’ve been to Mexico and now here we are in the UK again and then we’re going to Europe. So that kind of thing is always, “Really? They want us to come back?” (laughing). I definitely think being invited to play in different countries, has been very cool and very surprising to me (big smile)!”

7.And what has been your biggest challenge?

“The biggest challenge in our career – other than sort of adapting to touring and being on the road, where even issues like sleeping can be very challenging – personally, probably throughout the whole band’s history, I’m very shy of people. I get stage fright and in my school years, I was very introverted, so overcoming those obstacles and becoming a better performer, is something that has challenged me and I think I’m even still trying to overcome it a little bit now (laughing)!”

8.And on that note, The Birthday Massacre’s live performances, are renowned for their high energy and grit. Is it important to you all, to give so much of yourselves – both emotionally & visually – every time you play?
“Absolutely! I mean if people are going to come and pay money for tickets and sometimes travel long distances to see us, you want to have a fun, engaging performance, which will inspire people to almost participate in the show with you and have fun with you. I think it’s important for a live show to be fun you know? And I appreciate bands who you can tell are working and that they want to be there, and they can see you and they want you to have fun as well. That’s what we try to do too!”

9.A recent report on gigs, discussed how lots of bands no longer improvise on stage and are just happy to recreate their studio recordings note for note. But when playing live, is it important to you all to improvise and explore your songs, keeping them fresh + taking them in new directions?
“I think that sometimes happens almost accidentally, because playing live is unpredictable. You can’t control it and if somebody misses a part or if something goes off, it’s like, “Ooh, now the song sounds different” and we have to try and cope with it. So, I think almost the nature of performing live, is changing the studio sound, and our live sound is sort of a lot more energetic and rock ‘n’ roll maybe, than our albums. But again, that’s all part of the difference between listening to the album and coming to the show – they’re completely separate things.”

10.You’re probably aware that in the UK and Europe, Summer Festivals are extremely popular – but do you have any interesting tales from the times that you’ve played at Festivals?

“Oh for sure (smiling), I mean weather comes into play a lot with Festivals. The last time we played in Europe, there was a huge thunderstorm that peaked right when it was our time to go on stage and we had it blowing in on us. The Festival was in the middle of the countryside and there was lightning, so we had to stop playing, because it was too dangerous! So that was kind of scary, but it’s always hard when you see people standing there, getting just drenched with rain. They want to see you, but it makes you feel really bad, like, “You’re getting really wet – are you sure you’re OK?” Do you know what I mean? Just things like that, getting rained on is pretty intense and also, playing at 11 in the morning – it’s like a gig before breakfast (laughs heartily)! There’s so many factors, like you wake up and the sun is shining in your face and you have to make sure your voice is warmed up, it’s bizarre! So there’s a lot of adaptation involved.”

11.I read how you all love to dress up before going on stage and you obviously like make-up and tattoos. But who for you have been / are some of the top make-up wearers and rock stars with tattoos in music of all-time?

“Oh my goodness, oh my gosh! See to me, there’s sort of a line, like when you sort of get all tattooed, I find that that’s very distracting. I love tattoos, but I wouldn’t want to be a person where all you see is the tattoos. I mean, I know I keep saying this, but Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde – again, she keeps coming up (laughing)! But I used to love how she would crimp her hair and she had very subtle tattoos and the dramatic, pretty make-up. I love that kind of thing – not like, “Oh, she’s all tattoos and make-up.” That kind of thing accents how you look, instead of defining how you look.”

12.Reportedly, songs streamed free on the Internet will eventually be included in The Charts, based on the amount of plays that they have. Do you think this is a good idea?
“I guess The Music Industry is probably trying to find a system that makes streaming fairer to the artist somehow, but honestly, I think it’s a losing battle. You can’t regulate it, you can’t tally it, there’s no way to ever know what’s going on with file-sharing. I think all bands definitely feel that nowadays. It will be interesting to see what they try to do, but it seems like another desperate move by The Music Industry to try and claw some sort of infrastructure back. I don’t think that’s going to work (laughing).”

13.Of all your songs to date, which are you most proud of and why?
“Wow! I mean I’m proud of all of them you know? I look at all of the stuff we’ve done and I’m like, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff!” And even now, we’re working on a new album (pausing), I think it’s really easy to sort of get involved in what you’re working on now and forget about the older stuff, but, we play these songs hundreds of times. So it’s like, “Oh those old things, let’s focus on the new stuff,” but I’m proud of everything that we’ve done – they’re all kind of your children, as stupid as that sounds (laughing). Like, you can’t really pick a favourite one. And playing live, it can vary which ones I like – like Unfamiliar, which is a song off Walking With Strangers, I’m dreading it, because I’m tired and it’s a high one. I’m like, “Oh no!” But I know that our keyboard player loves that song, so everybody will have a different favourite. It can change as well, like next week, I’m sure I’ll say, “I love that song!” (laughing).”

14.Do fans ever tell you how they interpret your lyrics and if so, what has been the most memorable song interpretation that you’ve ever heard?

“People don’t usually tend to talk to us about what the songs are about, but on the Internet though, I’ve seen people writing, “This song is about this and that etc.” I can’t really think of anything too off-the-wall right now, but it’s usually people coming up and saying things like, “This song helped me through this experience in my life.” And I’m like, “Really? That song helped you?” We have one called Happy Birthday, which is kind of like a horror movie, where someone goes to a party and kills everybody. But then, I had someone say to me that that song really helped them when their parents got divorced. I was like, “How did that help you through that time?” Do you know what I mean? I can understand it, but a song about a birthday party where everybody gets killed, how did that help them (laughing)? But you know what, I mean fair enough, I’m just glad to be of service (laughs heartily)!”

15.A new book entitled, ‘The Empty Page: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth’, was recently published and features “short stories by authors whose initial sparks came from Sonic Youth song titles.” Would you ever like to see a selection of your song titles treated in the same manner, and if so, are there any specific writers who you would like to see take up the challenge?
“That’s cool (excitedly)! Oh wow! Honestly, this kind of goes into what you just asked me, I’d like to see our fans do that – that would be so cool (smiling)! I would like to read ‘The Empty Page: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth’ actually, it sounds really interesting – that’s a cool concept!”

16.Most people are aware that financially, it can be a struggle for many musicians, but in Canada – to help encourage the country’s artists / bands – the Government set up The Canada Music Fund (CMF) in 2001. Is this something that The Birthday Massacre ever benefit from?
“In terms of Canadian support of us, it has been very independent – independent promoters and independent ‘zines and things like that. Any sort of funding and things like that, they don’t really seem to be willing to take chances on alternative bands. I mean we do well (pausing), we’ve applied for these sort of loans, but they tend to go to more established bands – I don’t want to say anything negative, but you have to have the connections, you have to go for a drink with the right person, you have to already have a measure of success, they don’t really take chances. I love our City and I love everyone there who supports us, but I think the Canadian music scene definitely needs some tuning-up (laughing)! Is that a polite way of saying it? Sure, and it’s probably the same everywhere for alternative music.”

17.In-keeping with this theme, have you seen the fascinating film about the heavy metal group, Anvil, which tells the moving story of their arduous struggle for success – and also, is there an artist / band that you would like to see a documentary made about?

“I just watched Anvil (excitedly) – just before we left! It’s so heartbreaking isn’t it? You just feel for them so much! Is there anybody that I would like to see a documentary made about (thinking)? I’d just pick any of my favourite bands, do you know what I mean? I’d love to see one on Faith No More, I’d love to see one on Type O Negative – it would just be me listing my favourite bands (laughing)! But with Anvil, you just feel so much compassion for those guys. They’re on tour with AC/DC now though, so that’s not too bad, but you just want to cry when you’re watching that film!”

18.Both Jimmy Page and Jack White, said that they “don’t believe video games (Guitar Hero and Rock Band) are an ideal way for people to be exposed to music or to learn how to play instruments.” Do you think they have a valid point?

“Well, I love Guitar Hero and Rock Band, although it’s not a way to learn how to play guitar. But, there’s one really important comment that I want to make on that, and that is that I think women are part of those games. They’re a part of the graphics playing instruments and that’s inspiring for young girls, because there’s not a lot of girls in bands. It’s always guys and the girls are just dancing, but in those games – well, not Guitar Hero 3 – but in Guitar Hero 1 + 2 and Rock Band, women play a very prominent role and they’re not just dancers or singers, they’re playing guitar! So I think that might inspire a young girl to pick up a guitar, because she enjoys playing the game. They’re right, in that it’s not a way to substitute actually learning to technically play a guitar, but I think those video games present women in music in a positive way, and I think that that needs to happen more!”
*I mention to Chibi, that Billy Corgan was once quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine as saying: “You don’t play Guitar Hero if you are a guitar hero!”*
“Really (laughs heartily)!?!”

19.On a similar note, some critics have argued that in The ‘60s, music was much freer – with more melodic and harmonic surprises in songs – as there was less technology involved. What are your feelings on this?
“I think nowadays, if you turn on the radio, people are singing through vocoders or it’s all computerised, to the point where it actually sounds like a robot. That’s cool and everything, but back in the day, you couldn’t really rely on Auto-Tune or synthesisers, you’d have an organ instead (laughing). I love The Monkees, they’re one of my favourite bands actually and you can tell that it’s more raw and it’s more honest, but I think it’s because they had to be. I’m sure if the technology had existed back then, it would have been used. But yeah, I think music was music freer in The ‘60s – absolutely!”

20.The Raveonettes recently posted some work-in-progress tracks + studio footage online for fans to download, with more to follow soon. Do you think this is a good idea, or do you think it takes away some of the mystique surrounding artists’ creativity and that long-term, it could even perhaps diminish people’s anticipation for new albums, already knowing partially what to expect?
“See, I think artists end up sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. When no-one’s buying your album and no-one’s going to your website, I think that that type of thing is meant to sort of drum up interest in a website, like, “Oh look, we’ll offer you this and this and this, but remember our name and buy our album!” I think that they’re good ideas nowadays, and I mean you have bands who Twitter all the time. It’s trying to engage an audience so that interest doesn’t dwindle, but it’s a lot harder to keep people attached to your band now, with so much stuff on the Internet. So ideas like that, are probably a very good move and I think people want that personal, beyond-the-wall engagement with you. Or else, what’s the point? They’re not going to buy your record right? We all have to change with the times (laughing), and anyone that doesn’t, isn’t going to exist. That’s shrewd, that’s what that is (laughs heartily)!”

21.It was revealed last week, that David Bowie is to “give fans the chance to own and remix the multi-track recordings of his seminal 1969 track Space Oddity, when he releases a new EP featuring the song to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of man walking on the moon.” When fans purchase the EP, they will also receive the original eight stems / multi-tracks of the track for free. They will then be able to remix the song through their own software, or through iKlax software. Is this something that you’d like to offer to your fans?

“I’m sure we would, but I think taking the time to isolate all of those tracks – like the technical aspect of that – would be very time-consuming and that’s the only reason why somebody maybe wouldn’t do it. It’s a great idea and I think Nine Inch Nails did something similar, and again, it’s all a way to engage with us you know what I mean? We’re offering you this stuff, now buy the album (laughs heartily)! It encourages creativity, which is always a good thing! That’s a great idea, I should actually be writing this down (smiling).”

22.Would you ever consider stripping away some of the electronica in your music, in order to create more acoustic, organic and pastoral songs, similar to what Goldfrapp did with their Seventh Tree album?
“I mean, I think if it felt right to do that, then we would. But synths and that more electronica side, has always been a big part of our sound, so I don’t think we would want to tamper with it. Like in the past, when we have done more guitar-driven songs, we’ve always been like, “That’s awesome, but can we put some synths on it?” Do you know what I mean (laughing)? That’s a little bit of the stuff that makes us, us! But at the same time, if it sounded good without, we’d do it without, but it would have to be natural – I don’t think we’d go into the studio intending to strip anything away.”

23.What have been some of your personal highlights / defining moments, during your career so far?

“Oh wow! I think kind of like what I was saying before, realising that I’m not as afraid to be on stage anymore – that was a big thing for me! Just getting to meet a lot of people that we’ve admired over the years, like the band Orgy – who are now Julien-K – we toured with them and now they come to our shows and we’re like, “Oh My God, we’re friends with them!” Meeting other musicians that you end up bonding with over the years, bands that you just tour with and you make friends all over the world. So when you’re sitting at home and you’re kind of feeling down, you’re like, “You know what, I get to do some really cool things and I’m friends with some really cool people!” I can message them on Facebook, we can talk or they come to our shows, so it’s been interesting to meet people who you’ve admired over the years.”

24.Some cultures believe that if you have the same dream 3 times, it will eventually become a reality. Is there anything similar to this that you believe?

“Oh wow, I believe in ‘The Rule Of Three’. You know how they say that celebrity deaths happen in threes and we kind of have a joke, that if you bump your head twice in one day, you’d better not bump it a third time, or you’ll never be the same (laughing)! It’s more of a joke, but I am kind of a superstitious person I guess. Before we go on stage, we have this cheer thing, that we all kind of do to amp ourselves up and everytime we’ve tried to switch it up, we don’t have a very good show, so we’re all kind of like, “OK, we have to do this!” We’re not all crazy (laughing), but I think you definitely get into the mindset of, “What can we do to make this tour go as good as possible? I just won’t change my socks, because these socks are my lucky pair (laughs heartily)!” It’s really weird, but it’s whatever makes you most comfortable – totally!”

25.In reference to your band name, what’s the best Birthday that you’ve ever had?

“Oh my goodness. Honestly, it was probably the one I just had, it was my Birthday in April and it was my first ‘Tour Birthday’, because I’ve always been at home and been able to be with friends and family and have dinner. That’s all fine and dandy, but this was my first one on the road – a few months ago – so we had the cake on the bus and it was driving because we had to go. So we were all standing on the bus and everyone sang Happy Birthday, and the cake was kind of moving and I was trying to blow out the candles. It was really, really sweet (laughing)!”

26.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“Cream buns – or pastries as I’d call them, stacked to the ceiling (big smile)!”
*I remark that most girls usually go for cream buns*
“It’s kind of like the difference between salty and sweet I guess, that’s interesting! What about cream buns stuffed with chips (laughing)?”
*I say that someone has already said that before*
“Dratts! Cake all the way for me then (laughs heartily)!”


A very special thanks to Chibi, to The Birthday Massacre’s Tour Manager Dolores, and to Emma @ Fifteen Three PR, for all of their time and help.

“Black tongues speak faster than the car can crash
You supply the rumours and I'll provide the wrath
Romance is breaking every heart in two casting shadows
In the pale shade of blue”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?