A night out dancing in Halifax used to be fairly generic. You could shake your rump along with loads of other loose-boozers at dollar-drink venues to the expected top-40 tunes rocked by unimaginative DJs. Then there'd be those cover bands knocking out covers of "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Sweet Caroline." This is all fine, but in the one-size-doesn't-fit-all world, some people want an experience with a little more flair.
Enter Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees. When these Halifax dance-rockers first got together in 2006, they only had intentions of being a recording project for principle members, singer Rebekah Higgs and electronics whiz Colin Crowell. There was no grand vision of playing entertaining shows and releasing proper albums.
But once their live show began to catch on, that all changed. The hard beats, courtesy of timekeeper (and soundman extraordinaire) Sean MacGillivray, combined with Jason Vautour's atmospheric guitar playing, Crowell's arsenal of digital doohickeys and Higgs' constantly manipulated vocal yelps really caught on with show-going folks. Having a sense for flair doesn't hurt either---they were voted Best Dressed Local Artist in last year's Best of Music poll (note to readers: Higgs does not want to lose this award).
Now the band are preparing to release their first self-titled album through local label Youth Club Records and the energy of their live shows is all there. From Crowell's standpoint---he also produced the album in his home studio---the band's live sound relies heavily on production work doneat home.
"We produced the tracks the way we wanted to have them sound live. It was more of a challenge to get them to sound live the way we have them on the record. The live show is obviously more intense and there's more improvisation going on, but we try to stay true to what we have recorded," he says.
The move to self-produce is largely of necessity and not just for the sake of being cheap. Electronic music is a hands-on genre and Crowell wants that kind of control.
"I don't know if I could stand to work with another producer because I have an exact idea in my head of what I want in terms of tone and feel."
"It's the day and age of home recordings," says MacGillivray. "Frankly, studios should be getting nervous because more and more people like us are feeling empowered."
"And that's making for better music I think," adds Crowell. "It's making for a lot of crappy music, but also means people can sit in their basement for years and years---like we did---to perfect their craft and then release a record instead of going into a studio for a week."
The hands-on nature of the recording extends to the album's charming packaging, which the group hand-assembled with help from Laura Dawe and Chris Foster, who both took care of the artwork and layout.
"When you pick it up and smell it, you can smell the love. You can just put it against your heart and get all warm from it," says Crowell.
"You can probably smell coffee and fingernails," pipes in Higgs.
"... and body odour," says Crowell to the laughter of his bandmates.
One of the focal points in the band's live show is the mysterious sounds Higgs creates with the assistance of whatever gadgetry is inside her suitcase. She makes a casual remark about having a Kaoss Pad, which can handle all sorts of freaky-deaky sounds. When asked what's specifically in the case, she's unwilling to divulge her trade secrets.
"I can't give you the whole shebang, that's like asking somebody what their secret recipe is for a soup or something," says Higgs.
Their live show requires substantial time for setting up. The Marquee CD-release show will be manageable, but when playing Gus' Pub the band needs a full day to get the gear ready. MacGillivray has mixed feelings about pulling double duty as a soundman and drummer, but the end result makes the extra responsibility worthwhile.
"You gotta put some boom in the room to get people shaking their asses," he says dryly. So derrieres, be prepared.
Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees CD-release show w/Woodhands and Tomcat Combat, Friday, January 16 at The Marquee Club, 2037 Gottingen, $10, 429-3020.