Vancouver blues-rock duo Ornament & Crime are storytellers with a stripped, hard-hitting, spontaneous sound. Guitarist/vocalist Thomas Hudson and drummer Suzy King, who met while studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design, released their first LP, Houndstongue, in October 2013. Their second EP, Hire Horse, followed nearly a year later in September.
The band spoke with Vancouver Weekly about the making of Hire Horse, their relationship with local music promotion company Snail Productions, spoken-word lyrics, and if O&C will ever expand beyond a two-piece.
Vancouver Weekly: Since I first saw you at Lanalou’s two springs ago, you’ve played Record Store Day and the first Sunfest (now renamed Nootka Sound Festival). Have you played any other particularly memorable shows since then?
Ornament & Crime: We opened for Brooklyn duo She Keeps Bees at the old Zoo Zhop a couple falls ago – a chance happening because Suzy was asking around for their vinyl, and David [Mattatall] (of Zoo Zhop) said we should just have them come and play here. Getting to meet and share the stage with a couple of our heroes was beyond memorable. Playing with other bands we love is always memorable for us. Last fall we toured with Vancouver band Dusty Bones, and we couldn’t have asked for better road friends and inspiring artists to travel with us.
VW: One of your biggest supporters has been the local music/events promoter Snail Productions. How instrumental have they been in Ornament & Crime’s success? What have you learned from them from a business standpoint? Have they been involved in getting the word out about the new EP and following tour?
O&C: When we started the band we didn’t know how to book a show in Vancouver, so our first show was booked because a friend of ours put our name on the poster. After that we met Kyle [Haack] at Snail Productions, and it has led us to play with a wide variety of bands in many different genres. We didn’t know or care what kind of music we were making, so it made it hard to for us to imagine joining a punk line-up, or playing a garage-rock festival. Having Snail Productions include us in lots of bills allowed us to meet a lot of bands and play to many different crowds. For this EP release, we wanted to be able to put a show together with Kyle. We were thinking of doing an all-ages show, and it proved to be difficult. Now that Hire Horse is out we hope to play some Snail Productions shows over the winter.
VW: You recorded Houndstongue yourselves, live at home on 4-track analogue tape. Did you follow the same process for Hire Horse?
O&C: We did Hire Horse on tape, in a home. But this time it was a five-track tape deck, in our friend’s home. We met Lorin [Allred] by buying our first 4-track from him and joking that one day we’d like to use his house to record in because it sounded so great in there. The 1960s architecture was also friendly to Suzy’s eye. A year later we were bouncing noise off of his cedar walls, and he was wizarding from the balcony above us, fixing old tape machines, and telling us everything we didn’t know about analogous gear.
VW: Did the writing process for Hire Horse differ at all from that of Houndstongue‘s?
O&C: It was different in many ways. It was hard to get our ideas out, but we were able to experiment more this time. For Houndstongue, we had a lot of songs that we were already playing fairly often at shows, and so we went in with 21 songs and/or song ideas. So with that record, we were hunting for a small collection of songs that would make a good first album for a band that had only ever written songs to be played live. We chose to limit ourselves to only playing our own instruments and making noises with things that already existed in our rehearsal space. In our song called “Futurism”, you can hear a sound from a bell sculpture that was made by an artist that lives in our building.
For Hire Horse, we didn’t have any finished songs. We just had ideas for a theme we wanted to work with. We wanted to experiment with limiting our endless options for writing, so we applied what we know of a design/visual art process. We forced ourselves to work quickly with a theme or a concept, then develop only from those first instincts. In that way, all of our writing and recording processes were attached to the hip. We wondered how a certain song would go, and imagined how it would be recorded and mixed at the same time.
VW: Many of your songs seem to tell stories. Are you more interested in telling fiction? How much of your lyrics involves elements from your real lives?
O&C: We are definitely interested in how telling stories can be truer than real life. For every song we write, we know what set of emotions and issues it represents for us. But telling a story in a way that people can understand is wherein lies the difficulty of storytelling. How stubbing my toe really makes me feel on the inside, complete with my shameful ability to turn back into a three-year-old, is far truer and more relatable than talking about the momentum equaling my toe, multiplied by velocity.
VW: Thomas, you seem to prefer a spoken-word style of vocal performance. What is it about this style that you like?
O&C: Well, besides helping me avoid having to sing well, I find that it allows me to convey the story better. I let the music tell me what conversation is happening, and between whom. Sometimes that means there’s singing or shouting or rambling; sometimes it means there’s going to be a public service announcement. Talking like the character seems like the most logical option. Also, I think that it allows me to change how I feel from night to night and perform how I feel that night.
VW: A very scrappy (but cool sounding) keyboard appears on the Hire Horse tracks “Lector” and “Operator”. Do you incorporate it live? If you include more instruments down the line, do you foresee yourselves ever expanding to more than two members, if only when playing shows?
O&C: We’re definitely interested in playing the organ in our live performances. As with all aspects of our performance, it will be integrated when we can get the most out of it with our own four hands. We like how difficult it is to stay completely in sync with one another, and what that causes us to do that we maybe otherwise wouldn’t do if there were some other musicians to help smooth things over. Our rare perfect moments are more perfect, and our worst moments are magnified as well. We like how much we have to put on the line.
VW: How old are the songs on Hire Horse? Any chance they’ll re-appear on a full-length in the near future?
O&C: The songs on Hire Horse were written in the studio. We wanted to react to the sounds that were actually there instead of the ones we hear in our heads, which lie to us all the time about how good we sound and how tall we look in photographs. It’s possible the songs we made that you didn’t hear on the EP might end up on a future record.
Hire Horse is available now on Bandcamp.