Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Organ

The Organ are a Vancouver quintet, formed in 2001. In a short space of time, this all female ensemble has gained rapid exposure with the release of their first EP, Sinking Hearts; an accompanying two-song single, and a live show that has spirited them on tour with some of the most significant bands today. A critical and popular favorite, The Organ write melodic and introspective music based on layered interplay between their instrumentalists--Debora Cohen, guitar; Ashley Webber, bass; Shelby Stocks, drums; Jenny Smyth, Hammond organ--and the intimate and doleful lyrics of their lead singer, Katie Sketch.

The Organ's "sound" has been commented on and debated over from the very beginning, so great is the fascination that it inspires. "The Organ's melancholy melodies are intoxicating," writes Cyndi Elliot of Magnet Magazine. The band is consistently compared with the best songwriters of the early 80's new-wave, writing structured songs around minimal arrangements, and creating a nuanced, textured sound that can be brooding and catchy at the same time. The best of many bands can be found here--whether it is the weaving counterpoint melodies between organ and bass; the lean, bell-like intonation of sparkling guitars; the charmed tenacity of the snare; or the suspended lamentation of Sketch's cascading vocals--and much excitement is borne out of the desire to name The Organ's sound in precise terms. "The Organ does it so well, it's hard to believe these kids are in their early 20's," writes John Parish of The Big Takeover. "It makes me feel better than the electronic craziness of some of those 'I love the 80's' bands, and almost as sad as I used to feel in the 1980's, and I love 'em for it." For their own part, the band accepts the associations with an amused detachment. "Originally I was trying to do something a little more rock, like Elastica," says Sketch, "but obviously it didn't work out that way."

The Organ have played with an wide variety of contemporary bands such as Interpol, Hot Hot Heat, The Walkmen, The Von Bondies, The Soledad Brothers and Bratmobile; and most recently finished a tour across North America with Matador's New Pornographers. The band has become well-known for the somber intensity of their live performances, which they happily acknowledge as involving very little physical movement on-stage. "That's the only way we can be," says Sketch, "if I paid Debora a million dollars to jump up and down, she wouldn't. That's just her personality." "The Organ's approach is classic European detachment," writes Michael White of Calgary's News and Entertainment Weekly, "It creates an enveloping mood, and fully complements the music's soulful melancholy." And perhaps it is a testament to the saliency of Sketch's dark lyrical themes--which range from interpersonal relationships to politics--that The Organ is so often perceived as a wholly melancholy affair. Organist Jenny Smyth is herself caught between the band's music and its rueful subject matter: "The Organ's music sounds really happy and cheerful so I always get really shocked when people say 'your music is so sad and emotional' and I'm like really!? I think it sounds like la la la..."

With so much attention already devoted to The Organ's sound and presentation, there remains nevertheless a lasting captivation with their distinction as an all female band. "Other people tend to point it out," muses Smyth, "'Oh, an all girl band!' and I'm like, 'I'm a girl?'" "I'm just playing with my friends," says Sketch. "We wouldn't have cared if we'd found some really great boys to play with us, but instead we found some really great girls." Still, the distinction is not without significance, as drummer Shelby Stocks knows first-hand: her seventh-grade band teacher took her drumsticks away and gave them to a boy, informing her that girls don't play the drums. "There was a part of me that wanted to prove him wrong--that girls can actually play. What an idiot."