Features | Interviews

The Organ

By Braff's Beak | 15 June 2004

I dialed the number and held my breath. I shouldn't be nervous, but I am; I am waiting for Katie Sketch, lead singer of Vancouver's the Organ to pick up. After a few rings, she does; "Could you call back in exactly one minute?" she says laughing, "I'm actually in the bathroom."

I have been listening to Grab That Gun -- the long-awaited follow-up to their sole other release, 2002's Sinking Hearts EP -- for a few weeks now, and it only gets better with each listen. Katie's singing voice has a rich, dark sensuality that reminds me, along with the legions of others that will undoubtedly hear the clear influence, of The Smiths. Her speaking voice, on the other hand, is bright, sweet and full of confidence, belying the brooding, paranoid quality of her music.

The Organ began about a half-decade ago with just Sketch and organist Jenny Smyth (the youngest member of the group at 22), and then came the process of finding three other members, beginning with auditions that eventually just stopped happening -- Sketch says she tired of auditions, so she just hired some people, all looking for the same ideas and sound, and taught them to play. Sketch eventually rounded out the group with drummer Shelby Stocks, guitarist Debora Cohen and bassist Ashley Webber. But, even with the band finally complete, it would take years before they would release their first proper album; the process of writing and recording (the album would end up being pieced together in four different studios) would take years -- five, to be exact, to finish up an album that barely breaks a half hour in length. Clearly, it's the work of a band that, other than being a little neurotic, perhaps, knows exactly what they want to accomplish with their debut, and aren't afraid to take their time to get it right.

And so I waited and dialed the number for the second time and, again, held my breath. But then Sketch answers -- the timing slightly better this time around -- and, as I ask the first question, my nervousness fades and Katie instantly becomes animated and interested. For the next twenty minutes, Sketch would discuss how the group has been changing since the completion and release of the record, the politics of being in an all-girl group and what's next for the band.


CMG: So how’s the tour going so far?
The Organ's Vocalist/Lyricist, Katie Sketch: Well, our first show is tonight, so. . . it’s doing well! (laughs)

CMG: Oh, really? (laughs). Well, as the band’s popularity grows and the crowds get bigger, do you find the stage freight get harder to handle?
Sketch: No, it makes it easier I think. I find that playing in front of a very small crowd or to an empty club is way more nerve-wracking. I know the whole band agrees with me on that.

CMG: How do you feel about being compared to boy-bands like the Cure, Joy Division or the Smiths? Is there anyone that you don’t like being compared to?
Sketch: No, I think they’re good comparisons; I think they’re relatively accurate. So it’s fine. It’s a little bit redundant, maybe, but that’s OK. I understand where it comes from – every band needs comparisons when they’re new so people can have some sort of reference.

CMG: Do you find that people are treating you differently now that Grab That Gun is starting taking off?
Sketch: No. . . well, I don’t really think that the album has taken off but it’s all relative, I guess. We’re still a relatively small band. We’re not mainstream by any stretches of the imagination.

CMG: Do you find that you’re ever treated differently because you are women and if so, how has it affected you?
Sketch: Maybe sometimes, but it’s hard to know because we don’t really have a comparison to draw upon. I mean, I suppose any aspect of your life you could be treated differently because you’re a man or a woman, or whatever. . . but I would say largely not, 99% no difference. It’s also hard to know if you’re being treated differently because you’re female or because you’re dealing with some jerk. It’s really easy to jump to conclusions but that’s kind of a harsh thing to put upon someone if that’s not what they’re intending to come across as. I know that sometimes when we’re doing sound-check, the sound men or the promoter will be explaining something that is extremely basic to us like we’re slow or something; “Sing into your microphone!” “I know how to use a microphone!” (laughs). But I don’t know if he’s like that because I’m a girl or if he’s being condescending because he is bored with his life, I don’t know.

CMG: When you were growing up, who inspired you to want to be in music?
Sketch: Well, I was forced to do a lot of music by my parents so I kind of had an early grasp at how music and melody work at a young age. But, I loved Madonna in grade six. “Like a Prayer” was big for me. And I’d pretend I was Madonna when I was younger. I think everyone goes through something like that, though.

CMG: Do you find it harder to write on the road? Is it easier when you’re alone by yourself or with the group?
Sketch: Oh yeah, we can’t write on the road. There’s no writing on the road. I’d say mostly because we’re listening to so much music in the van, it’s incredibly hard to not have someone else’s songs in your head the entire time you’re on tour. So yeah, there’s no writing on tour. We write at home in the practice space where there’s little distractions around us.

CMG: Are there many creative differences in the group or are you all trying to get to the same place, musically?
Sketch: I think we’re all trying to get the same place musically. I mean, when I recruited everyone in the band, it was based upon whether they liked where I was going and the things I had done before. So everyone knew somewhat where we were headed so nobody was trying to push us into a heavy rock direction or someone wants to go adult contemporary or something. I don’t think there’s any creative differences, really.

CMG: How do you feel about being signed to a label owned and operated by Nickelback?
Sketch: It’s fine, it doesn’t affect us in any way. Actually, the only time I think about Nickelback is when I’m asked about them (laughs). We’re just so disconnected from them; there’s no connection whatsoever.

CMG: Why did you choose to record in so many different studios? Is that just the way it worked out?
Sketch: It’s just the way it worked out because we did the recording twice. So the first time was done on a bigger budget and when they money was blown and we wanted to do it again, we had to do it in bits and pieces – the cheapest place here, the cheapest place there, when people have free time. And I don’t like doing it that way, actually, because it makes things drawn out and way longer; trying to figure out the quirks of one room and trying to work everything out. . . it made everything way longer, but it was the most feasible thing to do at the time.

CMG: Do you feel pressured to use sexuality to draw crowds?
Sketch: Sexuality? No, I don’t feel pressure at all. I don’t even think about. It’s not even something we think about.

CMG: You don’t think it’s expected from a girl band as opposed to a male band?
Sketch: No, actually I think it’s expected on some level, but the fans – the people that come to our show – usually know what we’re all about before they come. Obviously if we did open for a more mainstream band, the fans would probably be confused as to why my shirt isn’t cut lower or why we’re not in heels or something like that. I have nothing against women who sex themselves up for shows. . . I have no problem with that whatsoever. But that’s just not us – we’re not comfortable with that. I think that our fans are probably not comfortable like that either, and they probably relate with that on some level. But yeah, there’s no pressure, it’s just the way we are.

CMG: How do you feel about file-sharing and having your album being tossed around online?
Sketch: I don’t know, I have sort of a mixed opinion about that. I mean, it’s good in that people hear us who never heard us before and might come to the shows; but at the same time, it’s bad because we need to make the money back for the recording, because obviously we don’t make any money back for that. I used to think it was really good when we made the (Sinking Hearts) EP, when we didn’t spend any money on it so it’s not like we needed to make money back off of it to break even. But because this record did cost us money to make, we do need to make the money back. But you know what, I think in the long run it is good, though, because it’ll open us up to more people, give us a larger fan base.

CMG: Finally, any thoughts on the next Organ record?
Sketch: No! (laughs). No, this album was so hard to get out, it was so stressful. I just want to take a year for songwriting and not think about an album, per se. The next stuff will be songwriting long before I think about album-making. But we learned so much from making this album that when the songs come together, we’ll be able to make a record in a quicker, more concise fashion. This one was so. . . patches here and there, pieces here and there, you know? I just want to go into a studio for a month and get the whole thing done in one take.