All photos by Michael Rancic
Pavilion is a relatively new group in Toronto, with only a handful of shows and a four song demo under their belt. Still, each song on that demo arrives fully formed and with very little resembling a rough edge, perfectly distilling the band’s ear for melodicism. Their post punk bristles with energy, with rushes of guitar that leave behind gothy spectral traces.
The band is firmly planted between the visual and sonic sides of punk, so it seemed fitting to meet up with Pavilion’s vocalist/guitarist Grace Scott and bassist/vocalist Julie MacKinnon at Faith/Void, a newly-opened record store and gallery space in Toronto’s west end. The store was home to this year’s Not Dead Yet Art Show, co-curated by MacKinnon. With the art still hanging on the walls a week later, brand new records to dig through, and Spoons’ “Nova Heart” playing in the background, I talked with the band about their connection to the scene in Toronto, punk artists, how physical spaces help sustain communities, and their record shopping habits.
Noisey: So Pavilion played this year’s Not Dead Yet. How’d it go?
Grace Scott: It was good. For me it was just really nice, and valuable to be a part of NDY. It’s something that I’ve been involved with as a spectator and organizer for so long. One of the most validating things about this band is that it’s our chance to be a participant in a new way. Based on that alone it was great to be on the line-up with everyone else and a bunch of our friends.
What was your connection to the DIY scene here in Toronto before Pavilion?
Julie MacKinnon: That’s how we met. When we both moved from our respective cities to Toronto, that’s how we started to make friends. Before starting this band I had this moment where I realized that it was absolutely absurd that I wasn’t playing in a band, even though I’d been participating in the scene for so long. That’s how we were involved with [S.H.I.B.G.Bs], helping as best we could as people who weren’t playing music. Then this turning point happened when we realized we should do whatever we can to be active and participate.
Scott: I moved to Toronto in 2008. I moved here for school but the first way I made friends here was from going to shows. So my main connection to this city has always been through punk. Going to local shows and seeing local bands. All my closest friends here are basically the people that I met through shows. I met Julie through going to shows. When Greg opened [S.H.I.B.G.Bs], both of us from a social aspect ended up being around a lot to help, to give the support we could.
MacKinnon: I was really geared to help out, just because it was great that he was doing this and putting in so much of his time and effort to open this space.
At what moment did you decide, OK we’re friends, let’s start a band?
Scott: I moved away for a little bit. I lived in Vancouver and started a band there. I’ve had a couple bands but never anything that really went anywhere solid or lasted longer than a year. So when I moved back to Toronto, two years ago, I really, really, really wanted to start a band. Like, so badly. Julie and I are like obsessed with each other so we just hang out all the time anyway, and so there was a point where we said “maybe we should just start a band”. We tried for like, eight months to get something going with various people. It would always start for a month, and then someone would get busy, and it wasn’t happening. I remember us both just getting so frustrated. Eventually we said, “Why don’t we just start meeting up two days a week and we’ll just write songs together?” We did that for like, three months until Jonah [Falco] bullied his way into the band. Basically [laughs].
MacKinnon: Bullied as in, we were kind of passively asking around. I think I cornered him at a party once and was like “yeah, Grace and I are doing this thing, but we really-- wink wink-- are looking for a drummer” and he was like “let me be your drummer. I will be your drummer.”
How did second guitarist Mike Grdosic get involved?
Scott: I just love Mike.
MacKinnon: He’s an all-around good person.
Scott: It was me and Julie, then me, Julie and Jonah, and then the three of us recorded a couple of songs. We were working as a three piece and realized the songs we were writing needed a second guitar player. So then it was just a matter of finding someone who seemed like a good fit. None of us knew mike super well, but Julie and I have known him for a while. He and I have freakishly similar tastes, down to the most embarrassing stuff. And I just like him as a person. For me I think ability is something that can grow, and so it’s even more important that you’re working with someone you know and can get along with well. Someone that just has the same sort of musical interests. They'll understand you when you’re talking to them.
MacKinnon: He also plays in another very good local band, The Brain.
Scott: Yeah The Brain are great. I think we got lucky in this band, I mean obviously Jonah is a 24 hour music machine. But the other three, we’re pretty into it and put a lot of time and energy into it fairly evenly. That’s something that’s so great. When you've been in bands with other people, it’s such a wonderful feeling to realize that everybody’s into it. Right?
Mackinnon: well this is my first band. You guys are great though!
Did you go into the project knowing how you wanted it to sound, or is Pavilion just what came out?
MacKinnon: It actually sounds nothing like we wanted it to at the beginning. But it took on its own form completely. You think so?
Scott: I think so.
MacKinnon: We just have such a crazy range of influences; I think we all just brought so many different things to it.
Scott: Yeah I think a big focus was that we all wanted to be melodic. That’s been a really funny thing, especially when you’re going into it blind. And like, everybody in the band participates in the writing process to an extent. So it’s interesting to see how things come out. I never have any idea what’s going to happen, to be honest.
MacKinnon: Which is nice, every song is a bit different.
How would you describe the band's sound?
Scott: Oh my god. This has been like a constant conversation.
MacKinnon: The closest thing that I would agree with, that I’ve heard someone say is a gothy Stone Roses, which I’m kind of down with. I think it might be really hard to pin down. We’re not necessarily derivative of anything in particular.
Scott: Yeah I just say post-punk, ‘cause I feel like it’s a nice big catch all. It’s not hardcore, I know it’s not hardcore. I think there’s some like consistent influences that all of us ascribe to, which would be like, The Sound, we all love The Chameleons, I like a lot of UK peace punk.
Scott: The Stone Roses comes out occasionally, in the more emotional moments.
Because we’re in a record store, I should probably ask what records were fundamental to you getting into punk and DIY?
MacKinnon: This is super embarrassing because I’m in a band with him now, but Career Suicide.
Scott: Yes! So real.
MacKinnon: It’s actually not embarrassing at all. That was probably one of the biggest shifts for me growing up in Ottawa and listening to hardcore, like tough-guy hardcore, to the more punky side of it-- also, Chameleons. That was really cool that we got to play those back to back shows with them because they were super important to me.
Scott: My favorite punk bands when I was growing up and remain consistent till now are like X, and The Gun Club. The Gun Club is one of my most favorite bands of all time, even up to Death Party, and like, Mother Juno and the later records-- the kind of music that is angry and guitar driven and aesthetically pretty plain, but still melodic and expansive. That’s such an ambiguous description, but those bands were the biggest for me growing up. And Career Suicide. I remember listening to Career Suicide in high school and being like “oh! There’s punk music that people are making that isn’t moshy hardcore or machismo metalcore. It was such a turning moment. This is like the stuff that I’ve always liked but there were no bands really like that around when I was growing up. There was Street punk and Oi and stuff, but no true hardcore bands in Calgary. Someone’s going to get mad that I said that. “What about…”
With music getting easier and easier to get online, what does it mean to you to have a store like this in Toronto for the DIY/punk scene?
MacKinnon: Well I mean it’s just fundamental to everything we hold near and dear. We need to have community and I feel like this is a good spatial solution for that community. We need to have a place to go and physically talk and share ideas, to talk about music, politics, whatever. Having a shop or even like a venue or hangout spot is crucial.
Scott: Yeah, being able to meet people that are like you in a place that isn’t a bar is also really big.
MacKinnon: All ages…
Scott: And in a place that’s not dark and only open super late. I remember when I moved here, I would go to Hits And Misses, and I went there one night and everyone was drinking beer and rolling dice. I made a bunch of friends and started recognizing the same faces: “Oh this person goes to a lot of shows.” You see each other enough times that everyone’s like “oh hey what’s up?” You don’t get that same ability to mix when it’s this dark, dank venue, or a bar where you’re like sitting around a table with your four friends. Plus, everyone in Toronto has small apartments; there aren’t a lot of house parties to go to. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to meet people in a social setting that isn’t a bar or a show. I hope that Faith/Void fills that gap.
MacKinnon: It’s already doing that. There’s already a whole group of people that are already those guys that just hang out on the couch all day at the record store. Any kind of subculture or counterculture can’t exist solely on the internet. It’s nice to have a physical space.
What's your record browsing style? Do you go through everything? Look for specific things? As soon as I walk into a record store I’ve forgotten about every record I’m meaning to buy.
Scott: When I used to travel more and was more into buying records I used to have go-to things, like “maybe it’ll be here”, and I’d go to every record store and look for that. Usually I just like to look at what’s on the walls. Different paces highlight different things-- maybe it’s a band you’ve never heard of that are new that the store is super-into. To reference Hits And Misses again, they always had the most solid wall of singles. I don’t really read a lot of blogs or do a lot of internet perusal in terms of new music, so I would just go to Hits And Misses and look at the shelf. I knew that Pete was going to put out the best new stuff that was coming out. I’d just pick off of that usually.
MacKinnon: I tend to go through the used section, just because that’s where the hunt is. That’s when you get that high-- when you find something in the used bin that’s not just placed in the new arrivals bin for you. I have lists and lists on my phone of things that I would like to pick up, but once I get in the store I totally forget and look through everything.
I get the impression that Julie is the band’s in house graphic designer, having done the artwork for the demo and I’m guessing the new logo as well? Do you get free reign or does the band talk about how stuff should look?
MacKinnon: Yeah for the most part. I’ll show some stuff to Grace from time to time and she’ll say “more like this” or “less like this” but for the most part I get free reign.
Scott: We have pretty similar aesthetic values anyway. There was one day where we went to the library at OCAD and went through a bunch of design and art books and picked out stuff we liked.
MacKinnon: For me it’s been not just as, but still very important to express myself visually and musically through this band. I’m still in school so I haven’t really been doing a lot of my own projects. It’s been fulfilling in its own way to work on something I care about.
Seems like this scene is a really great way for people with artistic abilities outside of music to flex those muscles, I mean, just looking at the wall behind you. Is that what motivated Julie to help run the Art Show during NDY?
MacKinnon: Yeah, I curated the art show with Jose and Ryan for the Not Dead Yet weekend. It was cool to see people in the same room or the same art show who would not normally be connected before through being involved in DIY, or counterculture. I think Grace and I have talked about this before, but we were having a difficult time calling ourselves musicians for a little while. I can call myself an artist with no big deal, not give it a second thought, but it’s more difficult for me to call myself a musician. I feel with a lot of people involved with Not Dead Yet make incredible music and they make incredible art on the side. I thought that doing that art show would be a great way to wrap that all up.
Scott: ‘Cause that’s what’s so great about punk, right? It’s not just music, it can also be aesthetics and visuals, lifestyle and more than just a record. I think that's what attracted me to it a lot when I was younger was the fact that it encompasses so much of art, in a way that I guess other musical genres do too, but with punk it seems like such a main facet of it.
When you’re out record shopping, do you judge a record by its cover?
Scott: Definitely. One-hundred percent.
When’s the last time you bought either based on the art on a whim? What was it?
MacKinnon: I actually don’t try to do it that often.
Scott: Last time I bought something based on the art was this hilarious compilation of 1983 singles and it’s like this white sampler, and it has Prince, Echo and the Bunnymen, Yazz, U2, Grace Jones, all these artists all over it, written in all these crazy awful fonts. Ugly pretty. So I just took it from a record store because it was in the dollar bin. I got permission to take it, by the way. I was like “I don't’ think you need this dollar for this record.” I definitely asked before I took it though. I can’t think of any others. But there are a lot of bands that I feel I saw what they looked like before i knew what they sounded like. Like Crime. I feel like I knew Crime before I listened to crime. Or maybe Crisis. They have such a distinct aesthetic. You know?
MacKinnon: Yeah, Crisis have a crazy aesthetic. I was in Japan and I picked up a Shirts 7’’. I had heard them before. It was a picture of, what’s her name, she’s in Orange Is The New Black. It was like her punk band from when she was sixteen. I saw that picture and instantly made the connection. I try not to buy based on what the cover looks like but I know it happens all the time.
Do you have to listen to something first before you commit to buying it?
Scott: Yeah. I’ll sometimes watch bands and then buy their merch. I think the majority of my vinyl purchases have just been from watching bands. If a band has a sick set I’ll usually end up buying their tape or 7’’ or something. Oh! The Mollot tapes are the coolest things I’ve seen in so long. I’m like obsessed with how they look. They’re all customized. MacKinnon: They’re like bedazzled.
Scott: They’re all different. So good. Props to Mollot for my favorite tapes of 2015. Props to Arina for cool looking tapes.
You recently changed your name from Mercury Girls to Pavilion. What prompted that change? Is it hard to pick a new band name?
Both: Oh my god.
Scott: In terms of picking a new band name it was like the some kind of monster of band name challenges. It went on for three months. Three months of talking about picking a band name and no one could agree. I locked us in the jam room being like “we have to decide by the end of tonight because this is just out of control and starting to ruin my life.” MacKinnon: It’s very difficult to pick a new band name once you’ve put out music with another name. But yeah, long story short, there was another Mercury Girls, and we don’t necessarily sound like them at all, but there were too many things on paper that were similar, like “female- fronted-post-punk”. There was more confusion than there really should’ve been with other people. There were a few mix-ups so we just decided to change it. But yeah, we ended up with Pavilion, which I had stated within the first week.
Scott: [laughs] Julie likes to remind me that she suggested Pavilion really early on in the new band name conversation and I shut it down. Then two months later I was like “hey what do you think about Pavilion?” and she was really mad. But now we’re Pavilion so it’s fine, right?
MacKinnon: Right, no big deal.
Michael Rancic is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.