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Vice Blog

Mess Folk is from the Worst City in Canada

The small industrial city of Sydney, Nova Scotia is known for pretty much one thing: being the second largest toxic environmental disaster hot spot in Canada.

Photo by Nicole McNeil

The small industrial city of Sydney, Nova Scotia is known for pretty much one thing: being the second-largest toxic environmental disaster hot spot in Canada. When the three major industries that supported Sydney collapsed in the late 60s, they left 700,000 tons of chemical waste and raw sewage filling about the size of three city blocks, and a lot of broke, angry people who speak funny. This place is known as the Tar Ponds. It's entirely fitting that this isolated area, with just about the highest rates of cancer, birth defects, and miscarriages in the country, would push one of the most messed-up new voices in the garage rock scene through it's contaminated thighs.


Phillip Tarr has penned other masterpieces under the Mess Folk moniker such as “I shit blood” and “Give me a gun.” His music reminds me of proto-punk stuff like the Electric Eels, or that first 7" by The Urinals, but it sounds even more homemade and demented. After corresponding with Mess Folk a few times I thought I’d conduct a proper interview partly because I was curious if he’s was as weird as his music, but also because being born in Nova Scotia I’d probably be the only one in the office capable of deciphering his insane maritime accent. The following transcription doesn’t do his voice justice.

Vice: Hey it’s Vice, do you have time for an interview now?
Mess Folk: Oh yeah, hey buddy how’s it going? I just need to get into my talking room, where all the talking takes place. All right buddy…

Last time we chatted you mentioned you were shoveling in a pit all day long, for twelve hours a day. What was that about?
I was digging holes.

Is that what you do most of the time?
No, I usually renovate houses but I’m not very good at it. I’m not a carpenter. I have never studied carpentry in my life and I am not very apt and skilled in building things.

Having Mess Folk as a full band is kind of a new thing for you. Is it a good translation of what your solo stuff?
I think it’s radically different. I had a different vision when I was by myself doing stuff. That vision was no vision. I work everyday. But if I could ever get on welfare I would go touring.

Can you tell me more about Sydney?
I see it as this: I haven’t been anywhere else really. Sydney is a very drab, dead city. The tar ponds is just a big pit of sludge and waste. And it's toxic, yeah. You don’t want to go swimming there or you’ll get a fucking third arm or something. The tar ponds sum up how I feel in this town. It is a big cesspool of crap. It is boring. Nothing is happening. Everyone is moving away. The population is decreasing. There aren’t that many people my age as there used to be. Almost everyone I know has either moved away or plans to move away.

Do you think you will always live there?
No. But I will come back here to die. It is a suitable hole to die in.

So is Tarr your real last name?
It sure is.

Ah, OK, I just figured it was a reference to Sydney. Well, that kind of covers it. You got anything else you want to add?
I gotta add I love Siamese cats. Oh boy do I fucking love Siamese cats. I got two Siamese cats sitting on my lap right now. I love animals more than people.