Archive for February, 2008

Interview with OKgiraffe by Joel Bergman

February 17, 2008

Interview with OKgiraffe – September 2008


I first met OKgiraffe at a party at my neighbor’s house in Montreal. I wasn’t expecting there to be live music at the party but when OKgiraffe started playing I was simply blown out of the water. Their upbeat, strange, gypsy, funk music is a truly original creation. They describe their music as thus:“We create bare acoustic funk, whipped in with Latin rhythmic sauciness and eastern European infatuation. “Urban Gypsy Soul” is what we call our vibe.” Their new self-titled CD is out and if you are looking for a unique musical experience get your hands on it. Their CD is good but if you really want to fully experience the band you must see them live. They are a relatively new band, but they are gaining notoriety and are playing more and more music festivals and shows across Canada, so keep your eyes open and chances are you’ll be able to catch them at a venue near you!

Joel Bergman from RAIN ‘sat down’ with OKgiraffe via Skype in September 2008.

OKgiraffe is:

Brandon Goodwin – Drums and a bit of trumpet (at the same time)

Rosa Smedley – Upright bass, guitar and lead vocals

Kevin Bertram – Upright bass, accordion, guitar, 2nd vocals

RAIN – So what have you been up to lately?

Kevin – We were down on the coast (west); we played Surge Fest on Reed Island, and played some shows in Vancouver and the Okanagan. We played 8 or 9 shows in 10 days and we were asked to come back at most places we played which was good. It seems like we’ve been doing a lot more than a year of playing. We’ve been playing at least 4 or 5 shows a month all throughout the winter and the summer.

RAIN – When and how did OKgiraffe start?

Kevin – We have been working in the current form as OKgiraffe since June 2007, so for about a year and a half.

Rosa – I met Kevin in Nelson, BC at Selkirk College in the contemporary music program. We fell in love, traveled around a bit in Thailand, playing music and writing our own style of music. It just worked. I had known Brandon for a long time and he had already moved to Montreal.

RAIN – Individually, how did you each start playing music?

Rosa – I started singing when I was a little girl. I took piano lessons for a bit, learned to play guitar from my brother and started writing songs on my own on both guitar and piano. I didn’t really get into it until I discovered the upright bass. I studied a year of classical music on the upright bass at UBC. I found it too narrow for me, and I also got tendinitis, which is why I decided to go to Selkirk College, where I met

Kevin. There was much more variety at Selkirk, they even had a Zappa band. I’ve just started singing again. I didn’t really get into it until I moved to Montreal and started taking singing lessons. I took opera lessons from a lady who normally does more soul stuff and it went really well.

Kevin – I started playing music in high school. I used to go over to a friend’s house; he had a bunch of instruments and I got really into it. I made an arrangement with my parents that if I went without TV for a whole year they would buy me a bass guitar. I held out and got my bass. I never really thought I could do music for a living until I moved to Victoria. The music scene in Kelowna at the time was all ages punk bands or big shows with really famous bands, there was no in between. All of my instruments are basically second instruments. I find it much easier to be creative with my second instruments.

Brandon – I’ve been playing since I was 13. I was mostly self-taught; I started by playing along to Nirvana records. I also played music at school in Jazz band and Concert band. I played trumpet in high school band in my hometown of Armstrong, BC, where I met Rosa. We actually played in a Heavy Metal band together in the 12th grade.

RAIN – Do you ever get bored of playing?

Rosa – It gets really hard when you are playing the same stuff for the same audience every night. We’ve been trying to only play in Montreal once a month and make it a really big show. We are playing more in other cities – in BC, on the East Coast.

RAIN – So you just finished recording your first full-length album. Why don’t you tell us about that?

Rosa – We recorded it at a place called The Treatment Room in Montreal, Quebec. A lot of really great groups have recorded there: Katie Moore, Angela Davis and Plants and Animals. We are playing a CD release party on October 22nd at the Divan Orange in Montreal. We are playing with 2 members of the Unsettlers, Bad Uncle and Cecile Doo-Kingue.

Kevin – A lot of our influences are older, so we are really into analog gear and analog recording. We are all into collecting old instruments. I’ve gotten a few really old instruments from really weird places, too. I ran into a guitar that was 80 years old at a garage sale. Brandon also has a really old, really neat drum kit.

Brandon – My drum kit basically has an old marching snare that I use as a kick drum. We are really fascinated with older instruments and analog gear.

Rosa – This is our second release, but our first full-length CD. It has 11 songs on it and is about an hour long. We used a whole bunch of different instruments on the tracks. We basically recorded the whole album live, which goes along with the whole analog thing as well. We brought in some members of Montreal based band The Unsettlers and they recorded some wicked background vocals on a track called “Yosimite Sam.”

RAIN – Do you work with other bands like The Unsettlers a lot?

Rosa – We’ve basically been co-opted into their band. We’ve been playing with them a bunch and really enjoy it. We’ve become really good friends. The song “Old Town” was also inspired by hanging out with Ben and Genevieve from the band and becoming friends with them.

RAIN – How do you go about writing songs?

Rosa – I usually write the basic lyrics and melodies on the upright bass, and then I usually sit down with Kevin and we try to add the guitar. Then Brandon adds special drum flavors in after. Once we all start playing, that’s when a lot of the arranging starts happening. It usually happens with all of us.

RAIN – Have you been writing a lot?

Rosa – We solidify a song about once a month, but they usually come in groups of 3 or 4. Five new tunes have been in the works. We tried to work on them on the BC tour. We are always writing; that is very important. We also try to add improvisations–we do whatever feels good.

RAIN – RAIN is about building community and getting the dialogue going about change and what we can do to change how the world works. What do you do to foster progressive change?

Rosa – I always question myself, question politicians, question others. I ask myself ‘What is the best way to be in this world?’ One of the things that I have realized is that we have to step up as individuals, we need to be sustainable. This was part of what Surge Fest was about. It was organized, in part, to educate people about becoming more sustainable and being less reliant on oil and electricity and the global food market. I believe that music also helps us to keep things in perspective, and it helps us to calm down and relax. I believe that it is possible to make change. Through our music we want to be spokespeople for change that we don’t need to fear. We need to build communities. As musicians it is a great way to build communities.

Kevin – In part it was a realization that we need to start small. If we can influence people in a positive way, it is more important to do this in a community sense, person-to-person.

RAIN – So why did you choose Montreal?

Rosa – I came to Montreal first when I was 16 and I completely fell in love with it.

Brandon – There was not much happening in terms of a music scene in Kelowna. I decided to move either to Montreal or Toronto. I spent a week in each city and it was clear after that. The culture, music and the food is way better in Montreal. Even the Montreal airport is better.

RAIN – Do you have any advice for up-and-coming bands?

Kevin – As far as strategy, an up-and-coming band should do as much on their own for as long as you can. We’ve just started to think about looking for some help with managing the band. It is usually Rosa and I who do all that sort of work but it is getting difficult with all the tours and more shows we’ve been playing.

Rosa – We haven’t decided if it is better to have someone work for us. At this point it would be difficult to give up direction and for now we are happy doing the work ourselves.

Brandon – It is good to do things yourselves to at least provide a foundation. If you do it yourself for as long as possible you have total control over your sound. The more experience you have on your own, the more you can have your own voice. If we start doing more and more shows we will probably need to have someone do help with the booking.

RAIN – What are the plans for OKgiraffe for the near future?

Rosa – We are booking a tour for the fall. We plan on playing Ottawa and Toronto. We plan on heading across Canada next year, playing a lot of festivals in BC and hopefully heading up north. We really want to play the Dawson City Music Festival.

RAIN — What is your favorite book?

Brandon – Freeplay – Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovich

It is a book about music. It is about improvisation, not only in music but it ties into everyday life.

Rosa – Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

“There are lots of tidbits and random things in this book. It is about a girl who has massive thumbs and is therefore destined to be a hitchhiker.

Kevin – Rosa stole my answer! I like anything by Tom Robbins. He has a very offbeat sense of humour.

Favorite Canadian band?

Brandon – The Tragically Hip–They are the great Canadian band!

Rosa – Neil Young–I’ve also gotten really into local bands and people that I know. I did really enjoy The Fugitives.

Kevin – The Fugitives

RAIN – Why should people come and see you?

Kevin – We are so much fun to see live. We have a lot of surprises and it really freaks people out. Rosa and I switch back and forth with the guitar and the upright bass a lot. Since both Rosa and I are bass players we sometimes bring two upright basses to shows and play both at the same time.

Brandon – We also do things that impress other musicians. If I can impress a musician that I respect then I think we are doing something right.

Rosa – Our music is the kind of music that is so our own sound that you really have to see us live to understand it.

Listen to OKgiraffe

A poem by Anita Olson

February 17, 2008

Sleepy city drizzled in cold rain

with icy droplets splashing sleepy city dwellers.

The cold water ought to do ‘em good.

Break ‘em out of those gloomy grey lines; add a lil’ pizzazz, a dash of animation.

Do ‘em good all that water.

Revitalize energize revolutionize galvanize those rusty parts shaking off corroded scales. Provoked by the cold steady shower, not lulled into dreams of singing golden angels.

Let it pour down with torrential immensity.

Glacier cold water volleying against unconsciousness peeling putrid layers of irrational

deceit…the sensitometer must be broken.

Some are awake yet refuse to touch the drops

and dancing in it only shuffles between enlightenment and apathy.

Scars red and raw sting and sizzle as the poignant rain rips and ridicules potato sacks.

Acquainted rancid teeth gnashing at the cold certainty.

All that water, do ‘em good?

Icy veracity scorching warted fingers fumbling through golden dreams.

Too much bloody pizzazz down here.

Thick lines of buttered up silence and graceful steaming hush puppies…

shuffle shuffle, shuffle shuffle.

Wide awake but windows shut…gotta keep all that cold rain out and off.

Hemorrhaging ice crystal clouds shatter against nylon shields and crumble on concrete,

rolling down the pipes, gathering, waiting…waiting…

Break the fuckin’ sluice already.

Helen’s Rant (Issue 2)

February 17, 2008

goinggoing_bwOur world is not being ruined by heinous psychopaths, it’s being ruined by nice people like us. The psychopaths run the greedy corporations, but we are the ones who support them. We are the consumers, and we are addicted to a lifestyle that is not sustainable.

Some of us are more aware and more pro-active than others, but we are all the products of our cultural upbringing and find it very difficult to pay the real prices of what we consume.

Why is this? Are we not good people?

We are good people, but we have been brought up in a culture of competition, negative judgements, acquisitive behaviour and blinkered vision. We suspend our anxiety by shopping. Unwittingly we have become slaves to affluence. We are uneasy without our steady diet of goodies. Our ability to think for ourselves has been stifled.

This culture has evolved because the move from a pastoral life to an industrial life has left families in disarray, and children are the most vulnerable of the victims. Then the children grow into the adults who determine the new culture.

We must work together to shift our culture from one of mindless self-destruction to one of mindful reclamation. This is a monumental shift, and we must all work and learn together using tools such as democracy and collaboration that are, in themselves, implicit in the mind-set needed for the change to occur.

Western society’s current lunge to ‘eco-green’ is fraught with danger because the culture of profit-making is turning it into a carnival of carbon credits and chic products that do not address the underlying problems of unbridled consumption and the growing gulf between the obscenely rich and the disenfranchised poor.

Many of us are working on projects that we are passionate about in order to keep hopelessness at bay. Every person’s effort is valuable. Every peace initiative, harm reduction endeavour, media balance attempt, and social equity effort is vital. We are all working towards the same end: peace, sustainable sources of sustenance, and respect for all.

When the crisis is so imminent, however, it is difficult to see the point of putting scarce resources into efforts that won’t pay off until our children are grown

If we are to have citizens who can think for themselves, be immune to vote-buying tactics, understand that no one is safe until we all are safe, and be secure enough to be generous and mindful, then we must rear our children in a way that supports these attributes.

Presently we are taking young people from their homes, often at a very early age, and subjecting them to the vagaries of the system. They might be nurtured by a kind and mindful person, but they might instead be supervised by someone who thinks children should be obedient, and not question authority.

Children needing childcare are particularly vulnerable. Their parents may observe a lovely setting, smiling adults and well-behaved children. They would have no idea what is being modeled, what behaviours are being sweetly extinguished, or what actions are being praised.

It is important to understand the effects of early experiences. Children must make sense of their surroundings, so they are constantly making judgements that then become part of the lens with which they view the world. If pandering to adults seems the best way to get their needs met, then that is what they will do. It doesn’t take long to turn a child into a devious little weasel. It doesn’t take long for a child to conclude that tuning out and never questioning are the best strategies to deal with adults who are long-winded and overbearing.

If, however, the adults in their lives are open to hearing what is really going on in their minds, and can hear with ease their mean thoughts and greedy desires, as well as their deep compassion and generous impulses, then those adults are more likely to be told the truth, and the children will be less likely to split into two people: the person they show when adults are around, and the person they believe they really are. They will be able to find their true selves much more easily.

Knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and being true to yourself are the pre-requisites to being genuinely considerate.

We, the walking wounded of this dysfunctional culture, have had to learn to resist the temptations dangled by the corporate agenda. We have had to intellectually understand that our greedy consumption will lead, in our lifetimes, to system collapse. We have had to live with guilt because our ecological footprint is so much out of balance with that of third world countries. Many of us continuously downsize, donate to charities, work on sustainability committees and work on our personal issues to the best of our abilities.

Obviously will-power and good intentions are not enough.

If we are to have a citizenry who will be able to live within their ‘fair-portion’ means, then we need to raise young people who do not have the yawning chasms of need that our up-bringing has saddled us with. We need to have young people who have grown up in a society that consciously supports people to be who they are, accept who they are, and live with integrity. These are the people who will quite naturally consider others — not because they have been taught to do this, but because they are so comfortable themselves, they can afford to be generous to others. They will not be driven by anxiety, riddled with doubt, frantic with desire, and guilty, guilty, guilty.

We must provide childcare and schooling that is truly respectful to our young people. We need to provide an environment where they think about real issues on a daily basis. They need to work out their social issues with minimum direction but with plenty of support and clear boundaries.

During their formative years they should be continuously making decisions that directly affect their lives. They shouldn’t be made to feel stupid because they can’t do mathematical algorithms. They should be putting their minds to solving problems they are knowledgeable about, such as how to share the Lego wheels and who should be in the Variety Show.

They should be able to engage in the running of their schools, and make decisions about the rules. They should be practising democracy on a daily basis, using the problems that come up in their real lives.

The traditional methods of education are supporting the corporatocracy instead of empowering its future citizenry. We must press for publicly-funded educational initiatives that are community-run, collaborative, and sensitive to individual children. We pay the piper, it’s time we called the tune.


February 16, 2008

Zines take the profit and fame motive out of artistic expression and focus on communication, expression and community for their own sake. Zines are the one truly democratic art form. Zine writers are the most important writers in the world. — Chris Landry

Zines are some of my favourite things.

Self-published and self-distributed, usually sporting a really great title, cheap or even free if you have one of your own to trade, full of art or text or cut-and-paste collage or cartoons, raw, personal, funny and/or sad, low-tech, and accessible–zines are the pinnacle of DIY deliciousness. Reading a good zine is like having a conversation with a friend: informal, engaging, direct, honest, and relevant. It really is quite a different experience from reading a regular ol’ published book. Zines are often unexpected and surprising: inside you might find a candy, a condom, a sticker or an original sketch. One zine might look like a hasty ransom note, another one beautifully designed and artful. They come in strange sizes, shapes and bindings, even with covers made of old linoleum. And another thing, some zines are stunningly bad.

Over the decades zine genres have developed: fanzines (science fiction fan magazines which are claimed by many to be be the progenitor of contemporary zines), perzines (personal zines) cook zines, mama zines, travel zines, punk zines, goth zines, grrl zines,  LGBT zines, comic zines, craft zines, anthology zines…the list goes on.

Because zines are fairly easily produced (you just need some paper and access to a photocopier)  they can provide an authentic and accessible medium for expressing the political, intellectual and cultural ideas (and ideals) of any community. The nuts and bolts of people’s lives can be recorded and shared in a way that can’t happen via regular publishing. This is why a strong zine community is so valuable. Zines can provide an important snapshot of a culture or a sub-culture at it’s roots, unfettered by the trappings of mainstream forms of cultural production and economies. What a joy to have something that isn’t about money and instant gratification but is about self-expression, communication and community.

A few of my favourite zines:

  • The Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk. Actually, this isn’t a zine, but it is the best how-to-make a-zine guide out there. A classic.
  • Work, Dirt and Money by Cole Robertson. A fascinating foray into the world of treeplanting from a 2nd generation tree-planter
  • Stoked on Spokes: a community cycling resource guide edited by Juls Generic. A great compilation of stories, tips and art by people who are trying to use cycling as a form of social change as well as a way to get around town
  • Ms. Direction by Katie Cercone. An Oregon-based feminist pulls it all together in a series of themed anthology zines (issue topics include “Obsession”, “Marriage”, “Gender-bending” and more).

Local zine collections that I know about:

The Purple Thistle Centre has one of the largest zine collections in Canada. It’s a youth art and activism centre in East Van and not exactly open to the general public, but a phone call might get you in to see the collection. Lots of local zines/ters are somehow associated with the Purple Thistle Centre.

The Regional Assembly of Text’s lower case reading room is tucked under the stairs. There you will find a permanent installation of zines and self-published books to enjoy at your leisure.

Vancouver Public Library—Central Branch will soon be launching it’s fledgling zine collection. Keep your eyes open for the launch date (hopefully in the spring of 2008). For more information, email:

Some places where I know you can buy zines in Vancouver:

Lucky’s, People’s Co-op Bookstore, Spartacus Books, Magpie Magazines, Regional Assembly of Text, Lugz, and other local shops, music and book stores I’m sure.

A small sample of zine web links:

N.B. ‘zine’ rhymes with ‘spleen’.

By Dana Putnam.