Monday, September 7, 2009

Die Mannequin's Failure dishes on staying optimistic

Die Mannequin
With Marilyn Manson
Friday, September 11 at 8 p.m.
Shaw Conference Centre (9797 Jasper Ave. N.W)
$55.50 at
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then Caroline Kawa’s parents may be at least partially responsible for her band Die Mannequin’s success. Kawa, who now prefers the punk rock moniker “Care Failure” found out exactly how strong her love for music was when she was 12 and it was almost entirely taken away.

“One of my close friends, she had attempted suicide,” Failure reveals. “She had wrote a note to me, so the police pulled me in, and then they proceeded to ban me from music — taking away my CDs, poetry, posters, band shirts, anything that had to do with it.”

Failure says that her only relief from her music-less world was the radio, which she listened to constantly, meeting her future musical idols — Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Nirvana — one by one. She eventually left home at 16 years old to, in her own words, “protect her family from herself.”

“I couldn’t live with that for too long. It was a ticking time bomb,” she says.

True to punk-rock form, Failure punctuates many of her sentences with the occasional “y’know?” or string of curse words. But for a young musician who has already endured several deeply painful family hardships, bouts of homelessness, and stints in rehab, her disposition is eerily upbeat when I catch up with her from Toronto via a crackly cellphone.

“I knew inside that [leaving home] needed to happen for many reasons. I have a younger brother and an older sister and it was really hard and I probably put them through a lot of pain,” Failure says, before adding, “[but] me and my family are as close as ever now.”

The swift and severe reaction from the police and Failure’s family after her friend’s suicide attempt was exacerbated by the fact that the Columbine massacre had just occurred in Littleton, Colorado, and anxious parents everywhere were all looking for a scapegoat. In addition to the massacres creating a moral panic about violent content in video games, music — most prominently Marilyn Manson’s music — was also implicated in the tragedy.

“Parents, and police, and people were blaming youth behavior on music, and not on bad parenting and neglect,” says Failure, echoing many of the same sentiments Manson himself expressed after the shooting.

A decade later, the irony that Die Mannequin is opening for the shock-rocker who was indirectly responsible for her music ban is not lost on Failure, who says that Manson “warms her heart.”

“We just added another guitarist and a new drummer [to the band], so we’re banging out songs all day and we’re excited about the tour for sure. The Anti-Christ tour will be amazing and I can’t believe that Marilyn was behind picking the bands. It’s really cool to know that he could tour with whoever the fuck he wants and that he wants to tour with Die Mannequin.”

The tour comes at a great time for the band, who are preparing to release their new album on September 8, entitled Fino + Bleed, along with a Gemini Award-nominated documentary of the band made by Canadian film legend Bruce McDonald. But as Failure explains, producing the album was a bit of a nightmare after her laptop, full of ideas for the new record, went missing after a show right before she was due to begin working on the new album.

“All of the songs I sang, I would write lyrics in the morning and sing them at night, because you can only sing for like six or seven hours straight when you’re screaming and belting out things. [...] It’s a concept record, like “Fino plus Bleed,” real life mixed with some exaggerations and things I was thinking at the time, [...]like just wanting and wishing and hoping that all of the tortured lobotomy patients and electric shock treatment patients could all turn on their doctors and try to hold them hostage and so we tried to do that [with the music], but from the holding them hostage point, it’s kind of like realizing a fantasy,” Failure elaborates.

“I really do watch too much History Channel [...] I’m one of those people who gets off on that shit,” she laughs.

Her voice is weathered for a woman of only 22 years, partially from the cigarettes she always seems to have her lips around, and perhaps partly due to the years of hard knocks she’s already survived. But Failure’s candour coupled with her bluntness suggests that despite everything, she’s not only getting by, but thriving.

“I am an eternal optimist, which is so funny,” says Failure, commenting on some of the dark themes on Fino + Bleed. “I am forever an optimist to a fault.”

Sarah Stead
The Gateway

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