Care Failure is, by her own admission, a bit of a mess.
A bona fide rock star, yes – if you've seen her perform, that much is undeniable, just a genetic fact – but not the sort who's merely mastered the cosmetic arts of the calling. At the tender age of 22, the volatile Die Mannequin frontwoman has already weathered more pure, textbook rock 'n' roll experience than dozens of leather-and-tattoos poseurs twice her age.
So be it, though. This is where the girl comes from, and she's not about to pretend otherwise. It shaped the person she is and, in turn, it shapes the music she and her band make, has lent crucial fire to the blazing metallo-punk screeds that propel Fino + Bleed. And that music – as everyone in her corner has attested for so long that Care Failure herself now invokes the word sardonically and rather wearily – is "real," plain and simple. Confrontational, confused, angry, indignant, uncommonly attuned to the "wrong" that besieges our daily existence and, in the midst of all that, deceptively vulnerable, to boot. Messed up. Real.
To scenesters in Die Mannequin's native Toronto, Fino + Bleed has been in the works for something like forever. And, in many respects, it has – Care was literally plucked from the streets by former EMI Publishing Canada president Michael McCarty and vice-president Barb Sedum at 17 and given the sort of time to develop within the music-industry infrastructure once accorded the likes of Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. but is now supposedly a thing of the past.
Her rock 'n' roll destiny was already set in motion long before, however, from the time an innocent young sprout from the suburbs named Caroline Kawa abandoned the piano lessons her parents encouraged her towards "as soon as I could sit on a bench" for an old acoustic guitar she found in the basement at age 10.
A few sessions with a fondly remembered guitar instructor ("I'd bring in these retarded B-side solos and ask him to teach them to me") and a spate of "learning songs incorrectly from albums and the Internet" followed, while a formative obsession with such seminal 1990s alt-rock breakthrough acts as Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana took root. Tellingly, Care now sports immaculate tattoo replicas of the album covers to Goo and Green Mind, respectively, on her left arm, and proudly shows off her scars from the day she celebrated first hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with an Olympic leap onto her bed that totally missed the mark.
"My parents, god bless, were working full-time jobs for us, for the family, to support us. But I'd come home and there would be hours of time when I had to entertain myself so my mom and dad, in a way, were Kim Gordon and Kurt Cobain and all these people," she says. "That was my family at that time and that was who raised me, y'know?"
Along the way, too, came her first, profound brushes with authority. At 12, a close friend attempted suicide while Care was en route to her place to "teach her a song." Care was named in the note. The police were called in. This wasn't long after the Columbine massacre, when Heathers and KMFDM and long, black leather jackets and flamboyant teenage outcasts, in general, were being blamed for everything wrong with the North American "youth of today." Care was ushered into the station and, unsurprisingly, everyone overreacted.
"I was under house arrest," she recalls. "They took my door off. They (my parents) were ordered to take all my poetry books and things I'd written, and burned them for extra effect. They took my posters down, they took my band shirts. My music, my CDs – gone. They were, like: 'You have to ban her from music. That's the answer. Ban her from music.'
"And here I am. I've wondered if that aided anything at all, if it stopped it or if it helped or if I would be doing the same thing. You question. But it's just in my bones. It's what I would do, anyway. That was just another obstacle."
Around this time, Care made her first flight from home, camping out on a river bank in an unnaturally rustic swath of suburban Toronto for the summer and, consequently, ushering in a cycle of family conflict that would result in her permanently fleeing home at 16.
It also, unfortunately, set the stage for a momentously self-destructive drug habit, one which soon had the budding rock 'n' roller – still too young to legally frequent the rock clubs which she was proving herself all but born to headline – doing (and dealing) a smorgasbord of banned chemicals. Floating between "seven bands at once" and no fixed address, the young ne'er-do-well nevertheless managed to attract the sort of insider buzz of which every young musician dreams with the unhinged onstage exploits, guitar heroics and prematurely elevated songwriting chops she was displaying while fronting an outfit called the Bloody Mannequins.
By the time EMI Publishing got a hold of Care, she was a complete disaster, so you know their support was honest.
"They came out to see me play in a rehearsal space, Cactus Studios," she recalls. "I'd cut myself a lot that day, so I was bleeding. I was out of my skull on whatever – I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. Two people were coming to see us practice, for whatever reason. I don't think I even grasped the concept of what was going on around me or probably I would have presented myself a little differently.
"I remember that scared the fuck out of them so they waited a couple of months. And then, after that, they sent me away for awhile to the desert. But they signed me... I was living nowhere so they yanked me off the street and started paying my rent so I could start recording songs. That's kind of where the story begins because that was something on paper."
All nerves aside, a veritable "Who's Who?" of Toronto "names" wound up accepting the challenge of steering Care's wayward spirit towards her tangible rock-star potential. None of them, either, succumbed to the initial industry temptation – rampant at the time since another Canadian 17-year-old named Avril Lavigne was concurrently blowing up – to turn Care into the marketable "anti-Avril" to Lavigne's "anti-Britney."
Hot-to-trot production duo MSTRKRFT – ex-Death From Above 1979'er Jesse Keeler and Al P – agreed to helm a first Die Mannequin EP entitled How To Kill in 2006. Care played pretty much all the instruments on the thing, while Keeler proved his devotion to the project by playing drums on the recording despite the fact that he was actually the bass player in DFA ("That's why there are no fills," says Care). Billy Talent guitarist Ian D'Sa produced the noticeably more grown-up juggernauts "Do It Or Die" and "Saved By Strangers" on a second EP, Slaughter Daughter, in 2007, while A-list boardsman-for-hire Junior Sanchez guided Die Mannequin – now with the stable duo of of Care and bassist Anthony Bleed at its core – through the rest. The two mini-albums were reissued ensemble last year by Warner Music Canada on a barbed compilation dubbed Unicorn Steak.
Die Mannequin was soon awarded choice tour slots opening for Deftones, Sum 41, Buckcherry and Finger Eleven, not to mention a surreal cross-Canada arena tour with Axl Rose's "new" Guns 'n' Roses. Care was also invited to cement her permanent place in trash- Canadiana by singing lead on a cover of "I Fought The Law" with Geddy Lee, Geoff Burrows, Ian Thornley and Three Days Grace's Adam Gontier recorded under the moniker the Big Dirty Band for the soundtrack to the Trailer Park Boys Movie.
Still more Can-rock royalty came on board, with Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson also taking up the Care Failure cause.
"I don't know why, but he just clung to me and became, like, my musical sugar daddy and just gave me pedals and gave me his guitars," laughs Care. "I'm so poor I never have a guitar.
"We have all these random people who get behind us, but it's for the same reason: They believe that it's quote/unquote 'real' and they feel some kind of intensity from the music."
With all of this careful stewardship, Care was permitted to mature into a consummate outsider-pop songwriter and an utterly fearless frontwoman, not just a preternaturally talented loudmouth teen stringing together stolen, downtuned grunge riffs and barking crankily into the mike like a wannabe Courtney Love or Brody Dalle.
"I'm a riff girl," she says, downplaying her writing abilities. "I'd just do it around heavy Kyuss sorta riffs and then I realized that you kinda need catchy parts, too, so I started making choruses. I lost a lot of friends when I made choruses because they were too cool for school."
So here we are, finally, at Fino + Bleed. Die Mannequin had to travel to hell and back to grow into the disciplined, genre-oblivious aggro-machine behind hair-raising anthems like "Miss Americvnt," "Bad Medicine" and the warts-and-all autobiography "Caroline Mescaline," a tune Care describes as "my epitaph." Seriously: Along the way, Care and Bleed lost their beloved pet dog Mylo, lost their drummer and very nearly lost the album you now hold in your hands.
"I had three weeks to write the record so I just started recording shit into a computer that I'd just got. We were playing a show the night before I was supposed to dump it all into EMI to do real demos – they were, like, the pre-demos – and I didn't back it up and my laptop got stolen at a club," recalls Care. "They replaced it, but my songs were gone. Our first single, 'Bad Medicine,' is one of the ones that was lost but I remembered it driving around with Tony in the car. So I had three weeks to write this record and then all my shit was gone, so I had to rewrite everything – rethink everything."
It'll all work out in the end, though. So many people believe in Care Failure's inability to fail at the rock 'n' roll game that her ascent to notoriety already feels like a done deal. "She's either gonna be big or she's gonna be dead," actor Julian Richings remarked last year in the excellent Bruce McDonald TV documentary The Rawside of Die Mannequin. Well, frankly, Care Failure has no interest in being dead.
Warner believes. EMI Publishing believes. Fino + Bleed producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Porno For Pyros) believes so much he's predicted he and Die Mannequin will be "friends for the rest of our lives." Jack Irons, former drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, believes enough to have offered his impeccable services to the record. Even Care's parents now believe, too.
"They're very happy now," she says. "Things had to happen for a particular reason. We get along great now. My parents rule. They always did rule. I just had to do something for awhile and they totally get that."
Most importantly, Care believes. The title Fino + Bleed, for instance, comes from Care and Anthony's pet names for each other, and was basically handed to them by the gods one recent night in a dingy Washington hotel room.
"There was this room in the corner and people had fucked prostitutes there and carved their names into the ceiling – that's what we kinda gathered. And the one above our bed was 'Fino + Bleed,'" says Care. "So we were, like: 'Fucking fate.'"
Care Failure is not gonna screw this up. Her life was saved by rock 'n' roll and she knows it. Plus, she figures, popular music's been crap for so long that it's due for a saviour.
"We're in that 10-year cycle, I think, of music making a change," she says. "It always starts to really suck right at the end of it and then it starts to get a little bit better. I thought, when I was a kid, I'd nailed 2008 as the year that music was going to change, but I think kids are starting to get hip to it and want something a little different in their music. I think they're hip to it and they know what's going on, and I need to give back what I got when I was a kid. I had some great teachers, musically, like Sonic Youth and the Pixies. I owe it to them."