I was, as I was to learn later, a Wyrd Sisters virgin. Except for the CD I had listened to the previous night in preparing to interview them, I had never heard of The Wyrd Sisters. But with three albums behind them and a following that goes from Vancouver to as far away as Australia, the Wyrd Sisters virgins are not as numerous as one might think. There is also the impressive company they’ve been keeping. The Wyrds have played many prestigious festivals throughout North America including Tom Jackson’s Huron Carol, as well as being opening act for the likes of Michelle Shocked and Ani DiFranco.
The music couldn’t have been more appropriate as I sat in the Bean Bank Café. Frank Sinatra was crooning while I flipped through the liner notes of the Wyrd Sisters’ CD Raw Voices, and I came across the black and white photo of Nancy Reinhold. Wearing a suit reminiscent of the ’40s or ’50s, a fedora partially shading her face, Reinhold could be ol’ Blue Eyes himself. I was waiting for the group of three, the trio, the triumvirate, but only one Sister came to my table.
Nancy Reinhold is a tiny woman with athletic build and comfortable manner. She smiles easily as she shakes my hand and explains that she will probably be the only one there for the interview. They had just finished another talk session and the others were off taking care of other things. Right away we begin to discuss music. When listening to the album, I could hear traces of different artists, admittedly because I was trying to classify it for myself. Nancy tells me they have had similar comparisons, and depending on what record store you go into a Wyrd Sisters CD could be in one of several places.
“In Canadian record stores sometimes it’s found under independent, if they have an independent section. Sometimes it’s classed under folk. In the Juno category we’re nominated under Roots and Traditional only because, that’s so broad that everybody goes there who isn’t already somewhere else. And then, sometimes it’s just in the pop music section, even though it’s not really pop, although I guess some of it is. If I’m forced to make a one word classification, I’ll call it folk mostly because it’s so lyrically driven.”
And that it is. The songs reflect social as well as emotional issues and then social becomes emotional and vise versa. The most obvious element is that these women are conscious of being a part of a global community whether the songs are about environmental issues, life on the streets or the empowerment of women. Not that it’s always that serious; the Wyrd Sisters also have a great sense of humour. A fun countryesque number appears on the Hanging Garden soundtrack called “If It Ain’t Here”.
But if the music is lyric-driven then vocal work is riding shotgun. Each woman has a very distinctive vocal style in addition to her own unique writing skills, and when three voices blend together, the results are breathtaking.
In almost every culture, there is a female trinity: The Three Fates, The Maiden, Mother, Crone, the Wyrd Sisters. When this band was formed, however, there were only two. Nancy Reinhold and Kim Baryluk were the founders and today it is they who carry most of the writing responsibilities. Lianne Fournier came along later as a temporary replacement for a then band member, but after a lot of work she decided to stay on to complete the trio. This was taking on a lot, says Nancy, as Lianne also fronts two other bands. While the bulk of the songwriting comes from Kim and Nancy, they all come together for the arrangements. It is by contributing for the good of the band that the three women overcome much of their sensitivity, at least where criticism is concerned.
“Certainly people’s egos are involved, and it’s mostly how you react to it. Nobody wants to hear you say ‘I can’t stand that song’… Usually Kim would come and play a song for me and ask ‘what do you think about this idea? Should I keep going on it?’ and if I think it has potential, or I get a good gut reaction about it, I’ll say ‘keep working on it’, but if I don’t, I can say ‘no, I don’t think you should’, or ‘I don’t really get it’, or ‘don’t like where it’s going’… or even if I just don’t like it, or if she doesn’t like something I’ve written, she’ll tell me. And pretty much we can do that with each other keeping in mind what we want to present. It’s all a process, a process of learning how to work better together.”
With that said and taking into account three very different personalities, I ask Nancy to tell me, in her opinion what each person brings to the group. She laughs and tips her head to one side.
“Hmmm…well that’s a broad question, and I’ll try to give you- an even broader answer! Well, Kim is very positive, very goal oriented; in a way, she is the visionary for the band. She sees where she wants us to go and she believes she is always right… and of course I do too, so it works out well. Now when you see us on stage, she is the presenter for us, she brings a real sense of show.
“Musically what Lianne brings is her knowledge. Of the three of us she’s the only one who’s a trained musician; she actually went to school at St. F.X. and is a really wonderful jazz vocalist. She is this whole other piece of the package that we didn’t have before, and it so it really solidifies our sound. But besides all that, she’s just a riot! She makes me laugh, which is a great, cause she keeps me chuckling when we’re on the road… Lianne is a great combination of a diva and a really nice younger sister.”
“Probably what I bring in is… I’m probably the most intense person in terms of emotional intensity; I’m also the one who’s the most stressed. Because I’m the one who handles a lot of the business, the one who has most of the information, I’m the one most responsible for dealing with it. In that way I’m kind of a pain in the ass, because the super organized can also be super annoying. I’m also the most sensitive, so it certainly comes across in my writing… So the three of us on stage present three totally different aspects. We’re a weird bunch — no pun intended.”
As we continue to chat about the group, a tall red haired woman enters the café. Right away there is a commanding presence about her, as she makes her way to our table. Kim Baryluk looks different from her photo. Her hair is longer and she isn’t dressed like Artimis, but she is a goddess. She slides into her chair and waits for her coffee order to arrive. We were discussing the possible crowd size for the show at the Savoy that night, I tell her, and she says that they are prepared for the possibility of a small house. Bruce Guthro just played two sold out nights. Luckily the Wyrd Sisters are booked into the Studio space, which makes it more intimate. Intimate is Baryluk’s forte.
“Kim knows how to deal with small houses, she’s good at it,” Reinhold assures me, as Baryluk purrs “I get to spend more quality time.”
It’s important for them that the audience feels comfortable, especially a small one, because a small crowd, explains Reinhold, tends to feel a bit uncomfortable and may take a while to warm up.
Later that evening the Savoy Studio does provide an intimate setting. Round tables seat small groups, although almost everyone knows everyone else and a lot of visiting and intermingling is going on. Many are already fans, having seen this group perform at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, or heard them on CBC radio shows.
Soon the Wyrd Sisters take the stage along with their backing band. Rachel Mellas is from Toronto with her funky glasses, playing funky bass. Richard Moody is sweet on viola and acoustic guitar and Daniel Roy is the most subtle drummer ever. As soon as they begin it is clear that we, the audience are being taken on an adventure, a sensual listening experience. Along for the ride is their very own sound tech John Cookshaw.
Kim is the stewardess for this flight, or perhaps the cruise director of this Love Boat. There’s a bunch of innuendo slipped our way; in fact we’re promised that if there is someone who isn’t completely satisfied that they are to see Kim and she’ll “personally take care of you”. In fact this sentiment is voiced on the back of the CD jacket, as well.
Although the audience is quiet, the music is greatly received. Things get going as the band sings “The Faucet”, a song dripping with sexual connotation. It’s the simple story of a girl and her plumbing; being alone with the bathroom faucet makes her “hydro-sexual”.
The evening is an emotional spin cycle with laughter, tears and longing. The harmonies are exquisite, especially in songs like “the Warrior” and “Farewell to Clayoquot Sound” (with Kim singing great bass lines). Each lyric rains down to quench dry souls. Nancy Reinhold’s guitar playing is clear and suitably understated. Her song “This Memory”, written for the victims of the Montreal Massacre was so moving, you could have heard a teardrop fall.
Lianne Fournier provided a jazz element to the show, both in her piano playing and her vocal work. Her scat singing would do Ella proud. Although it was quiet for most of the show, you could see what Nancy calls her “Carol Burnett-ishness”. She is what used to be called “a slip of a girl” and gives the appearance of being perpetually cheerful (if indeed there were such a thing).
There is a great round of applause when Kim Baryluk announces to those that apply that we are no longer Wyrd Sisters virgins. Even more laughter as she suddenly leaves the stage, Polaroid camera in hand and sits on a lap here or leans over a shoulder there. She leaves a little something of herself behind in the form of a photograph of herself and the willing participant. It makes me think back to something she had said earlier at the coffee shop.
“I want the audience to have a really good time and I want them to have a broad range of experiences. In that way I see it more as a performance, an emotional manipulation…”
At that point, Nancy ruefully said “It’s funny Kim says emotional manipulation and I want to go ‘don’t say that in public’, y’know, or ‘don’t print that okay?’ cause it sounds so bad. But really it’s not. It’s a craft. It opens up the possibilities for people to feel more. And I think people want to take something away with them.”
Kim adds to this “They want to be touched in some way.”
That certainly is the case, both figuratively and physically at this show. And if the audience was manipulated, well, they went along with it every step of the way. At the end of the night the Wyrds stay around to sign posters and CDs, and to sit and chat with fans both old and new. Their dog Sadie who travels with them (and has been patiently waiting out of sight until the show was over) sits quietly on Lianne’s lap and graciously laps up all the attention proving that even on the road, it truly is a dog’s life.
Even with their growing success, these musicians admit there’s still a bias in the music business as far as women are concerned. Although, they see it more than actually experience it, women still have to claw their way to get recognition or respect. In a way, The Wyrd Sisters, intentionally or no, stand as a model for women who want to pursue a career in the same field. But as Kim is quick to point out, it’s not just women who make up their fan base, but men of all ages go to the shows and buy the CDs. And it’s not just their musical talent that people can be inspired by, but their attitude as well.
“Basically I say, we can be making money if we were doing other things, but when we’re sitting, rocking on the porch at the old folks home, at least we can look back and say that we lived our dreams. We have no regrets.”