Montreal Rocks is always on the lookout for up and coming Montreal bands. We had the chance to speak to married couple Sacha & Caleigh Crow about the story behind the name, influences, and how to avoid causing 6 car pile ups when performing.
Pope Joan Interview
Montreal Rocks: Is this your first interview?
Sacha & Caleigh: Yes!
MR: I get to ask you all the questions that people will read about when they research you later! I can ask all the juicy ones I normally stay away from, because everyone else asked them already: Where did the name come from? Or the worst: What’s your inspiration? That very vague question.
I will ask what prompted you to choose that name?
Caleigh Crow: Sure. There is a play by Caryl Churchill called Top Girls. I went to theatre school so I do a lot of theatre. I read a lot of Caryl Churchill plays and this one has all these historical women in it. One of the characters is Pope Joan. I’ve never heard of a female pope. I loved the play, and it sounded really good. We were looking for a name for our act, and it just seemed like a good fit.
MR: It is probably one of the hardest things to do, find a name that nobody else has. It is an interesting story, people don’t really know if it’s true or not. Apparently, a woman tricked everyone and became Pope, then had a baby.
CC: Got found out!
MR: Yeah, that was the moment when people thought…maybe that’s not a dude.
CC: Yeah, exactly. That’s the story, the mythology around it is a really good secret…
MR: Secret identity.
CC: Yes, exactly. It’s kind of a little blasphemous (laughs), but not too much, you know. Just slightly provocative.
MR: Do you guys have a secret identity?
Sacha Crow: I think so. When we perform, we don’t necessarily have personas, but for instance, I’m a much quieter person than what I come off like on stage. Your pretty focused (looking at Caleigh) when you play.
Sometimes we tend to be antagonistic with the audience. We want people to respond to what we are doing. If we find that it’s kind of a dead room, we will try to push a few buttons.
CC: We are really nice though! (We all laugh)
MR: You want people to be affected, one way or another. There is someone called Todd Hermanwho was a performance coach for athletes who used alter-egos. For example, there was a tennis player that had a really deep sense of justice, being fair. She would start off very strong, but then self-sabotage the game, without knowing, to let the other person catch up. Then she would struggle to win. Once they discovered that, they then picked something physical, I believe a ring. Once she put on this ring, she would become somewhat of a jerk, just for that time when she had to play the game and win. Then, she would take the ring off and revert back to the nice, fair person she was.
<<You can listen to the Podcast Episode here: https://bit.ly/2MyZYf2>>
Is that what you do?
SC: Yes, that is very similar to what we do on stage.
MR: Where do the topics come from, for your songs?
SC: I will often start with a line that I think sounds good. I treat it like a puzzle, where I have to make a concise statement out of one verse. It might not have anything to do with the other verses in the song. It’s just trying to build rhyming words on top of rhyming words to form some sort of coherent sentence. Often, it will end up that there is a common theme through the song, even if I didn’t intentionally write it in. I try to write about topics that are universally held by people. I don’t want to be heavy handed…I’m really influenced by Lou Reed. His writing is quite dry. Using too much flowery language can come off a certain way and sound pretentious. I prefer to find a direct and simple way to say things.
MR: There is something to be said about finding our own language, tone or voice and being true to it. If you try to fake it, it shows, which eventually bleeds into the music.
MR: How long have you been together as a band? You were solo before?
SC: Yes. When we got married, there was the question of if I would continue playing in bands, and tour. We didn’t want to do these things separately. Caleigh had the idea: Why don’t I learn to play bass? Then you will have a bass player. She picked it up within a month and was playing like crazy! She totally took to it.
CC: We’ve been doing music since we’ve been married. For Pope Joan, it’s coming up on a year now, with our drummer.
MR: The third piece…the third wheel. (we all say together…then start laughing) I didn’t want to say it!
Have you started touring outside the city? Maybe Toronto.
SC: Yes, we played Toronto a few times. We do pretty well in Ontario.
CC: We did a show in London, a show in Oshawa.
MR: How’s life on the road? Well…it’s a short drive, not that bad.
CC: True, but it was a lot of fun. It was my first experience in a band, so I didn’t know what to expect. The three of us get along pretty well, you know, listening to music in the car, eating at McDonalds…(laughs)…staying in a hotel and playing music together. I really enjoyed that feeling.
MR: I was speaking to Evan Cranley of Stars and he told me they were touring with their 1 year old. That’s a full time job right there, then you have the full time job of being in a band.
It’s also a lot of waiting around. You go, do sound check, and wait for the amps to show up!
<Before the interview, they related that for the last gig, they were relying on another band to provide the amps, but they showed up really late, so it delayed the whole night.>
CC: Yeah, that happens.
MR: How does playing live compare with the creative process, or when you are recording? What do you get out of it from the crowd?
SC: Most of the songs we wrote go through different phases. When we started, we didn’t plan on being as loud as we ended up being. Part of that is that our drummer is more traditionally a metal drummer. We were trying to write pop songs and he was going crazy on the drums to them. So we figured we might as well get a little louder. I still like to write the songs with an acoustic guitar and if it’s a good song, it’s OK to make it louder and faster.
MR: So, Pope Joan Unplugged. (laughs)
I found it interesting that a lot of the songs have different girl names. Are you talking about people from your past? Friends? Who are these mysterious people?
I mean, Judy…she was a punk rocker.
<Referring to song 4 on their album Sympathetic and They Carecalled “Judy Says”>
SC: It was a wink and nod to Lou Reed. He has Caroline says, Lisa says, Stephanie Says. It was a nod to that. Lucy says was the first songs I wrote with these characters. The idea behind it was that everybody has different aspects of their personality that are quite different from each other. From one day to the next, you can feel like a different person, depending on how your day is going. I wrote different character traits for each person. Maybe they are people within me, or maybe not. That was the initial idea, just different sides of a person.
CC: But they are not real people…there’s no Lucy…no Judy…
MR: Yeah, because that would really affect the marriage! (laughs)
CC: Yeah! These are all songs of his ex-girlfriends…
MR: Awkward…is he still thinking about her? (laughs)
It’s interesting when you play around with fictional characters, you become a storyteller and make them come alive. They have their own adventures. I speaks with some bands that write deeply introspective songs, trying to process certain feelings. Others will write for a fictional character, and that’s the way they deal with it.
SC: Maybe these things are about my own feelings or about myself, but I try to write them in a way where I deflect them off me and into something else. I don’t like to be too revealing about my own emotions when I’m writing. I’d rather write things I can relate to into that character. Then, others will be able to relate to them as well.
MR: In terms of your evolution in music, you performed solo before?
SC: Yes, for a few years I was living in Vancouver, playing guitar in bands and touring around. I’ve always had solo projects. This last album is my twelfth release. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but it was always DIY, doing it myself.
MR: Do you have a label for this one?
SC: No, self-released.
MR: Then you have more control. In terms of streaming, if someone downloads your album, you actually can get something out of it.
SC: Like .5 cents or whatever. (laughs)
MR: If we were to sit here, a year from now with a bottle of champagne, celebrating something you just accomplished, what would it be?
SC: More releases. This album has a certain sound to it, that we really want to explore. Going forward, we really want to dress up the sound in different ways and explore different influences. We want to do more touring, festivals and that kind of thing. We intended this to be our project, my wife and I. We do have a drummer and he is in the band, but we want to do things outside the band format as well. We want to be a band with many different hats. We actually have a sketch show we are doing for the Fringe Festival under the name Pope Joan, but there are actually more people involved.
Fringe Tunes: Pope Joan, June 9th, 2018 @ 19h00 to 19h45
We also want to explore different mediums of art as well.
MR: I was going to ask that because of Caleigh’s theatre background. How does theatre fit into this?
CC: What you were saying about personas before ties into it. I’m a writer and a performer. I bring what I can from theatre. I love drama. I don’t write the songs, but what I try to do with my basslines is bring a certain kind of tension. I’m pretty new to it, so figuring it out as I go.
I’ve written a few plays and performed them and Sacha has written the score for them. That has been a fruitful collaboration. There will always be theatre for me. That is how I really express myself and get into art.
SC: We might want to do a Rock Opera later on.
CC: Yes! We want to do a Rock Opera! We do have many ideas about stage costumes that we should be wearing. We love the iconic Talking Heads performance with the big suit. What can we do that would be impactful like that huge ridiculous suit?
MR: I go to a lot of shows and noticed that the bands that have a style or make some sort of effort stand out.
SC: It’s important for us and the music to keep it free of any sort of gimmicks. The songs are mainly three or four chords, strong melodies over a solid foundation. When you have strong songs, you then have room to explore other things like dressing in a certain way, without it being contrived or quite obvious.
MR: I remember seeing one band with no name brand running shoes…and the struggling artist came through a little bit too heavy.
CC: I was talking about that last night, after the show. To me, when you are trying to look like you don’t care…you are still trying to do that. I do care about our look as a band. I would rather direct that energy into doing something more exciting or dramatic rather than how can I dress cool…like Mac DeMarco. (laughs)
MR: Or…Lou Reed. Sad that we lost him, along with so many good artists. The beauty of music is that you get to live on through your music. It gets shared. What’s interesting as well is that the things I was listening to, 30 years ago, is now being discovered by my daughter. I am now revisiting these bands, from a different set of eyes. Who know what will happen with your music, 30 years from now!
CC: We just played Porch Fest, which was the first time we played outside. We just missed the rain, it was dicey there for a while. We would look at the other porches and see adorable families doing songs together. Totally a different vibe than us. They would come and say…oh…you are NOT a folk band.
MR: You must have had a whole whack of wires and extension cords…
SC: We were setting it up a couple of hours beforehand. We had more monitors around us than actual shows! It worked…we were really loud.
CC: The spot we were at, we were facing out towards the highway. There were no houses across, so we were really able to project…
SC: We were worried about causing an accident.
CC: People were slowing down…maybe not the vibe we were going for…6 dead in epic Pope Joan performance…(laughs)