Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Razzle-Dazzle of Lioness

Written by Carly Ivery
Lioness isn’t your typical indie rock group. The music lacks guitar and the singing sounds as though it was snatched from the heart of soul music. Fittingly, Vanessa Fischer isn't your typical front woman. Leading the group’s vocals and fashion, this twenty-nine-year-old draws from a myriad of inspirations to make Lioness as unique and intriguing as it is.
The band’s latest release, The Golden Killer, is a journey through danceable drums, crashing bass, and Fischer’s powerful harmonies. But the band may be most striking at their concerts, putting on shows that borrow elements from performance art. Co-members Jeff Scheven and Ronnie Morris contribute to the aesthetic, but when it comes to outfits, Fischer stays in the lead. She gave us a glimpse into how she seamlessly combines her passions for music, fashion, and art into the spectacle that is Lioness.

Carly: You’re from Canada, right?

Vanessa: Yeah, Toronto’s my home. I’ve been here for. . . ten years, I think. I like this city, it’s good. There’s really good communities for all the things I like to do.

Carly: Have you gotten involved in certain music or fashion communities in Toronto?

Vanessa: Yeah, like the music community here is really good. When I was nineteen, I started a band with two girlfriends. I was really into the mantra of ‘Well, if you don’t know how to play an instrument or you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can just be in a band and that’ll be fun!’ This guy Steve Kato started Locks Recording Company which is like a collective of musicians. We had people like Owen Pallet, who does Final Fantasy, and Barcelona Pavilion, and Katie Stelmanis who is in Austra, and lots of other people. So when I was a kid it was just fun to play in bands and be a part of that, I guess, scene.

Carly: Now you’re in Lioness. You’re the only female and you were in your last band, No Dynamics, as well. Do you ever feel like that alters the group chemistry?

Vanessa: No, not really. I can stand my own. I just get really annoyed if people are unorganized or discourteous, but I think that’s just me and not being a female.

Carly: How do you think you’ve changed since No Dynamics?

Vanessa: When I was in No Dynamics, I was a lot younger and my method of performing was a lot different. At shows, I used to drink a lot because I kind of have stage fright, so I would always lose my voice by the end of the show. I decided it would be better to take care of my voice, so I went to a conservatory for a year and took voice lessons. Now I take my time warming up before shows, coddle my voice. It’s very humbling, when it’s is your only instrument and you lose it– you sort of fuck yourself there.

Carly: How do you feel after performing?

Vanessa:  It’s very cathartic. It’s kind of like my church. There’s something about this record too; it’s very powerful. No matter what happens I’m able to push forth and play, and that’s very uplifting.

Carly: Is there anything different about when you go touring with Lioness?

Vanessa: I sort of have a character I play and the show is more theatrical. When we start the show there’s always this sort of noise, which is “Procession,” the first song on the record. It’s this grumbley sort of noise that builds up, and they walk out and they have these skull heads on and then I walk out with a veil or a hood over my face, and then by the time the song starts I reveal myself and I have these crazy eyes which I wear throughout the record. It’s sort of funny with these eyes, other people can’t look me in the eye because they find it scary or terrifying, and I find that commentary really interesting. They make me look a little possessed, a little weird. The guys always wear leather jackets and I wear, like, a skeleton unitard or this other unitard that has these big sleeves and chains. It’s very costume-related.

Carly: You have a hand in the costume choice and design. How do you think that compliments your music?

Vanessa: Well, I always find that fashion and music are totally two things that go hand in hand. I was always into costumes as a kid and was always playing dress-up. I went to performing arts school, was always doing plays and wanting to pretend I was someone else because I always find that more interesting. It’s like there’s nothing to hide from if you’re using someone else to hide yourself. My whole entire life I think I was pretty shy which is why my parents put me in performing arts school, so I would be less shy.

Carly: So, when you were growing up, did your interests in costume and music form together?

Vanessa: I think so. When I was a kid, I would always sing songs to my mom and I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, probably like any kid that was born in the ‘80’s. I’ve always loved fashion and I was kind of a weird kid, like trying to alter my own clothes and change them into different things. Then I would get made fun of in grade school because people would be like, ‘What are you wearing?’

Carly: Besides Michael Jackson, what artists have influenced you?

Vanessa: I like people who are a bit more theatrical. Susan and the Banshees, Kate Bush, Kylie Minogue. Anything that has a bit of magic and razzle dazzle to it, I’m into.

Carly: Are there any acts that influence you aesthetically but not necessarily musically?

Vanessa: Any black metal stuff, like Gwar, is pretty awesome. I think you have to be really committed to the costume. We’re also really inspired by old films.

Carly: The video for “You’re My Heart” reminded me of some black-and-white, 1920’s films I’ve seen.

Vanesssa:  Yeah, I think that one was based on Metropolis. I really like art deco, art nouveau, I like Aubrey Beardsley, he’s probably one of my favorite illustrators; that sort of vibe has always seemed very classic to me, very timelessly beautiful.

Carly: Are there any songs off The Golden Killer that you’re particularly proud of?

Vanessa: I really like "They Clipped the Wings of Birds." It’s a good one, a lot of people like it. "Stay Awhile" is also one I like a lot because it has a deep meaning to me.

Carly: Do you have a favorite line of any of your songs?

Carly: I really like singing "Every night the crickets whisper secrets in my ears/every night the bats take refuge in my hair." It’s one of those funny things, recently around Halloween time I’ve been getting these little finger tattoos. I got one of a bat, and when I’d sing that line I’d put the bat in my hair and it’s like, ‘Nobody knows what’s happening except for me!’

Vanessa: Nothing like a personal joke with yourself.

Carly: Yes, share it with no one.

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