It was with a twinge of trepidation that the Straight sat down with Allie Sheldan one recent evening in the backroom of the Cobalt. In the days preceding our first meeting with the frontwoman of the Vancouver three-piece Legs, the soft-spoken Sheldan seemed to be working a bit of black magic.
On several occasions, her name was mentioned and, as if she’d been peering through a crystal ball, an email from Sheldan would arrive. Then there was the abundance of pentagrams that decorate Legs’ various manifestations online, and the title of the group’s debut EP, Dark Rituals, which was released last January. Had a spell been cast?
“I think there is a lot of darkness to the music,” Sheldan says. But the occult motif represents more of a flirtatious relationship than anything sealed in blood, she assures. Fans described the band’s early shows as akin to a séance, and the theme evolved from there. Legs’ serendipitous origins also hint at a dance with the devil.
Like many great collections of music, Dark Rituals came from a place close to rock bottom. Sheldan recounts how she was going through a disastrous breakup and the simultaneous passing of a close friend. “It was like a dark fall,” she says.
Although Legs was originally a cathartic solo project, Sheldan connected with brothers Chris and Michael Weiss—who play guitar and drums, respectively—through a hustle for festival tickets. Sheldan was booked for a gig and the guys were looking for free wristbands. She invited them to share the stage, and thus Legs became a trio.
“We had one rehearsal and it was instantly magic,” Sheldan recalls. “It was that weird thing that happens with music when you hook up with the right people and it instantly works.
“We started creating songs and sounds that were almost out of the ether, out of nowhere,” she adds. “We were pushing the boundaries of being on that line of noise, but holding it in just enough that an audience can stay engaged.”
That’s as good a description as any for what you hear on a lot of the EP.
Consisting of a drum kit, two guitars (both picked by self-described bass players), and a bit of piano, Legs keeps things primal. It’s therefore no surprise that the band at times channels the duo that broke the mould for minimalist alt rock.
“The Kills were a huge influence,” Sheldan acknowledges. You can hear other inspirations such as Timber Timbre and Blonde Redhead on Dark Rituals, but the EP isn’t just a local band imitating its heroes.
“Gypsy Woman” opens the record with church-organ keys that set a tone far moodier than anything Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have pressed. From there, a start-to-finish build takes listeners to a Velvet Underground crescendo that then crashes to a close. The chaos effect is employed a second time on “Little Bell,” a slow burn that similarly concludes with the band surrendering to madness.
“We wanted it to be like losing your mind and that feeling of being totally fucking crazy,” Sheldan remarks on the latter. “Hopefully that works.”
It does. That comfort zone on the edge of losing control is the key to Legs’ thrilling live shows, in which songs can be stretched far beyond their recorded versions.
Elsewhere, “There’s a Sadness”, is a raw ballad uttered over little more than a few gentle guitar chords. The emotional number puts Sheldan’s vulnerability on display to such an extent that you can practically feel her tremble in your arms.
“When I wrote that song, that was absolutely where I was at,” she says. “And it continues to be a way that I can feel. Every time we perform that song, it is completely honest for me.”
It’s not all doom and gloom on Dark Rituals, however. The EP’s climax, “Killer”, is careless fun and, Sheldan admits, not about anything at all.
“Fifty days in New Mexico sun/Forty-nine nights held tight like a gun,” she states coolly over insistent surf-grunge guitars. “You don’t need Jesus with a body like that girl!” Like a banshee, she continues to shriek: “No holy ghost or savior.” It’s a soundtrack for a car chase through a starless desert night.
“I don’t know what the lyrics mean,” she says with a laugh. “That song to me is just this reckless drive, getting dark and getting fucked-up reckless. Doing bad stuff.”
At a second meeting where Sheldan was accompanied by the brothers Weiss, the three—all in their mid-20s yet seasoned veterans of every seedy venue in the city—trade stories of sneaking into bar gigs as far back as their early teens. (Their advice: wear baggy clothes and keep your mouth shut until showtime.)
Sheldan says there was never a question she was going to do anything but music, adding, “I have cassette tapes of songs of me and my bass guitar when I was nine.”
She dismisses criticisms of Vancouver’s so-called limitations. “Everybody complains about the scene here being small and closed-minded. I think the only person you can really blame at the end of the day is yourself. It’s really what you make of it.”
With, according to Michael, “hundreds” of songs already taking shape, Vancouver might soon be hearing a lot from Legs.
Legs plays Kokopelli Hair Salon & Body Lounge on Saturday (May 18).