Die Mannequin’s Care Failure says music rescued her from the downward spiral that was her life
It’s a tad ironic that when Die Mannequin’s Care Failure hooked up with members of Rush, Tea Party, Three Days Grace, and Big Wreck in 2006 to record a song for the soundtrack of Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, the tune in question happened to be “I Fought the Law”. She’d actually had her first brush with the police at the age of 12, having been hauled into the cop shop after a close buddy attempted suicide and named her in the note. Because Failure was heading to this friend’s home to show her a song at the time of the incident, music became the scapegoat and her desperate parents confiscated all of her rock posters, band T-shirts, and CDs.
Fast forward five years or so and Failure—real name Caroline Kawa—has left her suburban Ontario home for the lights of Toronto and gotten hooked on heroin, yet is still performing in various bands and drawing attention from industry insiders. Two executives with EMI Publishing Canada witness the pint-sized dynamo in full flight with the Bloody Mannequins at a rehearsal space, sign her, and get her off the street so she can start recording songs. And that’s when the music she’d been pilloried for turned out to be the troubled teen’s salvation.
“Rock ’n’ roll definitely saved me,” explains the 22-year-old Failure on the line from Toronto. “It added some kind of direction to what seemed like a downward spiral of a life. Music just grabbed me at a young age, and I don’t even know why I do what I do. It’s just kind of in my bones and I can’t help it.”
The rough ’n’ tumble rock life that Failure seems born to embrace is captured warts and all in The Rawside of Die Mannequin, a 45-minute documentary by renegade Canadian director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) that is included with her band’s full-length debut, Fino + Bleed. The film reveals her difficult past as well as her unglamorous present, and shows the pressure she is under to write new material while touring North America, playing both small dives and, as a support act, arenas. Things hit a boiling point when her laptop, which contained the only copies of songs she had written for the Fino + Bleed sessions, was stolen at a nightclub. Tough cookie that she is, Failure managed to put a positive spin on that creative catastrophe.
“At the time I was really upset,” she recalls, “but I still remembered ”˜Bad Medicine’ and ”˜Suffer’, two songs that I knew were lost. Maybe in a blessing-in-disguise kinda way it weeded out some of the less catchier shit.”
That may have been the case, as a ton of catchy shit did indeed seep through into Fino + Bleed, including bracing tracks like “Miss Americunt”, “Dead Honey”, “Candide”, and the autobiographical “Caroline Mescaline”. While some of the disc’s 13 songs echo the exuberant riff-rock of underrated ’80s metal act Girlschool, Failure points more to the influence of ’90s alt-rock. She sports tattoo replicas of the album covers for Sonic Youth’s Goo and Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind on her left arm.
“I’m a big Dinosaur Jr. nerd for J [Mascis],” she explains. “He found a way to make shredding cool, so to speak. I mean, what pisses me off the most is wanking. Like, if you wank, you will be punished.”
Another dedicated non-wanker who’s had a big effect on Failure is Alex Lifeson. In one of those “Here ya go, kid” moments, the legendary Rush guitarist presented her with one of his Paul Reed Smith guitars, just when she needed it most.
“There was like a six-month period where if I didn’t have that guitar I don’t know what I would have been doing,” she says. “He gave me that guitar and a bag of pedals, and more importantly some real nice messages that trip through your head.”
The helpful advice and colossal freebies from good samaritans like Lifeson, her “musical sugar daddy”, have helped Failure turn her once-troubled life around to the point where you question the validity of her stage name. But she has no regrets about choosing that moniker—or anything else.
“As hard as it was, I definitely wouldn’t change a thing,” she says of her life to date. “You never know what you would think if you’d taken a different path, but I’m really happy where I am right now, and I know that that was what I had to go through on my journey or whatever you want to call it. Maybe I’m not too bright, but I would do it all again.”
Die Mannequin plays Venue on Tuesday (November 24).