It says a lot that, prior to her first interview with the Georgia Straight in several years, Elizabeth Fischer sent us an 800-word manifesto listing her current concerns, which include the artistic bankruptcy of three-chord punk, her ongoing belief in populist art, and her view of Vancouver as a “cultural wasteland fuelled by unmitigated greed”.
And it says just as much that once we meet for an interview at her East Vancouver flat, with her new collie pup Lajos in attendance, she’s not the least bit confrontational. Instead, she prefers to stress that she’s a born collaborator and that she’s overjoyed by the strength and generosity of her current artistic affiliates.
The singer also claims that I once wrote that she had “14 people living inside her head, all fighting each other for supremacy”. In hindsight, that seems a bit of an exaggeration, but she’s certainly capable of containing multitudes.
It’s equally certain that Jazz Is the New Punk, the title of the triple bill she’s assembled for an upcoming Fox Cabaret performance, is intended as a provocation, an instant WTF moment for anyone who stops to examine the garish clown image on her self-designed poster. For some Vancouver tastemakers, at least—although not necessarily in the real world—punk remains on the rise, while jazz is a reviled musical subgenre. But Fischer sees a strong link between the contemporary jazz underground and the Vancouver music scene of the early 1980s, a time when she was busy helping to invent postpunk with her now-legendary band the Animal Slaves.
“Punk, in its much larger culturally important zeitgeist, was a way to demystify creativity, where creativity—creating something truly original—was the ideal that fuelled musicianship at that time, no matter the skill,” she wrote in her letter. “Skill would come with practice, and communities formed between the similarly inclined musical entities, collaborating on songwriting, exchanging members, information, running gigs together, running labels on shoestring budgets… in other words acting co-operatively, eschewing the prevailing bullshit of sellability.”
In the flesh, Fischer says she sees a similar kind of do-it-yourself ethos at work in a Vancouver jazz-and-improv scene that has won multiple Juno Awards and is respected internationally, but still struggles for audiences and attention at home. Fischer cites Fond of Tigers, Pugs and Crows, Limbs of the Stars, the Copilots, the Inhabitants, and the various bands led by Tony Wilson and Peggy Lee as emblematic of this underground. And if she feels that her own DarkBlueWorld quintet fits right in, she’s got good reason for that. The band now includes the Inhabitants rhythm section of bassist Pete Schmitt and drummer Skye Brooks, along with Wilson and Pugs bandleader Cole Schmidt on guitars. While all of these musicians are quite capable of making harsh and abstract noise, Fischer stresses that they’re just as adept at creating emotionally affecting structures.
“That’s where I come in,” she explains. “Me, I like to write songs. I play with these people, and we collaborate, and what I can offer is not instrumental wizardry, which I do not have. But I have a certain artistic brain, and so I recognize the beginning, the middle, and the end [of a song] and can formulate around that. I’m not the only person who can do that, but I just happen to be writing words, too.”
Fischer, who’s also an accomplished writer and visual artist, promises that she’ll be unveiling new songs at the Fox show, most of them cowritten with Wilson and/or Schmidt. She’s reluctant to say much more, but when pressed about their content, notes that she continues to write about life, humanity, and “the people nobody else writes about”.
“Underdogism,” she says with a laugh, and Lajos clearly approves.
DarkBlueWorld, the Inhabitants, and JP Carter play the Fox Cabaret on Thursday (November 27).