Patrick Flegel: “When I did the first Cindy Lee cassette my life was a wreck… Taking responsibility for myself and caring about myself, that’s leaning in a different way for me, to realise that I am worthy”

Handmade collage by B.

Canadian artist Patrick Flegel creates heart-wrenching, hauntingly devastating music with project Cindy Lee. Sounding akin to classic 60s Girl Groups but recast for now, with atmospherics and dreamy melody, the sheer beauty of these somber and at times wild songs that push and pull in many directions make for compelling listening.

Why is music important to you?

PATRICK FLEGEL: It makes me feel good. I’ve loved music since I was a kid. It’s a really uplifting thing, yeah?

Yeah! Why is recording music one of your favourite things to do?

PF: It’s just so engaging! It’s a certain kind of headspace where you’re not thinking about anything else. I guess it’s kind of an escapist thing… [pauses; a siren is sounding in the background]… sorry there’s just this crazy storm here, a full on downpour, lightening striking the trees!

It sounds pretty full on where you are! When you go to record, do you have a song that’s fully formed or do you create as you’re recording?

PF: Writing and recording are kind of the same thing to me but I’ll be rehashing and thinking of stuff constantly, pretty obsessively. It’s a pretty time demanding thing. I play guitar all the time and that’s usually where things will start or I’ll come up with something. A lot of the stuff I have released, people would say they’re “demo recordings” but I am usually just happier with it and over it by the time that’s done so I’m not going to go into some studio and redo it… sorry, I’m kind of thrown by the storm and everything happening here, I’m squatting in the street [laughs]. I just go until I can’t anymore, it’s definitely a bingeing, obsessive kind of thing.

I read that you’re actually working on a new record already called Diamond Jubilee?

PF: Yeah, I am. That’s the tentative name for the record but I actually moved to North Carolina, temporarily anyways, that put a wrench in things. I’m going to be moving into a house to set up a temporary studio and I’ll start on that. I wanted to have it out this summer but obviously circumstances has put a wrench in a lot of things. I also came down here. I think I’ll finish it by Halloween.

Nice! That’s exciting news. I can’t wait to hear it. What prompted your move to North Carolina?

PF: My partner! We wanted to be together so I came down here.

Aww that’s lovely, I love love! It’s my favourite thing besides creativity and nature. It’s really important.

PF: Yeah, it’s kind of the bottom-line [laughs].

You’ve already put out two albums this year – What’s Tonight to Eternity and Cat o’ Nine Tails – and with the one you’re working on that will make a third; did you expect to put out that many albums this year?

PF: Yeah, that’s just what I want to do. When you’re working with a label, it can take a year before your record comes out, even though it’s done. There’s a way things are normally done and then the way that I would like to do things. I just have so many ideas all of the time and it’s all that I want to do—it’s what I’m driven to do. I want to make more music more often, it’s that simple I guess.

Do you feel that there’s a connection through all three albums? Do they tell a complete story together or are they separate things?

PF: I have no idea of what I’m going to move into but I wanted to move into the more positive, I don’t know if that will be in terms of sounds or the lyrics—it’s just where I’m at. I feel like everything that I have done so far is really doom and gloom and taboo and the dark corners of things. Now that’s not what I want to put out into the world, not even because of what’s happening [the global pandemic], I think things have always been bad [laughs]. It’s just where I’m at personally, where I’m at as a person… you were saying that love is more important, I want more of that kind of feeling, something that makes people feel good. The kind of music I have been listening to more, over the last four or five years, has been basically easy listening, light music [laughs], that’s kind of pacifying, background music. I have no idea what it is going to sound like or whether it’s going to be doom or gloom again, let’s get real [laughs]. What I have in my head is a pleasant-sounding record that’s comforting and isn’t just some kind of hell ride!

I think you’ll surprise yourself!

PF: Yeah! You always set out to do something but you never know. By the time it’s wrapped up, for better or for worse, you’re in awe of what actually happens. It might be a bad thing, or a good thing [laughs].

I know you’re still working on the new record but to me in a way it sounds kind of like a rebirth, like everything you’ve gone through on your last two albums, all the doom and gloom, the heaviness and darkness, it’s almost like you faced all these different things and now it’s like a triumph over those things and a much deserved celebration.

PF: Yeah, I would like that. Of course things will still be a hot mess and complicated but more personally I’m leaning in a different new direction than I have, my head isn’t in the place it was… that’s where the title comes from too… just the mentality of self-victimisation and self-indulgence, this inward, often selfish state of mind you can get in when you’ve got some mental health shit going on. I just don’t want to hear it anymore, over time I’ve just wanted more pleasant sounds. I’m not listening to this hell ride, anguish kind of music, I want music to make me feel good or have it really take me somewhere… just spiritual music in general where I would think of gospel music or choral music. Where it is terrifying and confronting some dark things but ultimately it’s… oh, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Would you say that you’re a spiritual person?

PF: Oh, yeah, absolutely! It’s hard to talk about in short without sounding kind of woo-woo. For me it’s a more big picture perspective. If I think about universal consciousness, that’s where my head’s at. Part of it would be that I see things in the big picture, what I mean is, 300 years ago the clothes that people were wearing and the things they were saying and the big ideas they had, we look at it now… in the future people will look at us in the same way; I feel like there’s this perpetual oblivion that everyone’s in. In that context it seems like unnecessary human suffering, or it seems redundant. All this domination and exploitation, greed and whatever, it seems redundant to me in the big picture, whatever people are in competition for, in the bigger picture I don’t see the point in this competition that everyone’s got.

Do you set timelines for yourself making your Cindy Lee work?

PF: I just make the time to do, it takes a lot of time to do it. It sounds haphazard to a lot of people I think but it actually takes hundreds sometimes thousands of hours to make a record, from the conception of a part that turns into a song, to the actual mastered final version of twelve songs or whatever.

When you get lost in making music and time goes by and you’re not even noticing, is that in a way a meditation for you?

PF: It absolutely is! You don’t think about anything else and it’s a whole self-expression. It sounds ridiculous but it really is a transcendent state of mind; you’re not even there or something. It’s like any kind of physical activity like maybe chasing a ball or having sex or any visceral thing like that, I feel like music ties into that where you’re just fully engaged and you might just forget your own name [laughs].

I feel that way with interviewing. I just do it because I enjoy it and I like sharing music, art and stories with people. I’ve done it well over half my life. No one is paying me to do it.

PF: If you make that sacrifice for a while – I mean it’s a total crap shoot as well – if you actually do what you want and do it well, whatever that means, maybe the two will cross over at some point where you don’t have to do things you don’t want to. Or maybe you don’t want the money to intersect with what you’re doing ‘cause it takes the fun out of it. Thankfully there’s just enough people that like my stuff that I can keep my head above water and float. These days I feel you can do anything and people are pretty open-minded. You don’t even have to fit in. Someone will show something to me like Kendrick Lamar’s albums and I’ll be like, what the fuck? This is one of the most popular music in the world! This music is wild! It’s unique and jarring and strange.

I’ve often found with some of the artists I’ve interviewed over the years, when they get popular and get some money they change and it makes them more sad. They wanted those things for so long but when they got them they realised it wasn’t what they thought.

PF: Oh yeah, I experienced that in my own life on a very minor level. To play music and tour like I did when I was younger, we’d do an album cycle, I didn’t even really know what that was at the time… I didn’t enjoy it at all – I had some good times – but the lifestyle of playing 150 to 200 live shows in a year and not making anything new, doesn’t appeal to me at all [laughs].

When I found your Cindy Lee stuff I thought it was just so cool, I didn’t know anything about your past bands.

PF: I’m most excited about everything I’ve been doing lately, that’s pretty normal for a creative person I think. I feel alright about it. Speaking of doing things that you don’t’ necessarily want to do, if you want to sell units sometimes you have to do stuff… I got a publicist for the last record, but you watch the press and publicist (who’s a friend of mine) people stumbling around queer… branding you… the whole thing makes me squirm, the way people talk about… just branding myself as queer, which I do align with that in my values and beliefs and the way I see things as far as I understand that stuff, but it’s also a funny thing to be branded by that… does that make sense?

It does. How has Cindy Lee helped you grow?

PF: It was a personal thing with… being from Calgary, I noticed it when I lived in Vancouver, Montreal, these places that grew up with the values in their family were very liberal or more left-leaning and got fast tracked into a way of seeing things and certain values… there was absolutely no representation of where I’m at now in my life when I was growing up, like none! It was stunting. When I was twenty-five I had an epiphany, realisation or meltdown revolving around my identity, my sexuality and these kinds of things. I feel like that’s maybe something some people go through younger. It feels like something that should have happened to me as a teenager but didn’t. It was a kind of revelation about things… I kind of ended up turning on that as well, I could talk about that for a long time. You start wondering what’s really motivating you to counter your masculinity with this superficial aspects of femininity and then the aspects of your personality in your mind that are aligned with femininity and then over the years kind of realising that it’s just using the same framework… for me to counter masculinity with these sign posts of femininity, or particularly the way I dress… I ended up feeling that I don’t know how much that adds up… for example, I talk about the Devil a lot in my music and that’s the opposite of Jesus or God, but it’s a hilarious thing to use this ammunition to fight against something, and have it be from the same book. It’s a long, weird road the way that I look at myself and feel about myself and what that means. So that’s been lumped into this creative process and publicly being put out there, growing up in public.

I’m grateful for people that have paved the way so it’s permissible for me to cross-dress in public and not in my experience get any trouble for it. People are actually congratulatory about it and that makes me feel weird [laughs]. Sometimes people talk to you like you’re a hero for cross-dressing. That’s a funny aspect of it. I think my experiences with gender identity… that’s probably why the music has so many hardcore ups and downs, bi-polar [laughs].  

Talking to you now, you seems so happy.

PF: Oh yeah, I am. I had some pretty tumultuous periods, that are behind me; probably the last two or three years I got my feet on the ground. I had a pretty sloppy existence [laughs].

What helped get your feet on the ground?

PF: My relationship with alcohol definitely has been a huge thing, when I did the first Cindy Lee cassette [Tatlashea] my life was a wreck but when I did Act of Tenderness and Malenkost there was a period where I didn’t drink for three years, nothing. I’ll occasionally drink now, but it’s something I’m always considering; I would attribute it to that. Taking responsibility for myself and caring about myself, that’s leaning in a different way for me, to realise that I am worthy and not inferior, basic self-help things. When I stopped drinking it was amazing, that’s the most creative stretch that I’ve had to that point, when I went sober. That’s been a consistent thing since then. I live like I’m retired or something, I live very slow; I eat, shower, sleep and make music, just really basic things that appear to be easy for other people [laughs].

Do you have routine to your day?

PF: I just go with the flow. I have things set up so I don’t have a ton of obligations and I can do things at my own pace—I’m living very cautiously! [laughs].

I heard a [David] Bowie interview and he was saying like “art’s a car you can crash over and over and walk away from” which I appreciated. He talked about how chaotic his life was when he was younger and how he wanted to pour that insanity into his music… it may be obvious but I think that’s really the kind of person I would like to be, I’m taking care of myself and the people I care about and maintaining things in my life and then in my creative world I can just go straight to hell if I want to! [laughs].

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

PF: I guess I just wanted to mention a couple of things as a buffer to what I was saying about spirituality so it doesn’t sound dumb. When I was a teenager I took a lot of psychedelics and that ties into my overarching… I’ve seen it! I’ve seen what I think reality actually is—infinite and formless and beyond our description.  

Please check out CINDY LEE. Cindy Lee on bandcamp. Get vinyl edition of Cindy Lee via Superior Viaduct.

Pray For Party Dozen is on the way: “Party Dozen is a band that no one asked for, so I think it’s funny, the idea of praying for us”

Handmade mixed-media + still life collage by B.

Sydney’s Party Dozen is the dynamite combo of Jonathan Boulet and Kirsty Tickle. They’re one of the most interesting and exciting bands around with an experimental musical fusion of saxophone, drums and electronics to create a unique, fierce sound. They’re getting set to release their highly anticipated sophomore LP Pray For Party Dozen. We interviewed them, getting to know them a little better and hearing more about the awaited release, out May 22 on their own label Grupo Records. Get on your knees and start to pray, the second coming is almost upon us!

Party Dozen is a project loosely based around improvisation; what appealed to you about taking this approach?

JONO: I think all live forms of music conjure some kind of energy, sometimes it’s a familiar energy and sometimes it’s not. Audiences aren’t stupid and they can sense when you’re checked in to your performance. For us, keeping our performances unhinged and untethered not only keeps shows fun for us but I think it brings a sense of danger and if we want to project more energy we simply play harder and faster. And even though there’s a lot of songs we now generally play structurally the same, there’s always room for spontaneity and expression if we’re feeling it.

You’ve known each other for over a decade; how does that familiarity help when playing music and writing songs together?

JONO: Obviously knowing each other’s tendencies and even subtle physical cues can help immensely when it comes to performing as a unit. I guess at the same time we’re always developing as players and not being too familiar with someone’s playing style can lead to surprises and new paths. Sometimes I think we’re dead on the same page but it’ll turn out we are on opposite ends of the book! A welcome surprise as there are no mistakes when you’re “making it up”.

How did each of you first get into music?

JONO: It started for me when I was 10. I tended to be a little on the hyperactive side but instead of opting for drugs, my folks bought an old drum kit from a country town that used to belong to a Jazz guy that was in the war but never came back.

KIRSTY: My start in music was pretty run of the mill. Bullied my parents for piano lessons age 4, because I was the youngest and my siblings were all having them already. Music was the only thing that ever really held my interest for a long period of time.

All photos courtesy of @partydozen Instagram.

How did you first come to creating music yourself?

JONO: When I hit high school my parents got me a keyboard. It had this looping arranger function on it where I could layer up 5 or 6 instruments. I would get home from school and play it every day, recording loops that I liked on to floppy disks.

KIRSTY: I started writing songs when I was around 13, just keyboard and vocal kind of stuff. But I didn’t get into experimenting until I met Jonathan. He really pushed me to think about music differently and follow my own path with creating it.

I understand that Party Dozen started while you were overseas and that you started out playing the reverse – with Jono on saxophone and Kirsty on drums – of what the band formation is now; firstly what inspired you to be a two-piece with these instruments? Why did you first experiment by switching instruments?

KIRSTY: Yeah, we did one jam like that. I think Jono really wanted to play sax and I’ve always wanted to play drums. But it was dogshit, so we went back to the ones we’re good at. My memory is that we spoke about making a band in Berlin, but recorded our first song while living in London. We started taking it seriously when we moved back to Sydney. Coming back to Australia was this real lightbulb moment for both of us – we love living here, we love creating here and we love the community here.

Party Dozen’s music has quite an aggressive vibe and has an edge to it that can push the parameters of what makes people feel comfortable both as a listener and as a live experience; was that an intentional goal when crafting your sound?

KIRSTY: For sure. We always want to push the boundaries of how much sound two people can produce, and then extend on that. For me Party Dozen is also an experiment in how to utilise our instruments in more interesting ways, and appreciating that that sometimes isn’t going to be “nice” or “pretty”. There’s a real strength in that for me.

You’ve previously mentioned that with Party Dozen you wanted to “form a band that could help us grow as musicians”; in what ways do you feel you’ve grown since starting PD?

KIRSTY: When we started this band I couldn’t really use effects pedals. So I’ve really grown in that department. I also feel like we’ve both gotten so much better at playing our instruments in a live setting – still plenty of room for improvement though.

JONO: Yeah with the current format of this band, the better we get on our instruments the more options we have for exploration. This band has forced me to play harder better faster stronger.

Where did the title of your forthcoming sophomore LP, Pray For Party Dozen, come from?

KIRSTY: I think it sort of started as a bit of a joke…

JONO: Party Dozen is a band that no one asked for, so I think it’s funny, the idea of praying for us.

What inspired the new record?

KIRSTY: Film Noir, cults, 1960’s rock, conversations about dead friends.

How did you record it? Jono you record, mix and master Party Dozen’s songs, right?

JONO: We recorded it in our little 15sqm box in Marrickville, Sydney. Generally we’ll improvise to a loop a couple times and pick the best one. We run the sax through an amp with a DI and generally use 4-6 mics on the kit. We mix and master in house because we’re possessive and greedy.

I know when writing songs that you like to experiment and that you like to play a few different takes over loops to find what sounds best; how important are feeling and intuition in your process?

KIRSTY: The writing process is very improvisational, so I’d say feeling and intuition makes up about 90% of it. If it feels good, we’ll explore. If we like the vibe, it’ll normally make the record.

JONO: You can tell pretty quick if a song is coming together and whether it’s worth pursuing. Once we’ve made a loop, you can envision the song and if that sounds good in your mind, it’s likely to sound good in reality. There’s only ever been a couple of jams that got to the jam phase and didn’t make it.

Were there any risks you feel you took while making the album? Or any happy accidents from the process that made it on to the album?

KIRSTY: There’s a song with no loops! Which is the first time we’ve done that, and we didn’t go into the recording aiming for that either – so I guess that’s a happy accident!

JONO: Nothing too risky. We were more focused on expanding our sonic palate. More colours to play with in the Party Dozen world. There was definitely an intentional focus on aesthetic and vibe this time around.

What gear really helped shape the sound of, Pray For Party Dozen?

KIRSTY: On my set up, I got some new pedals. A wah, a new fuzz and a couple of new delays.

JONO: I run all my loops off of a Roland SP-404, I use one crash, tighten the fuck out of my snare and try to hit everything as hard and consistent as possible.

What was one of your favourite moments of recording the new record?

KIRSTY: The opening track “World Prayer” is probably the most challenging track to listen to on the record. It was also the most fun, rule-free, throwing-shit-at-a-wall noisey tracks I’ve ever recorded.

JONO: Some songs you know just don’t feel right while you’re playing them, so it takes a few goes to get it right. But there are some songs, eg. “The Great Ape”, that feel right every time you play it. When it feels right the first time, you get this rush of excitement or a hit of some highly addictive drug.

What keeps music exciting for you?

KIRSTY: I get excited to just keep making. And trying different things. It’s not hard to keep excited with a band like PD… we can do whatever we want next.

JONO: Touring is what keeps it exciting for me. When there’s heat in the room and you can feel people’s energy on stage, nothing beats that.

As artists what are the things that you value most?

KIRSTY: I value time. Time to tour, practise, make records, hangout with friends who give me tonnes of inspiration. The more time we have as Party Dozen, the better.

JONO: I value a sense of humour, originality, and people with a sense of vision.

Please check out: PARTY DOZEN. Pray For Party Dozen out May 22 on Grupo pre-order here. PD on Instagram. PD on Facebook.