Last fall, when The Uniter spoke with Stefanie Johnson and Jodi Dunlop, the two members of Winnipeg pop rock duo Mise en Scene, they were about to head to Banff for a residency at the Centre for the Arts with Howard Redekopp (New Pornographers).
The duo had only ambitions that those sessions, along with recording time with Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire), Tony Berg (Beck) and Ron Obvious (who produced the band’s debut EP), would result in its debut full-length, the nine song Desire’s Despair, which was released Nov. 13 through local imprint Pipe and Hat with Canada-wide distribution through Fontana North.
As we arrive at Johnson’s boyfriend’s apartment, the singer-guitarist, 26, has just returned from a trip to Saskatoon to check out Leonard Cohen (literally just returned - our interview was bumped a half hour because her plane was delayed).
“I’m glad we’re squeezing this in now,” she says as she puts a worn out vinyl copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on the turntable.
Things have become very busy very quickly for Johnson and Dunlop.
Desire’s Despair has been charting for the last month on campus radio across the country, and the band just returned from a Western Canadian tour with label mates The Noble Thiefs a few weeks ago.
A slew of media obligations comes along with touring, but it’s all to promote a product on which they’ve worked very hard.
“You can’t just play for all your best friends in Winnipeg and expect someone to discover you,” Dunlop, 22, says.
The drummer has been a fixture on the scene for a while now.
Her old band, The Paps, put out two EPs of energetic punk a few years back.
“(The media attention is) flattering and really nice and makes you feel good about what you’re doing, but I’m really shy, so I have a hard time talking to people,” Dunlop says.
“There’s definitely hats you have to put on,” Johnson adds. “The most important hat is the one that Jodi and I wear when we’re playing. It’s tough because you’re getting all these emails about interviews and everyone’s moving schedules around and it’s all for something that you’re not doing, right? This is all for the album, but you’re not playing music right now.”
After spending a year living with the equally heartbreaking and uplifting pop rockers that make up Desire’s Despair, Johnson and Dunlop are happy to have the record out.
Perfectionists that they are, it’s always hard to know when something is complete.
“It fucks you up,” Johnson says. “You have nightmares about it. ‘I wish that I’d changed this or that was different.’ But looking back on it, I’m so happy that for our debut full-length album we worked with incredible people. The material is strong, I believe in every song, it’s out for its own reason and they are all snippets of Mise en Scene. I just think it’s a really good first look at what we’re going to continue doing.”
Part of this acceptance of completion comes from working with producers that the band trusts.
“When you’re working with big names like that you give them the benefit of the doubt,” Johnson says. “You think to yourself, ‘Who the fuck am I to tell Tony Berg what to do?’ That’s not to say that we weren’t completely involved because we were.”
Working with these diverse producers could have resulted in an unbalanced mess, but the band gives the credit of the clean cohesion to Bilerman, who mixed the disc.
“We were worried about it not working together and it being like, ‘What the fuck? Is this a mix tape?’” Johnson says. “Everything is mixing.”
Though the songs are diverse, there are many common threads that define the sound of the band. Be it Johnson’s Lizzie Powell meets Neko Case vocals or Dunlop’s Keith Moon-ish drumming, it’s more so the sum of its parts that make up the band’s unique sound.
“I kind of feel like this album is really a diverse catalogue of where I think we can go from here,” Johnson says.
“Some parts are super rock, some can be pop, some alternative, some have country influences, acoustic singer-songwriter folk influences, but the way it turns out is always kind of the same thing - which is whatever Mise en Scene is.
“What I’m excited about with this album is that I don’t feel like we’re narrowing down, I feel like we’re opening up. We can go anywhere we want from this. If we wanna do all acoustic next, which, we’re not gonna do that, but if we wanted to we probably could. I just like that we have that freedom.”
The duo is already planning on where it will go next, as the follow up is well under way.
“We want this one to go a lot quicker, though,” Dunlop says. “We don’t want to spend a year. We just want to go in the studio, work with one person, not 25, and just get it done.”
“We have 60 per cent of the songs,” Johnson adds. “There needs to be more writing that needs to happen, but right now I’m feeling, ‘I haven’t got anything else, maybe this is an EP, I don’t know.’
“There’s still a lot more to experience in the next few months. You get these feelings about it because it’s something that’s growing.”
“Hey Velvet” by Mise en Scene.
Published in Volume 67, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 28, 2012)