FIVER is Simone Schmidt,best known as the front woman for One Hundred Dollars. Her new single "Two Songs from Fiver" was released on June 15, digitally and on seven-inch vinyl via Indoor Shoes. The psychadelic, folky tunes were produced in collaboration with Stew Crookes from One Hundred Dollars.
FIVER is currently working on a full-length album. To catch her on her upcoming tour of Canada, check her tour dates here.
We caught up with FIVER by email during Pop Montréal so she could talk about her new project.
What made you decide to get involved in your own side project?
I don't see FIVER as a side project; it's just a moniker or a vehicle in which to move musically. The decision wasn't about an involvement in a side project, more a decision to publish and perform music that wasn't suitable for One Hundred Dollars as a band, and wasn't generated by that group of people. One Hundred Dollars was the unit I came up in most publicly, and I grew and learned a lot in that band. Like any nurturing experience, it stopped being my only one. Now I also play with Chris Coole in an old time band called Coole & Downes and have been in noise bands like LSDoubleDcup. What I'm really into is the versatility of FIVER--I get to determine its parameters on my own. So say I want to make a disco record, I just will.
I finished a FIVER record that I got to produce with Stew Crookes as I felt suited it, without taking into account any of the preferences of the other players on the record. That was new to me, because I've grown accustomed to joining my creative will with the other members of OHD. Now I get to perform on my own too which is a whole other experience--I just got back from a string of shows on the West Coast.
Tomorrow I'll play Montreal with Kyle Porter (bass) and Simone TB (Drums). Most often the three of us play with Paul Mortimer (lead guitar). The four of us also form a group called The Highest Order of the Blue Sage, and that's a more collaborative pyschedelic country band. Highest Order is just finishing a record with Jeff McMurrich wherein we all made decisions about the sounds and production of songs, and that will be out in February on Idee Fixe Records.
How did you get into music? Was there a defining moment?
I got into music slowly, I guess. I grew up playing piano because my parents forced me to. I was undisciplined and didn't feel it as a form of expression, but the theory proved to be a useful technical exercise now that I write and arrange songs. I was also a dancer, both ballet and modern, and so was exposed regularly to recorded and live music. I remember lots of music growing up, all around me--that's how it is to be alive in dominant American culture now, you know? Just getting your head blasted with the Backstreet Boys whether you want it or not.I always had a knack for remembering words to songs. But I wasn't really into music as a kid, except that song Rudie Can't Fail by the Clash really struck a chord with me as a 12-year-old, and then Automatic for the People by REM was a full tape I loved, which I stole from my sister, Cathy.
But the first time I felt truly moved by the power of song was the first time I heard George Jones' voice. That was in a shack in Hubbards, Nova Scotia, where I'd been sent to visit my brother, Mike. He was playing in a bluegrass unit at the time, and had a wedding to gig, so he left me there the first night I was there with this guy Billy, who was stranded there on account of some DUI charges, and a 5 cd disc changer stereo unit for the night. I pressed play and The Essential George Jones came on and my mind was blown at how much emotion his voice contained. "One Drink" floored me, and from then onI just wanted to listen to George Jones and sang along to him very poorly. I picked up the mandolin and strummed some simple country songs occasionally for years, watched the Sadies and the Foggy Hogtown Boys, but I was an activist and I didn't care about bands really, didn't think music was important enough of a thing to make a life with. When I was 22, I started singing with Ian Russell who started One Hundred Dollars with me. We liked each other and liked to sing together, and I started getting good at it. And then Ian got cancer and I was possessed by the urge to write songs in a way I hadn't been before--maybe it was a gift I was given to get me through a hard time. It really felt like the power of song and voice descended on me without me wanting it much. For years it's been a source of discomfort to me to realize that it's my vocation, because of all the times in history it's not really the most dignified thing to be in a band. The industry surrounding music has made being a band a thing for teenagers, or for people with money and time to waste, to do. I think there are much more important things to do in the suffering world, but I do this best, and it's vital to me.
Are there any themes that you keep returning to in your songwriting? Why?
I think I'm always writing about being cheated, or cheating, both personally and in the broader context--or how they're the same thing. Everything is everything? I'm obsessed with gender and people.
What's the first song you remember hearing?
“Famous Blue Raincoat”
Are you conscious of yourself as a woman in the music world? Or do you think of yourself purely as a musician?
I have no choice but to be conscious of myself as a woman in the music world because I have no choice but to be conscious of myself as a woman in the world. The same rules apply in the music industry as in society, and are forced upon me to consider and survive. But growing up I never identified as a woman much, which I can't explain, but I just never really felt like a woman or like I wanted to do many of the things traditionally designated for women to do. There's something deeply androgynous about me, and I'm happy with that--to be a blend.
One way I did and do identify with women more and more with every passing year is the way that women are defined socially, politically, domestically, by the men in power. I know some great men, and work with quite a few of them, but for the most part, men treat women differently than they do each other; they undermine us, pay us less, assume we aren't capable or ignore us all together. They glorify us and desire us and hound us just because. It can all be very disfiguring. And so this affects the way I am received by audiences and by professionals, as a vocalist and as a performer.
As a vocalist, I sometimes feel that I go unheard because men have dominated in creative fields for so long. They've been representing women for so long, and most men tend to equate the voices of women with the nagging of a mother, the hysteria of a wife, the sexiness of a lover, or the cuteness of a girl. Those of us who are expressing something outside of these things--for instance, wisdom, strength, deformity, even tempered anger--go unheard or unrecognized for what we are expressing. I also tend to write in character, and so I'm not always singing from a woman's perspective, and I think people have a hard time beginning to hear that. I tend to take that in stride and play with it as a performer. There are timbres that are more masculine and some that are more feminine and I train my voice to be able to sing in many ways so as to play with that consciously.
As a performer, my looks are treated as a currency that men in the same position don't need to trade in. Because I'm not working a very conventional sex appeal, I know that to the majority of men in the business I'm not saleable. I don't know of any women who are doing well in the music industry who are slobs, but it's totally acceptable for men to look disheveled. When I meet other musicians who are men, for the most part they don't talk to me unless they want to get with me. When I get reviewed or talked to after a show I get compared to Janis Joplin most often, though our voices are nothing alike. I'm convinced it's because we have similar hair and aren't rail thin. Business wise, for every 25 men working in the industry I meet one woman. If it weren't for the fact that my band mates are men who are very good men who are conscious of all of these things, I'd be totally alienated.
Are you mainly focusing on FIVER now or are you alternating between your own project and One Hundred Dollars?
One Hundred Dollars isn't working much these days but I'm always writing songs and I put them toward a range of projects, including FIVER. I finished a FIVER record earlier this year and have been playing out in new ways. I hope to be touring with The Highest Order of the Blue Sage in support of our record that's coming out in February.
Describe your sound in five words.
I'm too long winded.
If you could perform with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Dolly Parton. She's one of my favorite singers and I just want to know what it feels like to be around her. Or Michael Stipe because he's with it.
Musical guilty pleasure?
I can't feel guilty about music.
What do you think about the idea that for many Canadian artists, "making it big" means being played outside Canada—like in the States?
I guess "making it big" is like Billboard or something? So you'd have to have a bigger audience than Canada contains. In terms of having a music career that allows you to get paid decently, I do think that most of us have to look outside of Canada simply because there aren't enough people here to pay to see music and gas is very expensive.