This article first appeared in The Courier-Mail in November, 2008
CHIBI is 5’2 (158cm), likes to knit and counts Concrete Blonde singer Johnette Napolitano amongst her heroes. When we talk, it is 6pm her time and she is looking at the Toronto snow, huddled (I imagine) in the winter jacket she has broken out of storage only today.
Canada, she says, is a lovely place to live, but not when it’s bloody freezing.
So her band, The Birthday Massacre, have picked a good time to make their maiden visit to Australia.
It has been a long time coming, a dream tour none of them expected when, a decade ago, they formed a band as a creative outlet.
Chibi (her stage name) grew up in Cambridge (population 125,000) – “it was a small town, nothing going on, everyone you grew up with is going ‘let me out of here’, there was no music scene at all”.
She met guitarist Rainbow (not his real name, either) while they were art students at college in London, Ontario, (population 460,000) and formed a band called Imagica around 1999.
“I never thought I’d be a singer in a band, I mean, I was in a choir when I was a kid, but I’m a visual artist. Me and Rainbow met while we were studying fine arts in college. Starting a band was a way for us to combine our creative interests in one project and have something productive. It was something fun to do with our friends. Everyone who has been in the band over the years has been friends. It was just something creative and fun to do in our spare time.
“If you asked any of us if we’d ever be on a stage in Australia, we’d have laughed.”
The band can laugh easily, now. They got serious, moved to Toronto (population 2.7 million) in 2001 and changed their name to The Birthday Massacre, taken from a lyric in their song now called ‘Happy Birthday’.
“Other bands already had Imagica, so we needed to think up something original. In our sound we try to capture contrasting styles, and ‘birthday massacre’ is contrasting words, so it made sense for our sound and the image we tried to create . . . and no one else had it!”
They’ve got three albums under their belt, and a flash EP released this year, and have toured North America, Mexico and Europe, playing to increasing numbers of fans thanks to the word of mouth spreading through the internet. Songs on their MySpace page have attracted almost 7 million plays.
“Before MySpace even existed, we tried to maintain a big internet presence,” Chibi says. “We’d never played a show out of Toronto but there were people around the world who were, like, ‘come play here’. That’s why coming to Australia is so awesome, we’ve been talking to people in Australia for years.”
Their music blends the band members’ – there are six of them – eclectic tastes into a stop-start swirl of industrial, synth-pop and rock. Think Duran Duran, Placebo and Korn, all in the one lounge room. Maybe even all in the one song.
The Birthday Massacre’s fans are similarly eclectic, Chibi says.
“We have people bringing little kids, and others are in rave clothing or goth clothing, and then there’ll be some metal guys in long hair who are headbanging away, it’s amazing you know. It’s too easy for a band to get labelled. I think people get put off, too, like, ‘goth rock sensation The Birthday Massacre’, and people who aren’t interested in the goth scene but would probably like our music wouldn’t give it a chance. We’ve seen senior citizens at a couple of gigs, and it’s like, ‘Really? Wow!’ They didn’t get put off by the scary, scary name!”
It’s all a bit of fun, Chibi says; despite what some people might think from their moniker, they’re not a death metal outfit. She doesn’t even swear in her songs. Despite the heartache and anxiety, the occasional social dysfunction and despair the words take her, the pop sensibility is to the fore.
Likewise Chibi’s onstage persona is fun, too, something along the lines of Alice in Wonderland meets Chrissy Amphlett meets Amy Lee. She might not have the pipes of the latter two, but for a visual artist, she holds her own as a singer, pop princess one moment, metal devil the next, both cute and sultry in short skirt and pig tails and tattooed arms.
“We’ve always wanted to make music we’d like to listen to. We all grew up listening to varied stuff, from retro 80s pop songs, rock heavy metal, and industrial, and we try to combine those elements in hopefully a pleasing way.”
The name Chibi comes from an anime cartoon called Sailor Moon, and Toronto Chibi says she thinks it means stunted or short. She’s 5’2, it fits. Besides, it was the name of her cat.
“Back in the day” – laugh (she’s 31, according to MySpace, and the irony of the statement tickles her) – “we were trying to have as much fun with it as possible and thinking up crazy stage names was part of it. We were interested in creating an image, an atmosphere, I think we were almost trying to make ourselves into caricatures. And me, I am a shy person, I think I almost have this Chibi persona to get into this mode to do a show.
“There isn’t any real deep meaning behind my name, it’s just my cat, man. And now it’s too late. I’m totally stuck with it now.”
The Birthday Massacre play Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth on this tour. They bring three albums, some tunes they haven’t played live before – listen for a cover of Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ from this year’s ‘Looking Glass’ EP – and Chibi’s knitting.
“I’ve got this goal to make a huge blanket for my bed. I call it my tour blanket. It’s just like, okay, we’ve had a crazy night, played a great show, and we’re all blasted, and I can just sit down and knit for a while. It’s very relaxing.”