As the Pack AD were recording their seventh album, Dollhouse, at a studio in Vancouver earlier this summer, all around them BC was burning. 2017 is now officially the worst wildfire year on record for the province. It’s the latest crisis in a year that feels full of them: destructive hurricanes, rising global instability, racial tension, and the dark reality show south of the border.
It is, in other words, the perfect time for the Pack AD. Their wry, sneering, at times nihilistic take on blues-garage rock has drawn easy comparisons to the Kills and the Black Keys. But this lean duo—Becky Black on guitar and vocals, Maya Miller on drums—have always been sharper, smarter observers, buoyed by the intense central dynamic between them and the explosive amount of noise these two women can produce at a live show.
On Dollhouse, which comes out this October, the band confronts the state of the world, from both personal and political perspectives. In it, they find desperation and darkness, but also hope, in forging connections and relationships with others. I spoke to Maya Miller over the phone as she was getting ready for the album release tour.
1. The new album is a pretty dark and pessimistic one. When you look at the state of the world, where do you see it, and where do you see us going?
In the past couple years, it just feels like everything has really accelerated, or just the awareness has really accelerated: with climate change, the political atmosphere in the States… It also feels like there’s ways that all of us can try to do our part, but then there’s this counterbalance where there’s enough people who could be doing things, but aren’t. That weighed on us both, and it definitely came out in the music and the lyrics.
Also, I have to be honest, when I’m doing posts about, “Hey come see our show! Buy our album!”, it feels like [she makes a sad trumpet noise]. Like there’s more important things happening, and they’re happening with such an intensity that it does feel a little bit self-involved. But you do it. This is what we do. We’re a band and we make albums and we’d love for people to come see our shows. But it’s been interesting being creative in this climate.
2. The new album is called Dollhouse. What is it about that image that stuck out to you?
That’s all Becky. It’s that, with everything going on, we can all still live in a bubble, or a dollhouse, where everything is sort of perfect, because it’s not affecting us directly. And sometimes, honestly, it probably is easier on your mind and your heart to feel that way. You can’t spend every single day being stressed out. But there are people who are completely self-focused. So the dollhouse is that world where we can live, and everything outside is non-existent.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of a panic attack since last November, to be honest, and it’s not changing.
Wowww this is a grim interview! I’m sorry. “The Pack AD are the most depressing band ever!” [laughs]
3. Well let’s talk about something a bit lighter. On the new album, there’s a couple songs that veer awfully close to love/relationship songs. In the past, it seems like it’s almost been a rule of the band to avoid those. What changed?
It’s kind of a weird one. We’ve been a band for a while, and lyrically it’s been pretty consistent that we don’t exactly write happy songs. Even these love songs are a bit like, “Well we’re working hard.” I still don’t think we’ll ever get an optimistic, “I’m so glad I met you” song.
But it sort of fits with everything else lyrically that’s going on, because it’s still, yes we’re broaching the subject of love, but it’s fraught with anxiety. Within this setting of feeling really uncertain about everything, you want to cling to the people closest to you. This is not the time to isolate. This is the time to come together.
4. Speaking of connection, you and Becky have been playing and touring together for over a decade now. What’s the band dynamic like?
We’ve definitely had ups and downs, but I don’t know how to explain it; we just work well together. Our friendship can put up with a lot. There’s a lot of elasticity.
Out of anyone in my life, I’ve spent the most time with Becky. Married people don’t spend that much time together! And still, we’ll come back from tour and take a week off or whatever, but then we’re back playing Dungeons & Dragons together. It’s like we can’t get away from each other.
And then you turn around and 11 years has gone by. I couldn’t be happier with that aspect, because I know also, when the day comes when we’re not a band, or we’re waiting to be a band again so we can play casinos, we’re still going to be friends in the meantime.
5. You’ve played Peterborough quite a number of times in the past. Do you have any strong Peterborough memories?
I remember we played in Peterborough the night of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins [in 2011]. Before we played, we went to a bar to watch the game, and we were the only Canucks fans in the bar! And it was so depressing! And then we went back to play the show, and during the show, people in the audience were like, “There’s riots in Vancouver!” And they’re holding up their phones showing us live riot footage. That was weird.
Also there’s a hotel across from a Value Village that we like to go to. I know that Value Village very well. And also there’s a Party City right there, so that’s pretty good.
That’s the trifecta: hotel, Party City, Value Village.
That’s pretty much it. It’s like, ok I’m done. Tour’s over. I’ll just live here now.
See the Pack AD live at the Red Dog on October 20 with Rip Nancies. Tickets $10 (more info).
Dollhouse is available to purchase on iTunes.
Images courtesy the artist.