Last year I ventured out of Hamilton to attend Kazoo Fest, a four day festival in Guelph. I showed up to the final event — it was a pancake breakfast show at a venue called Ed Video — tired and hungover; greeted by a room full of children and the music of Esther Grey. Had I been laying in a field of green pastures I would have surely zenned out to the soothing vocals and distorted guitar of Steph Yates. Her garage pop sound resonated through the room and down the halls of this unusual building. With tired eyes and a mouthful of chocolate chip pancakes I watched Steph and drummer Tyson Brinacombe captivate the packed room.

I caught up with Steph, who is playing March 9 at The Brain (details), and asked her a few questions about the band:

Q – When did you start singing and what is your musical background?
Many little children like to sing and I was no exception, but it wasn’t till a few years ago that I started singing backup in bands, and about a year and a half ago that I started fronting a band.

Check out this adorable recording Steph made when she was just 4 years old.

My father and my brother are both very musical, so there were always guitars and other instruments around the house. I spent a few years of my youth as an undisciplined piano student. I dreaded the recitals. My last year of high school I took an interest in classical guitar. That’s around when I started, slowly, to write songs. Since then I have tried my hand at banjo, drums, and electric guitar.

Q – Where did you and Tyson meet?
I met Tyson at the infamous Trepid House in Waterloo, Ontario. I was living there at the time, that was January 2009. It was a very special house that a fellow named Jeff Woods built with his bare hands. Touring bands and local acts alike would drop in to play shows in the parlour, to hang out in the pirate-themed room. The house had a few other distinguishing features: a ladder to get to the upstairs arboretum, a fish tank in the wall, a chandelier of dead hands… and doors that were frequently open to the public. Oh, it was also the local magician hangout. Very difficult to keep such a place clean and tidy.

So Tyson came to play a show at the house. The recordings he had up online involved layers on layers of instrumentation, very full-sounding, but live it was just him and his acoustic guitar. My roommates, Jeff and Owen Cherry, decided that they would form a band for him. Along with Emily Henkemans on bass, they cajoled me into joining the band as banjoist / backup vocalist / auxiliary percussionist. We were called Tyson and the Trepids.

Owen took a photo of Tyson and me in the kitchen that first night we met; Tyson is wearing a vest-and-tie and I am stabbing him in the throat with a giant icicle.

Q – I understand you’re originally from Hamilton. Did you play in any bands when you lived here? What’s it like playing hometown shows?
I wish I had played in bands when I was a teenager — I imagine it would have been a healthy antidote to those “troubled teen” years — but I didn’t and I left town at 18.

I have played Hamilton twice. Once with Esther Grey and once with the old Trepids band. Both shows involved Gregory Pepper and Motëm! One great thing about coming back and playing here is that I am bound to get a home-cooked meal and a visit with my folks.

Q – What are you listening to right now? Are there any Guelph bands you want to bring to Hamilton, or Hamilton bands you want to bring to Guelph?
A few months ago John Southworth came to play Guelph with Bry Webb. Both gave phenomenal performances. That was my introduction to Southworth  and I’ve been popping in his Spiritual War tape quite regularly ever since. The Soupcans’ Erotic Nightmare and Vintage Pizza Party Cassette have been really great lately for getting me in a room-cleaning kind of mood. Brantford’s Familiar Fiends  just did a release that Tyson and I recorded at our home studio,  Little Room Labs, and I know I’m biased, but it sounds wickedly good.

Guelph’s Dutch Toko, who have already found their way to Hamilton, dish up a riveting, loud, and unpredictable live show that you’ve just gotta see for yourself. (So do come out on Saturday and catch them!) Some other Guelph stuff: Tyson’s high-power solo project Tyson and his Game Boy ; Bleet; Bill Killionaire; Rich Burnett; WHOOP-Szo; Legato Vipers, who played in town recently; Adverteyes; Jenny Omnichord; Matt Damon…  There are too many awesome projects happening in Guelph right now to mention them all.  I urge you to investigate Cassettestival, our local cassette periodical, which has just become collectively-run and will be spitting out its third set of weird and wonderful releases this Friday. There are also my other bands, which I would love to bring to Hamilton sometime: Baseball Furys  and The Pheramones, an all-girl Ramones cover band.

As for Hamilton bands, we played a show in Guelph with Sequin Kit in October. They were awesome and I’d like to see them come back. Other great ones: Crop Failure, The Dirty Nil, Cowlick, and Motëm of course. I’d love to connect with some all-girl or female-fronted Hamilton bands too.

Q – I’m guessing there are usually not as many children at most of your shows as there were at Kazoo Fest. What makes a perfect audience for an Esther Grey show?
No, not so many kids typically. That was a lot of fun though. Perfect audiences come in many shapes and sizes. It’s nice when people want to listen and/or smile.

Esther Grey – The Body of a Healer from Little Room Labs on Vimeo.

Special thanks to Jeremy Kemeny for the contribution.