Based in Vancouver, BC, alternative rock group Kamikaze Nurse is finding inspiration in unlikely places. On their sophomore album Stimuloso, the band pairs heavy guitar riffs with KC Wei’s forceful, droning vocals, forming an eerie fairytale with moments of bliss and periods of ravaged emotion. Kamikaze Nurse brings the intensity of a forest fire to tracks like “Work + Days” and “Stimuloso,” and playful energy to songs “Never Better” and “Come from Wood.” The band’s range is vast, and yet the album sounds cohesive and intentional.
Each member has their hand in other facets of the Vancouver art scene, from John Brennan’s sound installations to KC Wei’s editorship for the film and literature review magazine STILLS: Moving Image Tract. Literature, poetry, and film are some of the source materials for the band’s lyrics and explosive sound.
Comprising members of different ages and experiences, the band connects on their shared love of being at home. Cats, for example, feature prominently on the album in songs like “Pet Meds.” Layered on top of rapid drumming, Wei and vocalist/bassist, Sonya Eui delicately weave together a mix of chanting, spoken word, and animalistic noises to create a bizarre narrative journey. In “Boom Josie,” a track dedicated to guitarist Ethan Reyes’ baby daughter, the band expresses the fear and euphoria of new life.
On Stimuloso, Kamikaze Nurse uses diverse interests to their advantage, composing a sonically rich and lyrically interesting record. Ahead of their performance at M For Montreal Pan M 360 talked with Kamikaze Nurse about domesticity, David Cronenberg, and sharing success with other Vancouver artists.
PAN M 360: What was it like writing and recording Stimuloso at home during the pandemic?
KC: Yeah, that was a very long, long drawn-out process. It felt like we wrote maybe, like, four of the songs before the pandemic. And then, before the pandemic, I think we were planning to just keep on writing and had this idea for, like, ‘Yeah, let’s go, let’s make a second album.’ But with the pandemic, we did take, four months off, basically, when the first wave happened. And it just felt like we were stuck in limbo, like, you know, everyone else in the world for a while. But then, we just did mostly in this room for, like, the instruments. And so we just would try to find the time when, you know, our neighbours weren’t jamming, and just record parts, piece by piece.
That took a few months. And it was also us trying to figure out, you know, how to set up the mics and mixing and everything. So there were a few songs we had to do over and over and over again. And then after that, we went to the recording studio to just finish the vocals. And that took, like, a day or two days. Yeah, how was it for you guys?
Sonya: I took more time off during COVID than the rest of you from what I recall, because of my job. So I remember coming in, and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna play some songs.’ And they were like, ‘We’re recording now.’ I felt very confused about what was happening. It was nice, I liked it.
Ethan: Yeah, it was fun. It took so long to schedule, like, weeks in advance to book to come in and do overdubs for just one song. At least for me, because it took me a really long time to write my parts. And most of my parts were just written, like, as soon as I sat down and John pressed record. Like, ‘OK, let’s figure this out.’ It was a really unique way to do it. In some ways, I almost like doing it that way better than our previous album, which was just live-off-the-floor kind of recording. Doing it this way, there was a lot more control over the writing process and just, like, perfecting things.
PAN M 360: Many of the songs on this album involve fixtures of domesticity. How did you find rock in home life?
Sonya: I don’t even know if it was. I mean, obviously, I think the baby and the cats happened in the pandemic, some because of the pandemic. I don’t know about the baby, but certainly the cats.
Ethan: That wasn’t pandemic related. That was just blatantly accidental. It could have happened at any point.
Sonya: I think it would’ve happened this way anyway, to be honest, we just had a lot of cats on our minds. That was the big thing.
Ethan: Did you guys get all your cats during the pandemic?
KC: I didn’t.
Ethan: You had Jiffy.
KC: But like, Motya was a stray and just came into our place one night and had a fight with Jiffy for his food.
Sonya: I don’t know, I think it was just a phase in life.
KC: I think the domesticity, I mean, I’m personally quite like a homebody person. Or, I don’t know, now that I’m thinking about it, there are a lot of things relatable about the mundaneness of life or something. And for it to inspire a rock album, I think it makes sense to me. I mean, that’s where maybe it came from, like, speaking for myself.
Sonya: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s weird to say but we’re all different ages. Some pretty drastically, actually. The common thing with all of us is we’re all very home-oriented, I would say. Family and all that. Because I don’t know how much just in terms of daily experience, I don’t know how much we would have in common otherwise. We would, but the dramas and the emotions are different.
KC: Yeah, that’s really interesting to think about. We come together and play together as a band and we draw from our pretty different daily lives. Just in terms of the lyrics or the songwriting. I wonder if I have more to say about that. It’s interesting that you picked up on like domesticity as a kind of the theme of the album. I think that’s cool. Like, more and more, I think I’m more used to hearing, like, you know, the death and decay and love for our creatures and stuff like that. But just like, actually, the domestic is such a powerful space. And maybe it’s cool that, like, this album conjures that, because that’s not usually not typical of rock music, I guess.
PAN M 360: Yeah, that’s exactly right. It is very atypical but in the best way possible. KC, you didn’t start playing music until you were 26, after attending art school. You’ve recently returned to academia as a PhD candidate. How does your fine arts background affect your music?
KC: I think maybe it’s like an attitude towards, playing in a band where I didn’t play an instrument until quite late. So I’m not going to shred as hard as people who have been playing obviously, for a really long time. So I have to figure out how to write songs and create them in a different way. And I think that’s where being an artist kind of gives me the confidence to just even try that. And then I guess, being an artist helps me, I guess bringing different interests into the music from literature or movies or something. So writing things in a way that like, I didn’t grow up listening to music or like live bands and like playing in live bands. So I think my approach is a little bit from a different angle. So maybe that’s what makes the songs a little bit unique. I mean, we all, I think, bring very neat elements to it, but that’s where I guess I come from.
PAN M 360: Tell me about your relationship to David Cronenberg, particularly his film’s influence on your song of the same name, “Dead Ringers.”
KC: Oh, yeah, I’ve watched it. It’s my favourite Cronenberg film. I haven’t seen all of them. I haven’t seen the new one yet, but like, every time I watched that one, it’s just so sad. Have you guys seen it? Oh my god, it’s like, it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I think we had the riff for the song for a while but it wasn’t until … Maybe like the timing of watching the film and then being like, ‘Oh, it’s time to write lyrics for the song.’ It was just very emotionally affected. If you guys want to watch it, it’s on Netflix, I think. I mean, yeah, have you watched it? Are you into David Cronenberg?
PAN M 360: I’m a big David Cronenberg fan. What about it, in particular, did you find sad or at least emotionally evocative?
KC: Well, I guess just the love between, like the very twisted codependent love between the brothers. And then the kind of love interest just kind of screwing up their, like, I don’t know, their dynamic, and how in the end, they return to each other, but in this most tragic way. It’s like being on two sides of existence, but together. It’s like they’re basically … I love how in the film though, it’s like, there are certain scenes that are so visual. Because they’re wearing red scrubs and that crazy claw art that when he goes to the gallery he’s transfixed by, and anyway, it’s just, I’m not sure. I’m trying to think about the lyrics now and how they relate, but it’s kind of more the emotional place I was in when, and how that emotional place kind of opened up kind of like a way to write lyrics. Because I’m not writing about my own experience, or like, my own pain. It’s more kind of like the pain or the feelings that come around through another artwork, which I find really that it’s kind of like, the goal of art for me, or like, you want it to make you feel something that you’re unable to feel without it. So I think that’s kind of where I was coming from when writing lyrics and just kind of wanting to continue that flow of energy. Like, if that film made me feel this way, to write the lyrics to the song this way. Maybe if somebody hears that they’ll be… it’ll invoke something. It’ll open up something for them.
PAN M 360: Sonya, does your background in classical music influence your approach to rock? Is this rebellion?
Sonya: I think I always knew. I mean, I got into classical music because that’s a very easy way to get into music. But I grew up in a very rocking family. So I think I always knew that I would be doing something like that. But what I will say, I mean, obviously, a classical background makes a lot of things easier. It makes understanding music easier. I don’t know, just even like, especially playing with this band, playing with John especially. Being in the rhythm section with John who has a very solid background, academic background in music makes it very easy for us to connect.
PAN M 360: Electroacoustics, right, from Concordia?
KC: Yeah, and definitely jazz. He’s a very jazzy guy.
Sonya: Like that part’s fun. I feel like me and John get to play around a lot with time signatures and rhythms. Which is not always the case in rock bands. So I guess, to sum up, my classical background makes rock music extremely fun to play with people who also have a similar background, then you can do so much with that. And also, like, technically, it’s really cool to get better. Like, I feel like I have the ambition to be better at my instrument because it was like, beat into me, figuratively and literally.
PAN M 360: “Work + Days” plays with the anxiety of making a living. When does making and playing music feel like work to you?
Ethan: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. It feels like, playing music can be both a really freeing experience and a nice, nice way to kind of let go of the stress of work and making a living, but can just as easily feel like an obligation as well. It’s hard to strike a balance there. Especially when you’re just really busy and have a baby and have to work full time and like it sucks having to feel like you need to carve out, make an effort to carve out time just to, like, let go. Like, that should just happen. I wish we were all neighbours and had a jam space in the basement. You can just, like, chill and do that every night just, like, you know, hang out and play music. Like, I have to drive half an hour down here [to the studio].
PAN M 360: Yeah, it sounds like turning a creative job into a sort of structured, nine-to-five where you have to actually figure out when you’re going to get your shit together and join up and play.
Ethan: Yeah, my 100% favourite parts of being in a band are practicing and being on stage. Literally every single other part of being in the band I don’t care for. Recording, I don’t care for. Dealing with the label. Dealing with the label is the worst part. If we could find a way to just practice and play shows, that’d be amazing.
Sonya: He won’t shut the fuck up about this baby.
PAN M 360: Yeah, Josie. How is she doing?
Ethan: She’s great. She turned a year and a half today.
PAN M 360: Oh, happy birthday, or half birthday!
Ethan: We got her a smoothie for her half-birthday.
PAN M 360: A smoothie?
Ethan: She got a banana smoothie and we went to the swing set.
KC: Let’s write a rock song about that.
PAN M 360: Your most recent music video for “Never Better” was animated by Lianne Zannier, an artist based in Vancouver. What drew you to work with her?
KC: Oh, we’re friends. We used to be co-workers at this art centre. And Lianne spent a lot of time in Montreal and New Brunswick. It was just mostly a friend connection. And John really wanted to make an animated music video. And we did two music videos already. So I think we didn’t have any more ideas about what we wanted to do as music videos. So Lianne kind of stepped in and just kind of gave her idea or her concept. So we just went with it.
PAN M 360: I don’t know if this is intentional, but it sounds like you’re naturally creating this sort of mutually beneficial ecosystem with artists in your circle. Has this come up in other instances that you can think of?
KC: I mean, maybe with the art rock stuff, because I used to do this concert series in Vancouver, where I’d just invite people. It was a monthly concert night that I would program and stuff. And I would just ask people to come to play. I didn’t think it would be anything, but it ran for three years, maybe more than three years. And there’s, like, 32 iterations of it. And over time, I kind of feel like you can’t be, and I don’t want to be, a band that succeeds without sharing it as much as I can with my friends or the community I care about. It’s really hard sometimes. We’re all constantly exhausted. And we do get asked to play shows sometimes. And we’re either not in town, or super busy, or super tired. I’m a bit self-conscious about ‘community’ because it can be such a loaded word. Like building it to make it, and sustaining it over time. It can feel super positive, and we do it because we love it and need a community to thrive in, but it can also be exhausting and messy, and they change over time. People come and go, and communities need to grow and evolve.
PAN M 360: You’ll be playing M For Montreal soon. What do you hope audiences feel when they listen to your performances?
Ethan: I hope the front row is just like, like, dudes who are like, ‘Oh, this music is so sick,’ and they just go ‘Whoa” for the whole set. That’s all. I don’t really care what they’re feeling. As long as they’re like ‘this music, rocks.’
Kamikaze Nurse play Café Cléopâtre on Nov. 18 w/ Ariane Roy & l’Escogriffe on Nov. 19 w/ Sunglaciers and a Surprise Guest