Interview – Great Aunt Ida’s Ida Nilsen
– by Shawn Conner
No history of Vancouver’s indie music scene would be complete without mention of Ida Nilsen.
Beans, Cunt, the Gay and Radiogram are just a few of the bands Nilsen was part of from the mid-1990s-to-early-2000s. Also on her resume: the Violet Archers, the Buttless Chaps and the Choir Practice.
In 2003 she formed her own band, Great Aunt Ida, with whom she’s recorded three albums: Our Fall (2005), How They Fly (2006) and the latest, Nuclearize Me (2011). A collection of folk-pop originals, Nuclearize Me features Nilsen’s vulnerable voice guiding us through songs like “Lonely” (“I’ve been worse things than lonely”), the propulsive “New Information” and the cool, eerie “Community”.
We chatted with Nilsen just before she left her Toronto home for a cross-Canada tour that may be her last for awhile; she’s taking her dual citizenship and moving to Detroit with her life-mate, bassist Jay Clark Reid, where homes are affordable and the musical history runs deep.
Great Aunt Ida plays the Kozmik Zoo (53 W. Broadway, formerly the Hennessey) Thurs Sept 13 and Fri Sept 14 (see below for more tour dates).
Shawn Conner: Why move, why Detroit?
Ida Nilsen: We wanted a change. Toronto’s becoming increasingly unaffordable. We figured if we moved down there, we could do what we wanted to do.
SC: Have you bought a house yet?
IN: No, but that’s part of the plan. I have dual citizenship but we’ve been working on a spouse visa for quite a long time. Assuming everything goes according to plan, it’ll come through in November. Then we’ll stay in Windsor for a little while and do some scouting.
SC: Do you know a lot of people who’ve moved from Toronto to Detroit?
IN: We’ve heard about a couple of people, but no one we’re close to at all.
Although one of the reasons we’re moving there is because people are so awesome. The times we’ve been there we’ve metreally cool, down-to-earth people. We just started going down to visit for fun.
SC: Don’t forget to watch Doctor Detroit before you move.
IN: I’ve been getting lots of recomendations of things to do and see in the last little while.
SC: So let’s hear about your cover star, a Canadian hairless cat. Apparently the breed originated in Toronto, near where you’ve been living?
IN: I didn’t find this out until after I decided on that image. But apparently the breed started in the alley behind where I live, in Roncesvalles.
SC: How did you find that out?
IN: Someone told me. They saw a poster for a show I was putting up on the street and said, “Did you know those were bred right here?”
SC: Why a hairless cat for a very sweet-sounding album?
IN: I thought it fit in with the title, and that it was really striking and would be an interesting icon. Some people think they’re cute, but some people think they’re pretty disturbing looking. Which I also liked.
SC: And the album title?
IN: It was actually something I heard when I was threatened with that by an angry drunk man in a bar in Toronto. He was really mad, we were having an argument about something and he said he was going to “nuclearize” me. I figured it was a word, but I’d never heard anyone use it in that way before. It stuck in my mind.
I wanted something a little less sentimental for the album title. My record titles in the past have been very sentimental. I wanted something a little more ballsy.
SC: So you’ll be playing with your band when you’re in Vancouver, they’re mostly Vancouver musicians [guitarists Ford Pier and Jonathan Anderson and drummer Barry Mirochnick ]. Will you rehearse with them before the shows or are they just so professional they don’t need to?
IN: [laughs] We’re planning on having one. We had one in December, before we did the CD release at the Waldorf. Maybe that’s enough. I would like to not suck. Although they are very good.
SC: Do you think maybe you are the beginning of the exodus from Toronto to Detroit?
IN: Well, I don’t think we’re the only ones. When we first decided that’s what we wanted to do and looked into making it happen we hadn’t heard of many people doing it, but since then it seems there are quite a few people moving there – definitely lots of Americans.
I’m guessing it happens anywhere that becomes really really cheap. It seems there are a lot of people buying up stuff for whatever real estate increases might come. It’s still really cheap there. Although we’ve been priced out of a couple of neighbourhoods we thought we might want to go to. It has been changing.
SC: How much are you wanting to spend, if you don’t mind me asking?
IN: We’re hoping to get something between 15 and 20 thousand.
SC: That wouldn’t buy a cardboard box in Vancouver.
IN: There still seems to be quite a few houses for that price, and those are the ones that aren’t stripped or have holes in the floor. They’re the ones you can move right into.
The city has had a really hard run. It seems like for the last 80 years, but especially over the last 40 or 50, it’s gone through really bad civic politics and awful real estate prices. In spite of that, it’s got an incredibly rich history. The architecture is really cool, and there’s the music history obviously.
The people who live there don’t seem to care other people in the country think it’s kind of an armpit. It’s about as opposite of Toronto as I can think of, in a lot of ways.
Great Aunt Ida tour dates:
VICTORIA, BC: Tues, Sept. 11 @ the Fort St Cafe
VANCOUVER, BC: Thurs, Sept 13 & Fri Sept 14 @ the Kozmic Zoo (53 W. Broadway)
EDMONTON, AB: Wed, Sept. 26 House concert at the home of Alice Kos and Mark Davis
CALGARY, AB: Thurs, Sept 27 @ Broken City
SASKATOON, SK: Fri, Sept 28 @ Vangelis Tavern
WINNIPEG, MB: Sun Sept 30 @ Aqua Books
SAULT ST MARIE, ON : Tues Oct 2 TBC
SUDBURY, ON:Wed, Oct 3 @ Cosmic Dave’s