Interview – Portico
– by Shawn Conner
Portico‘s fourth album, First Neighbours, vacillates between resignedly moody and Pixies-rocking, and is driven by the rhythm section of Greg Murray (drums) and Mimi Mahovlich (bass), while Lyn Heinemann‘s raw-throated vocals lend songs about natural disasters, Native land rights, and sex with seriousness and urgency. I talked to Heinemann and Murray (Mahovlich was coaching a girls’ soccer team) at a Main Street cafe shortly before a CD release gig for First Neighbours.
Shawn Conner: One of the things I like about the record is, it’s stripped down, and you can hear everything really well.
Lyn Heinemann: One of the best things for me about making the record and hearing it is, I’m at practice and I’m just concentrating on my own parts and trying to get it right myself. I’m aware of these guys, you have to be listening to each other, but it’s cool to hear the record back and hear the nuances and subtleties, like really hearing the bass line for the first time. It blows me away how good the Portico rhythm section is.
A brief discussion, about recent live shows seen, ensues, culminating in a startling revelation:
Greg Murray: The last show I saw was Zappa Plays Zappa. I’m a fan of Zappa music in any form. I’ve seen Zappa Plays Zappa three times now, and they’re amazing. I would challenge anyone to go to that show and not enjoy at least some of it. They do excellent renditions of everything. Every time I’ve seen them it’s a different set.
SC: I know a song title, “Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?”
GM: He’s a master orchestrator. He composes beautiful things, then packages them in something that has a very very shiny superficial wrapper. The novelty will force people to listen to it, then after awhile you realize you’re listening to amazing classical music a lot of the time. It’s like tricking people into eating their veggies.
SC: How did you get into Frank Zappa?
GM: He’s the gateway rock musician for jazz musicians, I think. A lot of my jazz musician friends were into Zappa. I listened to “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” over and over again for the novelty of it realizing, “Hey, wait a second, there’s actually something more here.”
SC: There’s a reference in an article on you guys to a “Phleg Camp“?
SC: I know nothing about this band.
LH: I don’t think they were ever well recognized. They were like an early ’90s Toronto hardcore band I really liked when I was a kid. I never saw them play, but I still have a couple of records that I listen to.
SC: Greg, do you know of this Phleg Camp?
GM: I don’t.
SC: Maybe you guys should do an exchange, Phleg Camp and Frank Zappa.
GM: We’ve talked about it.
SC: Now, what about the lyrics on First Neighbours? Lyn, you take on some subjects unusual for a rock song.
LH: It all kind of came from Leah [Abramson], whose song we cover [“Hallmark Poultry Ltd”]. We’d talked about doing a musical together, the life of Louis Riel. It was just one of those things where you’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that!’ but that never materializes. So I started writing songs about that, and it was really easy, just to pick an event and write a song about it. I think a lot of the songs that are about, say, the Frank slide, or Laura Secord or the Great Depression, I’m proud of them, but I can’t say I wrote them out of anything outside of laziness.
GM: You start with a rich story, but it’s still in the way you tell it.
LH: Thanks, Greg. Friends for life.