Published May 15, 2014Calgary-based noise-doom duo Mares of Thrace have been uncharacteristically quiet of late. Their celebrated 2012 release The Pilgrimage earned critical acclaim and a place on the Polaris Music Prize long list, before announcing that drummer Stef MacKichan was departing the project to pursue her education.
At first it seemed that she would be replaced: Rae Amitay served as the drummer for a 2012 summer tour. Shortly after, however, vocalist/baritone guitarist Thérèse Lanz also decided to pursue an education, enrolling at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago, working towards an associates degree in Game and Interactive Media.
Mares' future seemed uncertain for a time, until December 2013 when the group announced that MacKichan was actively a part of Mares of Thrace once again, albeit from a distance. And now as the band explain in a new Exclaim! interview, Mares are gearing up for even more new activity.
"Stef and I have both been run off our asses with school and live in different cities," Lanz tells Exclaim! "So for the meantime, Mares practices are unfortunately conducted with a click-track, my Pod X3 and headphones in my apartment."
Not exactly the elaborate and carefully crafted setup Mares are used to, but it's just another form of constraint, and Lanz and MacKichan are determined to soldier on. Despite these restrictions, Lanz is reluctant to state that Mares have been on anything resembling a break.
"'Hiatus' sounds like we're fuckin' quitters, which we're not; we'll keep writing, just slower," she says.
In fact, the duo already have plans to digitally release a demo, written while Lanz and MacKichan smoothed out their long-distance relationship. "I think it's our best work," Lanz says excitedly, "but every idiot says that about their new shit."
The aforementioned demo will be called The Burden, after a phrase Lanz has long held close: "Don't pray for a light load, pray for a strong back." Lanz also credits the title, and the inspiration behind the writing of the songs, to the philosophical and legal concept of "burden of proof."
Lanz says she believes deeply in "the notion that when someone asserts something exists, it's their duty to prove it; it's not on me to disprove it." This is a central point to Lanz and MacKichan's belief system, which the former refers to lovingly as "being atheist assholes."
A single track of new material, "Dead French Mathematicians," was released on April 22 via Mares' Bandcamp page, with the full EP forthcoming.
In addition to continuing to work with Mares, Lanz is participating in a new, Chicago-based project, playing baritone guitar, this time for the group Waspkeeper. Composed of Lanz, bassist Nick Pyle and vocalist/guitarist Scott Shellhammer (American Heritage, Ghosts and Vodka) their sound is a very different sonic beast than Mares — the insectoid vs. the equine.
"If Mares' keywords are 'bleak' and 'gruesome,' Waspkeeper's would be 'uncomfortable' and 'ill at ease,'" Lanz explains.
The sound evolved out of the math rock favoured by Shellhammer, which characterized his previous project Ghosts and Vodka, and the rest come from Pyle and Lanz's "hilariously synchronous love for '90s AmRep noise rock."
Lanz is also freed from having to both sing and concentrate on creating all of the guitar tones. "I very much wanted to try something different. Nick is doing vocals, so I'm giving guitar my undivided attention."
The compositions that come out are "lots of treble-up, gain-down, Jehu-ish, jangly attitude... in an extremely abrasive way," she says.
Waspkeeper have afforded Lanz the opportunity to explore sonic territory that was impossible with the strategic limitations of Mares' technical setup.
"There are a great many things that I couldn't do in Mares. When you're the only stringed instrument, you have to sonically hold down the fort. Having a rhythm instrument to hold it down means I can go forage in the woods for berries for half a song, if I feel like it. Also, Waspkeeper's songs are more about creating uneasy and unnerving atmospheres."
So far there is no firm release date for Mares of Thrace's The Burden, but you can stream "Dead French Mathematicians" below.
Read an interview with Lanz in our recent Music School feature.