“Meat And Greet”: a Q&A with Bonnie Trash
The musical roots of Guelph’s Bonnie Trash go deeper than their shared time in the psych rock band The Folk, or even their teenage instrumental punk band Red Rosary. The dark blend of art rock and menacing pop produced by the duo is entirely composed by twin sisters Sarafina and Emmalia Bortolon-Vettor, and that’s about as deep of a musical connection as you can find. For their most recent artistic output, this collective creative spirit takes the form as one distinct pseudonym: Bonnie Trash.
Bonnie Trash released Ezzelini’s Dead in 2017, an EP that melds their interpretation of folklore from their Italian heritage with a bite into our modern day lust for consuming information. Even while tackling cannibalistic Italian tyrants, the duo still successfully transcends with infectious and atmospheric pop tendencies, and a thoughtful and artfully packaged delivery.
Watch the video for “Meat And Greet” here:
Bonnie Trash will be performing on Saturday, May 25th at The Ship Pub in St. John’s for Lawnya Vanwya. They’ll be joined by Protruders, Tired Wired and SWAMPS.
Ahead of the show this Saturday, we engaged in a Q&A with Sara and Emma for a “Meat and Greet” of our own. We dug into the duo’s deep musical history, the role of storytelling in their music, exploring the subject of “modern cannibalism”, and much more.
Growing up as sisters, was music always a mutual interest? How did your musical tastes differ, and where did they come together?
Sara: We both began playing piano together. Emma picked up the guitar at an early age and I soon developed an interest in drums after realizing rock bands need a drummer. When we were young, Emma listened to Alice Cooper. I listened to Black Sabbath.
Emma: I think music has always been a mutual interest. Our family was always listening to music. I don’t think our tastes differed, but we tend to explore different avenues of music. I got into big band swing at one point while Sara was into The Smashing Pumpkins. In the end, when it came to writing, we would just mash up whatever we were listening to at the time.
Sara & Emma: Currently, we are listening to Mulatu Astatke, Helms Alee, Emma Ruth Rundle, Destiny’s Child and Lingua Ignota.
According to my research, you two had an all-female instrumental band when you were younger?
Sara: We did! We had a band in high school called Red Rosary. We still have a myspace. It was an all-female instrumental punk/rock band. I started singing towards the end of the band’s rein and we had a great time playing shows as teenagers. We won the City of Guelph’s high school battle of the bands and got to play Hillside in 2009. It was a wild and fun time. Red Rosary was like our Girls Rock Camp when we were teens.
Emma: Red Rosary went through a lot of rotations. We started as a 3-piece and then moved into an all female-led group with two drummers. We recorded two albums, both edited on the original Cubase program and recorded using one SM58.
You were both members of a Guelph psych rock outfit called The Folk. In a 2015 interview, you discussed that while playing around Ontario, you were experiencing a lot of male-dominated bills and sexist incidents of being mistaken for band members girlfriends etc.
Have you noticed much change in the Ontario scene in the four years since?
Sara: There has been a huge difference over the past few years. Majorly. But there are still bills made up of entirely all-male groups. There is no excuse for bookers and promoters: There are plenty of incredible artists and bands with womxn, trans, non-binary and queer folks out there. Find them, book them and diversify your bill. People are sick of seeing the same dude bands play with their other dude friends on all-dude bills.
While Bonnie Trash may have a more musically stripped down approach than The Folk, it seems like it also embraces a larger focus on conceptual ideas. How did the project grow out of The Folk, and what is the biggest difference operating as Bonnie Trash?
Sara: Bonnie Trash is Emma and I. We have a full-band with our friends, Chris and Danny when we can make it work for shows. We write the songs and come up with the concepts to our work. Our bandmates are super supportive in our pursuits and understand when Emma and I just need to perform as a duo.
We started up Bonnie Trash when The Folk was still a group. I wrote a song called “Edith” on a 4-string Telecaster. I wrote this song based on a continuous bout of sleep paralysis I had years ago where I experienced a woman hovering over me at the end of my bed. I named her Edith. This is when I knew I wanted to write songs about fear, power, communication, the unknown and womxn. I was writing songs like this in The Folk, but I wanted to focus on writing and performing with my sister.
Emma: Sara had written “Edith” and we were both performing it as Bonnie Trash and The Folk. Bonnie Trash took more precedence when The Folk chose to go on hiatus. It was an opportunity for Sara and I to write darker songs and play with twisting folklore and horror. Although we have always written music together, BT is an opportunity for the both of us to be one person, Bonnie Trash.
From here on, responses are accredited collectively to both Sara and Emma.
What’s the Johnny Cash connection in the name?
Bonnie Trash. Pretty Trash. Johnny Cash.
Your last EP—Ezzelini’s Dead—explores the story of Ezzelino III da Romano and draws parallels between the cannibalistic tendencies of the fabled Italian tyrant and what you have described as our present day “lust for consumption” in mass media.
We tend to shame ourselves in a technophobic way with how we operate in the Information Age, but what strikes me as unique in your exploration of the subject is that there is a feeling of inevitability and curiosity with how we operate. Do you think there is a positive, or even necessary spin to our “lust for consumption”? How are we going to look coming out the other side of these times?
There is definitely positivity in the way we consume each other’s digital presence. We think of this as a consumption to collect, or a consumption to dominate. There are two examples that we can connect lusting to consume as positive collective change: Quorum Sensing in bacteria and #MeToo.
Some bacteria and viral entities collectively communicate using quorum sensing. A certain strain will grow and release molecules to form a biofilm. When the biofilm is dense enough, the bacteria will sense it and release a behaviour or series of signals collectively. Some strains of bacteria become resistant to antibiotics or can spontaneously light up entirely. The point is, through enough connections and consuming of each other’s digital voices, we have the ability to act collectively with greater force.
#MeToo is like a biofilm for those who are communicating in the digital container of social media, seeking to find like-minded bacteria. #MeToo formed it’s own culture and imposed an impact that is resulting in policy changes. This movement overwhelmed media consumers with a huge realization that a patriarchal status quo needs to change.
There is an anxiety in lusting to consume, especially when it comes to food. Some people are nervous eaters. What is it like when someone is nervously eating the other? On another note, what is it like when many share in a feast?
I feel a really strong connection with the EP’s ability to interpret folklore from your Italian roots in an artistic, uncontrived way. Here at Secret East, one of our biggest motivators has been exploring lesser known chunks of Newfoundland and Atlantic Canadian history and culture through a contemporary lens of wit, creativity and perspective. Nostalgia and heritage can be stuffy and stale, but I think what Bonnie Trash has done is an excellent example of how to preserve and re-examine stories like these in an exciting and fresh form.
How important is this role of storyteller to Bonnie Trash as a creative entity? People tend to think that all songwriters are storytellers, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
Hey thanks! We’re glad this story resonates with you. Right now, we are on a kick of storytelling, especially in the genre of horror. With horror, you can subvert and abstract to your heart’s content. Nothing needs to blatantly make sense, but you can manipulate many parallels to introduce personal and existential fear.
We don’t know. We can’t completely shed thought on what is and is not a story, or who is specifically a storyteller. What are the different ways we use words to communicate with each other and to groups? Orator, writer, poet, singer, songwriter, actor, screenwriter, dancer, painter; it all implies an audience. Traditionally, a story has a beginning, middle, and end. But that’s trash. What if we only communicate in “story,” but this story is a coded language, like folk tales or Sranan odo language? Maybe a story is really anything that one abstracts from the self. We are all storytellers. It just depends on whether the listener likes it or not… or if the listener is actually listening.
What’s next for Bonnie Trash?
We’re currently working on a new album that abstracts Slavomir Mrozek’s one-act play, Out At Sea. It’s a dark comedy about three men named Fat, Medium, and Thin who are stranded on a raft and use socio-political debate to decide which man is best to eat. We’re not quite done with the exploration of what we like to call, “modern cannibalism.”
The album explores the imbalance of power and the cannibalistic ways in which power is consumed for profit, to oppress, to scare and manipulate. But, we can be ready for the next bite. We can empower each other to be ready and bite back. We must share our stories with each other. We must share the stories of women. Every song off the new album is about women.
The sea is pretty and dangerous, too: It can keep you afloat but drown you at the same time. In what ways do we represent a sea of people, and what do these dynamics look like?
We have a new music video that’s being edited for a new single to be released soon. It’s called, “Shades of You.” We’ll play it at The Ship on May 25 at Lawnya Vawnya (presented by you fine folks at Secret East).