Mortality Rate Vocalist Jess Nyx on Canadian Hardcore, Equality in the Scene + More

Photo: Gabe Becerra

You may not have heard of Mortality Rate until the recent hubbub surrounding vocalist Jess Nyx speaking out against the use of the term “female fronted hardcore.” I had been following them for a while before that (to me they were this band from Calgary who made Calgary Hitmen ripoff hoodies) and I wanted them to be more than the band who sparked that discussion.  I’ve never met Jess in person but this was still a great conversation.

Read the interview below, check out their new You Were the Gasoline EP, and enjoy!

You come from a place that is not at all synonymous with churning out any hardcore or punk yet here you are. What was your initial exposure to the genre and what can you tell us about the history of hardcore and punk in Calgary?

I actually didn’t grow up in Calgary, I’m from a ski resort called Whistler, which is 2 hours away from Vancouver, BC. I was 100% a little scene brat in high school and I found out about bands like The Used and My Chemical Romance from my friend’s older sister when I was like 11 and started going to Vancouver for shows. I made some friends who soon started showing me stuff like Throwdown and Terror and I just kinda slowly made my way into the hardcore scene there. I moved to Calgary in 2011, and thankfully I had friends here because I had travelled here for some shows. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely familiar with the history of hardcore and punk in Calgary. Dereck, Cody, or Jake would have more info about it as they’re all from here but I do know that before I moved here, local shows had like 400-600 people at them every single weekend, without fail. Our scene isn’t near as big as that anymore but I like to think that it’s tighter than ever.

What would you say the overriding culture is like in Calgary? What exactly is there to rebel against?

As a whole, Calgary is really not a friendly place for the arts that don’t fall into a more mainstream category. Trying to find space for all ages shows is super difficult because bylaws and high rent make it next to impossible to open a space, and renting spaces means dealing with mostly older, super conservative people who take one look at what we do and want no part of it. Something that I feel is a personal thing that I have to fight for is just basic care for the environment. One of the main slogans for Alberta is “I love Alberta beef” and Calgary has a very low number of vegan restaurants, or even places with good vegan options. It’s definitely making some progress but compared to other Canadian cities, we are pretty far behind.

Alberta basically runs off of oil and gas and I feel like we are the only province that’s not making massive attempts to conserve what we have left of the planet. Alberta just appointed a new premier mostly based on his claim to eliminate the carbon tax which studies have shown is one of the number 1 ways to reduce emissions. And he made the former president of an anti-abortion group the new education minister which is super threatening considering the things happening in America right now regarding abortion. And while we don’t have cops killing people of color in the streets, there’s still a huge amount of indigenous people who are misunderstood and mistreated by the government/people of Alberta and that’s always been an on-going fight.

Photo: Gabe Becerra

You touched on something important here. Such a large portion of Alberta lies on the tar sands which is actually more detrimental to the environment in its extraction than other methods of extraction.

Yeah, and aside from being awful environmentally, Alberta’s whole economy hinges on oil and gas. So Alberta is in a weird spot where economically we need the tar sands but we’re killing the planet to do it. The entire province is built on an industry that is so fucked up. And people here love it. I see signs that say “I (heart) AB OIL AND GAS” on people’s fences outside their houses and stuff. And so many ignorant ass bumper stickers about it on huge, lifted trucks that they 100% don’t need in the city.

Photo: Jon Walters

Is Canada similar to the USA in the fact that the coasts are more liberal than the interior?

Canada is a little different because the furthest East Coast provinces are more like maritimes and they’re really isolated. Our equivalent to your East Coast would be more Ontario which is more liberal but also just elected a wanna-be trump. And BC which is the furthest west is definitely liberal, and I would say the prairies aren’t but there’s still a lot of younger people who are. Traditionally, Alberta is the most conservative.

How hard is touring Canada? Other than Edmonton, or maybe Red Deer, any city big enough to have a scene is a long drive, right?

Touring in Canada is hard. Edmonton is the closest city that can be worth playing, but the scene there is even smaller than ours, and it’s 3 hours away. Red Deer and Lethbridge used to be playable, but they aren’t anymore. Kelowna is about 7 hours west but again, shows there aren’t always possible and then Vancouver is another 5 hours from there, but playing shows there is awesome lately. It’s always worth making the drive out there, it’s a long one and it’s over the mountains so it’s hard on the van but it’s beautiful. And then east, Regina is like 6 hours? Maybe more? And their scene is very excited for bands to come through but it’s small. And then Winnipeg is probably another 6 from there and it’s super fun to play in Winnipeg.

But the drive out east is flat and boring and there’s nothing between towns so you have to get gas every opportunity you get. One thing that’s cool about Canada though is that Vancouver  —Winnipeg is technically all one scene. And we all ride for our bands so you know that every single person is going to come out, no matter the day of the week. (For those who don’t know Canada, that’s the distance of Seattle to Fargo.)

Photo: Gabe Becerra

Shout some Canadian bands most people won’t know of but should.

Punitive Damage, Serration, Trench, Fuze, Meantime, Flash Back, and Juice.

What’s the most remote place in Canada you’ve played?

I would say maybe Victoria is the most remote place we have played, but it’s still a heavily populated city. You just have to take a boat to get there because it’s on an island. Aside from that, we have only played cities in Canada. I’m not sure that a show could happen in a remote area

Other than having to take a ferry Victoria isn’t that remote.

Yeah, Victoria really isn’t at all it’s just the hardest place to get to [laughs]. Dereck played a dirt field next to a pulp mill by Kamloops with his old band which is kinda remote but still not really?

I want to just talk geography (I have a geography degree) but we’d bore everyone.

[Laughs] Yeah, that’s fair and for Canada it’s mostly just cities and then nothing, so only so much can be talked about.

Oh my god, no way. There is so much to talk about! Anyway, let’s talk about Mortality Rate. You’ve been a band for a few years and your last few releases are only digital.

Sleep Deprivation we self-released on vinyl! But the split and the latest release are only digital, yes.

What was behind your decision to not press those last two Mortality Rate releases?

The only reason I was able to press the first record was because we had a local pressing plant at the time. The only other place within Canada that I could go through is on the East Coast, and with how many we would have to press to make it cost effective plus the cost of shipping, we would have to sell them for insane money in order to make money back and it just didn’t work for us. And same thing goes with American plants, with the exchange rate, shipping, and international import fees for them crossing the border it just wasn’t feasible. I love making tapes and we did make a small run for both the split and You Were the Gasoline but I don’t want that to be the main form of media for either record so I just did a small amount of them.

Photo: Dan Rawe

And expanding on something you brought up here, how do the exchange rate and customs affect what you are able to do?

It just makes things more expensive, really. When we are touring in the States it’s fine but when we are home I have to order merch through Canadian companies which is technically more expensive than through an American one if we don’t get the import tax fee. But if that does come in then it’s not affordable. The hardest part when it comes to the Canadian/American border is actually the work visas. American bands can play up here without a work visa, but we need a work visa to play there. Even if we are playing a fundraiser and aren’t getting paid anything, we need a work visa to do it which is really hard to get and pretty expensive.

Even if you fly into the US and not drive over the border?

If you have gear with you, 100%. You could lie I guess and fly with literally nothing on you, not even a guitar pick and borrow everything at the show and have merch printed locally but if you somehow get caught for it, you get banned from America. For some people, it’s worth the risk but it’s not worth it for me. I know someone who joined a band after they tried to play in America without visas. They weren’t banned but they were turned away and red flagged. He played in the band after that happened, the band broke up and like over 2 years later he tried to cross the border just for a trip and they brought him in and interrogated him because he got flagged for joining the band after that happened. So, they’re pretty on top of it. I also know someone who was turned away and threatened to be banned just because she had her boyfriends bass in her car. So yeah, they take it pretty seriously

Photo: Dan Rawe

Returning to the previous question, do you feel you are losing an element of your music by not having physical copies? And following that up, I would love you to share some lyrics or topics you cover in songs that you think may be unique to you and/or important to share (since there isn't a physical release thus no lyric sheet).

Buying records is important to all of us and we all want to have physical copies of the newest release. When Sleep Deprivation was pressed I couldn’t believe it. We had a record and I would be even more excited about the most recent release. We just really wanted to get these songs out, though. Our good friend, Evan Shaw, passed away and that happening was a big deal, and we all felt like it would be good to get the songs out in memory of him and for our friends. We are hoping to find someone to work with us on a release, but with this particular release we just really wanted them to be out. That was more important to us than waiting to figure out what we were going to do for pressing it

I actually have some lyric sheets that I gave out with the tapes we had at a fest here in Calgary last weekend! But we only made 26, so they definitely aren’t easily available to the masses. I honestly don’t know how to answer this question very well because I’m not entirely great at talking about myself when it comes to what I write about. I don’t really think I’m that interesting and it blows my mind that people listen to us in the first place.

Photo: Gabe Becerra

But in your opinion, as the person who wrote them, are there some lyrics you would like to see read/heard more than others?
"Roses" is an important song to me, as it’s about Evan. And "Lonely Soul" is also important because it’s heavily vegan — my band isn’t vegan but I am and I just couldn’t stay quiet about it. To be honest, they’re all important to me but I think those two make me feel the most when I’m singing them.

I want everyone on the planet to be vegan and I want everyone to also know about Evan Shaw.

Tell us something about Evan Shaw.

He’s the most generous, supportive, and accepting person that I’ve ever met. Our scene started growing again with a younger crowd in the last couple years because he and Dereck started doing shows where if you brought a friend to their first show, they got in for free. So all these young kids we’re bringing their friends to shows and he made such an impact on them that they kept coming back. I’m so lucky to have known him, and we are all so sad to have lost him.

I'm sorry you lost someone like that but I hope his legacy and ideals live on.

I don’t think anyone that met him will forget him and if they do, we will always talk about him. He travelled to shows a bunch despite being in a wheelchair — I went to Rainfest for the first time with him after I moved here — so he has friends all over the place. A lot of them came up here for his memorial show and it was really beautiful to see everyone come together who loved him so much

Dude, you made a Calgary Hitmen hoodie.

Yes we did.

In that earlier answer where you named all these canadian cities I wanted to reply with all the major junior teams: Regina Pats, Kamloops Blazers, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Red Deer Rebels. How sad is that?

Not sad. The guys could talk about it for hours. I’m very used to it. There’s always games on when we practice and they just stop playing and start yelling at the TV.

From the standpoint of the band Mortality Rate, what is important to you all as a collective unit?

I just want to clarify that you mean like on a moral level? Because we all have a heavy stance on things morally but are also all shit heads, so they’re giving me funny answers and want me to clarify if you mean deep stuff or just things we like.

Anything: moral, personal, goals, messages. Anyone can say anything that's important to them.

As a band, we think it’s really important to keep our local scene all ages. I really think it’s important for all of hardcore shows to remain all ages. We really try to show that western Canada has a scene that is worth playing. We have something really special here and I think all bands should try touring through Canada because the long drives really are worth it. People here really care and are so excited when bands come through. We also all really stand for equality for everyone no matter your gender, sexual orientation, or race.

Photo: Karyssa Leigh

Now you personally as a person fronting a band, writing lyrics, holding a microphone, what’s important to you?

I’m a bit of a talker at shows. It depends on what I’m angry about on the day. When I started the band it was 100% for me and my friends so there was no message that I wanted to spread originally. But I figure if I have a microphone and there’s people watching me, I might as well take advantage of the time and talk about important things. But as time has gone on, I have realized that me being a woman in a band is something that’s going to be spotlighted and I’m feeling more and more of an urgency to talk about it. We want to be liked or disliked based on our music and the shows we play, not based on gender.

It’s not that women in bands shouldn’t be recognized, because they should and more girls should start bands. It’s that treating bands different because there’s a woman/femme person in it is counterproductive to evening the playing field. I spoke about this recently at a show and a video was released about it and it seriously blew up way bigger than I thought it would. And in the video, I don’t target men, I’m not mad, I’m not lecturing and I try to be kind about everything and people still seemed like I was attacking them or twist it into something that it’s not, and it’s becoming very clear to me that women still aren’t being heard or understood and maybe I need to talk about it more.

How do you think women’s acceptance and involvement has changed since you became involved in hardcore?

It’s definitely gotten way better. To the point where I think the scales have tipped. When I was younger, I would be targeted and laughed at for moshing. I’ve been told to “stay at the back with the rest of the coat racks”. I’ve been picked up and slammed on the ground and told to “stay down”. And I’ve heard people laugh out loud when they saw a girl setting up to play a show. So in that regard, things have come a long way and I’m thankful. But now it’s crossed the balance and gone to the other side where a lot of people think that by loudly announcing “l love female fronted hardcore," “listen to this band their bassist is a girl” and other things along those lines means that they’re being supportive. They think they’re handed a feminism card just because they acknowledge that a femme person is in the band and that’s not how it works.

If you listen to a band just because a girl is in it, you’re tokenizing them. If you give us all the same label and put us all in a group because for some reason, having a female vocalist makes us all “sound the same”, you’re categorizing us and keeping us separate from the rest of hardcore. And I always hear this argument that people like female singers because they like a higher register for vocals. .......THAT DOESN’T WORK.

The vocals in Dying Wish, Watchdogs, Firewalker, Fortunes Fool, Give Way, and Crave Death all have mid to low vocal range. Don’t get me wrong, I love higher vocal ranges too. I’ve had people compare me to Bob Wilson and the singer for Allegiance, and I know that I could name countless bands with male singers who have higher pitches vocals so that argument is 100% invalid. But anyways yes, it’s changed and it’s gotten better and I would say majority of people get it. But some people very clearly don’t get it yet.

Photo: Agnes Benson

Gimme the upcoming schedule for the band. Now is the chance to plug away!

I don’t know if I’m allowed to announce what we are doing next yet because it’s not 100% confirmed!


You Were the Gasoline is available now on Mortality Rate's Bandcamp page.

Tagged: mortality rate