Black n’ Grue

La Sala Rossa Gets Gruesome With Welsh Noise Pop Act

Photo courtesy Joanna Gruesome

The black clad members of Joanna Gruesome stand against the red velvet curtains of La Sala Rossa like stitches on a wound. Through the sound of blazing guitars, howled vocals and hectic drumming oozes an energetic optimism rarely found in bands today.

Joanna Gruesome is a six-piece punk outfit based out of Cardiff, Wales. They formed in 2010, and have since put out two LPs: Weird Sister in 2013 and Peanut Butter in 2015, as well as a number of singles in between.
On the evening of Oct. 27, the show at La Sala Rossa was opened by Montreal’s own Big Knife Little Knife, and followed by New York’s Aye Nako, who have been touring with Joanna Gruesome on their North American stint. Their sound is powerful, exploring innovative grooves generally not found in punk. It was Gruesome’s first time in Montreal as a full band, and hopefully not their last.

Joanna Gruesome’s performance began with “Secret Surprise,” a perfect example of their sound for the new listener—pleasant guitar riffs and alternations between frenetic vocals, yelled with an amazing energy and touching melodies parts in the style of Camera Obscura, with whom the band shares certain lyrical sensibilities, which often center around themes of with mental illness, sexism and homophobia.

Vocalist Roxy Brennan does most of the talking onstage, and after a few minutes she’s already captured the audience with her humour and infectious friendliness. There is no pretentiousness in her manners.

The band keeps up the energy throughout their set with a great stage presence, dancing and clearly having lots of fun. The low frequencies of the song “Graveyard,” a bass-heavy tune with raw punk feeling, are followed by the more gentle “Jerome(Liar)” and “Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend,” which starts slow, and builds until the guitars break in at the end in an epic crescendo.

Most of the band members have been playing together for over five years, and it shows in their professional musicianship on stage.

“Me and Owen [Gruesome’s guitarist] met in an anger management class a few years ago,” bass player Max Warren says after the show. Too good to be true, but it’s a story that begs to be believed—even though a few beers later into the night an alternate version may have surfaced, in which they met at a wine tasting event.

Most of the members of Joanna Gruesome are involved in other projects. Among the many they mentioned over the course of the interview are Caramel, Grubs, Roxy Brennan’s Two White Cranes, and King of Cats.
Roxy and keyboardist Kate Stonestreet joined in June 2015, replacing the band’s previous vocalist Alanna McArdle. A new single featuring the two on vocals is coming soon, and the band plays a part of it as an intro to their set.

Joanna Gruesome is followed by Nots, a riot grrl force of nature on stage—spewing raw, aggressive punk in its purest form. Its droning synthesizers and fast drumming holds the songs down with pulsing floor-tom beats.
The singer and guitar player ends the set lying on the stage, shredding against the microphone stand after a breathless performance.

The show on Oct. 27 was yet another reminder that punk shows in Montreal are where the fun is at. No other music scene seems to have so much diversity and broad acceptance—everyone’s welcome. Nobody’s too jaded to dance, and music comes with no ego attached.