National CBC Radio host Tom Power had a good point when he introduced Repartee on stage at the MusicNL awards gala in October: any band that can successfully combine upbeat, danceable, synth-pop tunes with dark subject matter and lyrics like, “I would die before you if it meant that you’d be alright,” deserves some attention.
So does an act that was nominated for a total of five awards, taking home every one of them, despite stiff competition.
It’s just been that kind of year for Repartee.
The group, formed by singer/keyboard player Meg Warren, is fairly new to the local music scene, having played their first gig just over three years ago. Since then, they’ve seen a few line-up changes (current Repartee members are Warren, Robbie Brett, Nick Coultas-Clarke and Josh Banfield), and a whole lot of success.
They released their debut recording, a short EP called “Lost Like We All Are,” to a sold-out crowd at The Ship, and followed it up with a self-titled full-length album, earning them the handful of MusicNL awards, and a spot on the shortlist of the 2011 Atlantis Music Prize.
Repartee has been touring regularly since October 2011, having performed at Canadian Music Week, the East Coast Music Awards and Halifax Pop Explosion, among other festivals.
“It just seems like when the MusicNL awards came around, it was pretty much a year after we released the album and a year after we started touring, and I must say, it was a really nice cherry on the top of this sweet year,” Warren said.
Warren and Banfield spoke to The Telegram from the road — literally, thanks to a hands-free device — on their way to Corner Brook for the first stop on their Christmas tour of Atlantic Canada. They followed that gig up with a show in Stephenville and will hit the Maritimes before ending up at the Rockhouse in St. John’s Dec. 14.
What does Repartee have that’s garnered them success so quickly?
“Really high-energy shows and a lot of fun,” Banfield said.
Warren agreed, it all comes down to their live shows. Repartee’s live performances are electric and unforgettable — Warren, who performs in heavy eye make-up and glamourous mini-dresses full of sequins, shoulder pads, tassels and colour, sewn by herself and her mom, gets involved in her performance like no other local musicians, seemingly tuning out everything but the music, dancing and rolling her blonde hair around while singing and playing the keys.
It’s an energy Warren, a former opera singer, admitted she finds difficult to translate onto a recording.
“When you record vocals, you’re stuck in this tiny little recording booth, and it’s really hard to imagine what it’s like when you’re singing live in that setting,” she said.
“I struggle with that. The reason why I started this band in the first place is because I love performing. That’s how I thrive as an artist, and I find that hard to recreate in studio sometimes.”
As for the mix of dark subject matter/upbeat pop music, Repartee members, who write their songs collectively, have a policy, Banfield said: no idea is too foolish to try out.
It’s clearly working for them: with a sound that’s almost Metric meets The Bangles meets indie pop, Repartee’s music is catchy and created to move people, inside and out.
“We all really trust one another as musicians, so it makes it really easy to try new things,” Banfield said.
The heavy lyrics/light music combination is one Warren finds fascinating.
“Not necessarily saying that I aim to write dark lyrically, but it’s an interesting concept: songs that are lyrically kind of dark, but maybe the music doesn’t reflect that. Lily Allen is a great example of a musician that does that really well. I don’t think that pop music is one-sided when it comes to the kinds of emotions that it is associated with. You can have dark pop and angry pop,” she explained.
Repartee has been writing steadily between tours, and in September, released “Hello Hello Hello,” a four-song EP featuring Andrew James O’Brien, a snippet of what they’ve been working on. A new full-length recording is in the works, but no dates have been set yet for its release.
The show at the Rockhouse next week will be Repartee’s first public performance in town since the MusicNL gala, and they’ll debut a couple of new tunes as well as some Christmas songs and new arrangements.
While Warren and Banfield acknowledge the pressure that sweeping a music awards gala puts on future records, it’s not where their priorities lie, and won’t ever be.
“Working on music, you don’t always want to think about what kinds of awards you could earn, and you don’t even think about it in that sense, though it’s a wonderful feeling to be recognized,” Banfield said.
“Our goals are more oriented towards our live shows,” Warren added.
Tickets for Repartee’s show at the Rockhouse on George Street Dec. 14, with special guests Other People, are on sale now at The Ship, Fred’s Records and online at www.reparteemusic.ca. Showtime is 10 p.m.