Upward Trajectory: From Whirlwind Tours to Upcoming Album, Mise en Scene Goes For It All

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By Julijana Capone

Mise en Scene’s Stefanie Blondal Johnson (guitar/vocals) and Jodi Dunlop (drums) have been riding a wave of success over the past few years, getting to know the glory and the grind of life on the road, and perfecting the art of napping.

Their reverb-soaked debut, Desire’s Despair, came out in 2012, garnering the band a slew of media attention –  CBC Music’s Lana Gay singled out the garage pop duo as ones to watch at this year’s Canadian Music Week – and it’s been a jam-packed year of gigging ever since.

“It’s kind of cool, because now Jodi and I can nap anywhere,” Johnson says. “Like, as soon as we’re in something that moves – like a car or a train or a plane – we just fall asleep immediately. Before I used to be like ‘I don’t know how to nap,’ and now all I do is nap, it seems.”

Clocking in two European tours in the past six months, the band’s latest jaunt included a bunch of sold out slots through the U.K. and Germany opening for L.A. indie-rockers Giant Drag and Glasgow folk/rock outfit Three Blind Wolves, and a Manitoba Music showcase at Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival, alongside other Manitoba acts Federal Lights and Les Jupes.  Amid the mêlée of the festival, the girls also got to meet and hang out with Chicago buzz band Smith Westerns and Vancouver indie rock group The Zolas.

“It was a cool festival like that,” Johnson says. “You just ended up hanging out with a lot of people.”

Dunlop says that their second time back to Europe definitely felt like a step forward. “This time was different,” she says. “We got to open for some bigger bands and play sold out shows. Like, a guy came up to Stef and I in the street in Germany with a printed-out photo of us and asked if we could sign it, and I was like ‘uh, what?’”

The band’s upward trajectory has been a steady one. They played the first New Music Wednesdays at Ozzy’s back in May of 2011, by June of that year they were off to NXNE, then there was a brief tour of Ontario with Sons of York, and that fall they were selected for the Banff Centre’s Independent Music Residency, a three-week stint in the mountains that allowed the girls to write and record half of Desire’s Despair and work with some notable producers, such as Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade) and Tony Berg (Beck, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club). They also worked with Howard Redekopp (Tegan & Sara, The New Pornographers) and Ron Obvious (D.O.A., The Subhumans) for the remainder of that album.

They’ll return to the Banff Centre again this January for a self-directed residency where they’ll finish writing their next album, which Dunlop says is already 70 per cent complete.

While Desire’s Despair showed the girls coming of age as musicians and experimenting with different producers and sounds – channeling everything from surf rock to vintage girl groups to Shop Assistants-style garage pop – Johnson says their next offering will be more focused. She also promises more rock with a poppy vibe.  

“It’ll be something that can be on the radio – we’re not gonna be a heavy metal band by any means,” Johnson says.  “We’ve been exploring some interesting themes with our music, and definitely reflecting a lot about being on the road and how things are quickly changing…”

But before they get back into writing and recording any new material, they’ll be heading to BreakOut West in Calgary for a series of shows.

Their Pipe & Hat label head and manager, Tim Jones, will also be there. He’s nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award for Manager of the Year, and deservedly so. Johnson says he’s been working hard over the past few years and may or may not sleep anymore.

“He’s a young guy, he’s like 27 or 28, and he’s kicking ass right now,” Johnson says. “He’s signing some great, amazing big bands, and developing other ones in Winnipeg."

Following the band’s trip to Calgary, Mise en Scene will join Pipe & Hat labelmates the Fast Romantics for some dates through Western Canada and the U.S., and there are no plans of stopping there.

“If Jodi and I are gonna tour and do this music thing, which involves so much personal sacrifice on so many levels, then we’re gonna fuckin’ do it,” says Johnson. “Like, if we’re gonna do this, then let’s tour all day long – even though it destroys us – and let’s record and write and play all the time. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it.”

Read more about Manitoba artists at BreakOut West

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Profiles Mise en Scene Pipe & Hat BreakOut West Reeperbahn New Music Wednesdays Julijana Capone Jodi Dunlop Stefanie Blondal Johnson

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