By Acey Rowe
This is Betty’s seventh interview in three hours.
She is tired, over-heated, no doubt hungry and probably thinking about the sound-check that is going on above us as we sit in the basement of the Horseshoe Tavern. It’s mere hours to show time and Betty’s attention is in high demand. Still, she fixes her eyes on me with a resolute stare and says, “I am here for you. Let’s do this”. In this moment she brings to mind a rock’n’roll Rosie the Riveter.
Beast is Montreal’s answer to, well, nothing. This is part of their charm – Beast doesn’t answer to anything. The electric, eclectic duo formed two years ago almost accidentally when producer Jean-Phi Gonscalves (Plaster, Arianne Moffat) asked vocalist Betty Bonnifassi (DJ Champion, The Triplets of Belleville) to collaborate with him on a work in progress. What came from that first session was nothing either musician had ever expected: powerful, pulsating, and un-predictable, the music of Beast is something dangerous. It’s no surprise that both Betty and Jean-Phi immediately recognized the need to further explore their creation.
“It was fast”, reflects Betty on the new sound. “How can I say… When you have a feeling that the alchemy is there, and you don’t know why but it’s something strong… After that you want to build, you want to analyze, you want to try other things to make sure it’s not just a lucky moment but really something interesting.”
In the band’s history, Beast’s music (and Betty’s lyrics specifically) are equally exulted and dismissed as “angry”. It is not a description the singer accepts passively, refuting, “The aggression and the violence… I would say more determination of the character to explain why he is so dark.” The character she speaks of is the inspiration at the centre of the album- someone who represents both the individual and the greater human condition, someone who Betty views as a separate individual, as well as an extension of herself.
“Two years after I understand why I wrote those lyrics in this album. I understand. I was actually, and this is the first time I say this, I was in a break-up. And I was very sad, and I had a feeling that I lose my family. And I was mad. And I needed to scream. That’s it. So I imagined a character who decided to be upfront and say, ‘I’m mad because of that’.
Because… when you feel wrong, when you’re in depression in our modern society, is not good. People don’t like it. Like, people say, ‘people don’t want you when you lose’, and I want to talk about someone who lose. I want to look at him [the character] in his face, see him passing through this hard time and finishing somewhere. It’s exactly that. I wanted to talk about pain.”
I stopped being the victim
But you weren’t there to see
I never felt bitter
Till you crippled me
I felt like a refugee from the pain
I had to wear that shroud with no shame
Deceit and lies
Were your crying game
I never fell in love so deeply in vain
Don’t mess with the Beast, Mr. Hurricane
Aggressive yet dignified, emotions are laid bare in Betty’s starkly honest lyrics, which are in turn made powerful by her violent vocal drive. Betty understands that her draw as a lyricist and front-woman lies in her acute ability to connect with her audience. She talks fondly of letter-writing moms who describe their days to her- women who find their daily strength in her music, her lyrics. Betty is strongly aware of her connective ability and it is what she values most in herself as a musician, “My power is that I can touch people, and that’s why I’m making music. The day they stop being touched I’m going to stop making music. I’m going to quit.”
Watching her, poised and dominant in front of a riotously devoted crowd, it is impossible to imagine that day will ever come.
For more on Betty Bonifassi and Beast, and to see the Grammy Award nominated video for Mr. Hurricane (quoted above) check out http://www.beastsound.net/