‘Contained crazy’

On their self-titled debut, RatTail attempts to transfer their live antics onto their record

RatTail got their name from the notorious 1980s hairstyle, which Jasmyn Burke was sporting when the band formed.
RatTail got their name from the notorious 1980s hairstyle, which Jasmyn Burke was sporting when the band formed.

With moaning and a raging drummer, Toronto band RatTail has become known for their spontaneity during live shows.

“I might go off and scream,” said guitarist and vocalist Jasmyn Burke. “That was something we tried to capture on the record.” Their self-titled album is the melodic grunge band’s first in-studio record — a follow-up to 2010’s four-track EP George Mounsey.

Unafraid of letting loose, it’s typical of Burke to be crawling around on stage and for bassist Tim Fagan to be barefoot. Drummer Jesse Matthews has been known to “smash through shit,” Burke said.

“We can be crazy, but it’s a contained crazy,” said RatTail’s free-spirited frontwoman. “Jesse gets really intense … He’s a crazy drummer.”

The band’s full-length debut will be released next month, showcasing impromptu vocal interjections and one-take tracks. Burke’s endearing yells and spoken interjections are best featured on “Sicko” and “Tip Toe.”

“There would be certain takes where they would say ‘go in the booth and sing whatever you think the song might need,’ ” Burke said.

Burke’s voice is a standout element of the indie band’s brand — with a full-bodied throatiness that sounds like a mix of Amy Winehouse and Adele. The singer-songwriter said people often ask the band about her voice.

“My voice is more of my instrument, more than my guitar,” Burke said, adding that she’s never had formal singing lessons. “Over the years you learn more how to use your voice and how to control it. I find now, after singing live for about five or six years and getting used to trying different things, I like experimenting with my voice.”

The trio avoids using synthetic enhancements as much as possible. Neither Burke or Fagan use effect pedals.

“We’re in this time where a lot of people use computers or they use pedals to make their sound a lot bigger,” said Burke. “We try and make a point of not following any trendy-sounding things.

“We like doing the live show and not using pedals to wash everything out.”

The band’s former bassist, Ryan Mounsey, quit in 2010, after having his first child. The current bassist, Fagan, joined RatTail on last summer’s West Coast tour.

“I guess the three of us right now have only been a band for about a year, so that’s why it took us a while to put out an album,” Burke said. “We were kind of in limbo.”

For Burke, building a strong connection was essential for the band to move forward.

“When you know your songs inside and out and you know each other inside and out, you can go off on a song for an extra two minutes and you know it’s okay,” she said. “You can trust each other to do that.”

RatTail plays at the Artel with Rituals tonight.

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