Horror Films, Tarot Cards, and Elemental Forces with Ace of Wands

>> We had the lovely opportunity to chat with Lee Rose of Ace of Wands, a gothic-rock band out of Toronto, about their upcoming performance in Rochester, New York at the Bug Jar, where she finds inspiration for songwriting, and the origin of the band.

Tell me how did you all meet and what made you want to start a trio?

We actually started Ace of Wands in 2017. After Rival Boys I took a couple of years off to figure out what I wanted to do in my career, and music in general. But in January of 2017, I had the opportunity to go on a big tour across Canada in a band that was opening for Canadian folk legends Blue Rodeo. It was a mind-blowing experience playing in theatres and hockey stadiums for thousands of people, and it made me want to dive right back into music. Jody (our drummer) was touring with me and he and I clicked right away. I had met Anna (our lead-guitarist) back when Rival Boys was playing and she and I became soul-mate friends, so it was obvious she should be part of Ace of Wands too.

Lee, since you were a member of Rival Boys, how does your current music differ from what you used to do with them or any past project you’ve been included in? How has your music evolved?

Ace of Wands is my first project where I am the lead songwriter and bandleader. In Rival Boys, my older brother was the songwriter for the band and I was the lead singer. It was a formative experience for me in music — since I started the band with him when I was 17 — but Ace of Wands is the first time I am feeling really confident with my own songwriting and voice. Rival Boys was a power-pop band, and Ace of Wands is much darker. When I started the band, I was in the midst of a very deep depression and was needing an outlet to express some of the emotion I was drowning in. The lyrics are very personal, as I use poetry to try to make sense of life, and the music has evolved into very expansive and intense soundscapes… It’s all a reflection of this journey I’m on I guess!

Your music is very cinematic, and you guys have a very distinct sound, drawing from a variety of styles. Where does that come from exactly? Who are some of your influences and what did you guys listen to growing up?

Yeah! I am a huge horror movie buff and love the dramatic and moody music in those films. I listened to a lot of John Carpenter and Goblin when I was starting Ace of Wands and I felt like the genre of ‘Horror Rock’ was right up my alley. But I also love pop music and find that every song I write always ends up with hooky melodies and pop/rock song structures. I grew up listening to bands like Nirvana, The Fall, Tom Petty and Lucinda Williams (among others), but I also started playing the violin and got a university degree in Classical violin performance. The influence of orchestral music has played a big role in the cinematic and big sound of Ace of Wands (even though we are only a trio).

Not only do you guys have a distinct sound, but also a distinct name. It’s almost supernatural sounding, which coincides with your sound. What is the origin of your name? Or does it just come from a tarot deck?

Yes, Ace of Wands is named after the Tarot Card. I was gifted a deck about a year before Ace of Wands started and I never bothered opening it. When I was starting to experience depression, I was looking for any external sources of help and guidance that I could find. I started using the Tarot deck to as a prompt for self-examination and reflection. I would do readings to ground myself and give a new perspective on the situation I was finding myself in. The Ace of Wands card spoke to me as a perfect inspiration for starting a new musical project as it represents a burst of creative energy, fiery passion, new opportunities, and the potential to grow.

You guys also have some extraordinary videos too? Tell me a bit about who’s in charge of the shooting and preparation for those, particularly the one for “10,000 Feet” and what influenced that?

Thank you! The videos are a passion for me. Apart from being a musician, I love to draw, paint and make sculptures, so I use the videos as an excuse to stretch this muscle. It also allows me to visualize the metaphors contained within the songs. I collaborate with Samuel Scott (the drummer for Rival Boys) who is a film director/editor and he does all the shooting while I do all the props and set dec. My love of horror movies also plays a big part in the videos, so I’m inspired by surreal images, stark contrasts between light and dark and using landscapes to set the mood. “10,000 Feet” was an epic shoot. We had to walk over an hour across a frozen lake to Anna’s cottage carrying hundreds of pounds of film equipment in the middle of February. It almost killed us. But we were able to get some cool, surreal footage and showcase some of the beauty of northern Canada in the winter.

Your music seems to mostly revolve around self-discovery and elemental forces. What influences your songwriting? And who mostly writes it? I write all the songs and bring stripped-down musical arrangements to the band. Anna and I collaborate on vocal harmonies and she writes lead guitar lines and Jody writes percussion parts. All the songs reflect personal experiences I am going through in the moment and I am hugely influenced by those elemental forces in nature as a way of expressing emotion. Using naturally occurring elements (wind, fire, sun, moon, water, flora, fauna) to help convey personal narrative lends a universal appeal to the music.

Every musician records that one song that they’re really proud of. What song is that and why?

I love the “Jolt the Amplifier” on the album. It feels complete to me and represents so much of what we are about. The song is epic, has large dynamic changes, cool production, and just rocks. And it’s really fun to play live.

I know you guys just released your full-length debut ‘Lioness’ back in February. What was the recording like for that album and where was it recorded?

We recorded with Toronto producer Mike Rocha and worked on the record at a few different recording studios in Toronto. We tried to record in a way that could capture a kind of “live-ness”, so all the songs are made up of single takes of guitars, vocals, drums, etc. While we recorded all parts separately, we wanted to keep the songs imperfect and not edit the hell out of them with beat detecting and autotune. What’s next in the studio for Ace of Wands?

We are currently working on our next album, which will hopefully be out in early 2020!

I see that guys are releasing your music not only digitally through Bandcamp, but also physically on vinyl and CD. What is it like self-releasing your own music and especially physical copies in an age of listening mostly dominated by streaming?

It’s pretty tough out there, to be honest. It seems to be harder and harder to get people to buy physical copies of your record when they can just stream it for free online. And since we don’t have label or distribution support we have to carry all the expenses of duplication and touring on our own. But we love doing it, and just try to make personal connections with our audiences at shows and express the importance of supporting independent musicians.

What do you hope people take away from your shows?

Mostly, we hope people have fun and rock out! We give a pretty energetic live performance and want people to move. But since the songs are very personal to me, I hope that the messages of self-discovery resonate with people too.

How’s the tour going so far? What have been some of your favorite venue’s you guys have played at?

This will be our first date on the tour! Yay Rochester! We are excited to get tour underway here.

You guys are from Toronto, but is this your first time visiting the Rochester area and playing in it?

Not my first time in the city (I used to come to the Toy museum when I was a kid - is it still there??) but my first time playing. I am looking forward to being back.

What are you looking forward to most about staying in Rochester?

Meeting new people and hearing some of the local music. We are really excited to be playing with Boy Jr. and SMAXKult

Lastly, if you guys had to collaborate with any musician, who would that be?

I’d love to work with PJ Harvey. She is an idol of mine and I cannot imagine a more interesting person to write with.

Anything you guys want to add that I didn’t ask?

Just that we hope you come out to the show and say hi! We love to meet new people wherever we go and we will certainly be back to Rochester in the future. Thanks so much for chatting!

Listen to Ace of Wands HERE!

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