Statuesque and fashionable, This Hisses frontwoman Julia Ryckman comes across like a rock and roll femme fatale. But not far beneath that exterior lies an intelligent, thoughtful songwriter, giving the band a sense of purpose and importance beyond just looking cool.

This Hisses’ 2011 debut album Surf Noir lived up to its title, combining wicked grooves with dark (and often very loud) performance, concealing lyrics about the darker side of human nature. We learned about its origins, including Ryckman’s history singing opera, and their upcoming sophomore record.

This Hisses will perform at this year’s NXNE Festival on Saturday June 16 (8 p.m. @ The Rochester).

According to my extensive research on Twitter, you're mixing your new album?

Yes. We just finished. We’re working out of Private Ear in Winnipeg, with a fantastic room for tracking and mixing. Matt Peters of Royal Canoe is producing and engineering the album. It’s called Anhedonia, nine songs, to be released next February.

While we were making Surf Noir, This Hisses was just a recording project. My band Gorgons had broken up and I brought in a few of my favourite musicians to record four [pre-existing] songs. We enjoyed it so much we knew it would keep going, but we didn’t have our sound figured out yet. Anhedonia is more like the epitome of our style.  

Define “anhedonia” for us.

Anhedonia is a psychological state wherein a person in unable to experience pleasure in normal things, food, sex, socializing. The song with that title isn’t about that, more trying to achieve connection with other people but it all crashing down, people not responding to your warm advances.

Do you have a fixed idea of what all your songs mean?

There’s always pretty specific emotions and ideas that I’m wrestling with. The lyrics are all very deliberate.

This will be the first This Hisses record without songs carried over. How has the full-band songwriting effected your sound?

Those four songs did change, became renewed. Right now songwriting is pretty 50-50 between myself and [guitarist] Patrick Short. But our drummer J.P. Perron is amazing with structures. He’s the one who sits down and says “Okay, does this part of the song work?” So much of how I’ll perform a song is connected to his drumming. Before I started to play with him I had a music-crush on his drumming. And he’s the most amazingly poetic live performer – jumping off the stool, flailing arms. A powerhouse.

“Bad Vacation”:

You have a very powerful voice, in contrast to the grittier rock music you make. What kind of training do you have?

I’ve been singing classically for almost 20 years. I’ve trained in opera every year. For me it’s about mastering a technique to get the full emotional impact out of my voice. Working with Patrick on guitar has been amazing, because he can play without trying to compete with the voice.

Is it really possible to break glass with an operatic voice?

Yes, physically it is. It’s a very certain tone, one of the highest Cs in the right kind of room with shatter crystal.

Does it lead to a range of vocal experiments while recording?

To a certain extent. I generally go into the studio knowing what I want to do and how I want to do it. I don’t need a lot of takes, three on the average song. What’s more experimental goes on in the mixing room, playing with reverb and alternating the room mics. We do quite a lot of that on Anhedonia.

Do you test out the acoustics of venues with your own voice?

Most places we play have no time or interest to give us that opportunity. In festivals you get about 20 minutes to set up. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to bring our own sound person. I just hope our power can carry through anyplace.

How would you compare your onstage and everyday style?

People find me terrifying onstage! I’ve been called an ice queen, a formidable presence. I feel like I’m a warm and engaging person, but onstage a certain calmness and sense of precision comes over me. I have different projects and my [demeanor] is slightly different with each one, but with This Hisses I’m playing against loud instruments and powerful musicians, there’s something of a strength that takes over me and creates some sort of femme fatale.

This year you also contributed to the Bloodstains Across the Prairies compilation. How did that come to be, and what was the purpose behind it?

It was the brainchild of Paul Lawton, who plays in Myelin Sheaths and Ketamines. He wanted to draw attention to Western Canada and bands with a garage-rock aesthetic. He’s done compilations for Vancouver, Alberta, and the prairies, combining Saskatchewan and Winnipeg bands. There’s an incredible music scene out here that often escapes the attention of the Eastern music machine.

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