These hardcore heroes deliver decibel-powered discourse
by Gregory Beatty
If you’re a fan of Harvest King Records-style punk/hardcore in Regina, you’ve perhaps seen Homo Monstrous. If haven’t seen them, you at least should’ve heard of them. They’ve played legit hardcore rooms such as the MacKenzie Art Gallery and Neutral Ground.
Okay, I’m just messing with you there. Sort of.
Homo Monstrous have played those galleries, but they’ve also appeared on bills with other punk/hardcore bands at venerable venues such as the SCES Club, the German Club and the Mercury Café. That breadth is fitting, because Homo Monstrous inhabits a nebulous space between performance art and music.
Jaye Kovach and Leo Keiser comprise the band. They met while studying intermedia art at the University of Regina, where they shared a studio.
“We did a show at Fifth Parallel in 2011,” says Kovach. “It was mostly net art, installation and video. There was no music, so it was completely different than what we do now. Then later, I curated some student performance at the gallery and we ended up collaborating on a noise-based performance, and it grew out of that.”
Both Kovach and Keiser have music in their backgrounds. Kovach studied piano for a number of years, while Keiser played folk music.
“I was still gigging at the time,” Keiser says. “I’d never done anything less gentle than folk, but I was starting to explore some topics in intermedia that lent themselves to being a little more aggressive.”
At first, says Kovach, they saw themselves primarily as performance artists. “The nice thing about that is there’s not as many rules and you can get away with a lot more as far as not being musically adept. Depending on where you’re playing, there just seems to be a wider variety of things you can do.”
“In the last bit, though, we’ve been very much focused on honing a musical craft out of it,” says Keiser. “But never completely abandoning the idea that you can do both at the same time. Sound is performative, and it lends itself very well to being something [artful].”
The band name’s recalls a pejorative scientific term, Homo monstrosus, that arose in the early 18th century as Europeans began venturing off continent and encountering the inhabitants of other lands in Africa, Asia and the New World. The term encapsulated the racist attitude Europeans had toward people of different ethnicities, cultures and religions than them.
In the case of Kovach and Keiser, the prejudice LGBTQ people face in our society is a central focus of their music and art.
In October 2013, Homo Monstrous released its debut EP, Nothing Without My Scars. They followed that up with a western Canadian tour that included a gig at the Shout Back! Festival in Vancouver in August.
“The tour was way better than I was expecting,” says Keiser. “It was super fun. A lot of the shows were not male-centric, and the people who were there were expecting the kind of music that we were able to present. And they respected us personally so it felt super comfortable.”
That hasn’t always been the case for Homo Monstrous, though.
“Dudes in particular seem to feel a lot of ownership over the kinds of music they listen to,” Kovach says. “So if you call yourself a band, and you’re playing in the same venues as them, they feel threatened, I guess.”
Still, Homo Monstrous does have a following in Regina.
“It’s been more the punk and hardcore side of things,” says Kovach. “That’s where we’ve found a fan base, especially with the younger folks, which is kind of weird. Then there’s also queer and trans people that we know, and the broader art community has also been really good.”
Homo Monstrous plans to release a full-length album this spring, then tour western Canada again.
“There were some places we didn’t make it to the first time around,” says Kovach. “Also, touring the other way, it’s kind of a question of going through the U.S. or having an even more excessive drive [through Manitoba and northern Ontario]. I’m not really sure how I want to approach the passport situation yet. For trans people it’s a huge kerfuffle. So I’ve been procrastinating on that.”
Kovach and Keiser both write for the band. While their styles are merging a bit, they’ve typically approached the craft from different angles. “I’m intentionally a bit more vague,” says Keiser. “But I’m working through that because I find it super cathartic to be storytelling in a way that has direct roots in my experience. I think that’s important, so I’m trying to be less vague and more intentionally direct.”
“I write a lot from personal experience,” says Kovach. “That’s especially so with older stuff, although I’m kind of shifting now in that it will be about multiple experiences or multiple people at the same time. But there are definitely places in songs where I verbatim quote people who said something to me.
“Surprisingly, no one has brought that up yet. ‘Hey, I totally said that one time so… do you want to have a conversation?’ Then I would have to because I don’t want to be a shithead about it. But it wouldn’t be the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had so it would be fine.”
At Performatorium, Homo Monstrous will perform How Fucking Loud Do I Have To Yell.
“For me the performance is about not having a voice — so voicelessness in the face of this really fabulous wall of sound,” says Keiser. “Feeling disempowered from having a voice in so many different settings just amounts to a whole heck of frustration where you get sick of repeating yourself and expending energy and effort in an area that’s not being productive.”
“In part, it’s about that for me too,” says Kovach. “But being on the trans female side of the spectrum, it’s really weird because you’re in a situation where you’re almost always performing. People look at you and have questions, so it’s way more of a production than it needs to be, as far as just existing goes.
“One of the challenges for me in performing is I want to address what being trans means for me. As someone who deals with mental illness, that plays into it as well. People assume that the trans part of my identity is just another mask I wear. Nina Arsenault has talked about that as a trans woman performance artist, people thinking, ‘Oh, this is just another costume you wear.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, no, I need to be very clear that it’s not’.”
With a growing presence on the western Canadian art and music scenes, Keiser is pleased with Homo Monstrous’ progress so far. “Ideally, I’d like to see more queer and trans folks making noises in Regina. As of right now, though, we’re able to have a foot in that space and that feels really cool.”