Rah Rah’s drummer has one hell of a voice
by James Brotheridge
When Erin Passmore uses a phrase like "feeling out the vibe", you can tell there are air quotes around. There's a self-deprecating edge to her humour, too - while talking to her about her latest release, the Downtown EP, she remarks that songs about boys and relationships are nothing new for her.
"You know -- woe is me, boys suck, blah blah blah," says Passmore. "That mostly has to do with the way I deal with things. It's an outlet for me. I think that's why I don't have a ton of happy songs.
"I am a happy person," she adds. "You just don't see it on the record."
Passmore already has a bursting music resume. She's a founding member of Regina's Rah Rah, where she's drummer and one of the band's main vocalists.
But for some time now she's been developing a body of solo work, which lets her wow people with her amazing voice. They will be more wowed after hearing her new record. Downtown EP will be officially released Feb. 28, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say she'll have copies for sale at her Feb. 24 Distrikt show.
Passmore seems humbled when I mentioned people's reactions to her voice. Apparently, even her mom asks her to sing. "It's weird," she says.
But maybe not surprising. "When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a singer, says Passmore. "Growing up watching Joel [Passmore, her brother]'s bands and stuff, I thought, 'That's fucking rad. I could definitely do that.' But I didn't have the confidence, or I didn't feel I had the technical skill."
Still, those ambitions followed her into high school. Eventually, Passmore formed the first, three-piece incarnation of Rah Rah with Marshall Burns and Kyrie Kristmanson. All three sang during the live shows, but it was during the recording of their first EP, Songs for Pasquale, that Passmore's voice got noticed.
"I remember recording the first EP with Marshall and Kyrie in, I guess it's Leif [Thorseth, Rah Rah bandmate]'s old house," I remember doing it with Robb Morrison and then singing "Winter Sun" or "Cuba/Peru", one of them, and doing the vocals for that. And my brother was there as a producer before he was in the band. They were all sort of like, 'What? Why haven't you done this before?'
"I was the shyest person in the world."
(By the by, when Passmore says "What?" as its own sentence, it's the exaggerated, elongated "whaaat?" of comic surprise.)
Passmore continued to move to the forefront of the band. On Rah Rah's first full length, Going Steady, she and Burns sang "Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel".
On 2010's Breaking Hearts, she really came into her own.
"When I brought [the songs] "Parkade" and "Salty Cities" to the band and they were all stoked, I was like, 'I'm going to be a for-real singer on this song. That's going to be awesome.' And having that time live to be super vain and have people watch me is pretty cool, too."
Passmore's been playing one-off shows for a while and would've been content to keep doing so, had Hidden Pony Records not shown interest in releasing her solo work. But show interest they did, and so this past summer, she went to Montreal to make Downtown EP with producer Matt Lederman.
They'd met previously, but the three weeks Passmore spent in Montreal was weird at first.
"I stayed with Matt for the first week because I didn't have anywhere else to stay in Montreal. I didn't know him at all but he was super awesome. I just wound up on his doorstep the night of his birthday, and so he had all his friends over, and I was like, [tentatively] 'Hey. What's up, guys I don't know? People that I'm super nervous to be around? What's going on?'"
"He was awesome, but he was like, 'You need to find a different place to sleep, otherwise we're going to end up hating each other if we're working together all day and coming back to the same apartment.'"
Passmore continues: "I don't want to put words into his mouth, but I would've had enough of me."
But so what. The results, as they say, speak for themselves. And Passmore's crack group of musical contributors -- some noted in the sidebar to this piece -- completely realized the music's potential. 'Nailed it', as it were.
Even songs that came together at the last minute (Passmore had originally planned to make the eight-song Downtown EP a five-song release) sound great.
Now, she's putting together a live show, which means stepping out from behind the drum kit and becoming the focal point of the concert. She's still figuring that part out. But she's got stage technique that works for her.
"Sometimes I'll just find someone to make fun of. Like, when I play with Marshall, I'll just make fun of him in front of everyone. He's great about it, because he knows that I need something to talk about. But I always feel super bad about it."
Later, she does a spot on Marshall impression. She could be the Don Rickles of Canadian music, I say.
"At the German Club, that's how I promoted it," she says. "'Who knows who I'll make fun of tonight!'"