Interview: Kamikaze Nurse Experiment with the Ethereal and Frenzied Stimuloso

Photo Credit: Dennis Ha

Drawing inspiration from noise rock bands like Sonic Youth and pulling their name from the works of a French philosopher, Kamikaze Nurse blend together influences from art, literature, poetry, and film into a melodic, experimental, and frenzied sonic landscape. Forming in Vancouver, Canada in 2018, the four-piece released their debut LP Bucky Fleur in summer of 2019. Now, though, they’ve just released the exploratory and ethereal Stimuloso, self-recorded during the pandemic and released via Mint Records on June 3rd, 2022. Described as “the best of the 90s,” Kamikaze Nurse’s music explores everything from getting high on pet medication, Russian poetry, interpreting cow noises, and much, much more.

In our interview, we chat with Kamikaze Nurse members KC Wei and Sonya Eui about the appeal of Simone Weil and the reason for choosing their name, their musical backgrounds, and the tight-knit and welcoming Vancouver music scene. We also chat about how films like Dead Ringers, real-life people, and poetry by friends and famous people alike influenced the concept-heavy music they create. Finally, we explore the highs of touring—such as cool shoes and great sets— as well as the lows of being on the road, such as smashed windows or technical troubles.

Kamikaze Nurse will be performing at Pop Montreal this fall— don’t miss it!

What is your go-to gas station order?

KC: I will be very honest, and I will say Coke Zero and an ice cream sandwich.

Sonya: I would love a corn dog, however, on this tour that we just did, there wasn’t a single corn dog encountered. There wasn’t a single corn dog involved! Somehow! Up until the very end, when we were already in Canada, I was like, I guess I’ll take a Canadian one. No corn dogs. But a Ched and Pep. Like those double sticks.

No corn dogs? I thought they had them everywhere!

Sonya: Where has this country gone?

Your name comes from philosopher Simone Weil’s wish to put nurses on the front lines during World War II; would you like to share more about why Simone Weil, and her dream, are significant to the band?

KC: I guess I can speak to that because I came up with the name of the band. I was just reading a biography of her, I’ve only read bits and pieces of her actual philosophy and writings, but I was reading a biography on her and how she grew up in the shadows of her brilliant brother and how she was always very sickly, and how she really wanted to practice what she believed in, even though she came from a bougie family.

She worked in the factory, volunteered herself to go to the civil war—I think during the Spanish civil war she fell into a mine and broke her arm or something like that. And eventually she got tuberculosis, because she was sickly her whole life, and died from that. But before she died, she was writing—I think it might have been in Gravity and Grace, she talked about this idea of like the Kamikaze Nurse, and I thought it was such a romantic but punk ideal that really resonated, and it was this super punchy name. And that’s where it came from.

Gravity and Grace was like this collection of writings she was writing her whole life. And after she died her editor pasted it together, it’s just her full collection. I haven’t read it, I’ve just read snippets here and there and essays about her. But that seems to be a major volume of works. But I’m not a Simone Weil scholar, I’m just an appreciator as a musician.

Sonya: KC does shit like that in the band. I’m just a chiller and a viber. I’m along on the war plane of Kamikaze Nurse.

What do you wish others outside of Vancouver knew about your local scene?

Sonya: My goodness, I can’t come up with anything interesting to say today. But I think for me, what’s notable is that I moved to Vancouver as an adult, never having played music, so the fact that it was so easy to start and meet people, I think points to the scene being quite lovely, if a little small, and there’s lots of stuff going on. And I know that every scene tends to be talked about as shitty and toxic and exclusive, but I’ve genuinely met so many welcoming people. I think it’s a nice little scene. It’s very kind.

KC: I also didn’t grow up playing music at all. I started playing in bands when I was 26, like ten years ago. So I feel like, to start, at that point, and then to be welcomed into the scene and kind of building off of that, it is super small, but being able to do that, it is very open. Like Sonya said, every music scene can be harsh, judgmental, problematic and everything, but I think because Vancouver is so small, people make an effort to be respectful and inclusive most of the time, just as a baseline. Because most of the time it is so small you need to take care of it. But the smallness can be seen as being exclusive or snobby or something like that. But that hasn’t been my experience.

How did you decide that you wanted to play music and be in a band?

KC: I went to art school, so I still do art stuff. And I really love art. It was just something that wasn’t… it wasn’t satisfying some part of me, just visual art on its own. Being in art school, I was like, we all love music, we talk about music all the time. The first band I was in, we all went to school together, so that’s just how it happened for me.

Sonya: I grew up playing classical music very seriously and very intensely. And I almost did it for life and for school and stuff. But I don’t know, it’s very easy to burn out as a kid and it’s easy to completely ditch it, because it can be intense. So I did. And then I didn’t play any music, because I felt so burnt by it. But I still wanted to, so that’s kind of the other way to go. To do it for fun, but to do it consistently. So I think I just literally wanted to play an instrument, and I found other people that wanted to play instruments, and it went from there. And now I’m kind of vibing out of it, pushing 30, vibing too hard.

How would you describe the general storytelling/narrative in “Stimuloso”? Would you say there’s a throughline connecting all the songs, or do you see them as standing more on their own?

KC: I never thought of it this way before until Sonya said it, but Sonya once said that our albums are kind of like… concept albums.

Sonya: Not literally as a concept album, but it is always very thematically sound. It’s also very visual, I find, usually. We always have picture references, image references we’re talking about, color, shape, stuff like that.

KC: I never went to music school, I don’t even really know how to make proper chords, honestly. That’s why I think I play guitar in a unique way, just because I didn’t have that training. And a lot of times I wish I did, just because then I could jam with people. I think that’s where that comes from, the imagery and the themes. The themes I think in Stimuloso, as we were writing it, of course it was written over the pandemic, so that energy. But I don’t want to just write songs about the pandemic, obviously, but that energy and vibe of life and death, that back and forth of big bursts of energy and soft, more slow waves of that throughout the album, I think of the album as these moods that ebb and flow and these themes that we were able to pick out in hindsight, because we never talked about it when we were writing the lyrics. Just songs about our pets, our animals, our guitarist Ethan had a baby, so that new life and energy was in some of the songs.

A statement from your band described the song “Pet Meds,” off your latest record, as an interpretation of the Sonic Youth side project track ‘Two Hot Rock Chicks Listening to Neu,’ and looking for a good mechanic and getting caught in a psychosexual transmogrification.” Would you like to share more about this road trip?

Sonya: I love that question. It started with a riff that sounded really cool, and I wrote out the song, we had the lyrics for it, and then our drummer John, who notoriously has a lot of friends that he loves, showed us this poem from one of our friends, and he thought that the vibe suited the song so well, and we indulged him in it in reimagining the poem into whatever it is now. And I believe the poem was inspired by a road trip that that man took where he took pet medication to get high, correct me if I’m wrong, and then all the talky stuff, we were just shooting the shit with KC. There’s no meaning around it.

Sounds like a very intense version of Thelma and Louise or something.

KC: I love that. Our drummer John shared this email between him and his friend, where, I think his friend’s a poet, and it was this rambling stream of consciousness first person narrative of taking pet medication and being too high or something. John didn’t want to write lyrics for it, so Sonya and I decided to write lyrics for it, and then we just did it over the course of one night. We just hung out at Sonya’s place and drank some wine, and Sonya wrote 90% of the verse lyrics, and then I’d always had the chorus.

I had a coworker named Karen—she’s in her sixties, but I just imagined her being really bohemian back in the day, and I just imagined her being really, like, a dominatrix. Just having this really wild time in her life when she worked at this art center where they would have kinky parties sometimes, so I just imagined her being the mistress and treating her person as an animal. So that kind of set the tone for the chorus, and then the screamy part, it was just—I realized the song had Part A, Part B, Part A, Part B, and we realized that it needed something else. So we added that real intense break into it, because we felt like it needed something else.

Does your coworker know you drew inspiration from her past life?

KC: Yeah. She’s never said, “I used to be a domme” but I just imagine that she did, in the eighties or in the seventies, because the art center I worked at had that history back then, of having wild parties that were very cocaine fueled. But she liked it! I don’t think she really understood what I was going for, but she was like, “Great song!”.

Several tracks off the album have sort of “animalistic” references, like in “Ubobo,” obviously “Pet Meds”, and “Come From Wood.” Was there an intention behind this?

Sonya: Yeah. We’re obsessed with our cats. We all have cats and we’re all obsessed with them.

KC: It’s just a love song for our cats. And then in “Stimuloso” there’s that breakdown part where we all make weird animal noises—not even weird, just animal noises—and we were all in the studio and felt like that part needed something, and I just asked everyone to make some noises. Sonya was down, Johnathan was down… Ethan, I really wanted him to moo, but he was shy about it at first. But I think he made some really good interpretations of cow noises.

A few songs also feature moments of spoken word, both exchanges in conversation in addition to more of a monologue-style. What was the decision behind including these spoken parts and what do you think it adds to the record?

KC: The first time it happens, like in “P & O,” that one is so long, when we wrote it, each part kept moving into the next part and not just wrapping itself up. I was reading a lot of John Ashbury at the time, I really like his poetry, and a lot of his poetry also has that, like a lot of the time there’s no real defined subject, and it’s just this narrative that builds without ever really being fixed on something that’s happening. And as we were talking, that’s how we were describing these shifts in mood and tone, rather than subject themes. That, I guess, is reflected in my thinking when I was reading his poetry.

All this to say, in the last album, the three of us, John, Sonya, and I really liked the song “Blue Garlic Man,” because Ethan sings in it and he has a really great voice. We thought him delivering some spoken word would be amazing. So I just drew inspiration from this really long John Ashbury poem, like just went back and borrowed some bits here and there and wrote some myself. All this is a really long way of saying that in the songwriting, in the lyrics writing, I wanted this album to be more collaborative, like Sonya and John wrote some of the lyrics and Ethan did a little bit of editing in that spoken word to make it a little more natural to his voice.

And then also if I’m writing from my own head, in the past it’s been very personal, and I wanted to try something new and go somewhere else from it. Where it’s from cinema, like with Dead Ringers, I rewatched that movie with David Cronenberg and it’s like the saddest movie ever, or whether it’s literature or poetry, just branching out a little from what I’m comfortable with.

Where did the Russian bits in “Ubobo” come from?

Sonya: We never play that live because I just can’t do it, but same night as “Pet Meds,” we just got wine drunk and wrote all that. I’m very embarrassed of them. I’m very happy that nobody understands. Russian’s my first language, but it was very embarrassing. Poetry is very embarrassing.

KC: It sounds just really beautiful. I don’t understand any of it, but the textures and the way your voice is different in speaking Russian, I think it’s really awesome.

Last month you wrapped your first American West Coast tour. What were some of the highlights from the experience?

Sonya: I hate touring. It’s all a nightmare to me.

KC: A definite highlight for me was playing in Spokane at Baby Bar. It was our last stop in the states before we went to Sled Island and that show was really really—there’s not even any documentation of it, because everyone was having too good of a time. And it sounded really good, even though it was such a small space. The person who put it on, his name is Nat, he used to live in Vancouver before he moved back to the states. So for him to put on the show and for it to be as powerful as it was, I guess there’s just certain shows that are really outstanding.

We had a last minute house show that came through when we were in San Diego, we were supposed to have a day off in LA but we just drove through to San Diego and played in this house at the sunset. Couldn’t see anything, it was super dark, but it sounded really good. Usually I use this vocal pedal for my vocals, and sound people don’t really like it because of feedback issues, but the person doing sound just knew how to make it loud without it feeding back, and it just sounded so good.

Sonya: Um, I bought really cool shoes, and we ate in that nice restaurant. The highlight for me was being in a car with my friends, and everybody laughs at my jokes in this band.

KC: Can I give a lowlight? When we were in Portland, we had a day off, it was just a Monday in Portland. Because we managed to get a venue, but we couldn’t find any bands to play with so we didn’t do anything, we just had a day off. But the next morning, we were ready to go, and we go have breakfast, and John goes and checks the car that was parked outside. We checked at eight o’clock, the car was fine, we go and have breakfast, by the time we came back at 9:30 somebody smashed the window. And we couldn’t leave until we like, got the window dealt with. And because we rented the van in Canada, and it was a Canadian company, the moment we couldn’t get any assistance because it was in the States.

So we were on the phone for seven hours, and then we had to get the window replaced ourselves, and then when we got back to Canada John had to give the company hell to get his money back, basically, because we got the insurance for it. That was really annoying. Crossing the border was really annoying. Our merch got stuck at the border because there was some rule about how you need to declare your merch under $2400 and, and if not you need a 24 hour processing time and a special fee and we didn’t know that, so our merch got stuck.

Tour was, a lot of it was super difficult, but I guess the highlight was getting to know each other better through this long trip with many obstacles, and ending every night with playing a set, whether it was good or bad, we’re all better—I don’t want to say better musicians or better friends, but going through that, we’ve grown a little bit.

There was one show—this is really embarrassing—this one show in Olympia, I hit a button on my tuner that changed the tuning settings, and then suddenly I was tuning my guitar a half step down from everyone else, so the set sounded really messed up, and we couldn’t figure it out until we had three songs left. We didn’t know what was going on because I tuned my guitar and then someone tuned to me, so like, everything was off and we were all trying to figure out if it was us. It was pretty wild.

What are some of your upcoming plans?

KC: We’re playing Pop Montreal and then another Montreal showcase this coming fall, and we’re working on… in Canada we get these art grants to do projects, which is pretty sweet, and we got this grant to make… The original idea was to make an app, but we ended up not going that route because it’s too expensive, but we’re working on a website where users can mix versions of our songs, and we’re gonna write three new songs for that. That’s gonna come out in the spring, I think.

Grab tickets to see Kamikaze Nurse at Pop Montreal

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