Tell All Your Friends PR Dirty Ghosts' frontwoman Allyson Baker is familiar…
- Posted on Nov 6th 2012 1:00PM by Aaron Brophy
Then a guitarist for obnoxious punks Teen Crud Combo, Baker was a soldier in an underground scene in the city along with bands like Femme Fatale and Cheerleader 666, acts who'd eventually morph into Death From Above 1979 and Crystal Castles, respectively.
Baker's Teen Crud Combo were directly connected to confrontational soul-punk act Killer Elite, who were responsible for her garbage splooging.
"I remember back then being at a Killer Elite show at the El Mocambo," Baker tells Spinner, reflecting on her Toronto club days. "And I was standing in the front row, and Nick [Flanagan, also the singer in Teen Crud] and Mike [Gribben], the two singers came on stage.
"Mike was always sort of the more aggressive of the two and I just remember he jumped onstage. And there was a garbage can nearby that was full to the brim with the grossest bar trash, and he just grabbed it on his way up to the stage and in one quick action he just went 'Whoooshh,' threw it all across the front row and just covered everyone in garbage. It was pretty amazing. I mean, I'm covered in garbage and I reek, but that's the funniest thing I've ever seen a frontman ever do onstage."
Funny or not, Teen Crud Combo dissolved and, perhaps symbolically, Baker left Toronto's garbage piles behind to make it in the States. It would have been a sound idea at the time. After all, Toronto's great millennial music disapora worked out very well for Metric, Peaches, Danko Jones and Chilly Gonzales, who all escaped the city to eventually return as more successful artists.
"I was really sad to leave Toronto and Teen Crud Combo," says Baker. "I really wanted that band to be the band that was going to tour and do things and put out records. But it wasn't something that everyone in the band wanted to do, which I totally understood."
"So I felt like I needed to move somewhere and I chose the United States. I didn't know where else to go in Canada and I thought there wasn't anywhere I really wanted to live so I thought maybe in the United States there'd be more opportunities for me there. So I did. And I think after 10 years your tastes change and you grow a lot musically and you want to try different things and I guess that's how I ended up doing this."
"This" would be Dirty Ghosts, her spiky, spirited rock 'n' roll trip. Baker started Dirty Ghosts a few years back after her expat effort Parchman Farm fizzled out. Dirty Ghosts have stuck, though, and the band signed to Last Gang Records, home to the likes of Emily Haines, Crystal Castles and Death From Above 1979.
The most obvious comparison Baker and Ghosts' Metal Moon debut album have been to Joan Jett because, well, they both have black hair and rock legit. There is, however, a range to Dirty Ghosts music that goes beyond just The Runaways.
During their live shows the Ghosts cover both guitar heroes Thin Lizzy and pop reggae one-hitters the Payolas. Metal Moon, meanwhile, winds through a shopping list of rock foundation references -- Ramones and Clash, to Police and Neu -- and you could even argue Baker is a lineal descendent from Canadian '80s gals who rocked like Holly Wood's Toronto, the Headpins and Lee Aaron (minus a lot of their spandex 'n' teased hair vibe). Throughout all this there's a certain undeniable punk spirit. It's not an accident.
"I do feel very strongly that punk rock is a great starting point for anyone as a musician," says Baker. "It's an attitude. You never lose it."
On top of actively performing in Toronto's punk scene around the millennium, Baker also had close connections to hardcore breakthrough act Fucked Up through campus radio.
"The only people that I know from any bands like Broken Social Scene or Crystal Castles is Damian [Abraham] and Sandy [Miranda] from Fucked Up," says Baker. "I knew those guys from the Teen Crud days and I think Fucked Up was starting around that time. But I knew those guys from a radio show on [University of Toronto's] CIUT called Mods 'n' Rockers that [Horseshoe Tavern booker] Jeff Cohen did. Damian and I were like the number one fans.
"And I used to sub for the show and Damian would sometimes be there at CIUT while that was happening and that was how we met each other. But those were the only people I know out of all of the bands who've become successful out of Toronto."
The thing is, even though Dirty Ghosts are essentially a half-decade behind and mostly disconnected from all of these other Toronto bands in development -- and technically aren't even a Toronto band because Baker's based in San Francisco -- what they represent is a lost jewel from that scene. They're an unexpected bonus that was out of sight and mind until Metal Moon came into our lives.
It's the sort of realization that if you let it, can turn into a bit of a "what if?" spiral.
"I don't know," Baker starts. "In some ways it makes me feel like maybe I didn't need to leave Toronto. Like, maybe that was too extreme. Maybe I didn't need to completely uproot myself to another country to make things happen somewhere else.
"But I definitely know from my group of peers that I was around the time that I lived in Toronto were really committed to making music... and everyone was really good at what they did."
Regardless of Baker's path, the end result -- Dirty Ghosts -- definitely won't make you feel like someone's just thrown garbage on you.
"I mean, we're definitely not young and we're not obnoxious and we're not trying to irritate anyone, but I think when you see us live it looks like we're having a good time onstage and it's pretty genuine and fun. I think that's the vibe up there. We're just stoked. We're happy."