Like its biological namesake, Lethbridge’s Myelin Sheaths rapidly transmit nervey energy, compelling your body to react. Science!
If you have the good fortune of running into a member of Lethbridge rock band Myelin Sheaths, don’t bother telling them their records sound like crap — they already know. In fact, that’s kind of the point.
“It’s kind of an esthetic choice,” explains bassist Martine Ménard. “I listen to a lot of bands that sound super shitty and lo-fi and I enjoy it. And I know [Sheaths drummer] Paul [Lawton] is well-versed in the lo-fi movement and he’s one of the hugest Guided by Voices fans I’ve ever met. He’s just so enraptured by what he’s able to do with such shitty equipment. It’s empowering and it’s not only an esthetic choice but an ideological choice for music making.”
There is indeed a certain amount of magic in how much musical quality can be found buried underneath the hiss and distortion of a typical lo-fi recording. Over the past few years, with the advent of cheap and easy-to-learn DIY recording systems, the genre has enjoyed a renaissance, and between homegrown talent (think Women or Sharp Ends) and the ever-growing community in Lethbridge, Calgarians have had a front-row seat. Revolving around the nucleus of Lawton’s Mammoth Cave Recording Company, the scene to the south boasts a small army of musicians, all of whom seem to play in several bands at any given time, fiercely loyal to promoting their collective cause.
“[Bands here] are always experimenting with different combinations of people,” explains Ménard. “There’s been so many different lineups for so many different bands that it keeps us on our toes creatively. Some people in Lethbridge just don’t stop making music, they’re just constantly writing new songs and new jams. So it does make for a pretty incestuous scene, but as soon as a new musician pops up, everyone kind of scrambles to get them.”
Such was the case when Ménard and Cassandra Ward surfaced on Lawton’s radar in the summer of 2009 wanting to record a demo for Sled Island so they could play the festival and go to shows for free. With an appropriately frenzied pace, a band was thrown together to record “The Mental Twist” and “Your Acid is Too Basic” the day before the submission deadline and Myelin Sheaths was born. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the girls came to the table with one of the most important assets in a field where style is king: a fantastic band name. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a name that refers to the electrically insulating material that surrounds nerve cells, allowing them to rapidly transmit impulses through the body?
“The name was Cassandra's idea,” recalls Ménard. “We were both drunk one night at a bar and she was like: ‘I’ve found the perfect name: Myelin Sheaths.’ And I was like: ‘Oh sweet, I learned about that shit in Bio 30 and I really liked Bio 30.’ So we figured maybe we could develop that into a whole science-themed band, and then we did. It has a nice ring to it, which is what Cassandra was into, I think. I don’t think she even knew what it was and I had to tell her and then she thought it was even better.”
Evidently it paid off, because Myelin Sheaths has already been attracting international attention. Even before the band loaded the van to head for the festival that inspired its creation, it had garnered interest from boutique operations like Chicago’s HoZac Records and Austria’s Bachelor Records, both of which eventually released singles for the band. When it did play Sled Island, the Sheaths put on an impressive show in support of the Liars and ended up selling a boatload of CD-Rs. Now, surprised by the frenzied momentum in a field where fickle fans might walk if the band actually starts to sound less cruddy, Ménard and her mates are faced with an interesting dilemma.
“I think now that we have these 7-inches and we have so much buzz around us, the pressure is on,” she says. “We’ve discussed this as a band and I think we might still be torn internally about it, because we keep reminding Paul: ‘Remember when you said it was good that we sounded shitty?’ It’s mostly him that’s stressing out hardcore, saying that we need to jam more and we need to get tighter, even though he once said that the tighter we get the less people are going to care about it. So, it’s something we’re not decided on, but either way we don’t want people to think that we suck. That’s basically the main thrust of it. We don’t want all of this attention to go to waste.”