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The best kept secret in music


"T.O. 2003: Your New Favorite Bands"

"Militaristic art-punk polyrhythms and ominous narratives fused with sinister saxophone to devastating effect. Like Joy Division covering the Stooges' Fun House. In Hell

-Stuart Berman - Eye Weekly

"New Disorder"

It's the morning of Halloween, and Matt Mason is dressed up as the lead singer of Anagram. It's a simple getup: a blond mop of hair that conceals an uncomfortably intense gaze; worn-out jeans; and a tattered army-green work shirt befitting someone who's ready to wage war on the dancefloor. In a world where pop-star pedophilia has replaced terrorist bombings as front-page fodder, there's no need for a real costume -- society is enough of a freak show as it is.

But there are some crucial differences between this Matt Mason and the one we've seen pinballing around Toronto clubs -- he's not wiggling like an electric eel plugged into a water-soaked socket, he's not rearranging any of the coffee shop's furniture with his flailing limbs, he's not screaming like a prison torture victim. He's simply nursing his wake-up coffee and speaking in a low, casual drawl.

Matt's two years removed from his Oshawa roots, from the jocks and skaters who would routinely antagonize him and his fraternal-twin guitarist brother Willy. But while Toronto
hasn't brought him any measurable degree of comfort or security -- just 12-hour workdays and phone-
company hassles -- it has given him a forum for his catharsis. And it's helped turn what began as a lonely basement howl from the darkest depths of the suburbs into an increasingly populated and exhilarating anger-management session -- and a full-contact one at that.

At its most idealistic, punk rock calls for the democratization of band and performer, the lowering of the stage to the level of the spectator. Anagram are the kind of band that'll make you regret that kind of romanticism. Built on a foundation of bassist Chris Taylor's menacing low-end pulse and drummer Clayton Churcher's shotgun beats, Anagram's music begins with a black cloud that -- courtesy of the increasing tension between Willy's piercing leads and John Schwartz's atonal saxophone squawks -- gradually swirls into a storm of hellfire, with frontman Matt getting burned alive in the middle. As an audience, we are no longer observers of a mere performance, but eyewitnesses to a scorched carcass convulsing at our feet.

And just how do Anagram expect us to react to these harrowing acts of self-immolation? By dancing, of course.

"I'm not a violent person, lord no," Matt says. "I can't really help it, everything happens so quickly when I'm onstage. My body tends to make a lot of my decisions for me.

"The idea behind the live show was to prove that you could make interesting music and still kick the shit out of the audience and get them to fuckin' dance for once. I've actually had people say to me, 'What, you danced at that show? That's not cool!' That's the kind of idea we're trying to declare a war on. I guess some people are too nervous, they're just afraid of slipping up and looking uncool for a second."

If there's one thing Matt's never had a problem with, it's sticking out -- it's pretty much a way of life when you're one of the only Joy Division fans in Oshawa. Though Anagram were childhood friends with fellow hometown indie-rockers Cuff the Duke and The Mark Inside (the latter of whom Anagram joined briefly in the Suck My Disc collective), Matt speaks of the city in isolationist terms, a cultural wasteland "full of jocks and 16-year-old rich skaters in pop-punk and nĂ¼-metal bands that were just copycatting what's being done in the mainstream, because that's what the kids want to hear out there."

But while he takes a few sarcastic shots at his home 'burb on the band's recent, self-titled debut EP, Matt is hesitant to describe Anagram as a psychotic reaction to life in the 'shawa.

"I'd hate to credit Oshawa that much, really," Matt says. "I suppose it would've had to influence just because it's where we spent our whole lives -- we all did grow up a five-minute walk from each other. But I don't think Oshawa has too much to do with the way we sound, that has more to do with our personalities. I suppose on the record there is the idea of wanting more and needing to get out. Personally, I've never left the country, and I don't think anybody else in the band ever has."

Anagram's relatively hermetic origins may account for their unconventional, uncompromised invocations of au courant proto- and post-punk influences. Matt's dread-ridden delivery has inspired the odd mock shout-out for Joy Division's "Isolation" at Anagram gigs, but unlike so many other bands trying to exhume Ian Curtis' corpse, Anagram boast not a thread of pretty-boy fashion, not a hint of comforting new-wave nostalgia and not a single song that could be tamed for mainstream appeal. "We do like to confuse people a lot," Matt smirks.

Where their antecedents (The Birthday Party, The Stooges) peddled in carefully constructed, quick-hit freak-rock attacks, Anagram express a disavowal of standard song structure that hearkens back to the exploratory, free-associative (dare I say jam-like) approach of Can or Beefheart. (Matt even describes an early incarnation of the band as "mellow and psychedelic," which makes sense given their penchant for Spacemen 3 covers.)

And even if the band's recorded debut doesn't fully represent the band's onstage apocalypse -- due to budgetary constraints, Matt says the band didn't even try to make the disc a definitive document -- its freaky production tricks and surprising shifts into moodier (sometimes acoustic) environs present the band with new opportunities to stretch out their sound and, more importantly, conserve their atomic energy for the long haul.

"Of course, ideally, I'd like to see this band go on for a really long time," Matt says, "but I don't know how long we can really keep that kind of chaos going for -- especially how long my back will hold up."

So acting like an epileptic fish out of water does take its toll on a man?

"No, I've just got to think realistically," Matt replies. "I haven't sustained any real injuries -- I've chipped three teeth, and I'm sure one of these days I'll make enough money to fix them. I've been cut up with beer bottles a bit, but never needed stitches. At one show, my friends told me some guy dropped a box full of screws on the ground, but they kicked them out of the way before I really got into it. And apparently some girl tried to give me a boot to the head once, but she missed and I started flailing my legs up and chased her away."

Well, as the jocks back home might say, the best defence is a good offence.

"These are the risks of the job," Matt sighs. "If you're going to hate me, I'm going to really make you hate me -- that's what it was all about for me at first. Strangely enough, that's made a lot of people really like the band."

-Stuart Berman

- Eye Weekly


Anagram - S/T EP 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


Anagram was formed in 1999 with Matt Mason on vocals, Willy Mason on guitar, and Chris Taylor on bass. There were countless band names to accompany the revolving door of musicians who signed on to add percussion or a second guitar to the mix, and it wasn't until the fall of 2000 that Anagram began to move towards its current form, adding saxophone player Jon Schwartz and drummer Clayton Churcher to the lineup.
In spring 2002 Anagram began playing shows around the Toronto Area, developing a "word of mouth" following for their chaotic live performances. Throughout the past few years
Anagram has played alongside such bands as The Constantines, Do Make Say Think, Franz Ferdinand and Tangiers to name a few. In September 2003 Anagram's debut CD was released, a self-titled 8 song EP which recieved generous reviews from local press and record store employees.
Anagram is currently in the process of recording a full lenth album due in 2005 on Dead Astronaut Records.