School’s Out: An Interview with Rosie Long Decter

On the last Friday before McGill’s reading week, just as students were preparing to turn off their brains for a minute, I managed to sit down with Rosie Long Decter. As a vocalist and synth player in the popular band Bodywash, as well as the new music librarian at CKUT, Rosie has set the bar high for what it means to be a student in the Montreal music scene. Based on her fantastic resume, I knew Rosie would be able to provide some unique insight on the student scene in the city as well as some advice for those looking to get started as musicians in Montreal.

Nora: Ok, so – you’re in Bodywash, which is a really great band putting out some really amazing stuff. You guys started as a McGill band, is that true?

Rosie: Yes.

N: Could you give me your origin story? How did you guys get together as a band?

R: So, two of our members met through rez and living together: one of our guitarists and our old bassists. And they knew Chris, who is our guitarist and singer, through mutual friends, and the three of them started jamming together. Chris actually met out drummer, Austin, at a SSMU Musician’s Collective meet-and-greet. So that was a group on campus that was very useful for us. Most of us were in Gardiner [a McGill Residence], and Gardiner used to have once-a-month coffee houses. I was always a solo musician – I used to do a lot of singer-songwriter stuff and the guys saw me performing and asked if I wanted to jam.

I think for us, the context of us all being in Gardiner was super important because Gardiner used to have a music room that students could use. So that’s where we practiced all of first year, the Gardiner music room.

N: That’s sweet.

R: I mean, it was kind of a shithole, but you know, it was our shithole.

N: But now, you guys play shows that aren’t necessarily McGill affiliated – you aren’t just a McGill band anymore. Do you find that being labelled as a student band is something that still happens, or do you think it’s had an effect of how you’re perceived in the music scene?

R: I definitely wouldn’t say it’s negatively impacted us. I don’t think we want to be seen as a McGill band. We just want to be seen as a band. I will say that I think some of the early bands we used to play shows with and stuff, that happened through McGill connections. Like, we played at a concert put on by the inter-rez council, and we used to play shows with Jam for Justice, which is a McGill based group. So definitely, in our early days, being at McGill helped us find places to play. But I don’t think it’s super related to us now.

N: But definitely a good place to start. It’s nice that those opportunities exist.

R: I think you can kind of fall into a trap of only playing those kinds of shows. We did kind of hit a point where we were like, “Okay, let’s play off-campus. There are so many cool venues in Montreal, we would love to play them”.

N: What was your first step moving outside of McGill?

R: Some of the shows we played through McGill were at Montreal venues. I think we started playing with bands like Fleece, and those were our first major “outside of school” shows.

N: So it was more of a slow transition; there isn’t one date where you were like, “That was the day we weren’t a school band anymore.”

R: Yeah, no.

N: So this is a question that I know pertains to you and not the rest of the band, because the rest of your band is all… dudes.

R: [laughs] Are they? I hadn’t noticed.

N: I’m finding that that’s something that’s a really common theme. Do you think that there’s a lack of diversity in the scene? Or have you met a lot of women or other marginalized groups in the Montreal music scene?

R: I would say that there are a ton of fantastic women and trans folks and people of colour making music in Montreal making music and doing their thing. I do think that they’re not as much at the forefront of the Montreal music scene as they should be.

And, the thing is, there’s no one going around saying “I’m not gonna book shows with women.” It’s just one of those things that manifests itself more subconsciously. Like, you book shows with people you know, and because there’s this dude-culture around starting bands, guys book shows with other guys and don’t actively think about like, “Wait a minute – there aren’t any women on this stage!”

I’ve played a couple shows where at the end of the show, I’m like, “Oh, I was the only girl on that stage out of four bands.” And I think it’s kind of insidious and it requires active, conscious effort to not to do that.

N: There must be some sort of comradery with you and women that are in the same position as you.

R: Totally! We play a lot of shows with Venus, because one of my bandmates is in Venus. And Venus is sick – their front woman is Sophie, and she’s fantastic. I love playing shows with them; they’re very women-forward which I think is great.

N: Okay, a little change of topic. So you’ve recently become the music librarian at CKUT, and that’s another tie back to McGill. I find that CKUT does a great job of tying the greater Montreal community with the student life at McGill.

R: Oh, totally.

N: Have you found that this position has put you in contact with other students who are trying to become musicians in Montreal or have an active thing going?

R: Yeah! I’m in my last year, so I’m kind of about to leave McGill, but through CKUT I’m meeting a lot of people in their first and second years who are like, “Ok, how can I start making music here?” and that kind of thing. It’s been really cool to talk about music with people who are coming into Montreal.

N: It’s kind of like a fresh perspective.

R: Yeah, it’s really interesting having those conversations. I think CKUT is an essential bridge between McGill and Montreal. Just the way they support local artists in fantastic. There are so many Montreal musicians that have gone to McGill and worked at CKUT and gone through the whole thing. It very much creates an opportunity.

N: For sure. If a student were to approach you at CKUT and ask you how you got involved in the music scene, what would you say would be a good way to get into the scene in Montreal? What resources should they take advantage of at school?

R: I would say, finding people is a major thing. I was really lucky to find people that I was in rez with. I think that can often be the hardest thing.

N: Finding people that are on the same page as you, wanting to create music.

R: Totally. I don’t know, maybe go to a SSMU Musician’s Collective Event? Take advantage of any opportunity to play a show, even if you think your local open mic is dorky, or whatever, do it! You never know who’s going to see you or reach out to you.

Interview by Nora Duffy