In 2019, Picastro—the long-running experimental folk project led by Toronto singer/songwriter Liz Hysen—independently released Exit, its first album in five years. The record has just been re-issued digitally by Weewerk Recordings, allowing more opportunities for people to hear what Stuart Berman described in Pitchfork as Picastro’s “most tumultuous, unpredictable, and deviously playful music to date.”
On Exit’s eight songs, Hysen systematically plays with the notion of being the central voice, while firmly adhering to her singular artistic vision. Although the music stays true to Picastro’s previous work, Hysen relinquishes her role as singer and storyteller (even adopting male pronouns in her writing) and inviting guest vocalists such as Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers), Adrian Crowley, Caleb Mulkerin (Big Blood), Alex Mackenzie (Petra Glynt), and Chris Cummings (Marker Starling) to contribute their take on the songs. Letting these alternative versions run wild, Picastro explores how the music and narrative mutate with different voices at the helm.
Liz Hysen has been an active force in Toronto’s music scene for over 10 years, and on Exit she is aided by her current core band, cellist Nick Storring, synthesist Matthew Ramalo, and drummer Germaine Liu. We got a chance to catch up with Hysen as she prepared for a European tour this spring with Tony Dekker.
What makes Exit stand apart from your previous work?
Exit was a project I had in mind after the last few releases where I had attempted removing myself as the main singer but hadn't totally hit the mark. I took longer with this album and tried to get different timbres and styles but also asked musicians I felt would respond to the tone of the songs as well. I had been trying to usurp the singer role or at least distance myself from it, and always thought the band might be better with a male vocalist. It was very interesting to get feedback on this since it was wildly divisive from the beginning. Alex Mackenzie [aka Petra Glynt] I guess would be the exception because I think her voice is amazing all the time and having it on the album was really perfect.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I was terrified. I couldn't really sing at all for a while and couldn't turn around and face people at all for years. It’s not that unusual I don't think really; a lot of shy people want to play music. But I was not comfortable at all with people looking at me or having expectations of me and I guess inevitably disappointing them.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
I don't have that many because I grew up in a deaf family and only had access to two records as a kid. I remember listening to anything I could and liking church a lot. I would go with my mom or to this camp they sent me to and singing in the choir—not by myself! It was my favourite part. It's pretty interesting to think of it now since a lot of deaf kids went to that camp, but that was my favourite music for a while. When I was eight, I really loved Kiss and I remember that Lick It Up was the first album I asked for. My parents were horrified and never bought it for me!
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
A couple of people very close to me passed. I got rid of a successful business that was completely burning me out. I learned how to say no more often because of all of that and focus a bit more on what I need to do for myself.
What's something you'd like added and/or changed on your Wikipedia page?
Exit isn't on there as a release! I’d also love to see more links to reviews and a nice band photo.