Joyland

Montreal |

Kombucha Mother

by Fawn Parker

edited by David McGimpsey

Hank is starfishing, Girls Gone Wild!-style, in bed. The Tenant goes in to wake him up through the warmth and body-stench of the room. The smell is emanating, it seems, from the hot hairy bulb of Hank’s stomach. The Tenant hovers. Touching is too intimate, and there’s something about speaking to the dead-asleep that’s as unsettling as speaking to the plain dead. He raps shave-and-a-haircut on the nightstand and Hank stirs before two bits. Hank grunts and sits up, pressing his eyes hard.

“Eight o’clock!” The Tenant says.

“No one today.”

“Mm?”

“Two cancellations. No students today.”

He leaves Hank to change out of his sweat-soaked Ibanez (“Anything But Traditional!”) T-shirt. The kids are in the kitchen chewing a paste of cereal and milk, open-mouthed and incognizant. Their bowls of grey-brown leftover milk will be poured back into the carton after breakfast, thick and mucousy with sugar.

Marine is making up a big batch of egg salad and holds out a forkful for the Tenant to taste. He neglects to say there’s nothing on God’s Green Earth he would like less than a forkful of sulphur and mayonnaise at eight in the morning.

Instead, he says: How was work?

She hums, sort of, and her face does this thing where all her features move inward. “It gets lonely in there at night. But I had my book.”

“Mm. I think we’re gonna work on the EP for a bit today but we’ll keep it down while you sleep, no thanks, smells good though, but yeah, we’ve got like a few new tracks we’ve been working on, and this girl from Vice is set up to review the EP.”

Marine looks tired at him.

“She’s cool, like, I think she’ll be into it. We’ve been talking and, like, hanging out.”

Hank enters the kitchen and looks at the Tenant like, Yeah! The Tenant has this “give me something rock’n’roll” haircut that moves around on his head like a wig when he walks.

It’s become a hobby for Hank and the Tenant, taking the kids’ toys and cracking them in the basement. They upload these experimental electronic tracks to a SoundCloud account under the name Kombucha Mother. They’ve been getting some pretty heavy sounds out of a “Sleep Sheep” that makes forest/ocean/whale noises when you punch it in the gut. They get high down there and “make it whale” (Hank says this in a way that makes his eyes bulge like he’s being exorcised). He calls it the “Lamb of God,” and makes the Tenant bow down before it whenever he enters the basement, even if it’s just to get to his room, and even if he’s accompanied by a lady.

Hank says, “I feel like I’m constantly shitting. Like I get doing something for five minutes and next thing I know I’m in there taking another shit.”

Marine clinks a spoon against the edge of the mixing bowl.

The Tenant says, “Yeah. Yeah, I hear you.”

“Like, I’m out, I’m in the clear, I’m going on with my day, buying a coffee, checking my spam folder, and then my mind wanders for one minute and bam there it is, I have to shit again. What is it? Coffee? Is it society? GMOs? The media? Am I shitting out the by-product of the media?”

“Yeah.”

. . .

Hank puts on a Vinnie Moore tape for background noise. He gets antsy when he can hear the refrigerator humming through the ceiling. Vinnie is in a white T-shirt in some fuzzy blue dimension, playing arpeggios like his hands are bionic.

Hank says, “Where are we.”

“We have the two remixes of Love Apples, and Street Fighter 5000 up on the SoundCloud, but like, not the final cuts. And Love Apples. The original one.”

“And that’s all going on Devil’s Food.”

“Yeah.”

“I want a new toy for Love Apples.” He’s bobbing his head to what Vinnie’s playing. “Yeah?”

“Man, we have like seventeen versions of that track.”

“Hang on.” Hank goes upstairs to rustle through some more of the kids’ stuff. Vinnie Moore looks shifty-eyed.

He comes down the stairs, glowing like he’s pregnant, and hiding a prize behind his back.

“Big guy struck gold!”

He gets down on one knee and presents an iPhone 3 to the Tenant. “Darling will you crack this with me.”

“You’re gonna crack your phone?”

“Who do I ever call?”

“Dude, it’s like, an iPhone.”

“There’s a home phone. There’s Marine’s phone. My kids have twelve phones each. Man, this thing could be crazy.”

“Okay. Yeah, okay, let’s do it. Open it up.”

Hank starts digging around the bottom of the phone with a screwdriver. “I mean, this thing plays music and makes calls and does the whole works, right, so what kind of filthy shit could we start blasting out of it.”

He lifts off the back and starts poking around at wires. He’s got his tools laid out like a dentist’s.

“Nothing?” The Tenant grabs the “Sleep Sheep” and holds it in his lap.

“No luck yet.” He gets his face closer to the phone. “Come out come out wherever you are.”

He connects another part of the circuit and it produces this weird undulating, “Oooooo.”

“Wait, do that again.”

Hank backs up his face from the phone.

“Press the one that went Ooooo.”

He does it again. The iPhone goes, “Ooooo.”

“That’s spooky,” Hank says. “Sounds like a ghost.”

The Tenant nods. “The Ghost of Steve Jobs.”

Hank says, “Man! The Ghost of Steve Jobs!” He holds out a pair of needle-nose pliers to the Tenant. “Connect this here.”

“Hey, Ghost of Steve Jobs, what’s it like in heaven?”

“Oooooo.”

“Sweet, nice. Is it true about all that heart attack stuff in 2008 or was just a rumour?”

“Oooooo.”

“Does Vice Girl want me?”

“Oooooo.”

“That was a no,” says Hank. “Is the Devil’s Food EP solid so far, Ghost of Steve Jobs?”

“Oooooo.”

“Yeah!” They high-five.

The GOSJ says, “Oooooo.”

. . .

The loft windows are fogged over from the heat and the rain. The room is white-walled with funhouse-coloured everything else. The Tenant is on the edge of the bed with one leg bent over the other in a way that cuts off the circulation to everything under his left knee. He realizes something (restricted circulation: how dire? > everything, really, how dire? > even so, who cares?) existentially freeing and presents it in layman terms to Vice Girl, who seems by her breathing pattern to be mostly awake.

Vice Girl is in bed, a size 6 in blue American Apparel running shorts, white American Apparel tank top, with long long black hair covering her face and the pillow and, like, all the good parts of her torso. She looks like a crime scene, chewed up with a mouthful of MDMA, pot, Bombay and tonic, and spit into an Ikea Alvine Ljuv comforter.

She lifts her hair-curtain up and over her front and reaches for her iPhone. She says, “Yeah,” to the Tenant’s newfound existential freedom. Scrolls past an Instagram photo of three girls in front of a bar bathroom mirror. Azealia Banks from 64 rows back. A middle finger obscuring the view of an art history textbook. Some chick’s face.

“But it doesn’t matter,” He continues, “Right, because what are we aiming for ultimately? We’re just like, clinging, and whose grip is strong enough to win a tug-of-war with death? Who do you think you are? Who do we all think we are, is what I’m saying.”

“Yeah,” she’s scrolling Twitter. Checks her notifications lest something slips under the radar of her phone’s alert system. “I know, and like why aren’t we all just having a good time.”

The Tenant feels anxiety with regards to not having woken up in his own bed. He has mixed feelings about the poster of Charles Bukowski and his ass hurts. Once his foot fell asleep so bad that when he tried to stand up he fell over. No one was there but, wow, humiliating.

She’s re-reading one of her own articles about cultural appropriation re: native headdresses. “I had this weird dream,” she says. She’s touching herself, kind of, over her shorts.

“Did you not get off last night?”

Her feet are tanned from her Tom’s, or at least the one hanging off the bed in his direction is. He envisions her walking around the downtown area in one canvas shoe, as if Tom’s promise of “One for One” meant you got one shoe and somebody else got the other.

“So I dreamt I was at the doctor, and she was giving me a mammogram, so I’m in the machine and I’m in there really tight, but the doctor keeps telling me to dance. She’s like, keep dancing, don’t worry, keep going.”

“Woah.” The Tenant drops his head. Grunts and massages his scalp.

Vice Girl is going at herself.

“That’s like, pathetic fallacy, sort of,” He says. “That the rain just got heavier when you picked up speed.”

She makes a noise. The Tenant checks the weather on his phone. Closes all running Apps.

Vice Girl makes another noise.

“Did you come?”

“Yeah.”

He turns to look at her.

“Yeah,” she pulls the comforter up over her breasts. “Still on for Saturday? You’re releasing and everything?”

“Yeah. Saturday at midnight. So, Sunday, then? Whatever. Yeah.”

“Okay, I need to have my piece up by Tuesday, so.”

“Yeah, no, sure.”

. . .

The Tenant feels ambiguous discomfort w/r/t being back in the bungalow. There are gummy splatters of milk on the kitchen table and cat hairs on the washcloths. The coffee maker has Marine’s Monday-morning brew in it (it’s Wednesday) and the wet grounds are experiencing a first-snow-of-the-season kind of situation.

The Tenant throws out Monday’s coffee grounds. A small voice is talking in the basement. He gets the Tim Horton’s Dark Roast Pre-Ground Coffee out of the fridge.

“Well, yeah, I mean, I knew what I was going into, but I guess I just expected more clarity,” Marine says in the basement.

The Tenant pours four cups of water into the back of the coffee maker.

“Like, if it’s bad, it’s bad, and if it’s good, it’ll feel good, right?”

He dumps three spoonfuls of Tim Horton’s Dark Roast Pre-Ground Coffee into a filter and places it in the coffee maker.

“But nothing’s like that, I don’t think. I just have this urgency. There’s this real urgency in me.”

The Tenant turns on the coffee maker and waits and listens.

“Like maybe I’m doing something wrong, or not doing enough. That’s it, I think. I feel like I’m not doing enough.”

The coffee maker beeps. There’s a shuffling in the basement, and the Tenant assumes position, further left and mug in hand.

“Hi,” Marine appears in the doorway.

“Hey,” he says. “You’re awake?”

“Yeah, I took the kids to school today,” she says, “and then I got doing some stuff around the house.”

The basement lights are on from when Marine was down there. The Tenant has an inkling she’s been messing around with some of their equipment. What’s been giving her away, really, is the reoccurring light patch on her face, and it wouldn’t take a forensic specialist to know that it matches the smears of foundation on the iPhone 3.

Hank has the iPhone hooked up to a handheld Casio tape recorder, and he’s wired it to a switch that turns on the GOSJ’s “Ooooo.” The Tenant gets him going a couple times.

“Just gonna make a few minor tweaks to you, dude.” He pries the back off the phone and digs around inside. Links the GOSJ’s “Ooooo” cricuit to the tape recorder’s on/off switch.

. . .

From the top of the basement staircase, only Marine’s foot is visible.

“No.”

Her foot shakes.

No, I couldn’t.” She giggles.

. . .

Vice Girl is eating some weird thing with chia seeds. She’s leaning over the kitchen island with her chest nearly on the counter. The Tenant’s peripherals catch this over his laptop screen and he wonders if there’s a potential market for something like a cross between a coaster and a bra, but what would be the point.

“I dug the tracks you Facebooked me.”

“Check this out,” he opens up Computer/Audio/Marine_Clips and turns the laptop to Vice Girl.

“HOME_LIFE.wav.”

“Yeah.”

“COOKBOOK.wav?.”

“Give it a listen.”

The file opens in iTunes: “Haha, yes, it was definitely in good fun, a lot of it. You know, real savoury dishes that look like breakfast foods. They’re fun! And it’s not a new concept, I’m not inventing anything here, I’m just making it practical and easy. Bob Blumer did it on an episode of The Surreal Gourmet. He made this great soup that looked like a bowl of Cheerios, for night-shift taxi drivers. Really cool. So I thought I’d take it a step further.”

“What is this?” Vice Girl pauses Marine.

“The family I rent from, it’s the wife.”

“Did she publish a cookbook?”

“No, that’s the thing. She just goes on about this stuff. It’s like, really cool.”

. . .

PLEASURE.wav

“Hi. I’m alright. No, I’m fine, I’m okay. Yes, he’s at work. At the music school. Hm? I don’t know, are you telling me the truth? Haha, I don’t know if I believe you, you’ll have to prove it to me. Yes, well, yes I guess I am. I think I’d like that. Oh, but I don’t know. Are you sure? Okay. Yes, okay.”

Marine repositions herself in her seat.

. . .

“Man, I think you’re really gonna dig this.” The Tenant opens up the Kombucha Mother SoundCloud, where he’s uploaded the final cut of the Devil’s Food EP.

The track listing is as follows:

● Love Apples

● Street Fighter 5000

● Devil’s Food

● Love Apples [Extended Version]

Love Apples opens with 10 minutes of silence followed by a big “Oooooo” from the Ghost of Steve Jobs. Then comes a few moans of unadulterated pleasure from Marine. The track really picks up when the “Laughing Giraffe” kicks in.

Hank looks phased.

The Tenant bobs his head to the music. His movement slows with the fadeout of the song.

Hank says, “What is that.”

“Like, so sweet, right?”

“What was that at the beginning?”

“The Steve Jobs thing? The Marine part?”

“Have you been recording me and my wife?”

“Dude, no. It’s like, all her.”

“What?” Hank starts the track over. Turns the volume up. “What the fuck is this?”

The Tenant gets back into nodding along to the beat. He shouts over the music, “I guess it makes sense that this is upsetting for you.”

Hank hammers the pause button. “Man, what is that?”

“She’s down here all the time, like pretty serious with The Ghost of Steve Jobs. But I figured it was like a masturbation thing, right?”

“She jerks off down here?”

“Well, like, phone sex, now that I think about it.”

Hank’s eyes look crazy. He’s really wigging out about the song, which is somewhat of a pro/con situation, the Tenant feels.

. . .

CHILDHOOD.wav

“I had these fantasies about hurting things. Vaccinating children and like, giving them shots. Mostly holding them down and saying, I have to. I’m sorry, I have to . . .

. . .

The bungalow is quiet. “Okay, my room is downstairs.”

The Tenant passes a sliver of Marine in the living room, between the open basement door and the hallway. She’s hunched over and shaking, he thinks, but can’t quite tell.

Vice Girl hovers by his shoulder. Maybe sees it too.

“Right down here,” he says. “Yeah, so like, if you hate it I’ll pull the plug.”

He turns on the basement light. The iPhone 3 is open-faced, wires ripped out, screen shattered.

“Hang on,” he rushes to the recording desk. The phone has been meticulously destroyed, every wire has been clipped.

Vice Girl approaches. “Is thats your phone?”

“No, it’s--” He scans the desk. The “Sleep Sheep” is sitting untouched beside the computer monitor. Next to it, the circuit bent giraffe. “Here, wait.”

He opens the Kombucha Mother SoundCloud.

. . .

VICE > MUSIC > INTERVIEWS

JENNY LEUNG TALKS “CIRCUIT-BENDING” WITH KOMBUCHA MOTHER’S EVAN ABRAMS

Toronto “dirty electro-pop” duo Kombucha Mother have been releasing tracks on their SoundCloud since early 2010, yet they just released their first EP in May. I sat down with Evan Abrams, one nervous half of Kombucha Mother, in his basement-apartment-cum-recording-studio. Hank, Abrams’ partner in crime, lives upstairs with his two kids.

The place is filled with broken toys; old rejects of Hank’s kids, spilling wires and labelled crudely with masking tape. Evan smokes a bowl while I set up my recorder.

SO WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE TOYS?

WE CRACK THEM. YOU CAN GET A LOT OF WEIRD STUFF OUT OF MOST NOISE-MAKING TOYS, SO WE STARTED PLAYING AROUND WITH THEM AND RECORDING ANYTHING THAT SEEMED LIKE IT WOULD BE COOL IN OUR MUSIC.

“CRACKING THEM” IS HOW YOU GET THE SOUNDS?

YEAH. CIRCUIT-BENDING IS WHAT PEOPLE CALL IT, MOSTLY. WE MESS AROUND WITH THE WIRES AND IT DISTORTS WHATEVER SOUND THE THING HAS BEEN PROGRAMMED TO MAKE. ONE OF MY FRIENDS IN HIGH SCHOOL HAD A “TICKLE ME ELMO” AND WE FUCKED AROUND WITH THE THING WHEN WE WERE BORED ONE DAY. IT WASN’T UNTIL A FEW YEARS AGO I DISCOVERED THAT THIS WAS ACTUALLY A THING. LIKE, THERE WERE PEOPLE OUT THERE DOING THE SAME THING, BUT IN MUCH COOLER WAYS.

AND THEN YOU STARTED INCORPORATING IT INTO YOUR MUSIC?

YEAH, WELL I MOVED INTO THIS PLACE IN MY LAST YEAR OF UNIVERSITY. I GOT HOOKED UP WITH HANK THROUGH CRAIGSLIST, AND WE IMMEDIATELY HIT IT OFF. HE WAS TEACHING GUITAR OUT OF WHAT’S NOW MY APARTMENT AND HE GOT OFFERED A JOB AT A MUSIC SCHOOL, SO LIKE THIS PLACE WAS ALREADY SET UP LIKE A STUDIO, PRETTY MUCH. I GOT HIM INTO BENDING AND I GUESS MAKING MUSIC JUST SEEMED LIKE THE THING TO DO.

SO “DEVIL’S FOOD” IS YOUR FIRST “REAL RELEASE.” HOW HAS THE SHIFT FROM INDIVIDUAL SINGLES TO A FULL EP BEEN FOR YOU GUYS?

I MEAN, IT FEELS LIKE IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING. THIS IS OUR SECOND ATTEMPT AT RELEASING THE “DEVIL’S FOOD” EP, ACTUALLY. WE HAD IT ALL SET AND READY TO GO AND ENDED UP LOSING EVERYTHING-- FINAL CUTS, SAMPLES, SOME OF OUR EQUIPMENT-- THE NIGHT BEFORE WE WERE PLANNING ON RELEASING. IT WAS ROUGH.

BUT THESE ARE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME TRACKS?

ESSENTIALLY. THEY HAVE LIKE, THE SAME NAMES AND THEY’RE COMING FROM THE SAME PLACE, BUT WE’RE LIKE NOT A BIG DEAL, YOU KNOW? IT’S NOT LIKE I CAN JUST GOOGLE OUR NAME AND UP COMES A HUNDRED SITES WITH OUR TRACKS STREAMING. WHEN OUR STUFF DISAPPEARED FROM THE SOUNDCLOUD PAGE, IT LITERALLY STOPPED EXISTING. SO I CAN’T SAY FOR SURE HOW SIMILAR THESE SONGS ARE TO THE ORIGINALS, BUT THEY FEEL THE SAME TO ME... A COUPLE THINGS HAVE CHANGED.

AND YOU ADDED THE TRACK, “FOR MARINE.”

...YEAH. YEAH,THAT’S A NEW ONE.

CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT THE STORY BEHIND IT?

[Evan scratches at the backs of his hands. He gets visibly upset as he talks about the song. He asks me not to print any more of what he says. He apologizes for not “keeping it professional” during the interview.]