One-on-One with boyBITCH

David Vanden Enden. Photo: Elena Gritzan
David Vanden Enden. Photo: Elena Gritzan

by Elena Gritzan

The first thing that hits you about most boyBITCH songs is sex, both lyrically and in the beats. But this is more than just a play to the maxim that sex sells; David Vanden Enden writes songs as a release. A religious upbringing and a years-long marriage stifled his homosexuality and sense of self, leaving music the one place he could be honest. “I was feeling repressed sexually,” he says. “I sort of asked myself, what was the scariest thing for me to write about? … What do I not want to open up about in my life? My sexuality. So, clearly, because I was married, I didn’t want to really [open up]. But in music, I was like, you know what? I want to. This is my outlet.”

Vanden Enden has always been involved in music, from singing harmony-filled spiritual songs with his eight siblings (“We’d have family sing-alongs like the Von Trapps, literally”), to performing in musicals and taking scattered classical voice lessons, to attending the musical theatre program at Sheridan College.

He started playing electronic music in Calgary, meeting collaborator Elijah Lucian through Craigslist. For four months or so, they worked digitally, with Lucian sending along scraps and beats and Vanden Enden writing vocal parts and firing them back for more production. It is perhaps surprising that two people who had never met could mesh so well musically, but they both knew right away that this was a collaboration worth pursuing. “And then finally [Lucian] was like, ‘do you think maybe we should get together and jam or something?’ … I was nervous.”

They started playing together around Calgary, although taking acoustic work to the stage and keeping the electronic in the studio. “I’m sure there are electronic musicians doing stuff in Calgary, but I don’t think it’s like what’s happening in Toronto,” Vanden Enden says. “In terms of fostering and growing a really cool indie electronic movement, it’s not happening in Calgary.”

Despite not yet existing as a live act, boyBITCH was fulfilling as a project. “Because of where I was in my life, still being married, there were so many things holding me back from what I wanted to do. So basically what I’m doing now with boyBITCH is what I wanted to do since I was seven. And now I’m finally doing it at 38.”

His marriage ended, he moved to Toronto, and he retained a hunger to perform electronic music, though saw no way of being able to pull it off. Inspiration came when he tagged along to a Silent Shout show over the summer, unaware of how much the night would change him. The show closed out with a set from Triple Gangers, full of Casio dance beats and perfectly executed harmonies. “My mind was blown … I knew in that moment after going to Silent Shout that night. I’m like, I’ve gotta do a Silent Shout. I’ve got to get some project on the go, I’ve got to do this!”

“The problem was, my producer and co-writer was in Calgary.” The idea of just playing a backing track and singing did not feel realistic. The inspiration led to writing songs furiously, but his desire to perform did not go away.

Finally the solution presented itself. “[I] ended up at a Light Fires show … did not know what to expect … of course my mind was blown. And my buddy was like, ‘Dave, did you see what she just did? She just plugged her phone in and went.’ And it was like, oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t just do that. Like just do it!”

boyBITCH was on Bandcamp soon after and Vanden Enden started e-mailing people. He played his first show at Holy Oak, tagged at the beginning of a bill. Three shows at Lee’s Palace followed, as well as the revival of Hot Planet Promotions, through which he used to promote theatre events in Calgary. “If things are really, really slow, I should create work for myself … I thought, why not just take the same sort of skill set in terms of promotion and marketing, and turn it on for these live events?” So far, he has put on a series of three shows at Holy Oak, the first including the catalyst for his own live act, Light Fires. And he completed that goal of doing a Silent Shout, performing at their co-presentation with Wavelength last month.

It has been a promising beginning for boyBITCH in Toronto, but Vanden Enden still harbours some doubts. “I have moments of thinking, ‘what the hell am I doing?’ I have two kids … I moved to Toronto … no job, no career prospects because I was a stay-at-home dad.” His years spent inside Christianity still affect him. “I suppose I’ll always be a bit repressed. Because I grew up in a religious home … I think to some degree, people have been religiously brainwashed … I think I’ll have a lifetime of always having a bit of ‘oh, it’s bad to be gay.’”

Yet still music is a way to get through. Towards the end of his upcoming debut album is “Wonder”, a song that wears hope on its sleeve through the chorus: “Things will get better, don’t you worry. Hold on to your head, there’s another story waiting for you.” “I joked with people early on during my gigs before the song,” Vanden Enden confesses. “‘Oh, I wrote this when I was suicidal. I didn’t want to live.’ But the fact of the matter was, I was probably at the lowest I’d ever been in my life … I think what it was, is I was calling on a voice from outside of me … For a while after I wrote that, I would actually listen to it and it would make me cry. It was brutal! Cause I’d just be like, ‘I know! Things are going to get better!’ But it was my own voice telling me that. And as things got better, I started to believe it.”

You get the sense that this project is very important to Vanden Enden. “boyBITCH is really my first. This is really my first real electronic project that actually my heart and blood and soul and guts are in.”

The effort certainly pays off. There’s the already-killer live show, for one, complete with dancers and glowsticks thrown out to the crowd. “The first couple times I had dancers, I didn’t give them any direction … I’m still figuring out what I want to do with this project, but it’s definitely gotten better in terms of being intentional. So now I actually have them come over and rehearse before a gig … before, I think [I wanted other people on stage] because I was afraid what I had to offer wasn’t enough, just me standing and delivering … [but now] I want to create a picture … I try to be deliberate about what they’re doing so that it adds to it.”

Going forward, boyBITCH’s debut album will be released on March 1st (and it’s fantastic). Following quickly in its footsteps, though, will be a second album released in the summer. But don’t expect it to be as overtly sexual. “Now that I’m no longer married, and there are still times that when I write, that theme [of sex] comes back, but not nearly [in] the same way that [it] used to … I guess I’m just writing about different stuff now. … The last three songs that I’ve written have been about my boyfriend … I never would have thought I’d be that kind of person, to write about the person I’m in love with … but they’re not love songs, that’s the thing. They’re complicated and layered, which is like our relationship.”

Moving to Toronto has filled Vanden Enden with confidence and inspiration. “There’s too much music stuff happening in Toronto to not be doing something. I can’t not do music in this city. I think that’s the thing that’s been amazing about it, is that in Calgary, I felt nothing. I felt nothing. And in Toronto, you just can’t help [it].”

“I think as long as I fight those – and we all have them – these reasons we create for ourselves to not do something that we love. I’m too old, I’m not attractive enough, whatever they are. And I think as long as I continue to put those things in check, those fears, I’m going to continue to do [this]. I’m just going to try and live fearlessly in my music.”

4 comments

  1. […] The last time I spoke with Vanden Enden, he mentioned that boyBITCH’s second album would be out this summer. That plan still stands, with a tentative release date in August. Written mostly in the past four months, the album will serve as “a snapshot. It’s a more accurate [picture] of what I’m feeling in the moment.” It includes a few love songs, as well as “Bitch Slap”, a song presumably every bit as sassy as the title suggests. […]

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