Containe: An Oral History

Containe at the Old Town Bar, 1994. Photo: Gail O’Hara

All the way back in September 1993, chickfactor had its first ever live show at Under Acme. Something like 11 bands played (with a few others jumping on the mike), all sharing the backline. The show was $5. Versus were originally meant to play but couldn’t so I asked Fontaine Toups to play solo; she asked Connie Lovatt to join her and they played a few songs: Containe was born. I was so chuffed that I asked if I could put out their debut 7-inch. They were people I saw all the time, we all became friends, the rest is history. In honor of the band putting their records on Bandcamp this week, we asked a few friends, fans and collaborators to try to remember the details… —Gail O’Hara, Enchanté Records & chickfactor

When did you first meet each other?
Connie Lovatt (Containe, The Pacific Ocean):
In the early ’90s? We met through Richard. Her approach to awkward social situations and her humor are often wonderfully otherworldly so of course I liked her. 

Tell us about writing songs and recording. 
Fontaine Toups (Containe, Versus):
 It’s difficult to remember the details but what I can say is that writing music with Connie was inspiring and a lot of fun. She is one of the best lyricists I know. Our recording and writing process was done quickly. We never spent much time on either, at least this is what I remember. The less-is-more attitude was definitely at play. We will all have different versions of the same story and I’d love to hear Ed and Connie’s. If I could go back in time, I’d do the same thing all over again. 
Connie Lovatt: We both wrote songs in guitar and/or bass and shared them. The other would write bass or another guitar part and some vocals. Fontaine had a much stronger sense of what she wanted arrangement wise. 

Do you remember the first Containe show? What was it like?  
Fontaine Toups: Yes, terrifying and amusing. Where was it? You must have that answer because I certainly can’t remember. (September 10, 1993 at Under Acme)
Connie Lovatt: Gail put together our first show. Fontaine was going to play solo to fill in for Versus? Something like that. She asked me to join her. I remember it sounding really really good. It was memorable in that I was aware of every note and our voices and I loved it. 

Containe in NYC, 1995. Photo by Gail O’Hara

What was the biggest inspiration for the songs you wrote? 
Connie Lovatt: Playing a guitar for the first time. It was a whole new thing. 

What do you remember about making the records?
Connie Lovatt:
We made I Want It All with Adam Lasus (Studio Red) and he was always up and always energetic. He added so much levity to the process. If anything went wrong his first instinct is to laugh which was a big help. It was just Fontaine, me and Dave Frank on drums. We were a low-key crew. Fontaine had more experience, so I followed her lead. But I remember being so happy to be doing a full record of just our songs. 
We made Cowards with Nicolas Vernhes (Rare Book Room) and a whole host of characters. We had a lot of supportive input around us. There was much more jumping around between instruments and sounds but Nicolas kept all the trains running. He was great. It had momentum. I remember Fontaine had a bunch of good songs ready to go so the sense of direction was strong. I love all her guitar playing on that record. Spike Priggen deserves a note here. He took time out to help record some songs I was working on and Cowards came out sounding good enough to put on the record. 

When did you first meet/see/hear Containe? The Pacific Ocean? 
Gail O’Hara (Enchanté Records, chickfactor): 
chickfactor used to have parties where we would give out our new issue. Versus was scheduled to play at our first ever party with live music, but Richard had to bail for some reason. I suggested to Fontaine that she just play anyway: She asked Connie and Containe was born. I loved them so much I suggested putting out a 7-inch single and then Enchanté was born. 
Patrick Ramos (Versus, +/-): I heard both bands for the first time in ’96 when I joined Versus on drums. I liked both bands immediately. 
Mark Robinson (Teen-Beat Records):
 I actually can’t remember. This was so long ago! I first met Fontaine and Ed at a Versus show when my band played with them in 1991. Chickfactor was one of the most important (THE most?) zines of that era, and Containe and TPO were covered pretty regularly, if not in the interviews/record reviews, then in the ads for their records, so I think pretty much every Chickfactor reader was pretty well informed about them.
John Lindaman (True Love Always): 
I can’t remember exactly when we met, but it was around when we joined the Teen-Beat cavalcade of stars in 1997. I never got to see Containe live, but we did a few Pacific Ocean/ TLA/Versus shows in 1998.
James McNew (Yo La Tengo/Dump):
 I honestly can’t remember. I just feel like I saw them whenever I could.
Bob Bannister (Fire in the Kitchen): Having been a fan of Versus since their early days (wearing out the demo cassette that preceded the first couple of 7″ singles), I can’t remember exactly when, but I surely heard of Containe almost as soon as they came into existence. Same for TPO.
Alan Licht:
 I don’t remember seeing Containe or the Pacific Ocean playing live (before I played with them). I knew Fontaine from Versus, and then Connie just socially from knowing those guys. I remember bumping into Connie and Fontaine in the elevator at the Music Building when I was on my way to Run On practice and they were going to Containe practice…if Containe played Chickfactor nights then I would have seen them then, but I don’t have a clear memory of it.
Heather Larimer (Corvair, Eux Autres):
 I saw Fontaine play for the first time with Versus at The Crocodile and I was so mesmerized and thought she was the coolest girl in the world. I was obsessed enough that I very much wanted to name my firstborn Fontaine but he was a boy so I had to name him Lewis instead. The first chickfactor I ever read had a bunch of quotes from Containe and I just thought they were impossibly cool. In all the photos they looked like they were having the best time and just didn’t give a shit about what anyone else was doing.

Containe in NYC, 1995. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Are you a fan? 
Patrick Ramos:
I am. And not only because I like all the members as people, though that does help. And no, they aren’t paying me to say this.
James McNew:
Oh yes.
John Lindaman: OMG YES.
Bob Bannister: Yes!

What made you want to cover “Shy Song”? 
John Lindaman: I love “Shy Song” so much. Sometimes when you hear a song you think, “I could really add something unique to this with the singular power of my artistry” and sometimes you think, “man that would be fun to play, and I can probably just coast on what a great song the original is.” This was definitely the latter! Also I thought it would be good as a man singing it to change the lyric from “I want to fuck you like you’ve never been before” to “I want to thank you like you’ve never been before” because that seems like a more realistic attitude for a guy in a pop band.

Describe any memories you have of Containe, especially any live show experiences. 
Stephin Merritt: 
Yes! Containe is the worst band name in history, and The Pacific Ocean is the best band name in history!
James McNew:
 I saw Containe at Brownie’s (?) early on and was blown away. It was amazing to see Fontaine, a goddamn powerhouse, in such a vulnerable light. Connie seemed freaked out to be onstage in front of people, but once the music would start she had this instantly soothing, wise presence. The onstage banter between them was pretty priceless, too.
Gail O’Hara: I loved the East Coast tour we did in summer 1995; they had a great show at the Middle East. Also Stevie Jackson from Belle and Sebastian was a Containe fan, and B&S invited them to open on some shows in 1998. Georgia Hubley came along on drums. Seeing Containe, who were by this point my BFFs, open for Belle & Sebastian at Town Hall was a dream. Then hearing Belle & Sebastian play “chickfactor” live for the first time that night, well, I was in heaven. 
Richard Baluyut (Versus): All three bands did a set together at CF21. I was thrilled to finally get to join the club!
Patrick Ramos: I have a vague memory of playing drums for Containe and looking up from behind the drum set at Connie and Fontaine stage right and left, but maybe that was just a wishful dream.
James Baluyut: The only times I saw Containe live, I was in the band. Does that count? I think it only happened a couple times. At any rate, the first time, in particular, I was thrilled, not only because Containe was excellent, but also because we were opening for Belle & Sebastian on one of their super early tours. It was super fun. I wish I’d taken some photos.

How would you describe Containe? 
James Baluyut: Effervescent, hooky and brilliant—what you want to hear on a spring day.
Richard Baluyut: To me, Containe is all about the confluence/collision of Fontaine and Connie’s beautiful voices and quirks (they’re both kinda weird). 
Bob Bannister: Some bands mostly write the songs together in their rehearsals while Containe sounds more like Fontaine and Connie wrote them at home with just guitars and voices and then fleshed out the other parts in rehearsals or recordings. (Of course, I don’t really know their working methods.) Connie started adding keyboard parts on the second Containe record, which was a great addition. Containe songs remind me of Marine Girls, early Tracey Thorn solo, and late ’80s New Zealand bands like Look Blue Go Purple and The Bats (and I’d be surprised if they weren’t fans of those bands). One thing that strikes me relistening to Containe is the number of different vocal approaches Connie and Fontaine used. Sometimes they’d do straight harmonies (different notes, same syllable, same beat), sometimes they’d have one holding sustained oohs and ahhs, while other sang the main melody, sometimes (and I think this is underrated in general), they sang in unison, which gives a really rich timbre. Finally, there is whatever they are doing on “Say Please,” which sounds like two people singing four parts without doing it via overdubs. Although Ed Baluyut contributed to the Containe records, I’m thinking his role as a leader in the Pacific Ocean brought a more art-rock sound: more dropped beats, angular guitar parts, etc.
James McNew: Kinda like Fleetwood Mac with Peter Prescott on drums, or like 100 Flowers led by two Denise Roughans.
Gail O’Hara: The sound of a dozen exes being exorcised. Perfectly balanced: Fontaine is pop. Connie is art. Loud, quiet. Containe was tailor made for fans of Helium, Cat Power, the Spinanes, Barbara Manning, Scrawl, etc. 
John Lindaman: Apart from basic genre descriptions and the level of quality of the work, both Containe and TPO had a similar uniqueness to them, which came from a successful combining of two distinct strong musical personalities. It’s pretty unusual for bands to be able to do that instead of “one of X’s songs, one of Y’s songs” or “Neil writes the lyrics but Geddy sings.” And maybe that’s how it actually was and it just didn’t come across that way—either way it worked!

Containe in NYC, 1994. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Containe and the Pacific Ocean were often described (dismissed?) as a Versus side project. Do you think they should have been bigger? 
James McNew: Everybody in that band is so talented, how could that be a bad thing. I wish they would/ could have released more music and played out more. 
John Lindaman: Both Containe and TPO were bands that should have been as big as whatever the biggest bands were at the time—the music was just light years ahead of what other people were doing. And the music is so different from Versus that I don’t see it as a valid point of comparison.

How are they different from Versus?
James McNew:
Similar in some ways, but it gave me an even finer appreciation for Fontaine’s perspective, as well as her power and creativity. Also, they cuss more in their songs, and cut down the guitar solos.
Gail O’Hara: More lyrically raw. They were playful and fun but also heartbreaking, devastating. Connie and Fontaine seemed to revel in the freedom to be in charge of their own thing. 

Is there a particular Containe/The Pacific Ocean song/album/era that resonated with you? 
John Lindaman: Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards is really one of the most perfect records of that decade, and really achieved what a lot of people were going for but failed to come close to! But those four records together represent a real body of work, and I’m glad to see them being brought back out together.
James McNew: The feelings that are bluntly revealed on those first EPs make them pretty magical. You sort of hear the sound of them deciding to be a band, or if they even want to bother with that route.
Gail O’Hara: For me it’s the second records from both: Containe really kills it on “Say Please” and “Summer”—I feel like it’s the most fully realized version of them. My favorite TPO songs are on Less Than the Needle: “Five” and “All the Better Luck.” All of these songs should have been on the Clueless soundtrack or in some teen film. 
Richard Baluyut: I’m terrible at song titles, so I’ll have to default to the hit, “Shy Song.” Surprising and joyous.
Mark Robinson: My favorite Containe song is probably “Shy Song”. It’s a hit and it has a bad word in it, which was oddly not super common at the time.
Bob Bannister: It has been a couple of years since I listened to the records, but returning to Only Cowards… over the weekend, I was reminded just how much I listened to it at the time. There was probably no mixtape I made in that era that did not include “Say Please,” “Why Why Why” or your “Your Brother’s a Star.” The same was true a few years later with “All the Better Luck” on the second Pacific Ocean record.

How do you see these records and the bands’ legacies at this point? 
Patrick Ramos: Both bands are grossly underappreciated. The songs are complex, catchy, honest and still refreshing to listen to 20+ years on. FYI:  I’ve added them both to my Spring 2021 Playlist. I want to believe that one day they’ll both get their due credit in the lineage of rock history but who decides these things? Cleveland?
John Lindaman: I don’t know how much of a legacy anyone has at this point, but if you heard them then you tried to rip them off, and if you hear them now for the first time you’ll understand where some other bands you liked were getting their ideas from!

What other bands/musicians spring to mind when you listen to Containe? And the Pacific Ocean? 
James McNew:
I think fans of music from New Zealand in the ’80s and or NYC/Chicago/ Louisville etc. in the ’90s would be moved by it. I don’t really see them fitting squarely into anything or any time, which I think is a plus. They were able to be themselves, together.

Tell us any other stories you remember about Containe and the Pacific Ocean. 
James McNew:
I remember they were really nice people who made special music together. I consider myself lucky to have seen them play.
Patrick Ramos: Versus, Containe and the Pacific Ocean when not playing the same shows were always at each other’s shows so we had a lot of fun together. The problem again—and I’m really not trying to make this about me—is that all of the details and nuance of those times that make for a good story and should have been put to paper are now lost to me. But answering these questions made me dig out the CDs and I’m blasting them now. If I remember anything, it’s that it feels just as compelling and exciting as it did when I first heard them, like the gift someone gives you that you didn’t realize you really needed.

What was it like being on Enchanté?
Connie Lovatt:
Being on Enchanté is exactly what you think being on it would be like. Gail is a fierce defender of artists. And once we became great friends, it also felt like famIly. And a place I could cook. And a place I could sleep. CF

Enchanté!

We are super-excited to announce that our catalog will be on Bandcamp starting Friday, April 2. Enchanté Records released five records from 1994 to 2002 and they are all up there (with a few songs missing from the comp). Plus, we are going to eventually find the CDs and make those available too. (No Spotify, no Amazon, just Bandcamp, the most artist-friendly platform!). We will also be releasing new music in the coming months and years. Check the site on Friday for more information!

1. Containe, I Want It All (Enchanté 1, 1994)

2. Containe, Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards (Enchanté 2, 1996)

3. The Pacific Ocean, Birds Don’t Think They’re Flying (Enchanté 3, 1997)

4. The Pacific Ocean, Less Than the Needle, More Than the Shotgun (Enchanté 4, 2000)

5. Various Artists, All’s Fair in Love and chickfactor: cf mixtape 1 (Enchanté 5, 2002)

mini interview with versus by lois!

versus are one of our long-running music and people crushes. we cannot get enough! they are a chickfactor house band! anyway, we asked another CF event regular (lois maffeo) to interview them for this year’s fest. they play chickfactor 22 friday, march 21, with the clientele, barbara manning & the saturday people at bell house.

interview by lois & photograph by michael galinsky

lois: I was in the middle of a room full of indie bands sleeping on the floor of dave auchenbach’s house after a big night at the providence pop fest in 1992. versus had arrived late, after a gig in some other town. it was probably four in the morning when I woke to see figures with guitar cases moving gingerly across the bedrolls. richard baluyut was stepping over my sleeping bag when he looked down and darkly intoned, “I heard you made brownies.” that phrase (accurate, I may add) kickstarted a long friendship with richard that soon came to include his versus bandmates fontaine and ed and patrick and james. you’d think that over the past 20 years, I would have gotten around to asking richard some of these burning questions. so thanks, gail, for assigning me to interview richard in advance of versus’ appearance at chickfactor 22 on friday, march 21 at the bell house in brooklyn.

is it true that you once got a guitar lesson from roger miller of mission of burma?
richard: I never had a lesson from roger. he did sell me his guitar from mission of burma, before they got back together. when he needed it back, I sent it back to him of course! I believe I still own it, but I haven’t held it in over a decade!

can you describe the ownership timeline of the famous black rickenbacker guitar?
richard: I bought it in 1990, and used it on our early singles. traded it to tae won yu for his SG, which became the versus guitar. tae brought the rickenbacker with him to olympia and made it the classic kicking giant guitar. but he got bored of it and sold it back to me when we were passing through on tour. I sold it to jeff cashvan, who later sold it to carrie brownstein, who made it the signature sleater-kinney guitar. quite an illustrious history! I haven’t seen carrie play it in a long time though; I hope she’s passed it on…

if you could play in any band from the past, which one would it be?
richard: I wish I’d been in the who, isle of wight-era so I would be wearing a jumpsuit…

what is your favorite sci-fi novel?
richard: invisible cities by italo calvino? I was more of a fantasy guy. I only read civil war history now…

what are your top 3 favorite things about new york city?
richard: double-features at film forum. mamoun’s falafel still standing. not living there.

chickfactor 22: festival of pop!

chickfactor is super-excited to announce two shows featuring 8 of its favorite bands at the bell house in brooklyn!

Thursday, March 20: 

Withered Hand
Jim Ruiz Set
Lilys
Amor de Días

Friday, March 21: 

The Clientele
Versus
Barbara Manning
The Saturday People

Doors 7pm, showtime 8pm. $20 advance; $25 at the door; advance two-day pass $40.
Tickets on sale at noon EST Monday, Feb 3!
Also will be available at Other Music.

Thursday, March 20

WITHERED HAND From Edinburgh and led by Dan Willson, the ace band has a brand-new second album, New Gods, coming out March 25 on Slumberland Records. It was produced by Tony Doogan (Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, The Pastels) and features a stellar array of guests including members of Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, Black Tambourine and The Vaselines. New Gods also features CF cofounder Pam Berry and a song called “Black Tambourine”! New single.

JIM RUIZ SET Hailing from Minneapolis, the legendary Jim Ruiz & Co. often play at CF parties. They released Mount Curve Avenue, their third LP, in 2012 and on vinyl in 2013 on Shelflife Records. Their jazzy Max Eider-influenced pop has always made us swoon. Tonight’s lineup is Jim Ruiz, Emily Ruiz on drums, Allison Labonne on bass, and Kim Serene on marimba and accordian. (Interview in CF9)

LILYS / KURT HEASLEY Super-talented East Coast (mostly DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania) songwriter Kurt Heasley has been putting out records as Lilys since 1991 that feature a noisy brand of pop we love. He has been working on some new material and will play some of that tonight.

AMOR DE DÍAS The London-based duo featuring Lupe Núñez-Fernández (Pipas) and Alasdair Maclean (see The Clientele) hasn’t toured in the US since 2011. They released a brilliant second album called The House at Sea on Merge Records in January 2013. The combination of Spanish guitar, English melancholy, the spirit of Gal Costa and a touch of cinematic magic makes them one of the most intriguing songwriting pairs working today. They’re currently making their third album. Recent track!

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Friday, March 21

THE CLIENTELE Originally from Hampshire and now London, the Clientele is one of our fave pop acts of all time. This lineup featuring Alasdair Maclean, James Hornsey on bass and Mark Keen on drums hasn’t played together since 2005. The group hasn’t played in the US since 2010. These three got back in the studio for the first time since 2010 to record a new 7″ single for the Merge Records Thousands of Prizes thing, which is their first new material in 4 years. (interviewed in CF13)

VERSUS Many associate this band with ’90s indie rock but they put out a pretty bad-ass LP on Merge Records in 2010 titled On the Ones and Threes. Another “chickfactor house band,” Versus has switched off members over the years but this year will be the handsome Baluyut brothers Richard and Ed and foxy Fontaine Toups (CF Cover Girl issue 6).

BARBARA MANNING Barbara Manning used to be the poster girl for San Francisco, and has participated in some of the best pop music ever (with 28th Day, World of Pooh, SF Seals) and especially as a solo artist. She’s currently living in Long Beach and is a high-school chemistry teacher! We are very happy to have her on the lineup. CF Cover Girl issue 4.

THE SATURDAY PEOPLE This fab DC pop group hasn’t played in a while! Featuring the original lineup, which was Terry Banks (Dot Dash, Tree Fort Angst, glo-worm); Dan Searing (glo-worm); Greg Pavlovcak (Ropers); and Ara Hacopian. Interviewed in CF15.

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chickfactor fanzine was started in 1992 by pam berry and gail o’hara in d.c./nyc.