:her nutty profession:
Bif does have an unusual sense of humor. Sub-subtle. It's not your obvious sarcasm. A self proclaimed class clown, she tried stand up once and improv theater several times in college, but ended up "falling into" the band thing. "There was more beer involved,"she quips.
She wanted to call her solo debut Satan's Girlfriend, but the "grown ups", as she called her morebusiness-minded pals, warned Bif against it. The album ended up being self-titled out of spite - if i cant have that, then i wont have anything.
Lyrically aside from the song "My Bike", an amusing sexual metaphor involving her BMX, many of her lyrics are borne of a tormented soul with a strong spirit , like on the poignant piano-bassed ballad "Tell on You"(aka letter to my rapist)" or the metallic dirge of "Make Like A Tree", about an abusive relationship she had. If there is a message in her songs, it could be to rise in the face of adversity. "A lot of the songs are either about love-lost or survival, because thats pretty much the reality of my experience," she says. The debut has sold over 20,000 copies in Canada.
After more than two hard years of jump starting and touring behind her debut album, the vunerable-to-venom-voiced singer/songwriter finally found time to record a follow up. "It's just sitting in my closet, weeping with a lonely box of titles,"says Bif, "weeping and lonely, and waiting for me to tell it what to do."
She'll have to wait a tad longer. The curiously named gal with the long jet black hair, ruler straight bangs, tattoo decorated arms and mysteriously dark, pretty features just signed with sony 550 in the states, the division which boasts such polar opposites as Social Distortion and Celine Dion. Epic will release it worldwide and Aquarius will get the license in Canada. But while Sony 550 is pleased is " pleased with 90% of the album," says her manager Peter Karroll, "they're analyzing every song".
According to Karroll, who co-produced the album with Mike Plontnikoff, a new producer will be brought in who is more "song oriented" and less of a sound engineer. Some songs will stay intact, portions of other songs will be salvaged, and others will be re-recorded entirely. Of course , it will be remixed. That way says Karroll, the album will have the best possible chance at cracking the international market.
Meanwhile Aquarius, who has been given the rights to the album in Canada because of its commitment to Bif's last Album, and will release a limited edition spoken word album, tentivaly called THINGS I FORGOT TO TELL MY MOTHER. Bif says she was always "a little poem-writer".
Bif was born in New Delhi, India, 26 yrs ago; the love child of two private school teachers who put her up for adoption. She was rescued by the Toberts, an American couple stationed in India and working for a Methodist Church as Missionaries. They left India when she was two, settling in Lexington, Kentucky and, eventually, Winnipeg. For a gal who might seem brash, street wise and independent, she talks fondly of her family.
She has a "little sister" Heather, who has joined Bif in Vancouver and, at 25, is not so little; and Shirine, 28, still in Winnipeg, who is married with two children. "She went THAT way - the kids and marriage," Bif comments. Her mother, Jeanette, has remarried and now works for a Winnipeg transit company. Her father Ken a dentist, teaches dental hygienists, and will return to India to teach in Nepal with his new wife. Bif wrote "Daddy's Getting Married" about June '94 nuptials.
Bif's first exposure to music was her parents' Glen Miller and Nat King Cole records. " We loved it - all of us kids," she says. At age five, she and Heather took piano, but quit four years later when the teacher banged their hands on the keys when they messed up. "We were so afraid of her and never went back," she says. Always drawn to the fine arts , Bif took dance, specifically ballet, and performed spoken-word at festivals ever since she was in the second grade. Her mother saved all her poems. At the time Bif was more interested in theater and didn't discover her singing voice until she took on the role of Daisy Mae in a grade 12 musical production of L'il Abner. It was the first time she had sung in public.
At 18, she and a friend enrolled in a modeling agency in Winnipeg, under the impression that they would have to be moving to Toronto to be closer to the jobs. "Of course, when that fell through in the summer, I hurriedly applied for school that fall," she says. "The only thing i could have ever modeled was, ya'know, underwear or something. I wasn't tall enough."
In the two short months she attended the theater program at the University of Winnipeg, Bif was introduced to band life via Junglemilk, a world beat collective. "There were about 15 people on and off in the group and about three girls who sang, including me. Everyone took turns and everyone played a percussion instrument, congo's or bongo's. It was really fun."
After dropping out of school, she adopted the name nickname Bif Naked. She had been known as 'Bif ' since high school, when a friend had trouble pronouncing her real name, Beth. She added ' Naked ' when she joined her first touring band, Gorilla Gorilla, as lead singer.
Searching for an image, she graced the stage in a different dress every night - or combat boots and a black bra. "I was young and didn't have much modesty, I guess." Three months later, at 19, she married the drummer, Brett Hopkins, already a old boyfriend.
It was with this band the Bif started writing her own lyrics. "At the time in my life, I was actually quite naive and innocent as far as anti-boy lyrics," she recalls. "Gorilla Gorilla was a very positive-mental-attitude type of project. Everyone was into the (Red Hot) Chilli Peppers and the Jungle Brothers. It was this kind of love-in, pot smoking attitude, so lyrically it would be anti-racism, anti-drugs, positive sexuality, a little bit of an angry feminist lyrics, but not much. I didn't get into any of that stuff until later."
The band - including Hopkins, bassist Ken Jamieson and guitarist Randy Steffes which relocated to Vancouver, toured only in Canada and made two tapes, but Bif ended up leaving before the full-length one came out. "Gorilla Gorilla broke up two years after Bret and I broke up, so that was quite entertaining to continue our tour in a situation like that," says Bif.
"Breaking up with a band, or leaving a band, I find much more character damaging or reputation damaging than leaving a boyfriend. It's beyond bitter and it's beyond jilted. The character assassinations are always gender-specific, always, always - like if a male singer quits a band he's always an asshole, but if a female singer quits a band, well, she had to be fucking the band or fucking the management. It has t be something like that.
"The way i see it now , as sad as it is for your first band to break up , it was really meant to disassemble itself so that everyone could go on and do bigger and better things," she says. "Kent is the tour manager for NOFX. Brett does sound and tour managing for pennywise, and Randy was soundman for Greenday and, last year, when they fired their management , they hired him to manage them for a year."
It was 1992, the height of grunge, and Bif had already started rehearsing with hard rock band Chrome Dog, managed by Peter Karroll(who's other clients were Annihilator and Rymes with Orange). "Gorilla Gorilla was a very punk-funk and i was singing a lot of falsetto, a lot of vibrato; and with Chrome Dog, I wanted to sing very hard, raspy rock," says Bif.
The band made one tape, Western Sisters, and sold it off stage as they toured up and down the west coast of North America to San Diego and back. Ironically in Canada, Chrome Dog never ventured further than east Alberta. "It was a very diabolical touring schedule sometimes," recalls Bif. "It was literally sleeping in a van after drinking beer al night and getting paid $25 to play a gig in Fresno. It was really paying are dues."
"I remember phoning Peter two days before we were suppose to go on tour with Annihilator and saying, ' I can't do this . I'm really sorry to leave you high and dry like this, but I just can't do this. It's just to damaging for me,' she recounts.
"These people, I was convinced, were all misogynists. I said i was sorry and i felt very bad, and he just said, 'Take a week to think about where you see yourself going from here and give me a call.' I just couldn't believe he wasn't mad."
After much thought , Bif realized she wanted to put out a CD. She began jamming at eh Undertones Rehearsal Space, next door to Annihilator, with guitarist Harry Degen, drummer Chico Misomali and bassist Dale Pleven. They performed a handful of live dates under the moniker Dying To Be Violent and did some writing and recording over the bands three- month existence.
Meanwhile, John Dexter of Plum Records offered to release her first record. For the first time, Bif was flying solo.
She started one-on-one with Dexter at his 24 track studio, The Hangar, in Yale town. Every day, after the finishing work in the print shop at the greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, they would write and work on ideas. In May '94, Plum released an EP, Four SOngs & A Poem, comprised of two co-writes with Dexter, two with Dying To Be Violent and a self penned poem.
In The summer, after appearing in Moist's "Silver" video, Bif did her first canadian tour opening for the Vancouver rock band. Joining her was her boyfriend, drummer Brad McGiveron, ex Chrome Dog bassist Rich Priske, both of DSK(now Meeker), and guitarist Sibohan Duval. "I cant offer someone a lot of money, so i rely heavily on my friends who are available to tour, "she says". In September Bif appeared in another Moist video, "Believe Me", shot in Las Angeles.
All the while, she continued to write and demo for the full length album. Dexter wrote most of the music , typically on piano and sometimes guitar. She recruted friends to play on it , including Priske , ex- Salvador Dream guitarist Russ Klyne, Pure guitarist Todd Simko, current Mudgirl drummer Niko Quintal - plus programming and additional keyboards John Webster, and scratches and other noises by Pete Rumble ( a.k.a. Neil Scobie ).
She agrees the album is "kind of all over the place". The Metallic "Make Like A Tree" and "Over You" were co-written with the blokes Dying to Be Violent. The jangly melancholy of "My Bike" and "The Letter" were collaborations with McGiveron (a third track, "Only the Girl", was vetoed by the "Grown Up's", but remains in the live set).
The piano based "Tell On You" (a.k.a. Letter To My Rapist)" was a poem Bif wrote a long time ago, for which Dexter provided the music. "I was glad that i finally got to put it to music and lay it to rest," she says. The self written "My Whole Life" was intended to be a capella (which is how she performs it on stage), but developed into a funky hip hop groove, and 'Succulent'
,a co-write with Dexter, is another scratchy hip hop track.
"John came from Johnny Jett records, which was a successful dance label. With 'Succulent', all the music ws laid down first and i had to come up with a melody. I didn't think i could meet that challenge at all. I'd never done dance music before, and it was really refreshing for me."
The eponymosly-titled CD was released in October '94 plum, distributed by A&M Canada. In November, the band-this time McGiveron, Priske and guitarist Dave Genn(Matthew Good Band, DSK/Meeker, Art Bergmann) toured across the country opening for managment-mates Rymes With Orange. By Christmas, news came that Plum had folded.
By then, Karroll's TKO Entertainment Corp. had gone into partnership with New Jersey based Management ( Ministry, Tad, Anthrax), headed by Jon and Marsha Fazula, who was with Megaforce Records, and Bif was still hopeful. In Jan 95', Bif flew to New York to solidify things. They decided to buy back the master from Dexter, after which Bif formed Her Royal Majesty's Records to license it to other territories.
Not surprisingly, Bif finally lost her print shop job of five years because she was touring to much. She wasn't concerned; things were happening quickly. Jorg Hacker, A&R at Germany's Edel Records and a friend of Karroll and Fazula, licensed it for Europe in May. "Suddenly, it wasn't just in my backyard," Bif notes. "I was very afraid, because it was a constant struggle not to get my hopes up."
It wasn't long before Bif was notified that Toronto director John Fawcett wanted to include "The Letter" in his first feature film, The Boy's Club, starring Chris Penn and Davon Sawa. He ended up writing in a small speaking part for her as a liquor store owner. The night before the Toronto shoot, she was in L.A. for an Indie distributor convention and went out partying with Testament. " I was really hung over. I had no idea how time consuming four little lines were. It took all fucking day!" she says. Still, she'd like to do more acting. "It would be fun for me to do on my down time," she conceded, "but I'm waiting for Eddie Murphey." Of course.
Without a release in Canada, Bif returned to Europe with her band - drummer Sean Stubbs, bassist Tim Smyth and guitarist Grag Mark and David Oligade - to concide with the release if the debut single " Daddy's Getting Married". "It was my first bus tour and those guys were all my really close friends and it was the most fun ever," she says. "I had kind of resigned myself in never really doing anything in my home country. If i had to work in Germany and Spain for the rest of my life, that's awesome because then i can go home and have a cup of tea and relax. I was to overwhelmed and excited to remember 'Gosh, I wonder what's happening at home?'"
By January of '96 just as "Daddy's Getting Married" became Number One Alternative hit in Germany, Montreal-based Aquarius Records decided to license it for Canada with an option for another album. Meanwhile in march, Bif headed to Europe to embark on a seven week, 40 gig tour opening for Brooklyn bashers Life of Agony ( this time with Priske, Annihilator drummer Randy Black and a New York guitarist named the x-factor.)
"I had no idea how taxing it was, " Bif says of the experience. " I had quit drinking and i know that's the only thing that allowed me to have the stamina to do a successful tour. I don't know how other people do it. I'm a load and obnoxious drunk, so i would loose my voice quickly in a touring situation."
She returned to Canada in April for the albums resurrection domestically on Aquarius. The Album had a few editing and mixing touch up's, and she did a separate French-Laguage version of the pop rock single " Daddy's Getting Married" called " Mon Papa va se Maner", come May, Bif kept the European line up for the Music West show case in Vancouver but replaced The X-factor with guitarist Russ Klyne. By then , her album was licensed in the US to Mayhem records ( Futuristic Music Group). The band toured Canada, then it went along the northeastern seaboard all the way to Chicago with Ian Astbury and Holy Barbarians. In June, they flew to Europe to do the festival circuit.
To be sure Bif was sick of the album. "I didn't know how many times I could sing ' Daddy's Getting Married', she admits. " i thought that in 95 I would be making another record; and now it was well into 96."
When they returned at the end of July, she started demoing on a portable Tascam four-track at Karroll's digital TKO Wall Center Studios, the same place she laid down the spoken-word album. She had written a song with priske, a couple with Klyne, some by herself and gave the band the demos to learn. Word came that Mike Plotnikoff, who usually works with Bruce Fairbairn, had become available for a block of time at the end of August to the beginning of September.
"That was the only time he would be free for, like, three years," says Bif. "So i jumped at the chance to work with Mike in a co-production situation. I was really adamant about having some production opinions after the '94 release, even just having one say on a vocal or guitar sound or an effect. I just wanted to feel like I had some input."
Although she had her say, production credit belongs to Plotnikoff and Karroll, with assistant engineer Gary Winger. In the studio. Bif brought in her trusted pals Priske, Black, Klyne, and Webster. They did the first set of demo's in July at Greenhouse Studios with Plotnoff' and the second set two weeks later at Turtle with Larry Ansell.
In August, as Plotnikoff began work with Bif, "Daddy's Getting Married" became her first hit single in Canada, charting in the top 50 at CAR and top 30 at Modern Rock radio. Spirits were high Plotnikoff used the beds for those sessions on the album and everything else - vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards - was recorded at the Warehouse, Bryan Adams' studio. "Mike is amazing. he's got the most acute hearing," says Bif.
Bif financed the recording herself. The idea was that Her Royal Majesty's Records would once again license it to Aquarius in Canada and Edel in Europe, leaving the U.S. open. But Jorge Hacker had moved over to Epic in Europe and again wanted to sign her; and in November, Epic-affiliates at Sony New York flew to Vancouver for Bif's last show of 96', , a benefit for breast cancer research. Michael Caplan, Sony 550 vice-president of A&R, also wanted to sign and negotiations were underway.
It's not clear when the new album will be released or ready. Right now not only will Bif have to go back ti the studio for some touch up's , but the song selection is still not final . She recorded 14 songs in all, including a ballad called "Lucky" and a dance tune called "Violence".
She's particularly proud of a faster song about abortion, "specifically mine", called "Chotee", which is Hindu for little. "It's a personal perspective song, but i didn't think, lyrically any of the grown ups would want it on there," she chuckles. "I'm hoping to keep that one on, in the form that it is. There are a lot of subjects that cannot continue to be a taboo."
Her other fave is "Satanic Showtune", on which she plays piano just this once. "That's my biggest thrill in life, is having written a show tune, " she says. "We put in some satanic things; it makes me hysterical, because it's hysterical, that shit. People are so freaked out by it that i think it's funny. Sadly, that doesn't guarantee it's going to get on the CD. But i think it's very funny and I'm convinced that most of my fan base will think it's funny."
Eddie Murphy included, we're Satan, er, certain. CM