Interview: Mares of Thrace, Part I

If you root around the internet for about three-and-a-half seconds, you can find all sorts of info on Calgary’s doom-y, sludge-y, math-y metallic duo, Mares of Thrace. Most of that will pertain to the band being comprised of two women – drummer Stefani MacKichan and guitarist/vocalist Thérèse Lanz – and all that clappity-clap about hot(test) women in metal, breaking gender sterotypes, being role models and blah, blah, blah. But what else is going on beyond all the usual stuff they get thrown at them in interviews? The ladies in Mares have their own interesting sets of obsessions beyond rocking out and letting producer Sanford Parker “play” filling cabinet on their new and second album, The Pilgrimage. This week, we talk to Thérèse (on the right, above and below) about her second love. Or first love. Or only love.
Having witnessed your interest in video games firsthand, it came as no surprise when I heard you’re going to be attending school for video game creation. Can you tell us a little about the where/when/what/how long of the program you’ve been accepted to?
I’m attending Chicago’s Tribeca Flashpoint Academy of Digital Arts and Media and getting an Associate’s of Applied Science degree in video game development; my intent is to specialize in 2D concept art. Most schools that I researched offered BA programs. Frankly, in four years I fully anticipate that we’ll be able to plug video games directly into our brainstems; TFA’s shorter program greatly appealed to me, and there’s an even more accelerated version (slightly over a year) which I’m taking, for dorks like me who already have a bachelor’s. TFA is a crazy awesome school; it was voted “best post secondary institution” by the Chicago Reader. It’s on the fifth floor of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago and has more avant-garde art in it than my entire hometown– goodness, did I ever feel like a Canadian country bumpkin going there for my interview. Also, they sure didn’t have a motion-capture studio at the university where I did my undergrad.

When did you first develop an interest in video games and what were the first games that piqued your interest and got you hooked? How have your game tastes/interests changed over the years and what sorts of games are you most into these days?
Honestly, I don’t remember ever NOT being a gamer. My mom used to bring home 5.5″ floppy disks full of DOS games and I’d play the shit out of them, and when that got old, start reverse-engineering them. What really ruined my life was playing Final Fantasy II (or IV if you’re Japanese) for the Super Nintendo. That was the video game equivalent of me hearing Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath for the first time – I knew the rest of my life would be spent trying to recapture/recreate that experience. The funny thing is, my tastes haven’t changed that much! I’m a diehard RPG-er, and while I love the way technology has enabled the narratives of RPGs to become more immersive and 3D and shit, I still get excited by the sight of pixels and sprites, and the fact that they’re experiencing a renaissance because of mobile gaming.

In your opinion, what’s the best and worst video game ever made?
Oh c’mon! Asking that question without bringing genre into it is like asking “What’s the best record of all time?”! But if you held a gun to my head, I’d have to say the best one is MarioKart DS (which I spent some of the happiest moments of our North American tour with Enabler playing). It’s a good philosophical meditation on life, because no matter how far ahead we think we are in life, we are all one spiky, winged blue shell away from losing everything.
The worst one? There was a fighting game called Catfight for PC, with all very skanky female fighters that made me strongly contemplate ending my own life 30 seconds into playing it. Half the fun of playing a fighting game is kicking Zangief’s ass with Chun Li (or kicking Goro’s ass with Kitana. Or kicking Cervantes’ ass with Taki. You get me).

What was the first game you completed? If you were asked to explain it to a non-gamer (like me) what would finishing off a game be likened or equivalent to? Which one(s) provide the most challenging experience for you?
Technically, the first game I ever completed was a DOS text-based adventure, programmed in BASIC, that I finished at age 10. The first modern-ish one was a demo for a dystopian post-apocalyptic 2D RPG I did a couple years ago using a freeware tile engine. Dude, there’s a reason entire teams of people make games– it was the most time-consuming thing I’ve ever done. Finishing off that game felt like how prisoners in Alcatraz must feel when they get out of doing a hard stretch of solitary.

What did you have to do in order to apply for the game making program you’re starting? Did you have to submit an “audition reel” of sorts or was it as simple as submitting an application with “I really like video games” scribbled in crayon as your cover page?
I wish! Some of the other schools I applied to went to great lengths to woo potential students; TFA’s admission policies make it pretty clear that they’re not interested in your average Doritos-crumb-covered basement dweller. My application required several essays, two recommendation letters, a cognitive abilities test (which I had nightmares about for weeks), and a faculty interview. And I threw in a portfolio because I’m a keener like that.

How much experience do you have in game making as you head into this program? What are you hoping to learn and where do you hope to take this in the future?
My goal’s ultimately to be a game artist. What I hope to learn and where I hope to take this is a lucrative career drawing wizards.

Please tell me there are songs on the new album with gaming references or themes to them?
Well holy goddamn, are you ever going to be pleased to find out that THE ALBUM’S TITLE was partly inspired by the Mass Effect franchise!

What’s going to happen to Mares of Thrace with you being in the states for a year? Is the band going to be put on hold or are you and Stef going to be doing the long distance band relationship?
Definitely not going on hold! We both have mobile recording setups, we’ve already started writing the next record, and I have an awesome drummer in Chicago to play American jaunts (and the Sega Genesis retro Playstation collection) with in the meantime.

Mares of Thrace on tour:
4/26/2012 LBH – Kamloops, BC
4/27/2012 Funky Winkerbeans, Vancouver, BC
4/28/2012 Highline – Seattle, WA
4/29/2012 Voyeur Cafe – Olympia, WA
4/30/2012 East End – Portland, OR
5/03/2012 Broken City – Calgary, AB
5/04/2012 Amigos – Saskatoon, SK
5/05/2012 TBA – Regina, SK
5/06/2012 Negative Space – Winnipeg, MB
5/07/2012 Black Pirates Pub – Thunder Bay, ON
5/08/2012 Oddfellows Hall- Sault Ste Marie, ON
5/09/2012 This Ain’t Hollywood – Hamilton, ON
5/10/2012 Cafe Dekcuf – Ottawa, ON
5/11/2012 460 – Toronto, ON
5/12/2012 Club Absynthe – Montreal, QC
5/13/2012 Le Kaméléon – Quebec, QC
5/14/2012 Geno’s – Portland, ME
5/15/2012 St. Vitus – Brooklyn, NY
5/16/2012 Radio – Somerville, MA
5/17/2012 Cherry Street Station – Wallingford, CT
5/18/2012 Monty’s Krown – Rochester, NY
5/19/2012 Carabar – Columbus, OH
5/20/2012 Blind Bob’s – Dayton, OH
5/21/2012 Lager House – Detroit, MI
5/22/2012 Vibes Music – Indianapolis, IN
5/23/2012 Ultralounge – Chicago, IL
5/24/2012 The Heavy Anchor – St. Louis, MO
5/25/2012 Off Minor – Dubuque, IA
5/26/2012 Medusa – Minneapolis, MN

The Pilgrimage will be available April 24th through Sonic Unyon Metal.
This is what the cover looks like:

Here’s Mares standing in a field: