The Toronto singer/song­writer tells the un­told sto­ries of women in rock


NYSSA open­ing for NEG­A­TIVE GEMINI with ICE CREAM at the Baby G (1608 Dun­das West), Thurs­day (May 17), doors 9 pm. $15, adv $12. tick­et­fly.com.

Nyssa knows how to make an en­trance.

When we meet for cof­fee at the The­atre Cen­tre café on Queen West, ev­ery­one looks up from their lap­tops and lat­tes as soon as she comes in, ex­ud­ing the same fierce en­ergy she brings to the stage. When she speaks she’s in­tense and suc­cinct, much like her songs, which de­tail the un­told sto­ries of women in the mas­cu­line-driven rock world she grew up in.

“My songs are the songs I want to hear,” she says. “I lis­ten to a lot of old rock and roll, and I’m still very much in­flu­enced by it, but when I’m writ­ing I flip the per­spec­tive, to sing from my own stand­point, or from the stand­point of the women in the songs.”

She’s been on the Toronto scene long enough to know how things work and to con­nect with a com­mu­nity she says has her back. She got her start writ­ing and play­ing mu­sic when she was 12, form­ing the new wave-in­fused rock band Modern Su­per­sti­tions with friends at 15. The band spent seven years on the verge of blow­ing up be­fore it dis­solved, after which Nyssa slowly be­gan to es­tab­lish her­self as a solo artist.

She says she likes the free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity of play­ing on her own. It means she can wake up in the morn­ing,

prac­tice all day at home and ap­pear on­stage with­out much tech­ni­cal fuss. Her set up is sim­ple: just a vo­cal pedal and an iPad to play the tracks she wrote and pro­duced, so she can fo­cus on her singing and per­for­mance.

“Some­times I’ll bike down to a venue be­cause I’ll just have a duf­fel bag for my gear, which is nice,” she says. “I don’t rely on any­thing other than my­self.”

Her synth-driven elec­tro-pop re­calls the re­verb driven punk sounds of Siouxsie, the raw­ness of PJ Har­vey, the glam-rock edge of T. Rex, the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal cur­rency of the UK’s Na­dine Shah and the solo DIY work ethic of Grimes.

She cites Bruce Spring­steen and old coun­try favourites Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Lucinda Wil­liams as in­flu­ences, but she also draws from movies and books. When she was writ­ing the five songs for her new EP, Cham­pion of Love (re­leased in­de­pen­dently on April 13) she says she was in­flu­enced by 80s crime drama movie River’s Edge and short sto­ries by Lu­cia Ber­lin, an Amer­i­can au­thor known for smart, sparse snap­shots of ev­ery­day life.

“I think be­cause I make pop, glam and rock and roll mu­sic it’s not ex­pected to have much of a sto­ry­telling as­pect, but there is a story ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says.

But the songs are rooted in her ex­pe­ri­ences as well.

“The song Life Is Hard is from the per­spec­tive of a woman who feels judged and is em­brac­ing the messier as­pects of her ex­is­tence and go­ing for­ward, es­chew­ing judg­ment,” she says. In other words, the same “don’t fuck with me at­ti­tude” Nyssa says has so far pro­tected her from the full brunt of misog­yny she knows is present in the mu­sic in­dus­try.

Lately she’s been pop­ping up ev­ery­where in Toronto, play­ing a show ev­ery month or two with lo­cal bands in her im­me­di­ate cir­cle, in­clud­ing FRIGS, Ice Cream, Jaunt, Whimm, Val­lens and Bueller. As she gains a fol­low­ing, she’s land­ing fes­ti­vals and big­ger shows, like Vag Halen’s Heavy Leather Park­ing Lot, on June 9 as part of Queer Pride at Bud­dies in Bad Times The­atre.

She might also serve you brunch if you go to the Fed­eral, the tiny neigh­bour­hood favourite near Dun­das and Gladstone. Like many lo­cal mu­si­cians, that’s her day job – for the mo­ment.

“[Con­cert pro­moter] Dan Burke came in one time to drop off a pay­ment for a show and it was funny be­cause he looked up and there were peo­ple from five different bands all work­ing that day,” she says.

When I ask her what her am­bi­tions are as a mu­si­cian she sums it all up in one word: suc­cess.

I nudge her to elab­o­rate, and she con­tin­ues: “I don’t have a back-up plan. This is what I love do­ing. I would like to be per­form­ing shows and tour­ing [for a liv­ing]. Maybe five years from now I’ll be able to just do that.” mu­sic@nowtoronto.com | @Suzan­neAlyssa

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