Lesley Marshall had these songs, songs about heartbreak and love lost and regret and big mistakes. Songs like “Choose the Wrong Man,” for example, a slow, languorous ballad spiked with stinging self-knowledge.
“He might be so handsome,” Marshall sings in her lazily sensual drawl. “He might be so fine/ But I always choose the wrong man/ And I always choose him in time.”
Marshall had a collection of songs in that vein that she’d written over the years, and she was also in a band, Ottawa’s own Bonnie Doon. But these weren’t really Bonnie Doon songs.
“I’d had these songs I’d been writing since I was in high school, and I tried bringing them to my punk band,” Marshall says with a laugh, “and it was just like, ‘No way!’ They didn’t fit.”
Having reached a dead end, Marshall was jamming with her friend, bassist Kristy Nease of another Ottawa band called Area Resident when a new possibility revealed itself.
“I got together with Kristy and I thought it was going to be an experimental project,” Marshall says, “And she said, ‘These are country songs.’ All of the songs I’d been writing were these kind of love lost, heartbreak ballads, and it kind of developed into this whole other idea.”
Suddenly it all made sense to Marshall, and the band GINNY began to take shape. Marshall realizes now that she’d been moving toward country music all along, starting with her love of singing Patsy Cline songs as a child.
“When I started songwriting, I mostly would express my emotions,” she says, “whether that was heartbreak or loss or things I wanted but didn’t get. And the more I sang them out loud it just kind of evolved into country music, because it’s a moving style for emotional ballads.”
“And my voice has a kind of twang to it because I’m from Southern Ontario,” she adds with a laugh. “It’s the most southern part of Canada.”
It’s probably important to note here that the music we’re talking about isn’t the silky-smooth countrypolitan style that Patsy Cline largely dealt in, and it isn’t even the outlaw-era revivalism that folks like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson are doing these days. On GINNY’s self-titled EP, created by Marshall, Nease, and guitarist Catriona Sturton, the music leans more toward the haunted echo of Sun Studios in the 1950s than anything else, and Marshall’s reverberating hiccup sounds closer to rockabilly. But there’s a bare-bones, honky-tonk feel to the EP’s four songs.
And then there’s the band’s cassette-only release that came out last December, which pairs their stripped-down attack with that classic country music instrument, the theremin.
Wait, the thing that you hear on “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys?
“I was trying to get a steel or slide player to enhance that country feel,” Marshall says, “and a friend of mine who’s a DJ in our town, DJ Jas Nasty, told me she could play the theremin, and that she always wanted to be in a band. And I said, ‘You’re in the band.’ I just thought it sounded eerie on these sad songs and fun on these upbeat jams. It’s like the lead guitar and the theremin are talking to each other, and you can hear them riff off each other. It’s a really beautiful sound.”
And that weird, elastic moan does lend a sort of pedal steel-like keening to the songs on the GINNY Band cassette. Plus, it’s not like there are a lot of other country bands whipping out the theremin.
“Country’s been around for a long time, and it’s a cool way to mix it up and kind of bring something new to it,” Marshall says.
GINNY is on tour with a drummer-less lineup, with Marshall, Nease, Sturton, and DJ Nasty either eschewing percussion entirely or playing with a drum machine, another rarity in country music. But regardless of the trappings, Marshall loves that batch of nonpunk songs she was saving for this band, and the way her new band members have all contributed.
“It’s really exciting,” she says. “When we write the songs, I write the lyrics and tunes and Kristy writes the spine of the songs with the bass. That bass is our core. And then the lead guitar and the theremin round everything else out. But I could sing these songs on the street, and they’d still be the songs.”
And we never ask this, but we wanted to know where the name GINNY came from. “We’d started this project and we needed a name,” Marshall says, “and after practice we went to a bar and thought about some names, and we were drinking gin. And I had an aunt named Ginny, and I started thinking about the name and how it seemed like a country song.”