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Talking Trash with the Siblings of Hot Garbage 

The vocalists behind the Toronto psych quartet discuss the ways they surprise each other, shared influences, and the one chapter they’re absolutely ready to close. 

by Emma Johnston-Wheeler

Photo by Laura-Lynn Petrick

Toronto post punk/psych-rock quartet Hot Garbage believes that live shows should be a little bit unhinged, chaotic, and above all, human. That considered, it’s unsurprising that their free-spirited, moody ethos has a classic dynamic at the heart of it, that of vocalist sibling duo Alex and Juliana Carlevaris — because really, what is more unhinged and personal than the relationship between siblings? 

The duo have that perfect four-year age gap that’s close enough as adults to make them peers, but far enough as kids to put them in completely different worlds. Still, it’s pretty obvious they share brain waves. I sat down with the two of them in the living room of Alex’s first and only Toronto apartment – one of those old walk ups harbouring a rotation of musicians for the last decade, affectionately called “the bayou” for its perpetual heat– where they oscillated between comfortable laughter, speaking over one another in fast spurts, and filling in each other’s sentences. 

The small room is covered in found, re-homed, and made art, the centerpiece of which is a giant hot dog poster from Lick’s Homeburgers, a defunct Canadian restaurant chain. The “crisis couch,” aka a floral pull out, is placed right below it. “Sometimes I think it’s going to fall and kill me, and it’s going to be the funniest way to die,” Alex quips from his seat on the far left of the floral couch. Juliana sits on the far right. 

Photo: Emma Johnson-Wheeler

The bayou has been a place of refuge, intimate jams, all-night ragers, and for Alex and Juliana, the quarantine bubble from which they wrote much of their impending album, Precious Dream. It’s an accumulation of songs the band wrote while separated during the COVID-19 pandemic, exploring themes like loss, resilience, and isolation.

As they emerge into 2024, finally releasing these long held works, they’re excited to enter a more present chapter. They’ve been bandmates for nearly a decade now–which is funny, because though Alex and Juliana tell me they’ve always been close, neither one of them ever anticipated being in a band together.

While Alex is obsessively passionate, Juliana is comparatively composed, and diligently organized, admitting that she enjoys a sense of control, while her brother navigates the world with romance and chaos. 

Alex started playing shows in scuzzy Toronto venues as young as 16, and Juliana would attend with their father. Because of their age gap, suddenly vast as teenagers, Alex didn’t realize that she was interested in pursuing music until he was 19, when Juliana asked to borrow a big muff and a delay pedal from him. “That’s when I knew she was gonna be okay,” he tells me.  

Still when Alex first told Juliana that he wanted to start a band, he wasn’t asking her to join it. He was asking if she knew anybody that would be interested in playing bass, since she’d been building a network as a promoter. So he was taken back when she responded that she was interested in playing herself. 

The rehearsal that followed solidified their new relationship as bandmates. “There was something to be said about the sibling thing, you don’t really have to talk a lot because all the influences are the same,” explains Alex. Their father instilled them with the same foundation of classic rock at an early age– the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath. 

Photo: Laura-Lynn Petrick

They played their first show in 2015, adopting the name Hot Garbage to characterize their unpretentious, trashy nature. They joked that they would strive to be the best, worst band in the scene and, to their surprise, their tongue in cheek strategy worked out pretty well. 

In a span of four years they went from self-releasing EPs on cassette (first Max Blonda, then  Coco’s Paradise), and touring in the US (landing support bills with L.A. Witch and a slot at Levitation Festival in Austin, TX), to recording a debut album with Juno-nominated producer Graham Walsh, released on Mothland in 2021. Though Covid halted their 2020 tour plans, it didn’t stop them from creating new music. As soon as they were able, they rejoined Walsh to record their sophomore album, Precious Dream (out Jan. 19 via Mothland).  

Now they’ll finally be touring their Covid tunes in Canada, in a cheap van they bought in 2020 no less (thanks CERB). “This release is going to be the first time that we catch up to ourselves,” says Alex. At this point, they’ve written just as many new songs as they have yet to release, and they’re carrying a new energy into 2024. 

“We used to stress more about stupid shit, but now there’s a base of gratitude,” he says. “The band has found this new groove, so we’re really excited to continue to make music.”

Hot Garbage perform Feb. 10 at Le Ministère (Montreal) as part of Taverne Tour | TICKETS & INFO