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The Garrys Find Salvation In Surf Rock On The Prairies

The Saskatoon sister trio pokes fun at religious discipline on Get Thee To A Nunnery.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

The Garrys have a sound that transports you back in time—a time when television was a scratchy black-and-white luxury and surf rock juggernauts like The Ventures or The Shadows ruled the airwaves. Made up of sisters Julie (Bass, Vocals), Erica (Guitar, Keys, Vocals), and Lenore Maier (Drums, Vocals), the doomy surf-rock trio from Saskatoon, SK can also be compared to modern bands like Allah-Las or La Luz, but what sets The Garrys apart from their predecessors is their literal blood vocal harmonies and their affinity for writing songs inspired by bygone prairie towns.

Before The Garrys came along, a place like Sintaluta, SK, was only a small backwoods town forgotten by time, and the rural municipality of Wolverine, a decaying rural hideaway full of tumbleweeds. Now they each have their own mystical and nostalgic melody on The Garrys’ latest LP, Get Thee To A Nunnery. The name of the record is in part taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but also a warning their grandmother used to say when the Maier sisters were misbehaving. “She’d say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna send you to the nunnery,’” Julie Maier says with a laugh. “It’s just sort of a joking thing you say to a kid when they’re being bad. But for us, the nunnery was where our mom went to school. So she’s basically saying she’s gonna send us away to boarding school.”

Reflecting on that little family joke sparked a period of songwriting for the Maier sisters right around the time they released their live score for the silent 1922 film, Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. Soon after, they interviewed their mom about her experiences at an all-girls Catholic high school/convent run by nuns in rural 1960s Saskatchewan. “I’m not sure if we knew we were going to write an album, but we definitely wanted to write a song about her high school memories,” Maier says. “She lent us her yearbooks so we flipped through them to get some inspiration about what a boarding school in 1960 Saskatchewan looked like, what the students were doing, and what they thought was cool.”

Family roots have always been a creative catalyst for The Garrys. Their 2017 concept album, Surf Manitou, which put them on the Canadian music map was inspired by Manitou Beach, SK, a Maier family vacation spot. On that record, the Maier sisters poke fun at the locales like the Burger Buoy and create stories about a sea monster that lurks in the waters. That same kind of playful nostalgia is present on Get Thee To A Nunnery, but The Garrys also touch on some darker themes like religious freedom or the repetitive stifling of creativity by the Catholic Church.  “We recognized that maybe that wasn’t the best time to be a young woman,” Maier says. “It was a very disciplinarian kind of environment where you had to wear uniforms and go to mass everyday. So how does a girl break loose in that kind of environment? There was a bit of rebellion, like sneaking out to drink beer with boys at other schools or smoking cigarettes behind the chapel.”

“Fallen Woman” with its garage rock chord structure deals with a crisis of faith for a young woman, perhaps being tempted by the big bad Lucifer. “​It’s about being raised one way and family tradition that’s so embedded in Catholicism, but then becoming an adult and realizing that most of it doesn’t actually have value,” Maier says. 

There was also a weird prank where the girls at the nunnery would place a chocolate bar in the stone hands of the Virgin Mary, a memory that makes its way into the “Get Thee To a Nunnery,” animated music video by artist Amery Sandford. The song kicks off the album with an organ that makes the listener envision walking up the steps to a local chapel, but soon drops into a groovy surf inspired doo-wop melody. “She told us about that prank and it seems so innocent so we found it hilarious,” Maier says. “But that was one of the ways the girls would express individuality. It was just a different time.”