Artist Spotlight: Whisper Disco

As Viviane Chiamulera has settled in Vancouver, so has her band

From left to right: Whisper Disco drummer Aidan Bowen, guitarist and vocalist Viviane Chiamulera, and guitarist Darren MacDonald cozy up in The Templeton on Granville Street. (Aly Laube)

One of the first things Viviane Chiamulera did when she arrived in Vancouver from Brazil was meet her future guitarist, Darren MacDonald, at a holiday get-together. Through a friend of a friend, Chiamulera heard about MacDonald’s annual “misfits Christmas,” meant to offer a cozy, festive space for people who don’t have family to spend the holidays with.

“I ended up there with my mom,” laughs Chiamulera. “Darren was the first person I met in Vancouver.”

While she was in his home, Chiamulera was playing one of his guitars, and MacDonald was impressed enough that he asked her to jam. A few weeks later, they started Whisper Disco, and were later joined by drummer Aidan Bowen.

Back then, both guitarists had very bare-bones setups, and Bowen’s drumming style was far less controlled than it is today. Chiamulera didn’t have her own guitar, and with minimal effects being used, their sound wasn’t yet full enough to compensate for the band’s unique lack of bass. Now—with the help of time, new gear, and practice—it’s almost difficult to notice that there’s no bassist in the band. Their style relies on riffs and MacDonald’s multi-amp rig, which helps beef up his guitar tone.

“It was a challenge to do it but I think that’s part of what makes our sound,” says MacDonald, on not having a bassist in the group. “It was cool to develop that.”

“It’s cohesive in a way because we chose to do that,” adds Chiamulera. “We already had a bass-y sound … but we just needed the right tone.”

Chiamulera is the primary songwriter for Whisper Disco, and as such, most of the band’s lyrics reflect how her life has changed since moving to the city.

“It’s been all my life in Vancouver, honestly, because if you think about it, we started right away. I can’t imagine myself without the band in Vancouver,” she says. “It’s like moving to a new city with your partner, and you know the place through your partner. It’s like a relationship.”

Some of the themes that show up periodically in her lyrics are about adjusting to life far from home, the weather, and depression. “The Ghost”, for which the band recently released a video, is about a “very abusive roommate” Chiamulera had (though thankfully she has since moved out). Other songs paint a similar portrait of daily hardships and victories that have defined the past four years of her life.

“When you move here, you’re basically alone. Your family’s not here and I didn’t have a lot of money. I’m not a rich person so I kind of had to sustain everything with a part time job two days per week,” she says. “So there’s a lot about struggle and living in a lot of the songs, I guess, but that’s changing. I’m happier now I think, and I write happier things!”

Their sound has shifted over time as well. As the members have “figured out the dynamics” between them and their instruments, their style has become more nuanced.

“I think we were going in the direction of being heavier and then we kind of stopped, kind of went back and tried to make it way less, but saw that that wasn’t working and found a happy medium,” says MacDonald. “When we first started we didn’t have a drummer, and we were writing everything on acoustic guitars.”

Psych-fuelled pop rock is the closest to a genre tag that Whisper Disco feels suits their sound, although Chiamulera emphasizes that the band “is not about a specific genre.”

“That’s an important thing to say, because we have such a hard time describing ourselves. It’s funny how people have different opinions and compare us to different bands,” she says. “There are people who come to us and go, ‘You sound like Tokyo Police Club or Dear Rouge.’ And there are other people who say, ‘Oh you sound like Paramore,’ or others who say, ‘You sound like PJ Harvey,’ which is my favourite one.”

Whisper Disco just released a three-song EP, appropriately titled EP1, and are expecting to put out two other collections of the same length over the next year.

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