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Celebration Injects Dynamic Drama Into Its Punk Cabaret

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BALLROOM BLITZ: Celebration is currently throwing its dark party on the road.

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Celebration plays the Talking Head Nov. 12

By Jess Harvell | Posted 11/9/2005

It hasn’t been a good couple of weeks for Celebration’s Katrina Ford. For one thing, her cell phone got run over while on tour, leaving her incommunicado as the band crisscrossed the country with new label mate Calla. More importantly, as the tour wound through the Southern states, “[people] just weren’t showing up.”

Now that City Paper has finally managed to get her on the phone, relaxing in Minneapolis before that night’s show, Ford sounds a bit more at ease. “But once we got to the West Coast, everything was great,” she says. “I’m really happy with how things are going.”

Not without good reason. Celebration was recently signed to 4AD, a label that may not command the same level of respect it once did, but one that indie fans still recognize by name. The band’s self-titled debut definitely fits the 4AD profile, that mix of angular and ethereal, plus a healthy dollop of, well, goth. (C’mon, it’s 4AD, home of Dead Can Dance and Tones on Tail—you can’t escape the G-word.)

“The band name is what the music is supposed to be,” Ford says. And it’s true that Celebration’s music isn’t quite as dark as Ford’s earlier bands, be it the frenzied, blood-spitting Jaks or the brooding, lush Love Life—which “was about holding things back,” Ford explains—both of which also featured her husband, Sean Antanaitis. Antanaitis plays all of the instruments in Celebration save drums, which are manned by David Bergander. Antanaitis pulls off the same feat live, which Ford says is “very difficult to be able to do perfectly. It’s athletic”

Antanaitis isn’t the only member of Celebration who prizes that sort of athleticism. “I’m very much into flamenco,” Ford says. “And I try to bring that [feeling] into the band whenever I can. The self-conscious moment is not creative, you know?”

Ford’s voice is undoubtedly the main selling point for Celebration. Like a femme Nick Cave circa the Bad Seed EP (or, for an easier comparison, Cave doppelgänger Polly Jean Harvey), she attacks her lyrics with a hectoring, hammy, uninhibited verve, swooping from coo to caw. “This last time that we recorded, I decided that I want another octave up,” she says. “And I totally wanted to work for that. I haven’t gotten any formal training for it, and I also don’t really have the time for [formal training], so I’m training on my own a lot without a vocal coach or anything.”

But if Celebration had a shepherd, it was TV on the Radio’s David Sitek, who was in the producer’s seat and introduced the band to 4AD. “He’s pretty much the only person I want to work with as a producer,” Ford says. “There wasn’t any question. On a personal level, he’s like my best friend, so that makes it fun. But on a professional level, which is ultimately more important when it comes to your art, I trust his aesthetic enough that I can relax and let him do his job. He knows all of our limitations and he’s really good as pushing us to grow. For me, in order to do some harmonics [with my voice], I don’t have the education or training to just go in and do it. And David’s a great coach.”

And with those acrobatic pipes, Celebration can occasionally seem a bit . . . dramatic. In an indie-rock world that has clung to irony as the first line of defense against emo earnestness, such drama can be off-putting to an unsuspecting audience. “I think sometimes people get kind of freaked out over things that are overly dramatic,” Ford says. “But that’s kind of fun. I think people are just afraid of other people feeling something or acting out. I think the American audience has just become really uptight and conservative. I think independent music has just become really conservative. The first time we played Vancouver everybody was sitting on the floor, and I was like, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t a folk concert.’ People dance at our shows—you can’t sit down.”

The American leg of the tour ends Nov. 5, and the band returns to Baltimore for a few days before taking off for Europe. “A lot of people I know who are more worldly than I am say we’ll do well in Europe,” Ford says. “And that would be great, obviously.”

Mention that the band was named the 2005 Best Band in City Paper’s 2005 Best of Baltimore issue, and Ford demurely deflects the praise with a nervous laugh. Mention the worry that now that Celebration is attracting attention outside Charm City limits that it may leave for the greener pastures of, say, New York, and she is quick to shoot holes in the idea.

“No way,” she says. “If we leave Baltimore, we’ll be leaving the United States. I love Baltimore. It’s so inexpensive, and it’s so close to anywhere on the eastern seaboard that it’s the perfect location for a band. It’s such an underdog city. What I like is that there really isn’t a ‘Baltimore sound,’ bands dipping into each other’s pools of taste and genre. And I think it has its own dark charm that’s romanced me into staying. I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived in Baltimore.”

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