“Empathy for the Evil” (M’lady’s Records, 2014)
“…Smith’s characters deal with the inequality and power imbalances that mark modern society.” – Colin Joyce, Pitchfork (USA)
“…the songs speak to understanding the inherent nature of frayed humanity.” – Eric Risch, PopMatters (USA)
“Turning long, thick passages of prose into singable, memorable songs, Mecca Normal have revolutionized their music again. If you think you’ve already heard everything this band is capable of, you need to hear Empathy For The Evil and find out just how wrong you are. After a long-delayed release, you will finally get a chance. Do not miss this one.” – J Neo Marvin, Ear Candle Productions (San Francisco)
“For the thoughtful listener who appreciates both a good work of fiction and a nice dose of indie folk ‘Empathy for the Evil’ is the record for you.” – Mark Anthony Brennan, Ride the Tempo (Canada) rated 4 out of 5 stars
“… Smith’s words are full of wisdom and humour and cut right through the materialism of the world of rock.” – Tucker Petertil, The Big Takeover (New York)
“Duo Jean Smith and David Lester have been making raw, stripped-down garage rock since the mid 1980s. It’s rare to have this much power and emotion come from one guitarist and one singer. They always keep it real.” – Dawn Jewell, NPR-affiliate WOUB (Athens, Ohio), Top Albums of 2014
“The songs on Empathy are mesmerizing, with Smith sucking you with her trance-like vocals and poetic lyrics backed by Lester’s equally as spellbinding guitar riffs.” – Steve Long, Red Dirt Report (Oklahoma)
“Songs like the rollicking “Art Was the Great Leveler” and the more subdued “Normal” focus on the intricacies of the artist’s life – the things that connect, join folks together and perhaps drive wedges between them. I can think of no one better than Smith and Lester to show us the way.” – Alison Lang, Broken Pencil (Canada)
“It’s not really important that Mecca Normal has hung around for thirty years, what is important is that they’ve weathered the constant assaults on a disabled industry, and the destructive powers of time, which can eat away at your passion and your partnership. You put on Empathy for the Evil, and it’s like your listening to Mecca Normal at the height of the Riot Grrrl movement, when the Northwest was the center of the music world, when people appreciated the ingenuity and the artistry of artists like Jean Smith and David Lester.” – Brian Snider, Secretly-Important (Seattle)
“Art is the Great Leveler, is a beautiful tale weaving Smith’s love for art and relationships, how art can bring two people together.” – Troy Michael, Innocent Words (Chicago)
“This is a masterpiece of story and manifesto, a lesson in life…” – Sean Michaels, Said the Gramophone (Canada)
“Mecca Normal is not a normal band. They’re free of clichés, unconcerned with catchy pop hooks or mass appeal. They have made some art, and they’d like you to enjoy it on their terms. It’s refreshing, and I’m digging it.” – Abe Beeson, Nado Mucho (Pacific Northwest)
“If you’re interested in an adrenalin experience which features angst rock themes that challenge the slow flow of our society, look no further.” – Eden Gillespie, Happy (Australia)
“Their sound is now and ever shall be weird, unhip, oddly alluring and precise.” – Patrick Rapa , Philly City Paper
“Empathy For The Evil is as pure an expression of conscious, intelligent rock music as you’re likely to hear, with every track, from Art Was The Great Leveller to Odele’s Bath, providing food for mind and soul alike.” – The Crack Magazine (UK)
“The uncompromising art of Mecca Normal has been one of the more inspiring stories of the last 30 years.” – Bob Ham, The Weekly Spin (Portland)
“It’s interesting to hear a group from THEN — the ’80s—continuing to play into the NOW. Like, Mecca Normal have been together for 30 years, and in context with contemporary “indie” groups, they sound like fucking GIANTS! Their maturity and immediacy screams in the face of contemporary “indie,” which, as it became pop music, has become parody. Mecca Normal never conceded to pop-radio aims, they just kept growing their own.” – Mike Nipper, The Stranger (Seattle)
“I had never seen Mecca Normal perform live before, and I was totally thrilled and blown away. They mostly performed songs from their new record Empathy for the Evil, which is fantastic…” – This is Fag City (New York)
“This is a thoughtful, moving, and reflective album completely out of step with anything in commercial music – which is, of course, a good thing.” – Allan MacInnis, Georgia Straight (Vancouver)
“A fascinating piece, minimalist and upsetting. This new album is beautiful.” – K-Fuel, webzine (France)
“Moved inside for Mecca Normal. What can you say? Listening to Jean intone a phrase like “Art Was the Great Leveler” (1st song on the new album, Empathy for the Evil) while David whacks the elasticity out of what always sound like brand-new strings has been one of the consistent pleasures of my music-going life.” – Franklin Bruno, live review of a show at Troost, New York City
“Mecca Normal has been speaking truth to power since 1984. By day Mecca Normal is mild-mannered writer Jean Smith and graphic artist David Lester, by night the duo wield voice and guitar as weapons of mass provocation, spreading their message of change and social justice far and wide.” – Shawn Conner, Vancouver Sun
“They remain in fine form on the provocatively entitled new album Empathy for the Evil, again mixing the personal and political.” – Kerry Doole, New Canadian Music
“Their insistence that a punk group could be made up of just two people following their own rules — no bass player, quiet guitar/loud vocals, storytelling as a performance art — challenged the prevailing definitions of “punk,” re-enforcing an alternate, more radical definition rooted in the DIY ethic.” — Wondering Sound (New York)
“But instead of celebrating or castigating evil, Smith traces how the absence of empathy manifests as something that looks very much like it: narcissism.” – Bill Meyer, Magnet Magazine (USA)
“The new album’s guitar- and organ-driven single ‘Wasn’t Said’ offers an introspective introduction to their lyrically focused and poignant rock realism. Their set should be a charmingly unhinged, rare treat. Recommended.” – by Brittnie Fuller, The Stranger
“Her (Jean’s) performance is like a thunderstorm, breathtaking and powerful, in which every lightning bolt is politically-charged.” – Dillon Ramsey, Master’s candidate at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Vandocument (Vancouver)
“With this awe-inspiring show of moral and musical strength, Mecca Normal concludes Wrong Wave 2014 in all the right ways.” – Dillon Ramsey, Master’s candidate at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Vandocument (Vancouver)
“The overall vibe of this interview is testament to the fact that Mecca Normal is definitely not some relic of bygone times but a vibrant and prolific artistic force. I’ll admit that I was only familiar with their musical output, of which I consider to be absolutely necessary to listen to if you haven’t already. I have had my eyes opened to the other artistic outputs of this duo — Jean Smith and David Lester.” – Getting Past The Static (Austin, TX)
“In the early nineties I bought my first Mecca Normal album, the cassette tape of “Dovetail,” released in 1992 by Olympia-based independent record label K Records. I was 13 or 14.” –
Politically, riot grrrl blasted feminism into the future
Mecca Normal ‘I Walk Alone’ (1986)
“Because of their geographic, sonic and political proximity, the Vancouver duo Mecca Normal got swept up in the categorization of riot grrrl, but in fact, Jean Smith and David Lester had helped inspire Hanna to pick up a microphone. They have also survived the moment, still collaborating to this day. “I Walk Alone,” from their first album, set the tone for much of what was to follow. It’s the anthem of a woman staking her claim to independence, solitude, home, safety, the streets and freedom. Bold, blunt, raw and feminist, it remains timely and necessary.” – Evelyn McDonnell
“I Walk Alone” is also on our new album in a three-song medley with “Man Thinks Woman” and “Strong White Male”
LIVE in Montreal, 1996 is part of the CBC Radio Brave New Waves Sessions series (Artoffact Records, 2019)
“Experimental duo Mecca Normal have never followed trends. Their output over the course of their 30+ year career has centered around David Lester’s expressive guitar and Jean Smith’s fearlessness, both in thematic content and in vocal delivery. Which is what makes Brave New Waves an important part of their discography—not only is it the band’s first live album, it also features Peter Jefferies, who played with Mecca Normal briefly in the 1990s, on drums. Recorded in 1996 for broadcast on a now-defunct CBC radio program, the songs hit just as hard today as they likely did back then.
The seven-minute long mashup of “Man Thinks Woman,” “Strong White Male,” and “I Walk Alone,” three powerful feminist anthems, is particularly noteworthy. Over Lester’s defiant, and at times repetitive, guitar, Smith riffs on the white male patriarchy and the power of a woman walking alone through city streets. During live shows, Smith often leaves the stage during “I Walk Alone,” walking through the crowd and ad-libbing without a mic; on this record, we hear her do just that, her voice trailing off, while Lester plays a walking blues-ish guitar line. But it’s all a feint—a few seconds later, she comes back with a bang, growling: “Because it’s my right to walk anywhere, at any time of day, in any city, wearing whatever the fuck I want to / I walk alone.” It’s no wonder the Vancouver band served as an inspiration to the women who would go on to form Bikini Kill.” – Kerry Cardoza, BandCamp
Lively article about the early days of K Records filled with info and music videos featuring Heather Lewis of Beat Happening, Tobi Vail, Candice Pedersen, Lois and me!
photo: Jean Smith
Bikini Kill Records shared our video snippet of “I Am Here” on International Women’s Day!
“Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment. We are here!”
“In Canada” is from “Who Shot Elvis?” (Matador, 1997). Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar. Charlie Quintana drums. Video by Jean Smith.
Mecca Normal – “Calico Kills The Cat” (1988)
One woman said,
“I don’t like the way things are going.”
One woman said,
“I think I’ll change it all.”
— “One Woman”
This encapsulates the Riot Grrrl dream. The Riot Grrrls didn’t get there, because society moves slowly, like a glacier. But it was a step in the right direction. Today we have #MeToo. We’re continuing to make progress. It’s just sad that after this many years we still have so far to go.
Mecca Normal were a duo from Vancouver, BC, and their sophomore album Calico Kills The Cat was released on Olympia, Washington’s forward-thinking label K Records. I’m not sure I can truly say that Mecca Normal remind me of anyone else. The songs are simple – David Lester on guitar and Jean Smith doing vocals. That’s basically it. You don’t even notice the true simplicity of their sound until you focus on it, because you’re so focused on Smith’s forceful and agitated singing.
Their songs are forceful and message-driven. There’s an honesty here that runs deep. And I like everything about it.
— Life in the Vinyl Lane, music outside of the mainstream (July 31, 2018)