My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Getting intimate with Kris + Dee

Photos by Raul Da Silva

"Last fall on the CBC, Mary Ito asked us, 'Do you write songs in bed?'" laughs the Kris half of the musical duo Kris + Dee. "We never had but we started leaving a guitar nearby. Three songs on the next album were written in bed."

Kris Abbott isn't out to titillate with secrets from their bedroom, but rather to illustrate the casual comfortable intimacy that Kris + Dee create with their music. It is one of the reasons that the duo have picked the Buddies in Bad Times cabaret space for their show on Friday, May 9. "It's a warm venue," says Abbott. "I've seen so much there and it has the perfect vibe. The theatre history makes sense, we're more listening music than party music. It's the place where we held our wedding reception in 2005 and to come back as musicians, to stand on the stage and celebrate music . . . There will be some of the same people but we'll also be playing to new friends. Buddies is such a mish-mash, everybody goes. A melting pot. Our fans are rockers, gays and straights, punkers, folkies - a Buddies mix. Plus the sound's great, the sight lines are excellent, and the stage is off the ground. It's so casual and we really encourage people to mingle and drink."

"That is our public service announcement," adds Dee McNeil. "Be sure to get really drunk."

Alcohol isn't necessary to enjoy the show but it is another reason that Kris + Dee are at Buddies, and that Crackpuppy is opening with an acoustic set. "I've seen Crackpuppy at Buddies," says Abbott.

"And Patricia Wilson [Buddies bar manager, notorious shooter dispenser and Crackpuppy's guitar hero]  introduced us to each other," laughs McNeil. "My band The Strap-Ons had a gig and Patricia dragged Kris out."

"At that point I was never going to play guitar again," says Abbott. "I hadn't played in three years. Patricia made me go out. She said, 'That bass player's good, she completely looks like she rocks.'"

"It was a Touched by an Angel moment," says McNeil. "Patricia reached over, grabbed me and dragged me through the crowed. We'll be forever grateful."

"Not only did we meet as life partners," says Abbott. "It was also the music experience I had been waiting my whole life for."

Abbott began playing with McNeil in The Strap-Ons. The band gained notoriety as an all girl gay band back in the time when that was a novelty and marketing hook though, "No-one needed to exploit The Strap-Ons," says Abbott. "We exploited ourselves. All blonde hair and tits. It was messy, not smooth, hearts on our sleeves. Sometimes it was amazing and sometimes not. It was amazing to like music again and it being about having fun.

"It was pre-YouTube," says McNeil, "so all that's left is memories, lies and exaggerations. We played lots of festivals and did film scores but we were writing about our friends and our ex-girlfriends. And they were all coming to the shows. Everyone knew who the songs were about. We had to keep it real."

Keeping it real continued when The Strap-Ons broke up and Abbott and McNeil got hitched, moved to Kingston and musically morphed into Kris + Dee. "We don't fit exactly," says Abbott. "We're not pop-rock, we're not traditional folk. We're always happiest when we put on the blinders and get on Highway 2 instead of the 401. We attempt to minimize when we're writing, it's about the lyrics and vocals, there has to be enough room for them to shine." After the song is written and is emotionally solid, Abbott adds the guitar effects and rock n' roll attitude she is famous for.

"As well as honesty, there's always hope in the songs," notes McNeil.

"We're not Pollyannas," chimes in Abbott. "We're not afraid to reach into the darkness but we try to stay optimistic, resonate positively."

"Without being self-help songwriters," adds McNeil.

"If I cry during the rehearsals for a new song, it's a good sign," says Abbott. "It means the song has something tricky to navigate. We have have up-tempo happy things but intense things too. Our music reflects the life we're living. It's pretty chill."

"I never imagined being married," says McNeil. "We were not prepared." They may not have been prepared but the partnership - both domestic and musical - has produced two albums, Kris + Dee and Bloom, and almost a decade's worth of visibly comfortable mutual support and inspiration.

"How do you think it's going?" asks Abbott of McNeil.

"Pretty good," answers McNeil. "And you?"

"I'll keep you."

(full disclosure: I am half of the Crackpuppy acoustic performance and we are honoured and excited to be part of this event)

Kris + Dee perform on Fri, May 9 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St.