by Jaclyn Killins
The summer after Grade 9 Gillian Arsenault got a guitar. That’s when she and her best friend Katie Rankin decided to start a band. “Gill knew three chords so we were like, ‘let’s write a song,’” Katie said.
Their first attempts at vocals were high pitched howls, so they called themselves The BarnKats. A recording exists to this day of a makeshift music session. With a tape recorder shielded from the wind between two garbage cans, the teens set down a track. Despite their efforts you can still hear the wind howling in the background.
This summer will mark the sixth year since the screech and howl of their beginning as a band. And now the two Hunter River girls have clawed their way into the Island music scene. People describe their music as electro-cute, but the sound is a mixture of genres from country to rap, with an overall pop/rock appeal.
The two unlikely friends, Gillian, a sporty spit-fire with a mischievous smile and Katie, an elegant, wide-eyed self-professed nerd, have the humble confidence on stage. It is clear they enjoy playing music. “The only time we are together is when we’re playing music,” Gillian said. “Or we end up playing music,” Katie added.
Gillian used to play the acoustic guitar but has recently taken up the electric to power-up their delivery, Katie said. “We had to be louder in the bars or nobody would listen to us.”
Katie plays the keyboard and both girls provide vocals. The BarnKats are sometimes joined by Mira Dahn on violin and Andy Woods on drums.
If you listen to the lyrics you will discover the unique sense of humour the girls share. They gather inspiration from the funny things people do and say around them and write them down in a book to use for songs, Gillian said. “Sometimes we’ll overhear people in public and think it’s the funniest thing we’ve ever heard.”
The girls even have their own lingo including the saying, straight freakin’ which Katie’s mom has even put into use. It translates to mean “freaking out.”
As for being two girls in a scene full of talented male acts, it can be intimidating, Katie said. “They know so much more about music.” Katie must not be too intimidated because she is starting to think of herself as one of the boys.
It’s rewarding to be around such great musicians, Gillian adds. “People are willing to help.”