She bantered to her crowd about an identity crisis; admitted to me her respect for Madonna and fear of L.A. Her name is Margaret Gundy, but she often calls herself Betty Moon. She contemplates who Betty Moon really is. Betty Moon is her band, so she said July 5 at the Horseshoe Tavern on Toronto's trendy Queen West. A four piece hard rock ensemble of Travis Cardinal on lead guitar, Chris Bates on bass, Matt Dowd on drums and herself, front woman, Margaret/Betty Gundy/Moon.
In an interview, she described Betty Moon as a fairytale, a fantasy, a short story about 10 women in one. "I'm not really sure who she is? She's someone else," Gundy contemplates. "It's this idea of a female who guides the band's music." Margaret Gundy is Betty Moon on stage, whether she admits it or not. Misrepresented, she believes, as a witch or Goth girl in the past, Betty Moon visually silhouettes those stereotypes with long, straight thick black hair, bright red lips, dark eyes, black fishnets, platform boots and a mini skirt. She even loves vampire movies. It's hard to imagine she once graced the stage as a ballerina in pink satin Pointe shoes and a crinoline tutu. But, Gundy doesn't lack grace or charisma. She told her Horseshoe crowd she was bearing her soul to them. No doubt she does with each note sung. Her bold vocals belt out without inhibition, clutching her mike, bending at the waist and leaning into her audience, or her band members, even sneaking a kiss to Bates.
Passion and vigor could be confused with anger, but a screaming singing style is where the comparison to Courtney Love ends. Chat with Gundy and it's hard to imagine a hostile bone in her body. The band follows Gundy toute suite. She is the leader, but there's no lack in synergy. Their performance is tight. It's obvious they practice. Yet, they're spontaneous, feeding off each other in the moment. "We were right on money the first time we got together. It's been a trip ever since," exclaims Gundy. "Everyone has history of what they want to do. When we put it altogether…it's powerful…very aggressive."
The sound is heavy. The music is hard. There's evidence of rock ballads with raging guitar riffs, slamming drum sequences and bold bass lines. Though, without a doubt, loving to let go and rock out on stage, the band could pull it back a bit and just let Betty Moon shine. But, you can always blame the sound guy for overridden vocals.
Growing up, Gundy mimicked Stevie Nicks and Heart. Although she relates more to male vocalists, she turns to alternative female artists like New York punk pioneer Patti Smith and legend Laura Nyro for inspiration. The likes of PJ Harvey is as 'poppy' as Gundy would ever get.
"I thought it was so cool to sing and play an instrument. I started writing songs…lyrics and poetry at 15 years old. They weren't very good, but planted the seed," says Gundy. "I identify more with male singers. It's the tone of the song…a bit of testosterone."
Other influences are Led Zeppelin (covered at El Mocambo back in April), Queen's of the Stone Age, King Crimson, Kyuss, Jesus Lizard, even David Bowie. Her preferred listening stretches to Tool and its recent revamp, A Perfect Circle.
Born into a family of musicians, Gundy sought rock star status as a 13 year-old groupie hanging with Marc Bolan of T-Rex after a gig. Since then it's been a tight squeeze into the Canadian music scene. "I always had a unique sound, like myself and nobody else. I never wanted to, nor will I ever, write a song to please someone else," says Gundy assertively. "I may never become part of the Canadian music scene. I don't have to be."
Her first band, Bambi, packed clubs like The Phoenix, The Twilight Zone and Voodoo. Its release and video Rock On reached CFNY charts, MuchMusic rotation and scored her a record deal with former major label A&M Records. But she was shelved within six months following her 1991 independent release and the Polygram takeover– an apparent battle between her and Jann Arden. Guess who won? But, Gundy doesn't look at it that way. Since shelf sitting, she's worked with numerous talented musicians, launched her own labels (Violet Records in 1998), co-owned studios (Wellesley Sound Studios in 1999), mastered recording and still managed to release music (Stir in 1998).
"I quit various times, but realized I have to do music. It's part of a creative experience," she says. "I will do it until the day I die. If people recognize my work then fabulous, but I'll continue doing it regardless."
Her most recent home-recorded CD, Doll Machine (Sextant/EMI Music) is 12 of a bundle of songs she was forced to pick and choose from. "I spent a lot of time on each song. Each song is like a painting. There is no consistency. Each song had a life of its own," explains Gundy, who describes the album as "a period of low emotional tides yet a high moral and artistic outlook, reflecting fierce disappointment offset by subtle sarcasm, sheer honesty and a poetic approach to life, sex, death and being female in the world of rock n' roll."
Despite a flurry of success and let downs over the years, Gundy stuck it through and seems to be satisfied, finding her niche with the new ensemble of musicians.
"To be a part of a band, every member is just as important as the other. We all listen to each other. There is chemistry," Gundy says. As for Betty Moon's future; more gigs, more recording and a possible Canadian tour are in the works. "I'm really enjoying where I am at now. I have come to terms with not being a big success. To be caught up in Hollywood is a different thing. I don't think I will do anything like that, nor could I, nor would I want to," Gundy says. "I haven't really been given a lot of opportunity career wise. I'm not sure why. It's a tough gig."
To find out who Betty Moon really is visit: www.bettymoon.com.
Writer: Sophie Nicholls