The Organ’s Grab That Gun was the soundtrack to countless lesbian awakenings
Original release date: 24 May 2004
Label: Mint Records/604 Records
In 2004, The L Word first aired. While valid critiques have been levelled at the show since it appeared on screen – such as its problematic portrayal of trans characters, biphobia and the centring of predominantly white, cis women – the series marked a groundbreaking moment for lesbian representation on TV and was pivotal for many teens and early 20-somethings. In its second series, The Organ made a brief but memorable appearance, performing Brother from their debut (and only) full-length, the totemic Grab That Gun.
Dressed in startling white jeans and tank tops, the band’s androgyny and butch-leaning aesthetic felt refreshing and radical for young bi and lesbian women (queer, as an all-encompassing term, was a long way off – as was its mainstreaming). The scene sees The Organ play with their characteristic despondency, Katie Sketch’s melodramatic vocals threading through the spare guitars, driving basslines and elegiac organ melodies. While the endorsement was fun – other LGBT-adjacent bands who featured in the series included Sleater-Kinney and Goldfrapp – it was perhaps more significant that, beyond the confines of a relatively niche TV programme, The Organ were making their name in an environment much more straight and male: the early 2000s musical landscape.
Formed in 2001, the all-female Vancouver quintet first came to recognition with their debut EP Sinking Hearts and a tour with fellow noughties indie group, The New Pornographers. Taking their name from the Hammond X123 organ played by the group’s keyboardist Jenny Smyth, The Organ’s penchant for infectiously danceable gloom earned them comparisons to the likes of The Smiths, The Cure and Joy Division.
While Grab That Gun captured a youthful melancholic ennui akin to those bands, opening with the urgent, foreboding line “here we go, they’re back again, look alive, warn your friends”, the album’s 11 tracks are imbued with The Organ’s distinctly aloof yet earnest atmosphere. Their music is steeped in 80s new-wave nostalgia reimagined through a noughties lens. From their low-rise skinny jeans and queer-coded white vests to their artful indie rock, The Organ encapsulated the mood of young 20-somethings back then.
Released in North America via Mint Records and 604 Imprint in 2004, they initially enlisted The New Pornographers’ Kurt Dahle to record Grab That Gun but scrapped this first attempt for sounding “too clean” and “totally void of emotion”. If you’re only going to release one album then you better make it good. It’s this crystalline vision, and the precision with which it’s executed, that makes Grab That Gun so remarkable.
A live review at the time declared “Katie Sketch could have your Kaiser-aping indie-boy mates for breakfast”. Almost two decades later, Grab That Gun stands out as an underrated gem, far removed from the landfill of indie-rock boy bands of that era. The tracks abound in crisp minor-key guitar riffs, eerie organ chords and sparse, punctuated lyrics.
Grab That Gun also acts as a testament to the band’s tenacious DIY spirit. When Sketch and Smyth – who had previously played together in Full Sketch – formed The Organ, they prioritised choosing bandmates who were committed and driven rather than experienced musically. As a result, Sketch taught guitarist Debora Cohen, drummer Shelby Stocks and bassist Ashley Webber their instruments.
The cohesion and instrumental synergy that exists between the five of them on Grab That Gun is particularly impressive considering more than half the members hadn’t previously played in a band. On No One Has Ever Looked So Dead, for example, Cohen’s agile and undulating guitar riffs weave effortlessly amid a longing call-and-response between Sketch’s accentuated vocals and Smyth’s waltzing organ melodies. Just two years after the release of Grab That Gun, as the band were rapidly gaining popularity across Europe and the UK, they announced – via Myspace, of course – that they were disbanding. “When you’re five girls touring in really terrible circumstances,” Sketch said at the time, detailing the intensity and hedonism of touring, “you have a lot of really fun times, but there’s always fighting, there’s always something going on. Towards the end, when things were becoming irreparable, it got to the point where we should have been in therapy as a group.”
After the band broke up they went on to release one more EP, Thieves. Two years later, Lightspeed Champion – the former, mid-noughties alias of Devonté Hynes – covered Fire in the Ocean from that final release. As the indie revival continues apace in 2022, The Organ’s Grab That Gun deserves to be rediscovered. Here we go, they’re back again? We can only dream.