Last week, I interviewed one half of Calgary's Mares of Thrace - the singing/guitar playing half, Therese Lanz - about a bunch of stuff that didn't really have anything to do with the band or their upcoming release (next week!) on Sonic Unyon Metal, The Pilgrimage. This week, I offer this chat with drummer Stefani MacKichan about a bunch of stuff that interests here but has nothing to do with her band. So, if Therese has one love outside of Mares, then, at last count, Stef has 34 loves. Soon to be 334 loves. I’ve been told you have a vast collection of snakes and spiders and what not in various terrariums in your home. At last count, who’s sharing your place of residence with you and not chipping in with rent and utilities? I currently have 22 tarantulas, 2 true spiders, 3 whip scorpion, 2 tailless whip scorpions, 2 true scorpions, a blue ring centipede, a ball python and a carpet python. I am also waiting on a Mantis Oothca to hatch which will add 300 or so babies to the mix. When and how did you develop this interest in snakes, spiders and so on? Did you collect them as a kid or has this been a more recent pursuit? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by weird and wonderful critters. I spent my childhood outside with bug catchers and nets seeing what neat crawlies were lurking where. I used to love putting different insects together to see who would eat who. I brought home my first tarantulas when I was 12. I managed to hide it under the bed for almost a month before getting busted.
What’s on the menu for the various animals? What sort of feeding schedule are you locked into? The menu includes crickets, mealworms, superworms, roaches and pinkey mice. Most of the tarantulas and scorpions get fed weekly, but I feed the spiderlings and goliaths every other day. The Ball Python eats two full grown mice once a week and the carpet python eat one large rat every 10 days. Did I mention I still like playing who eats who?
Are having snakes and spiders as “pets” relatively low maintenance compared to say more traditional animals like cats, dogs, birds, etc.? I’ll never pay for a kennel, attend obedience classes, clean up poop or have my house smell. It costs me a few dollars to feed them, they take up very little space, don’t bark at the mail man and never have to be groomed or clipped. Take that mammal pet owners! For the most part they want me to throw in a cricket every few days and leave them alone.
Does having so many creepy-crawlies and slithering slither-ies catch most first time visitors by surprise? Any hilarious stories of unsuspecting house guest freak outs you can share? I’ve freaked out drum students, my friends touring bands, unsuspecting pizza delivery guys, and more than a few first dates. Big babies. Honestly, I go to great lengths not to freak people out. I always tell people about them and everything is kept in cages. More than anything I want to raise awareness about how neat and harmless they are. I’ve helped many people overcome irrational fears and develop healthy respects. Having said that, they make a fantastic screening process; I have a no wimpy friend policy.
Have you ever had to deal with an escapee? What happened and how did you re-capture it? Or did you? 13 years and hundreds of tarantula later I’ve only had two escaped tarantulas. I’ve had a shit ton of close calls and have lots of good stories mostly involving one particular hudini snake which managed to escape and be found dozens of times. The first tarantula I lost in my dad’s car, I never told him about it so I sure hope he never reads this. It was a male pink toe. They are an adorable harmless little fuzzy arboreal tarantula with pink toes. He escaped his box, ran down my leg and up under the gas pedal never to be seen again. The second escapee was an Indian ornamental, one of few tarantulas with a medically significant bite. I found it crawling up the wall two days after it escaped and accidently cut off its leg putting a cup over it. Don’t worry, it has since grown back. The snakes are a different story. As most snake owners know, they are unreal good escape artists. I’ve temporarily lost most of my snakes at one point or another. I use to have an albino corn snake which could get out of any enclosure. I have no idea how she did it, but I used to find that snake in my boots, under couch cushions, in plant pots, behind the microwave and in the attic. Being albino and 6 feet long she was pretty easy to spot.
Have any of the snakes you have ever been sick enough that you had to take it to the vet? Or is there a snake doctor in Calgary who makes house calls? If you have had to take one of your snakes in to get looked at, what was that experience like? We do have an exotic pet vet in Calgary. I’m sure she does house calls for large, unmoveable snakes, but I’ve never had to make one. Unfortunately, I did have to take my albino snake, Judge Dread, in once. She had some egg reproducing issues. Two surgeries and many hundreds of dollars later, she eventually succumbed to these problems. The experience was awful. I was 18, fresh out on my own, broke, and in no place to afford vet bills. I loved this snake and picked up extra work to afford it. Both surgeries involved her getting three, 2” incisions to remove the eggs. After care involved three daily antibiotic injections and force feedings. She handled it like a champ and never became aggressive, even through all that. I had her 10 years, she died May 2008. The arachnids are more of a collection, the snakes are my pets. I get really attached. They have quite a long lifespan, so I don’t mind paying for medical attention if need be.
How many more animals (snakes and spiders or otherwise) do you think you have room/time/energy for? Right now, I am not looking to get anymore. It is not a matter of time, energy or space; they require so little care. I’m not sure I will be able to move with them in September and while I have friends who will gladly babysit what I have now, I don’t want to push my luck. On that note, I’m a big softy. When I see a tarantula mistreated in a pet store or hear of an unwanted snake I always take it in.
What happens when you go on tour? Who does the feeding and what not when you’re away? I have a hard time trusting anyone to take proper care of them, but I’ve had roommates and friends who did a fantastic job. Newbies tend to overfeed, mist, poke and prod. They would be fine if I just left them, but I like to mimic their native environments the best I can so I’ve worked out a system of placing different colored dots on the cages representing different feeding and misting times. This year I started the Calgary Arachnonerds club. We have 17 enthusiast members who meet monthly to drink beer and play with bugs. I will be leaving them in charge from now on.
What’s the public’s biggest and/or most common misconception about the animals you obviously enjoy sharing space with? Pop culture and B-rated horror films have done a great disservice to arachnids, insects and snakes. The biggest misconception I hear is that tarantulas are “poisonous." 99% of tarantulas have less venom than a bee and you have to be trying pretty hard to get one to bite. They are harmless, private little creatures with a taste for insects, not flesh. Many species of arachnid have been around relatively unchanged for 4 million years. They are well adapted to live in extreme climates across the board and accurately perceive their surroundings through sensory bristles on their bodies. They are highly effective hunters, can go months without food or water and are able to shed and regenerate lost limbs. Think about all that next time a tarantula gives you the willies. They are very cool and deserve respect.
So, I’ve been told that when Therese is in school in Chicago for the year, Mares will still exist, though with another drummer. How did you guys come to this decision and what are you going to be doing with a year off from the rock? Our academic goals have always coincided with our musical ones and we are pretty determined to make both happen. The next album will be written long distance, but we will be back in Calgary jamming or on tour every break we get. The band will not slow down; Trez and I will just have eat fewer tacos and focusing more on jamming, writing and touring when we are together. I’m very thankful for our Chicago fill in; he is awesome and won’t butcher my parts. As far as taking a year off rock goes, that is not happening. Mares will be as active as ever and Edmonton has some wicked musicians I’m looking forward to rocking with on the side.
Here are those tour dates again: 4/26/2012 LBH - Kamloops, BC 4/27/2012 Funky Winkerbeans, Vancouver, BC 4/28/2012 Highline - Seattle, WA 4/29/2012 Voyeur Cafe - Olympia, WA 4/30/2012 East End - Portland, OR 5/03/2012 Broken City - Calgary, AB 5/04/2012 Amigos - Saskatoon, SK 5/05/2012 TBA - Regina, SK 5/06/2012 Negative Space - Winnipeg, MB 5/07/2012 Black Pirates Pub - Thunder Bay, ON 5/08/2012 Oddfellows Hall- Sault Ste Marie, ON 5/09/2012 This Ain't Hollywood - Hamilton, ON 5/10/2012 Cafe Dekcuf - Ottawa, ON 5/11/2012 460 - Toronto, ON 5/12/2012 Club Absynthe - Montreal, QC 5/13/2012 Le Kaméléon - Quebec, QC 5/14/2012 Geno's - Portland, ME 5/15/2012 St. Vitus - Brooklyn, NY 5/16/2012 Radio - Somerville, MA 5/17/2012 Cherry Street Station - Wallingford, CT 5/18/2012 Monty's Krown - Rochester, NY 5/19/2012 Carabar - Columbus, OH 5/20/2012 Blind Bob's - Dayton, OH 5/21/2012 Lager House - Detroit, MI 5/22/2012 Vibes Music - Indianapolis, IN 5/23/2012 Ultralounge - Chicago, IL 5/24/2012 The Heavy Anchor - St. Louis, MO 5/25/2012 Off Minor - Dubuque, IA 5/26/2012 Medusa - Minneapolis, MN