The Organ were conceived in 2001 by frontwoman Katie Sketch, born Katie Ritchie, in Vancouver, BC. Sketch's musical training started at the age of three, when she began classical training on the violin. Her childhood was spent largely in ignorance of the underground sounds of The Cure, Joy Division and The Smiths, whom The Organ would later often be favorably compared to. "Tiffany and Bon Jovi - that was my take on ’80s music."
Sketch has said of the time of the formation of the band, when she and the band members were in their early to mid-twenties. "I was in a musical lull, I couldn’t stand what I was listening to," naming Sleater-Kinney as one example. “The local scene was also pretty shitty, and of course the radio was brutal. Then, by total fluke, my mom’s friend’s husband, Ron Obvious, hired me to help with the audio wiring for a studio he was building for Bryan Adams.” Obvious introduced Katie to the world of independent music, and what she calls "that ’80s sound." He created mix-tapes of bands he thought she’d appreciate as a violinist (Roxy Music, Ultravox) and singers with an "amazing natural vocal pitch" (Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nina Hagen, Kate Bush)). This job also led Sketch to Tara Nelson, the engineer who would later record the Organ’s first EP.
It was at this time that Katie joined with her friends Sarah "Sketch" Efron (on bass and keyboards) and Barb "Sketch" Choit (Hammond organ, guitar, bass) to form the instrumental trio Full Sketch.
"I met Katie Sketch when we worked morning shifts at a wretched cinnamon bun shop," says Efron, "but we really became friends on a road trip where we ended up breaking down in the redneck town of Hermiston, Oregon. On this trip, we decided to form a band and call it Full Sketch." Katie, though she was already a proficient multi-instrumentalist, decided this would be a good time to try her hand at drums.
"The concept was, 'Let's start a band where you play an instrument that you've never played before.' It was basically drunken ridiculousness, but all of a sudden I felt like life made more sense. Sarah was involved in CiTR, and Barb was big into indie rock, so what started off as a joke got me out going to see shows. The way The Organ began was as an offshoot of Full Sketch—I wanted to take the same sound and do it with singing."
After about a year, Barb Sketch left the band to focus on her career as an artist and Full Sketch ended. According to Katie Sketch, "Barb Sketch is now in suburban California. She’s long forgotten her Canadian roots and lives on a ranch with her man and a team of horses." At this point, organist Jenny Smyth (born Genoa Smith), replaced Choit on keyboards. Together with Efron, they founded The Organ.
In 2001, a long audition process began. Eventually, Sketch "tired of auditions," and decided to "just hire some people." After finding a handful of like-minded musicians, Katie assigned them instruments and taught them to play. Taught is a relative term though—Debbie had been playing guitar for three years, and Sketch has expressed distaste in interviews when portrayed as a "music teacher" to the girls: "[The press seems] to think they had a lot of help or something, but mostly it's just the drive to be able to learn the instruments and play them," Sketch said. "[My teaching them] was maybe a half-an-hour, hour process."
The full formation of the band that would appear on their first EP took three years. "It’s not like the five of us got together and spontaneously created this," Sketch once commented in an interview. "Jenny and I had a direction we wanted to go in and then we slowly recruited people. We could tell if someone didn’t get it, which is why we had to get rid of so many players. It’s funny, sometimes people say the band’s moving really quickly, but I feel like I’ve been doing this forever."
The original group eventually rounded out with Katie, Jenny, Sarah, drummer Shelby Stocks, and guitarist Debora Cohen. In summer 2002, The Organ made their debut with the release of the Sinking Hearts EP. The Canadian press and indie publications across America praised The Organ's dreampop-inflected presentation. By January, The Organ was signed to Chad Kroeger's 604 imprint and Mint Records. However, before the year was out, Efron would leave to focus on her journalism career and be replaced by Ashley Webber.
Even with the band finally complete and their first EP released, it would take years before they would release their first proper album; the process of writing and recording (the album would end up being pieced together in four different studios) would take years—two, to be exact, to finish up as Grab That Gun, an album that barely breaks a half hour in length and recycles four of its eleven tracks from Sinking Hearts.
"We knew we had a problem when the album was being mixed," comments Cohen. "When we heard it, we knew that it didn't sound like us. It was too, I don't know, crisp."
After much agonizing, the Organ decided to scrap the Dahle sessions and rerecord the album with producer Paul Forgues, who Sketch knew from her days at the Warehouse Studio.
"It was a really, really hard choice to make," Stocks says. "We had a window where we could have just released something that we weren't totally happy with. There was so much hype at that time, but we were like, 'No way. Let's fuck the hype and start over.' And I think that we ended up with a great album. I know that people who like us for being amateur and really simple are going to get it."
Despite numerous set-backs, their five years of slow going had produced a relatively sizable fan-following, and their new material showed even more promise than their first EP, which had done very well indeed, especially for a record that had gone largely unpromoted. As such, Grab That Gun spent more time on top of the Canadian campus-radio charts than any other record released that year.
That December (2004), Ashley Webber left the band.
"I think it's the usual reasons," explained Sketch in an interview. "I mean, I love Ashley, but we had different ideas. And then she wanted to try being in other musical projects, and we support her in that ... [but our band has] got to be a high priority, I guess that's what it comes down to.
However, with their first international tour looming and no replacement in sight, Webber was asked back and subsequently rejoined the band in the new year.
The Organ began touring heavily across Canada, the United States and Europe. They also produced a music video for "Brother," (directed by Robert Morfitt) arguably the strongest of the seven new tracks appearing on the record. The video consisted of a fairly straightforward montage of the band performing on a moodily lit stage. A fictitious reenactment of the video shoot for "Brother" can be seen during season two, episode two of the Showtime original series The L Word. "Brother" also appears on The L Word's season two soundtrack.
Following the well received promotion of "Brother," The Organ began production on the far more ambitious "Memorize the City" video, which depicted a dizzying tour through a city of sound, light, and color. The higher artistic standard and production quality of this video reflects an amazing amount of growth for the band in a very short period, and is very impressive considering that it was shot at a time when the band was engaged in the biggest tour of their careers. That July (2005) the standalone 7" single, Let the Bells Ring, was released on Go Metric Records. The title track was paired with a remix of "Memorize the City" by Dustin Hawthorne. Later that year, a second remix appeared on the French CD release of Grab That Gun.
During another North American tour promoting Grab That Gun, Ashley Webber left for good. She was then replaced with Katie Sketch's sister, Shmoo, who affirmed that she was "definitely permanent in the band" before it broke up in 2006.
On November 14, 2005, The Organ appeared live on BBC6 Radio with their new bass player. They gave a brief interview and performed live renditions of the songs "Nothing I Can Do" and "Love, Love, Love." On the 27th, a little over a week later, The Organ announced via their website that they had just been signed to Too Pure Records, through which Grab That Gun would be available throughout the world in February 2006.
On 23 August 2006, the band released a statement on MySpace saying they were canceling the remaining portion of their UK tour which included dates at the Reading and Leeds Festivals. The reason given was illness to a band member and they assured fans the band were not splitting up.
In an interview on CBC Radio 3 the following day, Jenny declined to discuss the reasons for the breakup saying that there were issues they preferred to keep private but implied that it had little or nothing to do with either geography or Katie's modeling career. "There were," she said, "so many reasons," she "wouldn't know where to start."