Most album releases happen in a bar or club, with the usual merch station and a few opening bands. Not much to be surprised about. Jumpin’ Joel Flash & The Magic Machine, on the other hand, are not your typical band. The country-folk group from Ottawa consists of frontman Joel Elliot and his motley crew of band mates, offering an unusual assortment of tricks at their shows such as “opera-rock vocals, bouncy rhythms, musical theatre harmonies, and the occasional rain stick interlude.” However, for their upcoming EP release, they’re going way out into left field. Jumpin’ Joel Flash & The Magic Machine want to take you to prom.
That’s right. Whether you had a good or bad experience at your actual high school prom, this band wants to up the ante and make a whole new prom-music experience on December 8th at Maker Space North. Also on the bill are Scary Bear Soundtrack and Death Metal Witch, not to mention Capital Tease Burlesque. With booths, decorations, and surprises galore, the event almost sounds more like a carnival than a prom. But one thing is for sure, it will be a hell of a night at Maker Space North. Don’t forget to wear your prom attire.
I chatted with Joel about the EP release prom and more, have a read below.
Date: Saturday, December 8, 2017 Location: Makerspace North – 250 City Centre Avenue – Bay 216 Important: 18+, fully accessible, no outside shoes, no alcohol Website Facebook Event
We’re always a big fan of new ideas when it comes to live music, but you’re going back in time. What made the idea of hosting a prom-themed EP release so appealing?
A big show needs a big idea! An EP release is a big deal and should be memorable for more than just the music.
I put it to the Magic Machine to come up with a theme that could be built upon. We got together for a mind-meld, and someone tossed out ‘Prom?’ From there, ideas for deco and contests and messaging and promotion and costumes JUST KEPT FLOWING! When ideas are easy, you know you snagged onto something special.
I was searching for a theme that would be immediately recognizable and nostalgic. Prom has that, but with the added bonus of allowing for a ‘do-over’… not everyone has shiny happy memories of high school after all. Many folks were ostracized for who they are. Hated for who they love. Excluded for existing.
By pure luck, I was born a straight white anglo male in one of the safest and most recession-proof cities on the planet. I learn more about how privileged I am each and every day. As such, I wanted this Prom to be for absolutely everyone. A place to come and dance and love and be yourself. Provided you score one of the very-limited tickets, of course. 😉
Starting on October 1st, you released a single every couple weeks leading up to the prom. Can you talk about the songs and what they mean to you? What drove you to write this EP?
These songs are personal without being personal.
I’ve never felt emotion from song lyrics. Whether I’m hearing them or writing them. And I used to think I was crazy and weird. But I’m not. I get emotional responses from rhythm and swells and notes and groove. I feel music the way I write it: sound first, words second.
I wrote mostly in transit. Long car trips/bus rides provided a background hum that blocked out the rest of the world. I played with rhythms, tapped my fingers, hummed to beats. Eventually I had dozens of songs in my brain. And I just assumed they’d always stay there.
I grew up in an isolating, neglectful, emotionally abusive household and spent most of my life believing I was completely worthless. This is the reason I stuck with my first career for 12 years: while I was creating and composing my own music in my head, I rarely shared it with anyone, or even wrote it down. I sincerely believed that I was nothing, and thus anything I created wasn’t anything anyone wanted to hear. So I slogged on. Played in bands on the weekends to get my performance fix, and resolved that that was all my life would ever be.
And then I met my wife, Kim Valentine. She is the sole reason any of this is happening. She showed me I have worth. She gave me the courage to share my songs with others. She gave me the strength to go for my dreams. She saved my life, and I’ll forever be grateful.
The Magic Machine and the music it pumps out is everything I’ve always wanted to be. Twang without trucks. Toe tapping excitement. Fun, bouncy, sparkling, rainbowed, and happy.
Our first EP is exactly that. The first. Much, much more is coming.
You’ve also been putting a lot of focus on your team and collaborators leading up to this event. Who are some important folks involved in this album and show?
Collaboration builds community! I saw that in action over and over again in my ‘professional’ career… the more folks you have on your team, the greater and more successful your project will be!
First, The Magic Machine: Carolina Arnoni, Jasen Colson, Brad Cutler, Robin Hodge, Ashley Newall, Zoe Towne & Kim Valentine. These talented weirdos are the only reason there’s an EP to begin with! They’re a mix of visual artists, musicians, and theatre nerds that make the band, our sound, and our show, waaayyyy more fun than it has any business being.
A special shout out goes to Prom Art Director Kim Valentine, who has spent months brainstorming and lovingly crafting original and ridiculous Prom deco that will make your heart go pit-a-pat! She’s a visual genius and you’re gonna love what she’s done.
You need a good back end for a party, and our A/V Club is up to the challenge! Our sound/lighting/visual art crew has been lovingly plucked from Ottawa Theatre and Psytrance scenes! Kendrick Abell, Craig Macleod, Justin Ouimet, and Jason Sonier are ready to make sure this Prom goes down without a hitch!
Then we’ve got our two fabulous opening acts, Scary Bear Soundtrack and Death Metal Witch.! Scary Bear Soundtrack is all about dreamy synth-pop, and Death Metal Witch. is an acoustic force of nature!
Next, the partners! All-local orgs that help to make this city greater and more artistic! Our Promenade will feature a bevvie of artistic orgs like CKCU FM, The Ottawa Beat, Capital Rehearsal Studios, Makerspace North, The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, and more! Each of these partners provided in-kind support for Prom, either through promotion, services, or equipment.
I’ve been focusing on the partners due to their help of course, but there is another reason. I’d like to show performance artists of all types that this is a great way to build hype for your next production. Partner with a local org or two and immediately increase your reach! From the partners’ perspective, they get a chance to meet and mix with artists and fans, possibly building new collabs or business in the future. In return, the artist gets promo to their partners’ networks, without having to shell out advertising dollars! Win win win!
Collaboration = Community.
In March 2017 you left your job with the Conference Board of Canada to focus on your music. What’s life been like since taking that leap?
Well, I was able to create my EP, for one thing. 😉 But I’ve also been using my time as efficiently as possible.
Working at an economic think tank sounds boring. And it is. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that spending a decade figuring out how every industry in the country works wasn’t beneficial to my new funky artist life.
For most of my first career, I sold professional learning/networking events. And whether you’re holding a Risk Management Conference or an EP Release Prom, all the principles are exactly the same. I realized that quite quickly after taking the leap. The music business works just like any other. Though, I am appreciating that I’m not being booked for 8:30am meetings anymore.
I’ve lived in Ottawa my entire life, and am amazed at how much art is being created here without people knowing about it. I vowed to use my profesh(?) skills and newfound time to help make this place as vibrant and fun as it can be. I attended everything and met everyone. I made new relationships and built trust. And over time, I was able to become part of three great bastions of the local arts scene:
I’m the host of the Live! On Elgin open mic every Tuesday. As a proper arts venue smack in the core, Live! attracts performers of all types, all styles, all backgrounds, all ages! When I create art, it mostly comes out as country music. Being a part of this diverse, happy, excited, ridiculously-talented event has opened my musical horizons. I’m inspired by wild new sounds and performances each week, and I love it.
I also co-host The Monday Special Blend on CKCU FM with my good friend Trish Bolechowsky. Aside from the CBC, community cadio are the only airwaves that local artists have a chance of gracing, and I’m insanely proud to be a small part of it. Each week, we yik-yak about music, art, and characters that are working to make this place amazing. Local art does not happen without local love, and I use this platform to share as much love as possible.
Last but certainly not least, I was elected to the board of directors for The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition. It was my third attempt at election and I’m glad I kept up with it. In this role, I’m able to provide input on the future of the Ottawa music scene, as well as work directly with the high-level industry folks that are hiding all over this government town! It is very, very, satisfying to be able to share what I know for a purpose I really care about.
In 2019, I plan to engage further with artists and the community by speaking at industry events/conferences. I’d like to help lift the veil on marketing and promotion for artists, and show them how to build community from the ground up. I’d also like to make artists aware of exactly how many organizations are out there looking to profit off of their creativity, as well as call out unethical marketing firms that are pushing bots as a way to build a fanbase.
Word is that there will be some surprises at the prom. Anything you can spill the beans about?
We’ve set this up like a mini-music festival! There will be multiple stages, crazy visual art, a photo booth, and of course, The Promenade!
Were holding a Prom Royalty Contest for all attendees! Throughout the evening, members of the Prom Committee will be demanding votes from the arts-loving populace. The two winners will be those who received the most votes, and they MAY just have a special prize for winning!
We’re also offering Prom Loot Bags for every attendee! Lovingly hand-crafted by Art Director Kim Valentine, these unique ‘bags’ are gonna be filled with goodies and reminders of how much fun prom-goers had with a bunch of weirdos in a warehouse!
I can also say that there will be audience participationsegments during the show! We’ll be grabbing people to dance with us, shoving props in their hands, demanding they wear hats, all kinds of nonsense!
Burlesque! Can you tell us a bit about Capital Tease Burlesque, for those who may not know much about the troupe?
The Prom had musicians, actors, and visual artists….but where were the dancers? I saw Capital Tease doing their thing at this year’s Glowfair and I loved every second of it! It’s fun, it’s body positive, it’s silly, it’s sexy, it’s wonderful!
We’re going to be featuring performers Sassy Muffin, Koston Kreme, Bella Barecatt, & Randi Rouge! Randi has just recently opened the Rouge Studio of Dance, which offers in classes in burlesque, hip-hop, & belly dancing in a supportive and encouraging environment where you can let loose, explore your sensuality and build your confidence!
As someone who has long struggled with self-worth and body image, I was immediately taken in by burlesque’s focus on positivity, inclusion, and making everyone feel like a million bucks. Negativity and hate are not tolerated. Consent and positivity are paramount. The folks at Capital Tease are wonderful, and I know Prom-goers will think so too.
Anything else that concertgoers should expect?
You are going to walk in and not know what the heck is happening. Your senses are gonna be smacked in all the right ways. You’re going to forget you’re at a concert and instead believe you’ve entered a magical fairy land of artistic hippies. You’re going to be filled with positive vibes and love. You’re going to make new arts friends. You’re going to fall for every single performer. You’re going to wonder how you ended up dancing for 3 hours straight. You’re going to have your emotions tapped until you’re overflowing with heart for local art. You’re going to raise your hands in excitement and cheer your ass off. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’re gonna see even more. And then, as quickly as it began, you’ll be on your way home, wondering what the hell you were just a part of.
People should expect to remember this night forever. Or at least until the next time we throw a party.
If there’s one thing Petra Glynt is not, it’s subtle. Her thunderous sophomore album My Flag Is A Burning Rag Of Love is her most ambitious and impactful work to date. It is a fist-the-air protest album. It is a fuck-patriarchal-systems album. It is a punk album that doesn’t sound like punk rock.
Petra Glynt, a.k.a. visual artist Alexandra Mackenzie, has garnered her fair share of notoriety since releasing her first EP, Of This Land, in 2012. That EP was inspired by the Occupy Movement, and she’s been a strong voice against racism, sexism, environmental devastation—and My Flag is no exception.
Whether she’s addressing the lack of response to Flint, Michigan’s contaminated water crisis (“Health”), or profits-over-privacy with Facebook’s data hack scandal (“Surveillance”), her voice comes through loud and clear. She drops the mic with her powerful vision of the future in the song “New Growth,” which she describes as a feminist anthem of empowerment in the wake of #MeToo.
She’s been on a rollercoaster since 2017, which has included her being signed to Damian Taylor’s (Bjork, The Killers, Arcade Fire) new label Vibe Over Method, acclaim from Pitchfork, NOISEY, THUMP, FADER, Bandcamp, CBC, and BBC6, and to cap it off, detainment at the UK border in a high-security immigration removal centre. Needless to say, she’s been busy.
Petra Glynt’s My Flag Is A Burning Rag Of Love is out now from Pleasence Records and available to order here. She headlines at House of Targ tonight (Saturday, November 24) along with Bonnie Doon and Sparklesaurus. More info here.
Read Matias’ interview with her and watch her video for “No Consequences” below.
What was the impetus for My Flag’s release, so soon after your debut album This Trip in 2017? Was there something that drove its composition and release?
It took me a long time to figure out how to release my first record This Trip, and once I finally did, I had produced a lot of songs! So when Pleasence asked me if I wanted to release a record together I was basically ready to go. The music just needed to be tweaked a bit and mixed so thats what pushed it to get it out so quickly.
Activism and community engagement have both been central features of your music and art. What role do you think artists should play in the age of #MeToo and the Trump era?
I think as artists it’s hard to avoid the realities around us, they are effecting us personally so our art has naturally become more engaged. It’s not just politics, it’s all very personal, and if the artist has any clout or voice in the world it’s by telling their story from their perspective. I also think it makes for work that resonates more with the public because these things, especially the two you mentioned effect people across generations. We all have different ways of coping, but I feel that this makes for more powerful work.
How is your music related to your visual art? Are there concepts and elements that continuously seem to overlap?
At the moment my visuals act as a means to support my music as album art, tour posters, single art, and painting of these images, so they are inherently tied to it lately, but I have plans to give the visuals more legs to stand on and make them more independent of the music where the music and art are part of a greater sphere…so that’s tba. 🙂
Now that some time has passed, can you talk about your experience with Damian Taylor’s label Vibe Over Method so far?
It was great. Damian is awesome and supportive and really good at what he does. I’m really happy with how he mixed the music. It was also the first time for the both of us planning and executing an album campaign so it involved a lot of communication back and forth. I learned a lot from that experience if I ever wanted to self-release a record in the future.
Is there a reason you choose to self-produce and record your records?
I couldn’t imagine making my music any other way. It wouldn’t sound the same. It’s like painting or drawing or sculpting or collage…it’s composition! It’d be like commissioning another artist to make my art for me and it wouldn’t feel like my own that way.
You garnered some attention for your experience getting detained in the UK while on tour last year. Is there one take-away from that episode that you would tell other artists who are thinking of touring Europe?
You can tour Europe for up to 30 days without having to acquire a visa, but if you go to the UK you will need one to get in. You can acquire a visa by paying a fee per show and by doing other paper work. I would advise doing that because it should guarantee your entry. I went in with a permitted paid entertainment visa that didn’t involve paying a fee or doing any paperwork. It was a bit more risky in that sense, and I wouldn’t advise it.
With the world that surrounds us looking pretty grim these days, do you have any optimistic or hopeful perspectives before we go?
I’m trying to feel hopeful on a daily basis, every day is different, so is everyone’s ways of coping. I think keeping the people you love close, supporting them and the people you admire is a place to start. I saw Meredith Monk receive an honorary doctorate at Concordia a few days ago. She said something to the effect of there being so much hate in the world and it being harder to spread love and much easier to hate. This has to be true otherwise we’d see more love out there. So maybe we should work harder to be more compassionate for things we don’t understand.
Detroit post-punk outfit Protomartyr are in town this Saturday, November 24, supporting Calgary’s Preoccupations at The 27 Club. Protomartyr are fresh off the release of their latest four-track EP, Consolation, which features Kelley Deal of The Breeders on two songs and is an extension of the politicized direction of their 2017 LP Relatives in Descent. They kick off their tour with Preoccupations in Toronto on Friday, and end it in LA after a whooping 18 shows. Ev Osmanovic sat down with Protomartyr’s Joe Casey to discuss their EP Consolations and the potential future endeavours. You can also stream the interview aired on CHUO via the player below.
Ev: Within the past year you had released your EP Consolationsand it sounded heavier both lyrically and instrumentally than Relatives In Descent did. Do you feel the same way, and was it deliberate?
Joe: Yeah I agree with you, I think what happened was those were songs that kind of came up at the same time we were writing the last record but they didn’t quite fit. I think if we would have put them on the album they probably would have sounded more like the songs on that album—more atmosphere. But we liked the songs a lot so we said, “Let’s just go down to Kentucky with our friend Mike and Kelley fromR. Ring and bang em out over two days.” I think that’s where the kind of rawness comes from. We just turned them around fast because after we recorded the last record, there was a lot of down time and we decided it’s better to use that time than sitting on our asses.
Ev: Is there anyone or anything that you drew inspiration from for the EP, or did it kind of all just come to you?
Joe: Basically with ‘Wheel of Fortune’ it was kind of a collection of lyrics that didn’t fit with other songs in a sense, or things that upset me. Originally I tried to fit all of that into ‘A Private Understanding’ from the last album. It was packed full of words and then I, you know, kind of took everything out. I was like, “Oh I really like this stuff,” but it would fit in this other song that’s definitely got the space for it and kind of threw ’em in there. So it was not like it was leftovers, but it was definitely orphans looking for a home and it kind of ended up in that song.
The biggest challenge when you’re writing lyrics is trying to fit the mood of what you’re saying to what the music sounds like. And that was the case where it was like, “Okay these words are kind of sinking the flow of ‘A Private Understanding’ but they work really well with these abrupt changes and more force. And just kind of finding what the tone of the song is, is kind of the challenge.
Ev: You used to just shout out lyrics to the music without them necessarily having meaning or structure, whereas now there’s a very clear socio-political message to your recent songs. Why has that changed?
Well, unfortunately people can hear me now. The lyrics always, when I thought about them, had… I won’t say a message… I definitely approached it as “this song is gonna mean this, this song is gonna mean that,” or “this song’s going to mean anything.” We’re just now working on putting out our first record again, re-releasing it. I have to go back and try to figure out what I was singing because I never wrote the lyrics down. It was all stream of consciousness stuff, and a lot of it I’m like, “I have no idea what I’m saying.” And while it made a lot of sense then, now it does less so just because the sound. Our sound has gotten cleaner, we’re in bigger studios, and so people are going to hear what I’m saying.
It’s more like the kind of political dent that was always sort of there. Especially in these last couple years it was like, I write lyrics about how I’m feeling (as cheesy as that sounds), and I was feeling pretty bad these last couple years so… that’s gonna be what the lyrics are going to be about. I would feel like a fraud if I was singing about something that wasn’t in some sense real to me. That’s why there’s not too many love songs in Protomartyr canon.
Ev:That being said, do you feel a greater responsibility coming along with Protomartyr’s expanded reach as a band?
Joe: You do because you don’t. Because nowadays when you say something stupid, immediately you’re going to be chastised for it and so you gotta be careful. I find that when you have some sort of platform you just learn to say less or you don’t try to engage with things that you don’t know about. You could blabber on about you opinions, but it’s best to just let the music speak for it. And also, I don’t wanna fall into the trap of becoming the kind of political band that stands on a soap box and tells people what to do. I think it’s a trap. Any sort of creative thing can happen if you’re like, “I have to talk about what’s happening in the world.” Then you start saying, “well here’s what we should do.” Then you start prescribing solutions, then people are wondering if you’re a scummy singer in a punk band. So I can only talk about how the world affects me and then I try to avoid opining things I know nothing about. Or at least admitting that I know nothing.
Ev: In one interview, I think you said that you tried to make your lyrics a kind of neutral ground so that people can interpret it in their own way. Is that right?
Joe: Well no, cause that sounds pretty close to both sides have an opinion and there’s definitely issues with where that’s 100% not true where there’s one side that’s completely wrong and one side that’s right. And I want to make sure that the lyrics are true to myself or if I’m writing in a character that this is a character speaking because a lot of people would be confused by that. You can write a song that’s not in your voice. A lot of times it’s not your voice. You’re almost writing in the third person, and people just don’t get that. They assume that if you’re standing on stage and you’re singing that, you know…
Ev: That it’s coming directly from you?
Joe: Yeah, that Freddy Mercury believes we are all the champions. It’s the worst thing and I don’t know why, and I don’t want to say that people are dumb, but I don’t know why people don’t get that. So you have to be clear and say that even though it’s coming from a personal space, this is being filtered through poetics and trying to fit into the song. It’s not a clear message. I don’t think music can ever be super clear. It’s more the subconscious coming out than bullet points.
Ev: Now to step away from the heavier topics, you have a very particular and striking stage presence. People have described you as a “drunk uncle” and then when you climb on stage, that demeanor just changes completely. So what do you think shifts between being off stage and then climbing into the spotlight?
Joe: Uh well, I have stage fright, and… well number one, I will cop to not looking like a front man for a band. And so I think that throws people off. I don’t have any leather jackets, I [laughs] don’t lhave, like, my shirt completely unbuttoned so that’s odd. People are used to image and music kind of matching. All the post-punk bands are all gonna be dressed in very artsy black, and they’re all gonna be thin as a rail and look like supermodels. Like Dracula, you know? And that’s definitely not us. So that’s kind of awkward and then on top of it I don’t feel like there’s a lot.
Every day we go up on stage and I’m like, “What am I doing?” That’s the thought going through my head—”Joe, you’re not a singer, you don’t have the kind of charisma.” Then having people look at you… I don’t handle it very well. So it’s a combination of trying to combat that and trying to get out what you’re trying to do. That immediately changes me when I get up on stage. And I’m glad because I think that having stage fright actually helps me. If I walked up there and did back flips and jumped around I think people would think it was ridiculous. I think what I’m doing is true to who I am and anything else.
Ev: That’s definitely the most important thing. To wrap this up, while you’ve been on tour, were there places Protomartyr wasn’t well received or was there something completely absurd that has happened?
Joe: I mean, there’s been some weird, weird things. We’re not universally loved that’s for sure. This is kind of a weird story but I’ll tell it.
We played in Italy and the place was packed full of people, and this drunk Italian kid came up to me and he’s all “Oh you’re my favourite band,” and you know, “I can’t wait to see ya.” We have to get through the crowd to go up on stage. We go up on stage and play the first song, I don’t even have my glasses while I’m on stage and I can’t really see, but it was almost was like there was a spotlight on that kid jumping around and being pretty aggressive. And not in a good way, and I was like “Oh, well that’s annoying” and then you know, the second song starts up and he starts punching people and it’s like “Okay, we gotta calm this down.
So I try to calm the kid down while I’m trying to sing and then he goes up to the front of the stage. And these girls have put their purses up on stage and he grabs a purse and a girl tries to stop him and he punches the girl in the face. So then immediately Greg stops the music—our guitar player—and he says “Okay, get the hell out of here.” This kid is screaming “I’m your biggest fan.” And later on, he has the gall to send us a message via Facebook or something saying: “I thought you guys were real post-punk. You proved when you kicked me out of your show that you’re not real punks. I was like, your biggest fan.”
Yeah, so it’s one of those ones that if we don’t fit your definition, then thank God because your definition is terrible. Sometimes that happens, especially when people assume that you’re one way and they’ll say, “Oh, no one was… there wasn’t a big pit at the show. I’m so sorry.” Well actually when I was young and went to go see shows I really hated the pit. I was really far in the back so I kind of like it. It doesn’t always have to be aggression, you know?
Ev: Yeah, recently there was one pit that I witnessed and it was just absolutely terrifying. Someone just pulled out a steel chair and I was just having any part of that.
Joe: No thank you! I’m not a pit expert, but I don’t remember people using so many elbows. The kids are having fun. Especially when they’re young kids. I’ve seen really great pits, I’ve seen pits where everybody is working together and they all had smiles on their faces. You can tell they’re having a good time and you can tell when somethings not good and when people aren’t having fun. You can sense when the crowd is not loving it. That’s one of those things.
That was definitely the weirdest interaction we’ve ever had with somebody with just like going from “Oh, this kid is great!” to “Oh, this kid is a monster”. So…
Over five years since he last toured with Evening Hymns, wrote a song, or recorded new music, Michael C. Duguay has returned to the Canadian music scene with momentum and new material.
Now based in Kingston, the multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and composer has assembled supporting musicians for his live band and skilled players to start recording The Winter of our Discotheque, a full-length album coming in 2019. His old friend Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymns) is producing the record at Port William Sound, his rural studio in Mountain Grove, about 100 kilometres south-west of Ottawa.
We reached Michael a day before his tour begins in Kingston. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Ottawa Showbox: After your break from music, what prompted you to come back? Was there a specific moment that clicked?Or was it more of an accident?
Michael C. Duguay: It has certainly been no accident.
I experienced a relative amount of loss over the course of a few disastrous years, not the least of which was a sort of loss of identity, including but not limited to my identity as an artist and musician. I became increasingly self-conscious of referring to myself, my career, and my work in a past tense, while scrambling to find social, professional, and emotional footing in a new community. I tried on a few different professional hats, including returning to my work as a chef, none of which fit very comfortably. There was clearly something missing from my life.
I have a very close relationship with my twin sister, Dany, and I was reaching out to her once or twice a week seeking advice on new and half-baked career ideas. After tolerating this for a while, she responded by insisting that I return to music. She encouraged me to try doing what makes me most happy in life again. So that played a serious role in my return, and in a real way the process has been a reclamation of a very essential lost sense of self.
A moment that I can directly pinpoint as the real catalyst was attending a Jeff Tweedy concert in Kingston with my friend Jonas Bonnetta, who is producing my new album. While I was inspired by Jeff’s work… he’s an incredible artist… I was equally motivated by my conversation with Jonas before and after the concert. Jonas is a peer, friend, and mentor of sorts, who has helped me redefine my understanding of success, both in the world of professional music as well as life in general. Quite simply, taking in a great concert with a dear old music friend, who I hadn’t seen in ages, triggered some really warm memories on the best side of the minutiae of a former lifestyle. Made me realize a large part of what I had been missing out.
I’m extremely grateful to Jonas for that night. I promised him I would write a song—unprovoked, I don’t think he asked me to—and I did the following day, for the first time in over half a decade.
What is the meaning of The Winter of our Discotheque?
The title is actually a name of a song on the album, which refers pretty explicitly to both the Steinbeck novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, and the Shakespearean passage from Richard III it draws its name from. Steinbeck’s novel is an exploration of the moral degradation one can experience in the pursuit of reclaiming lost power and social class, and the persistent denial of wrongdoing, guilt, or vulnerability to the world’s evils throughout this pursuit.
The discotheque imagery in my title refers directly to the winter that I worked as a manager and DJ at a nightclub in Peterborough, in my final year in my hometown. That I can really pinpoint as the time that I turned myself pretty willingly down the wrong path in life, despite the advice of my close friends and family; where I began to abandon music as a composer and performer, while maintaining at least outwardly that I was in control and knew what I was doing. I was trying in vain to reposition myself in a community where I mistakenly believed I had lost my place, and I was causing a lot of collateral damage.
So, the song, and that album, is, in essence, an exploration of that time, as well as my life now where I am attempting something similar, but with a bit of a clearer head and a desire to tread much more lightly; and the tremendous amount of painful and traumatic stuff, as well as some of the really inspiring and joyous experiences, that happened in between.
Is this album different from Heavy on the Glory?
Aside from my involvement in both, I can’t or won’t really compare the two. They’re respectively born out of such different times, and momentums, and personalities, and ideas, and practices.
In what way?
Heavy on the Glory is extremely special to me. The bulk of it was recorded over the course of the summer months of 2010 with a very large group of my closest friends at the time. The producer, James Bunton, lived in the makeshift studio we put up in my living room almost the entire time. All of my roommates appear on the album, as do most of my neighbours. On a few occasions, we grabbed musicians we had never met before from local bars after their sets to come over for 3 a.m. recording sessions. It was an extremely fun time, we all partied a lot, and there was a lot of love and joy in the air, and we all worked really hard, especially Jamie. I know that we all remember that specific time really fondly.
How or why has the music evolved?
Musically, this practice is pretty obvious on that record, and the title basically refers to it. My ethos was, essentially, push each moment of that record to its limit with a wall of sound approach. The question I asked most throughout was “how do we make this more epic?”
So it was extraordinarily fun, and the players involved were incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world—but I would never take that approach with a recording again. In almost every way, I’ve settled down in life and I suppose my definition of “epic” in the context of music and songwriting has changed as well. I would much sooner excite a listener with a beautifully crafted, evocative lyric, than with 18 violins performing simultaneously. Occasionally, I still have the instinct to over-arrange, but Jonas is very good at reigning me in.
Who is involved in the project so far?
The band takes a variety of shapes. The same interest that I had in heavy collaboration when we produced Heavy on the Glory still exists, and I’ve yet to perform this new project with the same band twice.
While it calls for a lot of rehearsal, it keeps me incredibly engaged and, I find, serves the songs in their development. I was discussing with Michael Broadhead last night, who has been providing live and studio bass for the project, how the ideal band, for me, draws from a broad circle of skilled supporting players and neither suffers nor lacks in anybody’s absence, but which also doesn’t become unstructured, messy, or overindulgent if we’re to all perform in unison.
As for the studio, the core group thus far has been myself, Jonas, Liam Cole, and Julien Dussault from Ottawa. Michael Broadhead provided the bass parts, as mentioned, and a few other session players have been involved.
You’re on tour this fall, what cities are you most excited to spend time and play music in?
Truthfully, I’m just excited to tour—it’s been so long. The venue I’m performing at in Montreal is actually in the same building that my ex-partner lived in while she studied there, and where I actually composed a couple of songs on HOTG, so that will be a cool vibe. I’m really eager to spend some time in Ottawa where I’ve been developing a great group of friends and collaborators.
I’m really just excited to get in the van with Liam, listen to records, make some new friends, see some old ones, and live in the moment. This is what I want to be doing again, and I’m really grateful to be doing it.
How is the music community in Kingston where you live?
I’ve found it extremely supportive and positive thus far. Before I connected with it as a performer and active member, I’ll admit that I had difficulty understanding the cohesion in it. But in the moment that I reached out, and asked to be involved, I was both immediately accepted and supported, and the scene began to make sense as an, albeit complex, mostly unified force.
It’s not every day you get to have a phone call with a Canadian composer who has dabbled in the worlds of alt-rock, comic rap, and classical piano over two decades. I recently had the honour of engaging in a lengthy discussion with the self-proclaimed “Musical Genius” himself, Chilly Gonzales.
One may assume that an eccentric, masterful pianist such as Gonzales (or “Gonzo,” as he is known to those close to him) would have little to say about the state of modern pop music. However, it doesn’t take much digging to see that he is fascinated by pop. He seemingly has a mission to help us understand the genre better through the lens of music theory and storytelling. In fact, some of his greatest successes have been collaborations with with Feist, Drake, Daft Punk (with whom he won a Grammy award), Jarvis Cocker, and Peaches.
Gonzales recently released his third and final album of the Solo Piano trilogy, one that adds to the mountain of achievements as a prolific composer-performer. To the common ear, Solo Piano III may come off as a contemporary take on classical music, a direction that few musicians have chosen to pursue as a career in the modern industry. However, Gonzales challenges himself to “play pop songs on a classical instrument,” transposing traditional pop structures onto more complex arrangements and instrumentation. It is an album that commands attention and embraces the listener, and each song is dedicated to a specific historical figure as per 19th-century tradition. If you catch him perform these songs live on stage, you’ll almost certainly hear him elaborate on the story of these dedications.
Chilly is known for his wacky stage persona. Photo credit: AFP.
Gonzales himself has been an inspiration for other composer-performers in the genre such as Nils Frahm, Jean-Michel Blais, Flying Hórses, among others, who have come out of the woodwork to pursue their music in the public realm and tread the Gonzonian path. Further to this end, Gonzales has set up his own conservatory of music—aptly called the “Gonzervatory”—whereby young talents are hand selected to attend an all-expenses paid series of workshops with Gonzales in Paris. It is “a place for young musicians to find and strengthen their musical voice, to journey deeper into the emotions and science of their art.”
With such a bizarre career path, it isn’t surprising that he is also the subject of a new biopic called Shut Up and Play the Piano. The film, which was directed by Philipp Jedicke, looks back at his life and career from his Montreal upbringing, to rapping in dark underground Berlin clubs, and the ultimate formation of his bombastic and flamboyant stage persona, Chilly Gonzales. The film had its North American premiere at Pop Montreal in September, and recently had a run of showings at The Bytown Cinema in Ottawa.
Gonzales is set to perform at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa on October 22, where we’ll see him play a number of pieces from Solo Piano III by himself on stage, as well as some hits and hidden surprises from the rest of his repertoire with the accompaniment of Stella Le Page on cello and Joe Flory on drums. Tickets can be purchased online here or at the NAC’s box office.
Read my interview with Chilly Gonzales below.
MM: Your new album, Solo Piano III, is the final installment of your solo piano trilogy which has spanned nearly 15 years. You’ve said that “it isn’t an antidote for our times, but it is a reﬂection of all the beauty and ugliness around us.” On this album, how do you use the piano to describe the world we live in right now?
CG: Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far. When I’m an artist, I’m alone and not thinking about the audience or any extra-musical elements. I need to shield myself from that kind of thinking when I’m composing an album. I need it to remain a mystery to myself in order to do that. I work in an abstract musical world, I don’t think of people, places, song titles, concepts, or even what musical tools I may be using. But at the moment when the artist becomes the entertainer, where water turns to gas, I change form. In that moment I become very much audience-conscious. I would very much like to offer an experience to people who don’t often listen to piano music, for example. So, in that moment I start thinking about puns I might make, and things like that. And if you don’t like the puns in my album and song titles, then you should see the ones I don’t use. There’s an iPhone file with hundreds of rejected ones, ones that I feel are meaningful beyond their bad joke.
Anyhow, I just make music as anyone does, in a blind way. But there’s a moment where I become my own A&R person, and I step back to think about stuff like who I’m going to dedicate a certain song to, or a song title that will get people interested or listening to it in a heightened state. That includes looking at what I do and say, “Oh look what weird thing I did with those scales on this album!” Maybe there’s an eighth note scale with one surprising note. Then I get a whole stage routine out of it where I talk about scales, about how scales can’t be music because they’re so predictable. But what if you add a surprise ninth note in an eighth note scale? That is literally something I thought of two years after I wrote a piece. But it serves to include people in the process, in a way that I hope brings people in who would normally not be into this kind of music.
Maybe younger audiences who normally listen to music with lyrics. I try to make pop music, and pop music is about being attentive to the audience. Some people think I make classical music, which isn’t true. I make pop music with a classical instrument.
MM: You have been known to break down the music of modern pop through the lens of a classically trained pianist. You always seem optimistic about the music you’re discussing in the masterclasses, and passionate about the way different aspects make the listener feel. What captivates you about today’s pop music that most people maybe overlook?
CG: The storytelling, combined with the reduction. Music has always been reduced starting from the moment that it became a commodity. I trace that back to 19th century Romanticism, artists like Chopin and Liszt, you think of the genius figure. And that’s what we’re still dealing with —there’s no Kanye West without Liszt. He was the first to make the music more powerful if your personality is there to amplify it, make people feel closer to you. The irony is you do that by being larger than life, in the way that Liszt essentially allowed the rumour to be spread that he was possessed by the devil. He knew it would increase the powers of his music, and this got coupled with the birth of the bourgeoisie and democracies, concepts that informed our modern society, culture, capitalism, the role of the artist. That all got invented in Europe somewhere between 1830-1880. We’re still sort of living in that time, and since that moment music has been reduced, there’s less and less but it’s still telling a story.
I still like to listen to music that supposedly has nothing in it, but if you take the microscope deep enough, you’ll find storytelling, you’ll find theme and variation, tension and release, question and answer, the hero’s journey. Whatever you want to call those concepts, those are storytelling concepts. Even though music seems more and more repetitive, it’s not what you think. There’s always some element of change, and of contrast, otherwise it wouldn’t work. Especially in big pop songs, because they can’t become big if there’s not some element of storytelling in it. You can’t reach millions of people without the storytelling element.
MM: Few instruments are as emotive and expressive as the piano. What would you say to young musicians thinking about taking up the piano today?
CG: I would say that it doesn’t matter what instrument you play. Piano is valid. Computer is valid. Drums are valid. Drum machine is valid. Rapping is valid. Producing beats is valid. It’s all the same, but don’t forget to do it with other people. If you only do it alone in your room and get that little rush of “wow I put a song online and so many people have listened to it,” that’s a great start. But it’s not going to get you to musical ecstasy or a career. So on a pragmatic and spiritual level, don’t forget music was performance for thousands of years. There was an abhorration called recording that we’re still living in, but in another way the music business has again been reoriented towards performance—which is the one thing that can’t truly be replaced. We just have to keep that in mind.
I started the conservatory to remind people to always think of music as something always being performed. Remove the barrier between composition and performance, and ironically that’s how the Romantics did it. Chopin, Liszt, they were all composer-performers. In the classical world, when I hear people say “it’s amazing that you bring an audience to your acoustic classical music. Classical music is dying, what can we do?” It’s having more composer-performers. That’s how this whole thing was created. Now there’s this separation where we have a lot of living performers playing dead people’s music. With the conservatory, they have to erase that line so that every composition is also a performance.
MM: Jeremy Dutcher is a young piano virtuoso, much like yourself, who just recently won the Polaris Music Prize. While classically-influenced musicians have typically flown under the mainstream industry’s radar, do you think more attention is being given to artists like Jeremy, Flying Hórses, and Jean-Michel Blais?
CG: Flying Hórses! A wonderful Ottawa reference! Yes, I think it’s the return of the composer-performer. Jeremy Dutcher sings in some of his songs, and I know he sings in an endangered indigenous language which is very important. And of course my buddy Jean-Michel Blais was also shortlisted for the prize, and those are wonderful moments.
I only had a couple of role models when I started on my first record. Yann Tiersen, the Amélie composer was maybe the closest thing to being someone in the pop world making music with acoustic instruments. I was very inspired by his existence. And now there are more of us, and that’s so inspiring. And there are some I like more than others, of course. But I’m not to everyone’s taste, either. Just the fact that we have the chance to play in venues now that may have been closed to us in the past is a good thing. I’m really happy that there are people popping up who are daring to do that difficult thing, which is to try and reach a pop audience without lyrics or electronics. Well, some use electronics, like Jean-Michel Blais or Nils Frahm, who bring people in by incorporating electronics on stage into what they do. It’s yet another strategy.
There are so many ways in, and I’m glad more people are doing that. Every time I see an instrumental performance with a VJ, I think “this isn’t what I would do, but isn’t this better than the tyranny of everyone saying ‘but there’s no lyrics’ all the time.” It’s a refrain that many musicians have heard for a really long time.
MM: A new biopic about you called Shut Up and Play the Piano opened October 5th in Canada, and it seems to accurately portray how wacky your career has been so far. Can you talk a bit about the film and where this idea came from?
CG: Well, the director came to me with a pitch and wanted to tell my story. He said that when he saw me in Berlin I seemed so crazy, and yet I went through all of these evolutions while still remaining myself. And now I live in Cologne, leading a pretty mellow life in a mid-sized city. It’s probably not dissimilar in vibe from Ottawa in size and feel, actually. I choose my moments when I have to be in larger metropolis cities. And so I told him that I have this giant archive and would like to have my story told, and was into it as long as the archive had a role in the movie. So things rolled along slowly, as projects of mine usually do. I like to build trust, having been the subject of two documentary films before with results I was not happy with.
I was able to design the process with him in a way that I made sure I wouldn’t be disappointed, and we just took our time with it. Then we pulled the trigger, and I wasn’t really involved after the planning stage. I let the game play itself according to the rules we set up, and I’m so happy with the results. It has far exceeded my expectations of what a documentary about my work and life could be. I’m thrilled about it. I’ve only seen it twice, and I gave notes on a rough cut early on to help make it a better film. There are some moments that aren’t particularly flattering for me, they’re not all to my glory. It’s not a hagiography (or whatever the hell that word is), and by most accounts of people who’ve seen it, it’s similar to what it’s like to see me in concert. It goes by quickly, it is varied.
There are many emotions, some of which are touching and some of which are ridiculous. There are some moments that are even perhaps provocative, and slightly offensive or subversive. If I can combine all those things in a concert, then why shouldn’t that be able to come across in film? In that way, I think it succeeded.
The Weather Station is the modern folk project of Toronto’s Tamara Lindeman, whose music and voice are all at once potent, mesmerizing, and refined. Her fourth, and possibly most impactful, record to date is a self-titled release from late 2017 that explores bold narratives and untethered arrangements. The record itself is a tour de force, and was received with high critical praise almost unanimously, with Pitchfork calling it “Timeless… Measured, perceptive storytelling. A singer with an unmistakable & communicative voice, able to convey hope & hurt with equal clarity.”
The Weather Station plays the NAC’s Azreili Studio on Friday night, and more ticket information can be found here. I spoke with Tamara about the latest record, and you can read that conversation below.
Interview with Tamara Lindeman
Your latest self-titled album feels like it is a culmination of something. Can you talk a bit about how this 4th album stands out from the rest in terms of the conception and approach?
I think it stands out in a lot of ways. I think it’s the first time I really had a clear vision for the sound of the record, and the arrangements going in. It’s very sprawling compared to my other works, there’s a lot going on. I let it be that, instead of cutting things down to be more concise.
You self-produced this one. What was the reasoning behind that?
In a way it was a simple decision. There are always opportunities to work with other people, but I think it wound up being a positive decision. There are challenges too, especially towards the end when you can get really bogged down in mixing and mastering the project. It can be a bummer to not have someone else making decisions, but ultimately I think it was a really good thing.
You have mentioned you wanted the record to be a rock and roll album without the rock and roll. There are few artists who are able to root their music in traditional folk influences without getting firmly stuck in that box. How do you feel your music is evolving as you move forward in your career?
Yeah, I agree with you. It’s too bad that folk music gets stuck there and it’s something that I think about a lot. But honestly, I just pretend that I’m not making a folk record. Then it winds up seeming like a folk record because of the melodies and the way I go about music is so ingrained that it kind of evolves into that. But there are elements on this record that differ. For example, there’s a song with a rock and roll rhythm section with a folk melody on top. There’s also another that could be an Irish sea shanty.
So I was really thinking melodically folk, rhythmically something else. I think lyrically if I wrote about a train in the pouring rain then I would just die. There’s no point, there are hundreds of those already and we don’t need another one of those in our lives.
I’m always interested to hear what musicians are listening to these days. Is there an artist or band that you’ve been listening to a lot?
I always get into a lot of Toronto music to be honest. I really enjoyed the Bernice record that came out, I’ve really loved that band for a long time. I felt like that record really captures their essence and what they’re like live. There’s music from my friend Isla Craig that I really loved, too. Those are the newer records that I’ve been hanging onto. Oh yeah, and Sandro Perri has a new album out, too, which is exciting. I always like to check out the cool indie rock records coming out, but oddly enough I don’t usually like the things I would normally be expected to like. I’m drawn to music that’s not in the same genre as me.
You’ve talked about how this album came together after a period of intense worry and anxiety, which is something a lot of us go through. But out of that came your boldest and praised album to date. What allowed you to move past that difficult time and got you to start putting together the songs?
It was a long and complicated process. I kind of felt like I had to unravel my personality and belief systems. They were so interwoven with so many things I consider to be myself, it was like pulling on the poison thread, you know? It’s a very painful process to try to unbraid it, and really try and find your belief system. So it was that, and more practical things.
A big part of coming out of that was being on tour and being in a band. For a lot of people touring can be really unhealthy, but for me it’s good because it gets me out of my head. It gets me into a social space that I wouldn’t normally seek out. Anxiety is about fear, and to do something fearless like make a record, it’s like showing yourself who’s boss. If you do something courageous, that can change your fear. It was all connected for sure.
The Pack AD don’t mess around. They have been one of the hardest working, hardest touring bands on the cross-Canada circuit for over a decade, and the grimy garage-rock duo is at it again.
The band is currently in the midst of their “Catch Them While You Can Tour”, which has them traversing across Canada and the US, possibly for the last time on such a large stretch. Their pulverizing and explosive sound has been a constant, both on their albums and live on stage.
They’re supporting their most recent release DollHouse (Cadence Recordings) which was released late last year, along with the re-release of their acclaimed debut album TinType on vinyl, which comes out September 28th via Mint Records. Since its early 2008 original release, the band has played close to a thousand shows and released seven albums.
I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Becky Black in advance of their Ottawa show, which takes place tonight (September 21) at The 27 Club along with support from Basement Revolver and Land Line. More info on the show can be found here. Read the interview and check out the new video for “Woke Up Weird” below.
Interview with Becky Black of The Pack a.d.
The world seems a little darker these days, particularly given the state of things south of the border. At this stage in your career, how do you approach making music in this unstable climate? What is your mentality putting the pen to paper?
That’s a great question! I think there’s a lot of inspiration to be drawn from it, as an artist. You have to find the silver lining, it seems to inspire creativity. Things are pretty terrible, but it’s easy to get down about it. We’re in America right now actually at a travel centre and getting set to come back and play in Canada. Definitely looking to getting back there!
Do you notice more tension when playing shows south of the border these days?
Yeah, normally the people we’re hanging with have similar opinions and are just weathering the horrible situation they’re in. People in music communities are usually on the opposite side of spectrum as those currently in power, so yeah, I don’t know. It is definitely different here, though. It’s strange.
What do you hope people take away from listening to DollHouse?
I think the whole album itself is pretty short, it’s definitely worth a listen. We’re releasing a new video for “Woke Up Weird,” which is about climate change and being a human on this planet. There’s a lot to take away from it.
Is there a sense of hope on the record? Or is it more of a “let’s all get pissed” kind of listen?
It’s sort of in between, I think. Our lyrics always tend to lean towards being dystopian, I guess, to put it mildly. It’s more of a conversation, an acknowledgement. We think that’s a start.
The Pack AD are a band known for being extremely hard working musicians. What do you do to unwind? Any hobbies that not many people know about?
Yeah, we both read a lot. It’s a great way to stay sane on the road. Whether you’re at a hotel, on the bus, or whatever, there’s always a lot of time to read. I’m always trying to learn more about the world around me. But when I’m not reading, I’d say video games and Netflix, too. You know, the usual.
Are there any readings that you’d recommend?
I just read a magazine—Scientific American—that just revealed some groundbreaking new discoveries that could change the course of science. I found that fascinating, it was like the ten greatest discoveries this year.
You two have been playing music with each other for a really long time. If you had one piece of advice to younger bands about how to keep friendships together over the years, what would it be?
Well, you just have to find the right group of people. Sometimes with band personalities it’s like oil and water, and that can be difficult. But we’ve always been able to get along, and I think you always have to maintain respect for each other no matter what. We have different opinions and disagreements all the time, it’s not always happy and fun times but we always figure it out. That’s why we’ve been able to last so long I think.
Do you ever resolve disagreements with rock-paper-scissors?
Ahh, yeah. We have done that. Maya always does rock so she’s easy to beat.
Last but not least—Do you have a go-to place in Ottawa you visit every time you’re here? Burgers? Beer? Beavertails?
I really love the Byward Market, and the last time we played Ottawa we played House of TARG and that was awesome. So those are always great spots to hang for us.
Sept 21- 27 Club – Ottawa, ON Sept 22 Turbo Haus – Montreal, QC Sept 30 Neptoon Records – Vancouver, B.C. – Instore playing of songs from Tintype Oct 11 9th Ward – Buffalo, NY
Oct 12 Pauly’s Hotel – Albany, NY
Oct 13 ONCE Somerville – Boston, MA
Oct 14 Portland House of Music – Portland, ME
Oct 15 Mercury Lounge – New York, NY
Oct 17 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
Oct 18 Smiling Moose – Pittsburgh, PA Oct 20 The Pinch – Washington, DC
Oct 21 Pour House – Raleigh, NC
Oct 22 Smiths Olde Town – Atlanta, GA Oct 24 Gasa Gasa – New Orleans, LA
Oct 26 The Sundown – Dallas, TX Oct 27 Maxine’s – Hot Springs, AK
Oct 29 Magnolia Bar – Louisville, KY
Oct 30 Ready Room – St. Louis, MO Oct 31 Vaudeville Mews – Des Moines, IA
Intro by Matías Muñoz | Interview by Eric Scharf | Photo by Colin Medley
Shedding the past and moving forward from the confines associated with youth, heartbreak, and growing up in a small town is no easy feat. The Lonely Parade have boldly taken a stab at reconciling some difficult experiences and major life changes they’ve experienced as individuals, and as a band. They’ve also relocated from Peterborough to Montreal, which is a big step for the group.
The band has always had a knack for delivering the goods through their music. If you’ve ever stood at the front of a Lonely Parade show, you’d get an idea of how tight this band is. They rip. They always have. Their chemistry is obvious, and their songwriting abilities are jaw-dropping. Eric and I have seen them many times over the years, and every time we leave the show thinking “the world needs more of this shit.”
Their latest LP The Pits is out today (Sept 14) on Buzz Records, and it’s a culmination of years of hard work making music, and a way to deal with some difficult experiences and a toxic social scenario. The album is everything fans of The Lonely Parade would want, and more. It’s honed, and their brand of frenetic post-punk explodes from the seams. It’s full of crunch, angular riffs, writhing bass lines, percussive onslaughts, and profound lyrical depth rooted in real life experiences. Fans of groups like The Pixies, Hooded Fang, Ty Segall, and Jay Reatard are sure to fall in love with The Pits.
They’ll be playing their Ottawa LP release at Black Squirrel this Saturday, September 15th with BBQT and Sad Baxter. More info here.
Eric had a chat with drummer Ani Climenhage about the new record and where they are at now.
Interview with Ani Climenhage
I have been into your band since my friend first sent me a clip of “My Mom Got Hit on at a Punk Show” years ago. Could you tell me about how that song and the band came to be?
That song is the product of starting a band and writing songs when we were just barely out of middle school. Back then we wrote songs together and they were usually more on the joke-y side or were so angsty we have to laugh at them now. The three of us have known each other since early elementary school. Starting a band just felt like a natural thing to do.
What was it like playing in a band at such a young age?
We were fortunate enough to have had an incredible all ages venue in our hometown called The Spill. It offered many artists who were just starting out a supportive space to perform to an audience. When we started playing shows in other cities, we quickly learned that not all bars and venues were as accommodating or welcoming to musicians under the legal drinking age. We had to deal with a couple years of being harassed by show promoters and getting kicked out of venues before we all turned nineteen. And now Charlotte and I get to do it all again as minors in the USA! Yee haw! All ages/inclusive music and arts spaces are so important.
How was your recent tour in the USA with T-Rextasy? Any fun stories to share?
They put on a good and weirdo show all the nights we saw them! And some friends of T-Rextasy took us to a Harvard business-boy party in Boston on our last night of tour.
You have already shared the stage with many awesome bands over the past 6 years. Which have been the most influential and or important to the band’s growth?
So many bands! In Peterborough we took influence from the bands we often collaborated with like Stacey Green Jumps, Prime Junk, Nick Ferrio, and Hello Babies. Plus artists we have met through touring like Wares (from Edmonton), Power Buddies (Edmonton), Best Fiends (Halifax). and Crossed Wires (Halifax). We have been lucky enough to share bills with bands we admire after years of enjoying their music (TV Freaks, Weaves, Fake Palms, Fet.Nat, Casper Skulls, etc.) That was a big plug but it’s hard to narrow it down!
Switching gears a little bit, you are touring a new album called The Pits. What is new with this release? And can you please tell me a bit about the themes and how it all came together?
It feels like we are finally coming into “our sound” with this new record. The songs formed a bit more naturally and we tried to write them with more of an intent to be played live. The year leading up to the recording ofThe Pits was a rocky one. Bad relationships, messy endings, and a depressing winter helped us decide that maybe we’d outgrown our hometown in some ways. We’ve gone back to our angsty teen roots but the lyrics are very personal to Charlotte and Augusta and feel a bit more nuanced.
What is your favorite thing about playing in Ottawa?
Sad to see OXW go!! R.I.P. But we’ve always played fun shows in Ottawa. We have always appreciated how age inclusive the Ottawa music scene is. Also there’s lots of good food in Ottawa so we eat well before any show.
What should people expect when you roll into town on September 15? Anything else you would like Ottawa Showbox readers to know?
The three of us haven’t seen each other in a little while because we’ve been so all over the place this summer so this weekend is not only an album release but also a reunion. We’re starting fresh this fall to tour The Pits and we’re nervous and excited to go all in. We are really proud of the new record and excited to share it.
I called Julie Tuesday evening around 7:00 PM, Ottawa time. She had just gotten home from a busy day and has another one tomorrow. She has a 6:00 AM shift at the pool where she works as a lifeguard before an evening photo shoot and a plane to Ontario to catch the following morning. She’s yet to pack. We talked for almost an hour straight.
One would think waking up at 4:45 AM would be a loathsome task for a life-long touring musician, but Julie Doiron finds comfort in her routine. Not to mention the steady pay cheque that finds its way into her bank account every two weeks—a first in her adult life. Swimming, on the other hand, has been a constant since childhood, and it’s particularly important to her now.
“I need to keep my body strong in order to feel good, psychologically,” she explains, elaborating on how her schedule also includes teaching a weekly yoga class. When conversation turns to the four show tour she has booked this weekend, she laughs and likens it to a vacation in comparison to her current schedule and the intensity of the touring she did this summer.
Starting Thursday, September 13th in Toronto at the Garrison, Julie reunites with The Wooden Stars for three shows, the second of which will be here in Ottawa Friday night at St. Alban’s. The third on Saturday in Picton for Sandbanks Music Festival along with co-headliners Wintersleep. She will be playing an additional show in Montreal on Sunday at Quai des Brumes, before it’s back home to Sackville, NB for Monday.
“We tend to get together every two years, now” she says of the Wooden Stars reunion, referencing the string of dates they performed together in 2014 after a twelve year hiatus, and another slew of performances in 2016. She goes on to explain that they initially arranged these 2018 shows after accepting the Sandbanks Music Festival appearance and decided to add a few more dates. This series of shows has a greater significance than previous—it marks the last time they will be playing their former album in its entirety, because hal-eh-lou-yer, we’re getting another Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars album.
The Wooden Stars began backing Julie on tour starting in 1997 for her Loneliest in the Morning release. Their jazz-inflected musicality fit in well with her sparse, achey song-writing, and in 1999 they released Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars. It won a Juno the following year for best Alternative Album and saw re-release in 2013.
While the songwriting efforts on that album were Julie’s alone, she believes the writing process will be more collaborative this time around. Co-writing is something not entirely unfamiliar to Julie, who cut her teeth in collaborative writing with the 2017 release of Julie & the Wrong Guys on Dine Alone Records.
“I was really blocked before that album” she says, explaining that between 2012 and the fall of 2017, she’d only written two songs independently—both of which were written on the way to the session where they’d be recorded. She credits her Wrong Guys collaboration in teaching her ‘to let go and not be in charge”.
Moving forward with new music, she talks of being a lot less preoccupied with the expectations of “making it,” writing a hit, or charting.
“It’s liberating, to no longer be burdened with those expectations.” In their absence, she can create the music she wants to create. This she credits to her age and experience—she is a 46 year old mother of three with 28 years in the music industry.
I ask her how her relationship with her songs has aged, curious how she feels having to revisit songs from her Broken Girl days, songs that as a listener are still so visceral and raw. “I haven’t forgotten what those feelings are like.” She pauses. “But I have changed a lot, and in a way I am grateful to be able to revisit those feelings from this distance.”
The Showbox Concert Series featuring Julie Doiron & The Wooden Stars and Gianna Lauren happens Friday, September 14 at St. Alban’s Church (454 King Edward Ave.), starting at 7:30 pm. More information can be found on the Facebook event. Advanced tickets are $10 and can be purchased online here, or $12 at the door.
Kim Villagante, better known as Kimmortal is a queer Filipinx visual artist and rapper from Vancouver known for her story like rhymes. She touches upon social and racial injustices, discrimination, and representation. Valuing education, inclusiveness, and liberation, Kimmortal coneys the messages in creative and storybook ways with captivating visuals. Fusing visual art with music, she uses it as an aid to decolonize, teach, and heal.
Kimmortal has played the Queer Women of Colour Festival, Filipino Arts Festival, Junofest, and SXSW. She’s currently working on an album that will be released in August.
Ev: DIY Spring is hosting one of your events, seeing as it’s an intersectional inclusive festival, how did you feel in regards to them hosting it?
Kimmortal: DIY Spring has been consistently supportive and truly DIY which means grassroots and well connected to artists in authentic ways. Bridging the possibilities artists dream up to reach a lot of the QTIBIPOC community in Ottawa, I believe it’s so essential for me to do my thing when I have trustworthy bookers and show producers around me. I’m very grateful for DIY Spring.
Ev: Yes of course! So I heard you studied visual arts and art history, how do you think that knowledge has affected your art or helped it develop?
Kimmortal: I’m inspired by the way I am a visual artist in the world of music. In art school I studied about performance artists like Dana Claxton, Peaches, Coco Fusco, while also listening to poets and emcees like Blue Scholars, Ian Kamau, Gina Loring, Climbing Poetree, and Invincible. My art is influenced by various artists in different mediums. I am working to tap into the same freedom I get when I’m doodling in my music. How I’m planning to do this is to time myself for like 2 hours max to produce tracks, and then write lyrics and record them in another hour.. 1..2..3… And then release the track online. Spontaneous art making is really good for me.
Ev: That being said, and watching your music videos and knowing that you’re a visual artist as well it makes me wonder if you built your own set for “I’M BLUE” and if you animated the video for “Brushing by Heaven’s Shoulder”?
Kimmortal: I animated the entire video for “Brushing by Heaven’s Shoulder.” I’m so proud of that thing. That film came about when I was sick for a good 2 weeks and was bored at home so I decided to film a music video for this song in my living room. It started off as an experiment. The white background is literally a white canvas that I nailed into the wall and filmed myself in front of. The animations are made up of drawings from my sketchbook that I taught myself to animate in After Effects. It was a lot of hours and I lost a lot of files. I wanted to throw my computer against the wall countless times but it turned out swell and has my black and white aesthetic. “I’m Blue” was directed by Entertainment Forever. All the art on the walls are my paintings and the book featured in it is my Visual Arts grad thesis project! The symbols on the trees are my work replicated by the Entertainment Forever team. I am ecstatic when I get my DIY on and pair my art with my music.
Ev: As a queer artist of colour, how did you find the journey to getting to where you are today?
Kimmortal: It’s hard to find other queer artists of colour “out there”. A lot of my friends who are local are queer and/or bipoc and so it’s been a very local journey if that makes sense. I usually meet other queer artists of colour through underground lofi shows I’ve been booked at abroad. I love being a part of punk, hip-hop, experimental, and DIY underground shit because I think that’s where I can cultivate the same intimate feel I get when I’m creating.
Ev: Well that’s certainly a real positive outlook. You have a clear and unique voice for what you do and you tell stories through your art. How did you come about finding that voice?
Kimmortal: I really value education for liberation because it’s where I have found myself and my community and the root to a lot of pain experienced individually and collectively. I am nurtured in conversation and my wisdom is from my ancestors and the people around me. I’m still finding my voice but I try to ground it in honesty. A friend and emcee recently told me that the best way I can stay authentic is by speaking from my experience and from what I know. As I get to know myself deeper, my voice inevitably becomes stronger. I am raised by the bold voices of mainly fierce Filipinx femmes in my life and QTIBIPOC poets, crafters and emcees. I am informed by my friends who are my extended community, who are agitators, healers, teachers, and outspoken voices.
Ev: You clearly address dire issues in our society that seem to be brushed aside, what made you decide to rap and sing about them instead of following the same path others do? Do you think your identity plays into that?
Kimmortal: The late Filipino Canadian youth alliance based in Vancouver was one of the first spaces I witnessed and got connected to radical brown and black emcees and poets. Dagamuffin, a friend, and activist who passed away was an outspoken rapper who was one of many Filipino activists who pushed me to keep repping. I have experienced what it feels like to see someone represent on stage and feel reflected. I want that to continue in this art so that we all feel activated to create. I see how art is not just a tool for activating and educating people, but it is also a wellspring for us to get the energy to keep going.
Ev: That being said, what do you see as the biggest and most important issue you’ve addressed through your music and art and why do you think it’s the most important issue you’ve addressed?
Kimmortal: I think all the issues are really connected. I can’t talk about my relationship to being Filipino without talking about my relationship to being queer and fluid and an artist, etc… I think the power is in the sum of our layers. Sometimes shows are geared towards one aspect of our identities, like a queer show, or like a women of colour show… for the first time, I get to perform on a stage on June 16 that will be featuring Filipinx nonbinary artists based on unceceeded coast Salish territory, aka Vancouver, and put on by Pinoy Pride in Vancouver.
Check out Kimmortal as they headline a DIY Spring show this Wednesday June 13 at The Origin Arts & Community Centre featuring King Kimbit and Throne Seekers, more info here.