Ubiquitous Synergy Seekers Are Swimming in a Giant Bowl of Jelly Beans

20 02 2012

If the name of this Toronto-based band doesn’t give you a hint about Ash Boo-Schultz’s intellectual mindspace, these answers will. A glimpse into the thoughts of the USS vocalist/producer when he had a day off from touring the country with Down With Webster. Plus, an unexpected cooking tip!

On Rifflandia 2011:

When we were walking from our hotel to the show it was really cool because there were all these fans with signs for USS.

On touring vs. recording:

I’m more productive on the road, so there’s really no separation of the two.

On his biggest accomplishment:

It’s less of one specific isolated event and more of the realization, especially in the last three months, that I’ve just written hundreds and hundreds of songs and pieces of music and I’ve always been shackled by not totally having the confidence to venture outside of a band. Almost needing the confidence of working with other people. So in that three months my entire psychological equilibrium has taken this quantum leap and I’ve been putting together all kinds of these projects and bands that are going to be able to channel all this creativity. One thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t use your mind it drives you insane. So I have to especially keep concentrated and focused. I’m feeling really successful about finally hitting my stride; it just clicked finally and I’m just loving the click!

On their new sound and new drummer:

Our music as a band is also taking a quantum leap because we’ve added a drummer into our band. Also, Human Kebab, over the course of our evolution as a band, evolving and improving, he started singing more, and he has a really low voice.  So you’ll hear me and him doing harmonies more. We got to know [our drummer] more when his band would open for us in Ontario. So when the time was right, and we knew we wanted to add that final dimension to our live sound, he was the first person we thought of. Because when you’re on the road with people 24 hours a day, in the hotel room, in the van, at the library, at the bowling alley, it’s gotta be about the person first and then their ability

On life outside of music:

I go home and I work as a carpenter and I have to use the logical side of my brain. Cause I can live in the total emotional whirlwind of life, and you can lose touch with that logic that’s especially important for decision-making. I love it, so I’m doing both at the same time. And all of the houses that we work at are in my neighbourhood so I can always go home and have grilled cheese for lunch – with really cold ketchup. Put the ketchup in the freezer while you’re making it. And you use one piece of white bread and one piece of brown bread. So, it’s like, grilled cheese on white bread is like the best thing ever but you wanna still get your whole grains in there. It’s all about balance. Life is a grilled cheese with one piece of white bread and one piece of brown bread.

On an upcoming solo project:

I have this whole series of four-song EPs and I’ll be partnering up with people that I feel is appropriate. I’m this abnormal psychologist, I basically study all these cases of music savants and all these abnormal music cases all over the world. So each cover song is a back-story of the patients; it revolves around the songs that the musicians in the psych ward wrote. It’s called Lab Rats.

Most surprising thing about the music industry:

How much love there is out there, it’s incredible. We have our love magnet turned on full blast all the time.

On Down With Webster:

I was having this huge conversation with Pat (Down With Webster vocalist/guitarist) last night because Pat is a huge documentary freak and so am I. It [touring together] just has this natural ease to it. I played with those guys when they were still in high school. I was between bands playing mid-90s hip hop covers on my acoustic guitar, and I’d open for them at some little chicken-wing restaurant outside of Toronto. I said to Bucky (Down With Webster vocalist) the other night, ‘We’re not flowers we’re roots.’ We’re not something that comes and goes with the seasons, it’s a solid foundation.

On the future of USS?

We have a couple of shoeboxes full of songs, I’m not even sure at this point how we’re gonna choose what songs we’re gonna put out, and we just keep adding more. Tons of songs are in various stages of production that will become our next album…We’re just swimming around in a giant bowl of jelly beans!

USS opens for Down With Webster, THURSDAY 7:30pm at the McPherson. Tickets at rmts.bc.ca.

– Reyhana Heatherington

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Olio Takes Stock

27 09 2010

The outdoor stages have been taken down, the bands have loaded up their tour vans and local music fans are sitting at their desks nursing hangovers—Rifflandia 3 is officially over. But if you want to relive some of the magic that happened over the last four days in Victoria—as well as take in some fantastic local art—swing by the Olio Cooperative at 614 1/2 Fisgard to check out the Live!Stock poster exhibition.

This is the third year that local artists have been tapped to create original posters for some of Rifflandia’s major acts, with this year’s 13-artist roster including the likes of Shawn O’Keefe, Luke Ramsey and Evan Pine. The show is up until October 16, so if you missed it this weekend, there’s still time to check it out—and, if something really strikes you, prints of the posters are available for sale.

Other Artlandia events, such as the Lee Renaldo exhibition, are still on display for a few more days…so be sure to check them out, too. Full details are here.

Chad VanGaalen by Luke Ramsey

Chali 2na

Meaghan McDonald's Frog Eyes poster was made with ketchup and mustard and printed on meat paper

Joey MacDonald's Gord Downie puzzle poster





The Party’s Over, The Candles Flicker and Dim

27 09 2010

Bucan Bucan, and the Final Words.

Um, I’m tired. I was tired before I went out. I didn’t think I would dance. I danced.

Bucan Bucan made me dance. Bucan Bucan made me holler. Bucan Bucan made me go to Big Bad John’s after the show and drink “Jager-Bombs.”

Ok that last one may be a bit of stretch, but I tell you these wackos really know how to party.  It was a treat to watch all the heads turn away from the empty stage at Club 9One9, where people were expecting the band to appear, and toward the rear of the club where the trill of horns and the smack of drums could be heard. The numerous members of Bucan Bucan came out through the crowd, dancing and carousing, and in general just causing good-natured trouble. What fun!

From there, these Gypsy rabble-rousers proceeded to work the dance floor into a real mess.  The good kind of mess, where folks forget whatever they think they’re about and just get silly and loose for a while. At one point I’m sure that the band was chanting something like a mixture between the oompa loompa song and the Hare Krishna mantra. Not properly klezmer, not properly, well, anything, this performance was fully delightful. After the show, my buddy Eric excitedly encouraged me to touch his shirt. “I’ve never sweated this much into a garment in my life,” he said. And the shirt was indeed super-saturated.  No one left the dancefloor unsatisfied on this occasion.

Ok, serioulsy, I’m “peacing-out”,  as the kids say. I’ve had a blast covering this wonderful third edition of Rifflandia, and I’m walking away grateful to live in this city, and especially inspired by all the strong local talent we have here. Thanks to the organizers and volunteers that made the festival possible, and to all the artists who brought their best to the stage for our enjoyment. It’s been a pleasure. . .  .

—Jay Elliott Morritt





Times Neue Roman, Kathryn Calder, The Gaslamp Killer

26 09 2010

Cough. Yep, I’m getting a cold. Double-cough—oh shit, my apartment is full of smoke! I had just put on some water to boil before sitting down at my computer to start writing—or so I thought. Turns out I lit the wrong burner and basically incinerated my big cast iron fry pan. Oh you would have laughed to see me fumbling to prop my kitchen window open with a woodblock, squinting through the thick smoke and cursing, while the fire alarm stabbed at my eardrums, then knocking over a glass of water, cursing ever-more loudly, and finally, gingerly and with towel-wrapped hand, hefting the red-hot skillet out onto the window ledge to cool off.  I swear I’m not always this stupid. Sometimes my plans actually pan out (ugh, pun I didn’t see coming, so it has to stay). Sometimes I get it right. Like when I decided to see Times Neue Roman (TNR) at Rifflandia, for example.

The moment I first heard TNR’s song “Roq Roq”, I knew these guys were up to something special. The more I dug into their story, the more intrigued I became. And so I made sure to meet up with Arowbe and Alexander The before their set last night at the Upstairs Cabaret. The following interview  took place outside the club, on a bench in Bastion Square:

Interview with Times Neue Roman

Alexander The:  What made you want to interview us?

Jay Morritt:  I was just sifting through all the artists involved in the festival who I didn’t know about, going through MySpace pages and YouTube, trying to figure out who I wanted to check out, and I found your video for Roq Roq. It was just so fresh. My ears perked right up and I thought “I gotta look into these guys.”

Arowbe:  Cool.

JM:  And then I dug around some more, and I found out that you guys did your first performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery, in 2008. I was hooked at that point. I wanted to know more. How did the gig at the gallery materialize?

Arowbe:  They had an exhibit there called The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, and a friend of mine, Tom Cone, a playwright in Vancouver, recommended me to be involved in some way—he knew me as a poet and performer.  The timing was crazy, because we’d just finished recording twenty tracks for TNR, all this Nintendo-themed stuff, and so I got in touch with the gallery and they were really enthusiastic about what we were doing.  We did a few performances for that show—we worked with Candelario Adrade, who was doing live visuals and animation, and I also did a piece, a narrative poem with live animation called Orpheus, with Alexander The on keyboard.  Orpheus is about to be re-mounted, on Friday, at the TEDx conference in Toronto.

JM:  Awesome.  Not a lot of hip-hop artists start off in an art gallery, I don’t think. Then again, do you guys even consider yourselves hip-hop?—I’m kinda guessing no.

Arowbe:  Rap-Deco is what we’ve been saying lately (laughs), because it’s pretty decadent, a lot of art for art’s sake, but we’ve just finished recording our new album, and we don’t even know what it is. It’s not Nintendo-Punk-Rap, which we’ve been called before. It’s not necesarlily Rap-Deco—

AT:  We just sat down for Sushi and talked about this, and we’re a little confused about what to call our new sound. But that’s the best thing, I think, to just accomplish something and then move forward.

Arowbe:  The new record has a lot of horns, and a lot more live instruments. A lot less synths, but they’re still in there.

JM:  Something else I’m interested to know about is the U-Haul performances. Tell me about that.

AT:  That was a renegade idea I had for the Nuit Blanche festival in Toronto. I had a hundred dollars, and I got together some musicians and rented a U-haul truck. We drove around to different locations at the festival performing in the U-Haul. It was amazing. We did it again here, two weeks ago, in Vancouver. We performed at six different locations—we had Candelario doing projections—we did Granville St—-

Arowbe:  Outside of Celebrities night club it turned into this crazy dance party inside the truck, and in Gastown we had girls like go-go dancing on top of dumpsters. It was real wild.

AT:  Three times we had to pull getaways from the cops, which went really clean, so we have to thank all the kids who were partying with us for getting in the cops’ faces—

Arowbe:  The kids stood in front of the doors to the U-Haul so that they couldn’t get to us, and we could just kinda sneak away to the next spot.

JM:  Wow. That sounds like a super-big blast. You guys are doing pretty well for yourselves—you’ve got a song on EA Sports’ video game Fight Night Round 4, videos on Much Music and MTV, and lots of critical acclaim—what do you think it is about what you’re doing that is so compelling to people?

AT:  When TNR started, we took ideas of hip-hop, ideas of rock, ideas of punk, ideas of electronic, and we just went with it. Sometimes we get critics who come down on us for that, like “it’s not punk, and it’s not hip-hop” but that’s the kind of feedback we appreciate the most, because you can’t pigeon-hole what we’re doing, but anyone can dance to it. As long as you walk away all sweaty, we’ve done our job.

JM:  What’s next—what’s on the horizon?

Arowbe:  Final touches on the album, and we’re finishing this tour—next stop is Toronto, and then Montreal—we’ll be playing some huge venues opening for Radio Radio, we have an Iphone app coming out next week, Alexander The will be recording with his other band Styrofoam Ones, lots of stuff.

AT:  Overall, we’re just really pushing the future, man. We’re not staying stagnant!

—Jay Morritt

Times Neue Roman  took the stage shortly after our interview, and I must say that they did their job.  They started off with “Roq Roq”, loping nintendo-synth sounds over minimal house beats. On the Mic, Arowbe moved expertly from smooth flowing rhythm and rhyme to more staccato chanting-style passages  “What would we be good for if not giving you what you came for?” he asked the increasingly lively dance floor, jumping up and down and in general getting himself, and the crowd, worked up.  Arowbe dropped a mean free-style after that—the man has liquid lips.  On the reggae-mash-up cycling anthem “Hands No Hands” TNR encouraged the audience to follow along to some simple hand gestures, and before long people were happy to let go of their handlebars together.  After they left the stage, I went to reclaim the shirt I had tossed away at some point during the show. I had a good a sheen of sweat on. I got what I came for.

Melissa Auf Der Maur

From the Upstairs Cabaret I made my way over to Market Square to check out ex-Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur. The band was sounding mean, and they rocked pretty hard—for a few minutes my hunger for something dirty, loud, and indulgent (mostly dormant these days, but never quite absent) was awakened and satisfied. However, after seeing something as new and vital as Times Neue Roman, Auf Der Maur’s snarling metal-meets-grunge —all deep hip bends and hair flailing—became way too 1995 for me in a big hurry. I was no big fan of highschool, and although I get nostalgic for the drugs and angsty music every now and then, I don’t ever want to go back.

Whale Tooth

Having escaped the darkness of Market Square (doesn’t it always seem, just a little bit, like  there should be a few ragged-looking horse thieves confined there, withering away in the stocks?), I bounced over to the Victoria Event Centre to catch some of Toronto band Whale Tooth’s set, before headliner Kathryn Calder came on.

Whale tooth play tight, super-dancey rock tunes, with doses of punk, soul and classic rock in the mix. Singer Elise LeGrow is aptly named—this little firecracker of a gal seemed to get bigger and bigger behind the mike as the night went on. Dancing and shaking like a woman possessed, she really brought the noise, and her vocal chops are not to be underestimated. Great energy she had.  But it wasn’t enough to get the crowd (other than me and a girl I met named Claire) up out of their seats.  The Event Centre was not well suited to this act on a few fronts—the sound tech work was less than virtuoso in a venue that doesn’t need any extra help to sound bad, and the tables were pushed almost right up to the stage.  Let me emphasize:  Whale Tooth are a band to dance to!  I lost my mind on the small piece of dance floor I managed to carve out. It was easy for me to project their solid performance into a more appropriate environment and see the sweaty riot that would ensue.

Kathryn Calder

Ok, so here’s the truth:  after Whale Tooth got my booty shaking so hard, I was unsatisfied to sit for long through what was (for the four songs I saw of it) a fine set by Kathryn Calder. The arrangements of her pop rock tunes were interesting and idiosyncratic, there were lovely vocal harmonies (thanks to Victoria musician Megan Boddy, of Frog Eyes), there was nothing to complain about, for sure—but I just wanted to dance. I grabbed my crumpled Rifflandia schedule off the table, stuffed it into my pocket, crunched the last ice cube left over from my gin and tonic, and tumbled into the rain with one thing on my mind:  The Mutha#$*#’n Gaslamp Killer.

The Gaslamp Killer

For the first time in the festival I had to work my VIP status pretty hard to get in the door at Lucky Bar. Apparently, they were at capacity. One massive bouncer was like “we’re not honouring VIP wristbands anymore,” all cold and unsympathetic. But another guy had already assured me I’d be taken care of, and I waved him over to sort out his pal. While my man argued with his massive counterpart, he unhooked the latch and I waltzed through, feeling very important indeed. I could hear Dolf Lundgren protesting, but no matter—I was in.

Holy shit–what a scene inside Lucky! The place was packed, the dancefloor was on fire, bottles and cans on the floor, a furious foosball match somehow going on within the malestrom, extremely complex and ever-shifting clouds of odour swirling, two large video screens flashing bursts of pulsating colour and, on the decks, a man who looked either like an auto mechanic or a mental patient—let’s say both—rocking back and forth violently and doing something with his hands which makes me think he was imagining (or possibly truly seeing) lightning bolts shooting from his finger tips.  The Gaslamp Killer was the closest thing I’d ever seen to your stereotypical mad scientist—he was absolutely possessed by the frantic sonic experiments he was conducting.  Whatever he had bubbling in his beakers, the fumes must have been getting to the crowd, because people were going apeshit! Shaking like he was being electrocuted, and with that big mess of curly hair and his eyes popping out of his skull, The Gaslamp Killer really did look like an overgrown standard poodle having a seizure. Much like the Tunde Olaniran show, complete strangers were brought together by way of just not being able to believe how off the hook this fucker was.  The audience gaped at one another, gazes communicating something like, “Are you seeing this shit!? Is this shit for real!?” Yeah, it was for real.

Back out on the street, the rain was coming down hard. I felt grumpy about it at first, but then I got very Zen and all like “I do not mind the rain. I have no wish for things to be any other way than how they are.” Of course, after witnessing The Gaslamp Killer’s epic meltdown, it wasn’t very hard to feel good, even in a downpour.

And that brings me to tonight. Non-Rifflandia related writing will be keeping me at my desk late into the evening (yes, I do other things besides running around town swilling beer and freaking out on the dance floor), but at 11:30 I’ll head to Club 9One9 for Victoria’s favourite Gypsy marching band, Bucan Bucan. I can’t wait to exercise my all-purpose Eastern European party-guy accent. Everybody Happy!

I’ll be back after that to offer my final reflections on the festival, and to decompress and get ready for another week back in the ordinary world.  Who knows, maybe I’ll go to bed before 3am.

–Jay





Rifflandia 3//Night 3//Words and Photos

26 09 2010

My head is racing with what to jot down. So much is coming to mind and to play it out so it doesn’t sound like a cluster bomb of random thoughts could prove disaster. So, where to start? Right now as I sit here in front of this laptop, it’s 3 in the morning and I just have to upload photos and that’s it. I’m listening to Hey Rosetta’s ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’ and the lyrics ‘You’ll be an old man soon’ is resounding in my mind and stirring in my heart. Rifflandia is an experience — an experience  that put’s us all in a situation to live in the moment and make those tough choices and to live! “Who should we go see?” “This band is playing here and this band is playing the same time over there” “I saw this band, who did you see?” — conversations like this are endless and exciting. To hear what someone else experienced on the other side of town while you were watching something else. You hear it through their words and you think to yourself ‘If only!’, but in return you share what you saw with them and it goes around and around. My writing partner Jay has caught some great bands and when he explained seeing Tundre play at Sugar I had that overwhelming feeling of ‘Dammit! I missed a good show’ — but that, in my words, is beautiful. To know that this festival was an experience for someone and I got to hear it from them. I come back to the lyrics about being an old man — I’ll be 30 in just days and reflecting on it, it’s gone by fast. Treasure these moments and these experiences. Treasure the minutes waiting in the rain as you and dozens of other people are lined up outside of a venue waiting for capacity to reduce itself so you can go inside. Love every second of running from one end of town to see a show only to miss it by seconds. Embrace this feeling that you have right now — these are the moments you’ll be talking about and sharing for the rest of your lives.

From top to bottom: Pawnshop Diamond//Lola Sparks//Liz Beattie//Rich Acoin//Melissa Auf Der Maur//Hey Rosetta//Hot Hot Heat//Chad VanGaalen//Sarah Harmer

Words and Photos by Casey Bennett





Touched for the Very First Time: Friday Night at Rifflandia

25 09 2010

Thursday night was good, but it wasn’t until last night that this festival delivered the shivers and the shocks.

I met up with Casey Bennett (his wonderful photos of Rifflandia performers are all over this blog) early, so we could coordinate our show-going for max writing-to-pics sync-up,  and I’m afraid that I quickly led him astray. Earlier in the afternoon, I had put a roast in the crockpot my father was so adamant I procure (I resisted at first, slow-cookers carrying a certain low-brow culinary stigma, but as usual the old man was right—they’re just so easy!) but when I went to check on my yummy dinner, I realized I must have fumbled my knob-turning because my sirloin tip was as cold as clay. So I showed up for my meeting with Casey hungry, and I dragged him as fast as I could into the shabby world of convenience food (the Subway across the street from the Metro Theater), for a quick fill up before show time. Thus fed and guaranteed of indigestion, I crossed the street with my brother-in-arms to check out Genevieve Rainey.

Genevieve Rainey

This girl is funny. The songs I heard were playfully self-deprecating meditations on loneliness and longing, but the real story here was the banter between the music. I wonder if she does any work as an MC, and if not then she should. A wonderfully expressive face, great voice, a natural sense of comic timing, the whole shabang. Her stilted anecdotes about text messages from her mom, and the logistics of keeping her friends from posting things to her Facebook page that her mother might be horrified to discover, were really charming. As far as the music goes, Rainey says of herself, “I sound like  a girl singing whilst playing guitar.”  This says a lot about her wry sense of humour, but unfortunately it also lands a little too close to the truth. The songwriting and the vocal performance were fine, but not eyebrow-raising. Still, a personality to keep an eye on, I think. She may yet do great things.

After some good laughs, me and Casey ducked out of Genevieve’s set and over to the Alix Goolden Hall to catch the end of My Lovely Son’s solo act. And that’s when I recieved my first bona-fide love-buzz of the festival.

My Lovely Son

 

My Lovely Son

Satnam Minhas looked so relaxed and focused on the Goolden stage as he unfurled delicate guitar lines over his gorgeous hushed voice. The emotional climate of his hypnotic melodies was decidedly melancholy, like days I can remember as a kid, in the park, alone with just the sun and grass. Like kinda sad, but also with a sense of wonder and a quiet ache for all that lies ahead.  If you’re familiar with Scottish songwriter Alisdair Roberts, and particularly his old project Appendix Out, then imagine the tender, wistful, bygone-era quality of that stuff, but not as choppy, more like a still lake, less fragile. Wow, I was really impressed with this performance. For an artist who only recently has his first album under his belt, Minhas brings a presence to the stage that feels mature and confident. This is a guy to watch, for sure.  And he’s local. Lucky us!  I was so into his stuff that I tracked down My Lovely Son after his set, and we shared some words:

Jay Morritt:  Tell me about yourself—I don’t know anything about you. You’re local, yeah?

Satnam Minhas:  I was born and raised in Duncan, and I’m working in Victoria now. This year was supposed to be the year that I made a mark on the city, because I spent a lot of time recording my album, and after I was done I was like “what am I going to do with it?” I was living in Duncan, and I decided I had to get into the city—it seemed like the next logical step. So I moved here and started playing shows. Playing here at the Alix Goolden is sorta like the cherry on top for me.

JM:  Yeah, you said, onstage, that this was a dream come true for you.

SM:  I saw Owen Pallett (of Final Fantasy) play here a while ago, and I remember sitting in my seat thinking “good God, what would it be like to play this?”

JM:  You sounded fabulous up there.

SM:  Thanks.  I was thrown off a bit by the sound, because everything was so magestic, and I’m not used to playing such venues!

JM:  So what are your influences?

SM:  That could go every-which-way. There’s some jazz in there, classic folk, Led Zeppelin—I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin as a kid. But melody is the biggest thing for me. I’m trying to challenge the listener, while at the same time pull on their heart-strings. And if you have a chance to listen to them, there’s some old Bollywood tracks from the 60’s and 70’s that are, to me, heart-wrenchingly beautiful, because I grew up listening to that stuff. That’s where the emotion comes from.

JM:  You just radiate this kind of ease, or containment, on stage. It looked so natural for you to be up there. And your guitar work and vocal style weave together so comfortably—I could have listened to that all night and been happy!

SM:  It means a lot that you would say that. This is the first time I’ve put together a body of work of my own, and performed something steadily for a while. I’ve played in bands before and it was so un-fulfilling—it was always a compromise. Now I’m not compromising.

JM:  So you lived your dream of playing the Goolden—what’s next?

SM:  I’m a social worker, but I’m getting layed off, and I’m going to take a break from that work and focus on music. I’m going to be playing some shows in what people out here called “the East”, but which is really Central Canada—Toronto, Montreal—and when I get back from that I’m thinking tentatively of a European tour.

JM:  Yes. Well, please sir, keep making music. Keep doing what you are doing.

SM:  Thanks, I will.

–Jay Morritt

Clay George


After My Lovely Son’s lovely set, Victoria’s Clay George took the stage. He looked like a banker coping with a troublesome stock market—shirtsleeves and suspenders and a world-worn gaze. George hasn’t played out much for the last year or so, but when the elusive singer-songwriter picked up his guitar and started into a jaded finger-style blues ramble, he looked on top of his game. The man’s voice came down like a brick on the audience at the Goolden—heavy and certain, stirring up a cloud of dust. Lost friends, things left unsaid, the search for a sense of home, these were the themes that characterized George’s set. There was the odd love song, too.  Particularly moving was one lament about the folks we see here on the streets, in Victoria:  I bet your father never saw you falling / at the corner of Bridge and Bay / trying to fix your broken face / in the mirror of a car— / can you believe that’s who you are? I wasn’t far off from crying at that point.  George’s work bears the marks of long consideration and care, like a map of somewhere special that’s been folded and refolded, kept in a breast pocket. A strong set from a thoughtful and talented songwriter—I hope we see more of him onstage in the year to come.

Earlier in the day I had chance to meet with Clay. We took a walk to the park next to Christ Church Cathedral, and had a chat:

Jay Morritt: I saw you a couple years ago, at this little show which was upstairs in a house on Fort St., I think. It was a songwriter’s round—you, Carolyn Mark, David P. Smith, and Ryan Beattie. I thought, “what a great environment for a show.”  What sorts of shows do you like playing best?

Clay George:  I like playing situations like that one, because it’s so different than playing in a crowded bar where people are screaming and trying to get laid, and so they’re not really paying attention to the music.  I think tonight will be perfect, because it’s a sit-down environment where people will really be listening. I’ve also played shows at folk societies, where it’s just a room and people really just focused on the show, and that’s nice. The stuff I play, it’s pretty low-key. It’s not really meant to cut through bar noise.

JM:  And the songs are stories, right? I think it’s important that the narrative thread is able to remain  intact, to be held between the audience and the singer.

CG:  Yeah, definitely. That’s half the song.

JM:  So I may be out of the loop—that’s a very real possibility—but you seem to keep a pretty low profile for a guy whose work has been so well recieved, critically.

CG:  Well, things were looking to pick up a while back, as far as performing goes, but I had a bunch of stuff happen, personal stuff. My father passed away—he got really sick and I was travelling back and forth to Toronto—I just had a really terrible year, and so that prevented me from getting work done.  It was unfortunate timing, because I had just signed to a label, 00:02:59 records, and things were in motion, but I just couldn’t do a lot of the stuff that needed to be done. But things are a lot better now.

JM:  What’s on the go at the moment? Is there a new album coming anytime soon?

CG:  Well I ‘ve got a bunch of new songs, but I just haven’t had the time to get them down. But I’m hoping to get something out for next year.

JM:  What are you listening to these days?

CG:  My roomate Megan Boddy was playing Kathryn Calder’s album this morning, and it’s great, man!  I was listening to Chad VanGaalen the other day—I really really like him.  I’m also fond of (a bit under his breath), uh, Opera.

JM:  I did a show recently, opening for Rocky Votolato, and he made a point of mentioning to the audience that you were his inspiration for playing Harmonica. After the show, he told me that he basically ripped off your style.

CG:  (laughs) Right on. That’s funny, because I don’t really know that much about playing the harmonica, but I guess I know a few things–enough to create the illusion that I can actually play it.

JM:  (laughs) Ok, I see a headline for this interview:  Clay George, Illusionist.

CG:  Or Charlatan!

JM:  Wow, alright—you really took it to the next level (laughs). Ok, but one last question:  what’s the most satisfying thing for you about being a musician?

CG:  The most satisfying thing is just those moments when you know that the audience is with you, that you’ve got them.  Maybe I’m just starved for attention or something.

JM:  Well aren’t all performers a bit straved for attention?

CG:  Yeah.  I guess I get the most gratification just from the moments when I know people are hearing what I’m saying—-like when someone comes up to me and says that a particular line from a song really hit them—I don’t think I’m articulating this very well.

JM:  Don’t worry, it will all look very neat once I’ve written it out.

CG: (laughs) Good.  I guess I like giving something, having someone take something positive away from what I’m doing, that’s huge, you know?  Even  if it’s just a sense of something.

JM:  Well I’m looking forward to taking something away from your show tonight.  Thanks for meeting with me, man.

CG:  No problem.  Thanks for asking me.

The Rest of Friday Night

After Clay George’s fine set, the Whitsundays came on, and I disappeared over to Sugar Nightclub. I wanted to catch Detroit’s Tunde Olaniran—I’d read good things, but when I arrived at the club I got scared. It was DeadsVille inside Sugar, just a scattering of distracted-looking party people shuffling around to DJ Sam Demoe. If Olaniran was as outrageous as hip rep suggested (I’ve heard Prince’s lovechild and Kraftwerk both mentioned toward describing his act), then I was beginning to feel bad for what might be a very poor and apathetic turn out.  No worries though, because the man has the power.  Within five minutes of Tunde taking the stage, the drifters and beer-nursers had gathered close. Within ten minutes, most people were dancing. After fifteen minutes, people (me especially) were losing there shit!  Who was this guy, this huge black man in like pristine flowing white coat, elegant long white scarf, with straightened and highlighted hair, dancing like he really just didn’t care, singing like a diva, rapping like an allstar, and just in general being the funnest fucking thing to hit Sugar’s stage, I’m sure, in quite some time?  I dunno, but thank God for Tunde.  One of my fellow show-goers did quite a nice job of summing up Olaniran’s performace. She said it was part talent-show, and part grade 9 girls’ sleepover, where your friend’s mom gets too drunk and is all  “hey girls, check it out”, and then blasts Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” on the stereo while she sings and dances her heart out. I agree, only this wasn’t embarrassing—it was pure gold. In fact, Olaniran’s last song was an amazing cover of “Like a Virgin.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an artist take a club that drowsy and make it rock so hard.

Man, there is just so much to say about last night, but I’m running out of time. I’ve gotta head down to the Upstairs Cabaret soon for an interview with Times Neue Roman. I’ll be trying to catch Kathryn Calder and the Gaslamp Killer tonight as well.  But before I go, I just have to mention

The Wooden Sky

These guys were really something special to see. A young band at the height of their power, they absolutely stole the show at the Goolden last night. I honestly felt bad for headlining act Great Lake Swimmers—I wouldn’t have wanted to follow  The Wooden Sky’s performance.  They got a mostly standing O from the crowd, and I figure those who didn’t stand must have been like incapacitated by how righteously these young dudes rocked. I wish I could go into this topic more—how committed each member was to every song, how well they played together, how they reminded me, at times, of early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers lost in a dark woods (this is a very good thing), on and on. But I can’t, and so I say just check them out—do yourself a favour.

Ok, I really gotta go, but I’ll just say that I eventually made it over to see some of Gord Downey’s excellent set at Market Square (I heard the lights went out for a while, but it didn’t stop old Gord, he just kept rockin), and ended my night dancing  to a very fine DJ set by Egyptrixx, at a packed Lucky Bar.

Ok, into the night!

-Jay E. Morritt.





Rifflandia 3//Night 2 (Photos and Words)

25 09 2010

It’s only been maybe two hours, if that, since the last band played their last song to some very pleased and excited fans. Rifflandia 3 night number 2 was memorable. I did do a lot of bouncing between venues, but I did witness some pretty intense and wacky incidents, one involving Mark, the bassist for Maurice jumping from high atop a stack of speakers onto the stage, and landing incredibly awkwardly, springing back to his feet to finish the song and then hobbling off of the stage and as he passes by says to us “I think I broke my foot!”. Another memorable and magical moment was Gord Downie, well into his fifth song of his set, loses power — everything is out — sound, lights, screens — but it doesn’t faze him or his band. They go right into a jam session, like it was planned all along. The crowd is chanting and Gord is screaming right back at them. Moments later, the sound and lights are restored and just like that, they breeze right back into the song not having even skipped a beat. Amazing!!!

I do have to confess this though, prior to Rifflandia 3, I had not been to a show in quite some time. I feel like this is my opportunity to come clean and admit that. With all of the homegrown talent here on this island we call home. I feel guilty not having taken advantage of the talent that is right here. I love it and I love this feeling I’m having right now. I can’t wait for tomorrow (well, later on today). Where will I be? Who knows? Will it be somewhere good? Yes.

From top to bottom: Genvieve Rainey//My Lovely Son//Steph Macpherson//Jets Overhead//Gord Downie//The Great Lake Swimmers//List

Words and Photos by Casey Bennett








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