Posts Tagged ‘music’

The Ghosts That Haunt Me

December 4, 2012

In 1991, I spent a lot of time listening to the Crash Test Dummies album ‘The Ghosts That Haunt Me.’  I know this because it’s probably been at least 18 years since I last listened to the album, but I know all the lyrics to the title track (despite forgetting it existed until it started playing).

I also know I spent a lot of time listening to it because I have a nearly perfect Brad Roberts impression down when I sing along.  Perhaps because I honed it during those years in the early 90s, trying to impress my friends while imitating the unique voice of CTD’s lead vocalist.

Something that came to mind upon rediscovering this album: they were pretty ahead of their time.  At a point in my life when I was just passing my NKOTB and Tiffany phase (…don’t mock me…) and was listening to Public Enemy and the emerging hip hop scene, I became obsessed with what would today be called an alt-folk or alt-country.  There were banjos, mandolins, catchy tunes…essentially, what you hear sneaking onto rock radio today.

In fact, some of these tracks would sound quite at home sandwiched between Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men.

Most people remember Superman’s Song, but the title track and Comin’ Back Soon really grabbed me more.  And who can forget that they released a single called Androgynous about…well, Androgyny…originally by The Replacements, an American punk band, on what is essentially a country album…and it got played on pop radio…

While discussing ‘Canadiana’ yesterday with recent BCCMA winning group The Matinee we went through a list of bands and artists we consider to be Canadiana – from Neil Young to Elliot Brood.  The Dummies passed through my mind for a second, but I didn’t bring them up.  Listening to ‘The Ghosts That Haunt Me’…I don’t know why I did that.  This album is the epitome of Canadiana.  And was widely successful.

Why is it that a band so huge in the early 90s doesn’t even get mentioned today in a conversation about the genre they really helped to develop for the modern times?

Maybe this blog will help change that!


Jeffery Straker Live at Revival, November 27th 2012

December 3, 2012

Calvin Fehr Photo    April 30 2012 455 crop 300DPI sm

I have seen Jeffery Straker before.  And I can show you what I saw, because I also filmed that show and made two little ‘tour vlogs’ out of the performance and backstage antics. (Part One, Part Two)  Needless to say, I love this guy as a performer and a songwriter, so the Toronto CD release party at Revival last week was a priority.

Here I must note that you can distinguish Jeffery now with the addition of a middle name: classic ‘Jeffery Straker’ and the new ‘Jeffery Michael Straker.’  Or JS and JMS for short.  The former, a piano-cabaret riot.  The latter, well…he’s still a riot, but there’s an alternative twist to his sound.  And you could see the difference in the performance when we switched between JS and JMS.

Both were amazing to watch.  I shouldn’t let what I just said confuse you.  Just it was like the difference between…and I’m sure he’ll kill me for this…’Mmmm Bop’ Hanson and the alt-rock trio Hanson which emerged a couple of years later.  Both are awesome…one is fun, the other is fun and refined.

Actually, better…the difference between Til Tuesday and Aimee Mann.

Starting off with the track Rosetta Stone from his new Danny Michel produced album ‘Vagabond‘ set the tone that this wasn’t going to be like last year’s Revival show, which came complete with Burlesque dancers.  Following this up with his first single from the album, Birchbark Canoe was only outshone by the fact that beloved children’s entertainer Fred Penner joined him on stage to play harmonica (his mimed performance of Jeffery choking him on the streets of Toronto brought me straight back to Fred Penner’s Place…for some reason…I don’t know why, Fred never got choked on that show!)

Slings and Arrows and Gone, two tracks from ‘Under the Soles of my Shoes‘ were spot on and showed the similarities between JS and JMS: the songwriting is still there though the underlying mood has changed.  You could tell this performance was honed from years of shows and this recent tour supporting ‘Vagabond.’

I must admit that the two songs that hit me the most were Burn the Boats with some extra help from some very talented vocalists, and the only cover of the night, Shiver Me Timbers originally by Tom Waits.  Really…the Tom Waits track was the one that settled JMS into my mind.  The sombre and pained tones of Waits’ piano from the album ‘The Heart of Saturday Night‘ (during his early blues piano days, like Ol’ 55 and Grapefruit Moon, not the Swordfishtrombonesiness of ‘Rain Dogs’…) was an interesting choice that would not have worked during the ‘…Soles of my Shoes‘ shows.  It would have been like Lady Gaga breaking into Cats in the Cradle.

But it worked last Tuesday at Revival.  Because I wasn’t watching JS…I was watching JMS…and it wasn’t jarring, or strange.  It was actually quiet awesome, and I can’t wait to see more.

You can find Jeffery Straker tweeting away @jefferystraker and on Facebook too.  For all things informative and musical, head to his website!

The Set List:

Rosetta Stone
Birchbark Canoe (feat. Fred Penner)
Slings & Arrows (from 2011 album)
Fallin (from earlier repertoire)
Gone (2011 album)
Burn the Boats (guest vocalists)
Botanic Gardens
Shiver me Timbers (Tom Waits)
Somewhere Between (earlier repertoire)
Sans Souci

Something Weird Podcast – It’s About The Music, Baby!

November 2, 2012

Hey all!

I have linked the ‘Something Weird This Way Comes’ podcast here in the past, a show co-hosted by me and Moe Porne that discussed low and no-budget, b-flicks, genre and camp and exploitation films.  The thing is…Moe does the same thing in an amazing show called No-Budget Nightmares, alongside the effervescent Canuck Doug Tilley (…sorry…TILLEY now…just Tilley).

If I’ve learned something in my line of work…working two of the same thing just means you’re in competition with yourself.

…maybe not so much with podcasts…needless to say, we figured the show could use a reboot and format change.

So here it is!  Something Weird is now about the music now, baby!  The music of the movies I love…the weird flicks, the ones so bad that they’re good.

Check it out on Podomatic (and soon on iTunes…hell, just head there an subscribe anyways!!)  I would embed a player here…but apparently WordPress doesn’t like it when you try and do that!

I’d love to hear what you think!  Either comment here, or get in touch on Twitter @Potoroo!

The Long Courtship

January 5, 2012

I was reading an article about the current race in the U.S. to name someone to run for the Republican party…I should note that I am not endorsing anyone or either side here, I’m going to be talking about music!

Take Mitt Romney…he recently won in Iowa, though barely.  I don’t really understand U.S. elections, but in simple terms he tried to win Iowa four years ago and essentially did as well now as he did then.  Four years ago, he lost to another candidate…oh, I should also mention that he won this time with fewer votes…so like…it’s victory, but not ‘Fist Pump’ levels.

The thought I had came when I read this line in said article:

That’s not much progress for a candidate who has been courting Iowans off and on for five years.

That changes the whole story to me!  It’s not like this guy went to Iowa four years ago, dicked around for awhile, then came back hoping opinions had changed…he’s been courting them.  He’s been going back to the state, making speeches, having parties, and trying to sway the favour of one group of people for four years…and in the end he was where he was four years ago, except this time with a bittersweet win.

Two things come to mind:

  1. It takes hard work to even take small steps.  Romney ‘won’ but only just, and those four years of ‘courting’ may be what pushed him ahead of his competitors.
  2. If people don’t like you no amount of market research, schmoozing, advertising and face time can fix that.  Romney may have won because people were sick of everyone else, or the whole biz, which gave him an edge.

Now, think of this as a musician.  If you’re playing the same city…over and over again…and no one is coming to your shows that really means you haven’t reached your audience.  To reach them you need to find them, court them, give them what they want.  Play great shows, engage them online, offer super fans special bonuses like backstage hangouts or hang out at the bar after the show.

But…if you’re playing over and over again…and courting people…and four years later you’re exactly where you were…you have to ask yourself: do I ‘love’ this?

If the answer is yes, then hell keep DOING it!  We need more musicians who are playing because they love it.

If the answer is no…then I think it’s time to reassess your situation.  I’d say it’s time to read the signs and realize that people just aren’t that into you.

** I’d like to add a positive un-Lefsetzy coda…People aren’t into you as you currently are.  Maybe it’s time to experiment:

  • try something new
  • collaborate
  • co-songwrite with another band
  • do a side project
  • try a different creative outlet for a few months
  • go on a vacation and bring your guitar for inspiration
  • learn a new method of recording that changes how you think about songwriting (I’m currently learning Ableton which is a big change)

…it’s never the end, just maybe a sign that things need to go a different direction

And again for citation purposes, the article was in CNN and you can read it by clicking here, though honestly…I stopped reading at about that quoted line up above!!

Best of 2011 – Vyto B

December 23, 2011

I’m going to go about the ‘Best of…’ list a little differently.  I’ll do a few posts on my favourite discoveries of 2011, and since I don’t want to do it normally I’m going to kick it off with something that was recorded in 1976…because, you know, I discovered it in 2011…so it’s a Best Of… for me!!

I stumbled across this album when I discovered ‘Egg City Radio,’ a music blog that rips and archives obscure or bizarro vinyl for the world to listen to!  I found some great John Carpenter music, wild italian movie soundtracks…and Vyto B.  How to describe Vyto B…

He’s like everything I love in music and more.  The music is catchy but not typical, the subject matter quirky and memorable, and execution raw but tight…I mean, this guy plays to his own rhythm but doesn’t skip a beat, LONG before we had computers to ensure beats were not skipped.

There’s a purity to Vyto B’s amazing piece Tricentennial 2076.  It sounds like it was recorded by a great talent in a room with only microphones and time.  He uses simple instrumentation – piano and voice, guitar and voice.  I only recall one song with production (the opening of “To Commemorate An Imaginary Life That Dies Prematurely” has some creepy…slowed down voice effects).

What are the songs about?  You know, the usual stuff…miracle devices, electronic enforcers, space love.

My appreciation for his vision (yup, I said vision) stems from the title track, Tricentennial 2076.  It encompasses the entire album like the opening of a well written essay.  It’s a thesis statement with proofs.  Each song thereafter expands on what we learn in the opening track.  It’s like one of those TV series or movies where the opening sequence is surreal and bizarre, but as you go along and are explained more about the world that’s been created it suddenly makes more and more sense.

It’s how I felt watching 12oz Mouse, a show which I probably shouldn’t be comparing to but is telling: you chuckle for the opening episodes because they’re so random, and piece by piece the story explains the most obscure elements to the point that a moving clock on the wall the squirts knockout gas becomes not only integral to the plot but essentially it’s own character!

We are taken through a world in 2076 when the US Tricentennial is about to take place, where a ‘big brother’ like existence is upon us, and where we can be saved by love.  Sounds corn…trust me, the album has a camp element, but there is no corn.

And the songs are infectious.  I used to play it in the office, and we would sing the chorus to Tricentennial at the top of our lungs when it came up.

Vyto B hooked me this year.  It’s odd to say, but I’d put it as my #1 discovery of the year…but also probably the best album I’ve heard since being introduced to obscure and clever favourites in my youth, like Jazz Butcher or Rupert Hine or Captain Beefheart. I’ve been missing the feeling of discovery, of ownership, of finding something I missed and didn’t know existed but is exactly…EXACTLY…what I needed.

I admit it’s not for everyone, but I would appreciate any fans of music and musicians to give it a download and a listen.  And if you like it…head over to Facebook and look him up…he’s there, 35 years after this album was recorded, and he’s still performing.

There will be more best of 2011 posts, probably into the New Year as well!  Let me know what you thought of this kickoff…I’m sorry it wasn’t about Adele or Frank Ocean, but I figure they’re getting enough coverage everywhere else!

Music is Hard!

November 28, 2011

...and also, apparently, an album title!

It would be wonderful if music was logical: talented artists were famous and had enough support to make a living, they could release their songs and their audience could easily find them, booking shows was just a matter of calling up and setting a date.

Unfortunately, the whole process is whack.  The internet has made it so that a talented artist can independently record, release, and market their music for absolutely no money (assuming they borrow microphones and steal software) but there’s a piece missing: how does the audience find you?

Fans used to find music through radio, or through variety television.  It was centralized…and although regions might vary on who or what they play it was pretty likely that if you had a hit in Austin, Texas on a major network you’d find your way onto the sets of people around the world.

Just to get on that major network you’d probably need to be signed to a label, or have a close contact who could sell you to the music directors…but once you were there the competition was limited…the world is your limit…sky your oyster!

Now where does a musician go to reach fans?  Some people go to YouTube, but how do you sift through the junk to find the gold?  Some browse music sites like or artist pages on MySpace, but again…are you willing to sit through 10,000 artists to find one that suits your tastes?

There are blogs…there is satellite radio…

In the end, the best promotion is word of mouth, a friend passing a link through Twitter after they find an amazing artist they never heard of.

An artist they stumbled over.

Sometimes, I wonder how many thousands of dollars are spent on various promotional tools, but in the end a band reached its audience because someone accidentally found the song.

What’s the solution?  There isn’t one…yet.  Finding fans with connections, fans that fell in love with your art, is the best bet.  It’s something that money can’t buy (though you may have to subsidize their services after they’ve fallen in love with you.)  There is something I can say from experience though:

If you have to pay someone to love your music then they aren’t going to put very much effort into spreading the word.  In the end, they’ll provide the service you’ve paid but not the passion you need.  Some companies take as many cheques as they can, to the point that they have five or six artists in each genre competing against each other for attention.  That isn’t the way to reach your fans (much like buying Facebook ‘Likes’ or YouTube views)

What you should be looking for is a dedicated fan base, and have ‘them’ spread the word.  If that fan base includes one or two professionals with contacts in the industry, BONUS!  If they truly love your music, they’ll find a way to tell their friends.

Music is hard!  In the good ol’ days you impress two or three people (a producer, a manager, a label exec) then you’re in!  Today…you need to impress two or three hundred people…and even then, it may not be a guarantee.

Conclusion: music is about love, and you have to love what you’re doing.  If you do, then someone else out there will love what you’re doing as well…and slowly but surely, over time, you might build up a base that can support you through your career.

Nothing comes easy for a few bucks…you get what you pay for, and a passionate fan…they’re priceless.

Futurecop! – Is It A Crime!

October 14, 2011


I ❤ Futurecop!  A lot!  And they have a new track out, so please give it a listen, especially if you love joy!  Their music is at once a throwback and modern, totally feels like they were picked up by aliens in the 80s, schooled in the ways of the future, and dropped down in modern day!!

Futurecop! – Is It A Crime (feat. Captain Capa)

Figure and Ground

October 7, 2011

One of the interesting things I managed to grasp in school that seemingly had nothing to do with music and the industry was the concept of ‘figure’ and ‘ground.’  Please check the wiki article I just linked…I may not do it justice but here’s what I got from the idea.

The best way to describe it is that figure is that thing you’re focusing on…let’s say ‘Television’ or…even ‘Electricity.’  Ground is everything around it…the context in which the figure sits.  It seems simple enough…Electricity…it comes from various places, it powers our electronics and appliances, it passes through wires.  Easy!

But the ground, or context, is sometimes very hard to see in its entirety.  The best way to do so is to take away the figure…and see what is effected.

Take the 2003 blackout.  The ‘Electricity’ was gone!  The ‘figure’ eliminated, so now we can see the context…what is different, what is effected.  Obviously our TVs didn’t work, the lights were off, but something else interesting happened.  Kids were playing in the streets.  People gathered together at bars under candlelight.  ‘Society’ in the context of electricity is altered.

I bring this up because I’ve noticed (kind of a broken record, but it came to mind) how much of society, culture, technology, and ‘everything’ was changed by Steve Jobs.  Because…you see, the figure was gone.  And when you take him away from the corporation (it’s easy to get pissed off at ‘Mac’ if you’re an Android user, or a Windows user, because you’re pissed off at the business) you can step back and see that ‘everything’ was changed by one man.

But that’s not where I wanted to go with this blog.

As a thought experiment, one of the best ways to figure out the ‘context’ of music, or the ‘context’ of the music industry is to take bits and pieces of it away.

One thing Eric McLuhan asked us to do was imagine that ‘recorded music’ was taken away.  If we can’t record music or voice, how does the world change?  For one thing, live music would be ever present, broadcast would be done live.  I pictured a live band in every mall, being piped through all the stores.  I imagined a LOT more written word to transfer news and information since there was no other way to ‘put things down.’

Take away ‘money’ from the lives of musicians.  Imagine money didn’t exist in society.  How does that change things?

Or technology?  Like autotune.

What kind of music industry would we have if we looked at the context?  Anything come to mind?

Sarah Vaughan for a Rainy Day

October 3, 2011

It’s autumn.  It’s rainy.  That means it’s cold, drizzly, overcast…a bummer.

If you were a teen in high school in the 80s and bummed out, you probably listened to The Cure or The Smiths.

I swear that Sarah Vaughan was the cure in her time (ooooh, deliberately left uncapitalized to represent double-entendre!!!)

Sarah Vaughan, pre-chanelling Robert Smith?

Today I’m listening to Sarah Vaughan because the day has forced my hand.  I’ve also discovered Groove Shark thanks to some people forcing me to check it out.  It’s pretty nifty, especially since Spotify, Pandora, and pretty much every other awesome music service isn’t available in Canada.

You can click here and go straight to a playlist I’ve made of Sarah Vaughan’s most…autumn rainy music.

I have no money, and want people to hear my new song…

September 29, 2011 could use your album title to send a message!!!

Quick Blog…but here are some quick things you can do:

  • Give it away for free: use Bandcamp or Soundcloud
  • Set a Facebook event on your Fan Page, or an email campaign set to direct people to the song at the same time on the same day (for instance: ‘Share my new song, Friday at Noon)
  • Get friends and other musicians to share a link on Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere
That last one is your best bet to success…if a musician shares your song to their fanbase it’s like a friend telling you that something is great: it’s word of mouth…digitally.
Another quick thing you can do…
…look into blogs that play your genre of music…contact them with the mp3, or a YouTube video link…maybe they’ll be nice enough to help ya out!
*wink wink*