Talking To The Folks
I hope someone ordered a bunch of interviews with musicians because we’ve got your hot Q and A action right here
It's the 2011 Regina Folk Festival! Are you excited? I said, ARE YOU EXCITED? Well for Pete's sake you should be. There's a great lineup this year, a really interesting and fun mix of musicians. Between the free daytime stages and the spectacular main stage nighttime shows I predict a spectacular folkapocalypse of life-affirming fun. Yeah!
Also! We spoke with a bunch of artists playing this year's festival and in one case an American cartoonist who's not coming anywhere near Regina. It came out great. Enjoy, and see you in Victoria Park! Unless the unfinished plaza explodes and wrecks everything. (Kidding! Never happen!) /Stephen Whitworth
(As discussed by cartoonist Jeffrey Brown)
"I like the idea that art can create those kind of meaningful connections for people."
SHOWTIMES: Friday 9:50-10:50 p.m. (mainstage); Saturday 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Stage 1) ACTIVE SINCE: 1996 GENRE: Baroque pop MAJOR RELEASES: Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005); Armchair Apocrypha (2007); Noble Beast (2009) HOMETOWN/HOME BASE: Chicago, IL.
RANDOM FACT: Bird is renowned for his whistling, which he's brought to albums by the likes of My Morning Jacket and Magnolia Electric Co.
Andrew Bird came to my attention in a super-conventional way: I read about him. Around the time of his 2005 album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, or maybe earlier, a profile in Magnet talked about this artist who used to play violin in the Renaissance fair circuit, and who learned to play the guitar when a broken arm took him out of commission.
I bought the album, loved his lively string arrangements, his elegant singing voice and the bizarre imagery in his songs. I've been a fan ever since.
Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown took a different path to becoming a fan of Bird. The first story in the indie cartoonist and music addict's 2008 collection Little Things details the personal history that brought him to his current appreciation for Bird's music.
Bird couldn't do an interview with me, so I figured, why not ask Brown some questions? He was good enough to answer a few via e-mail before running off to the San Diego Comicon. /James Brotheridge
What made you approach your relationship with Andrew Bird's music in this form? It seems unconventional for a style of autobiographical comic.
I wanted to write a kind of essay, I guess, and since it was a personal essay and I've done all these autobiographical comics, it seemed to make sense to use the form. I also thought the pacing and timing and everything I could do with the comics was still a good way to get a kind of visual representation for the effect Andrew Bird's music had on me.
What was it about Bird that made you single him out for a piece like this?
With a lot of music I found myself drawing these little connections where certain music tied together different parts of my life, and Bird's music in particular had a good number that fit together nicely, which I could also fit into a bit larger structure.
His career has really taken off since you made the piece. What do you think of his recent stuff?
I still like everything I hear -- the latest album was great. Mysterious Production of Eggs is still my favourite and still has had the biggest impact.
The way you encounter and come to appreciate Bird's work is filled with happenstance and is a little complicated. Does it make you think about how people find your books and comics?
I do think about it -- actually a lot of people tell me the stories of how they find my books, and I think part of that is my books have such a personal connection to readers, and I like the idea that art can create those kind of meaningful connections for people.
"We really like Old Man Luedecke."
SHOWTIMES: Friday: 7:55-8:35 p.m. (Main Stage) Saturday 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. (Stage 1) ROSTER: Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Katie Lee, Austin Tufts, Taylor Smith FORMED: 2006 GENRE: "Aggressive groove-based textural pop." MAJOR RELEASES: Native Speaker (2011) HOMETOWN: Calgary HOME BASE: Montreal
RANDOM FACT: Estimated number of effects pedals owned by band: "I'm gonna say, like, 25, 26?"
It's nice that Calgary's Flemish Eye Records puts out some of the most interesting music in Canada. It's even nicer that their artists - like label poster-boy Chad VanGaalen and quirky folksters Ghostkeeper - show the Regina Folk Festival so much love. This year, the dreamy-sounding youngsters in Braids will bring the warm textures of their breakout record, Native Speaker, to the RFF just three weeks after finishing a 10-day tour of Europe. Prairie dog caught up with guitarist, bassist, and vocalist Taylor Smith during the band's brief downtime at home in Montreal. /John Cameron
How were crowds for the aggressive groove-based textural pop in Europe?
It was great. It varies pretty strongly from market to market but overall it was really nice to go to somewhere like Slovakia, where we'd never even - like, before this trip probably couldn't even place on a map - and to have there be a ton of people there and for them to be really attentive and respectful and supportive. It was a really [sighs] eye-opening experience to just how far the music has travelled in the last year. Pretty exciting for us.
Braids' first-ever gig was at a folk festival in Calgary. But it's different now; you've spoken [to Dose.ca] about your first performance and it was very much, ah, I think you said it was "Feist-like"?
Yeah, what we were doing before definitely fits in with more of a folk fest-like sound or whatever, so it's going to be really exciting to go back to. I don't know. We're playing a lot of folk fests this summer. We're doing Calgary; we just played Ottawa Bluesfest a few days ago, and we're doing the Regina Folk Fest. It's really cool to go to something like that and play alongside a huge range of artists, in terms of genre and everything like that.
When you tour it's either the same band you played with every single night or these bands that are pretty close to what you're doing. It's gonna be fun to show up and, like, the Ottawa Bluesfest, before us, it was one guy playing banjo.
Was it Old Man Luedecke?
No, it wasn't Old Man Luedecke [laughs]. We really like Old Man Luedecke.
So good .
Yeah. But no, it was somebody else. I can't remember his name.
In 2009, Raphaelle [Standell-Preston, guitarist and lead vocalist] told andPOP that she wanted the next record, which I assume turned out to be Native Speaker , to sound like "damp hair". If we're going to get to hear some newer songs, what do you hope they'll evoke?
Definitely something that's a little more controlled, restrained... On the record there's really only one quiet song, and it's still extremely dense, and has those moments that are somewhat overwhelming and really big and grandiose. We're trying to learn how to write songs that are a little more nostalgic-feeling or distant, controlled, spare, learning how to use space a little better. How to still have the same sense of strong, emotional outbursts [that are] moving, powerful, captivating, but also have these sections that contrast that, and are a little more controlled, restrained.
Darker's maybe a word, but I don't know, the mood's not necessarily dark. It's learning how to be more specific with what we're trying to say, and more specific with where we place each element.
Maybe more like a damp ponytail? Something a little more taut?
"If we have had a really good show and we're driving to a party or to another show, we always put on Andrew W.K."
SHOWTIMES: Saturday 11:30 am - 12:45 p.m. (Stage 1); Saturday 1:30-2:30 p.m. (Stage 3); Sunday 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. (Stage 3); Sunday 7-7:50 p.m. (Main Stage) ROSTER: Paul Gutheil, Eoin Hickey-Cameron, Mike Dawson, Carl Johnson, Amanda Scandrett, Brennan Ross and Michael Thievin FORMED: 2008 GENRE: Pop MAJOR RELEASES: Denim on Denim (2010), Summer of Lust (upcoming) HOMETOWN(S): "Too many of them to figure out." HOME BASE: "Our fair Queen City."
RANDOM FACT: The band has strange obsession with Andrew W.K.
This seven-piece pop ensemble is on the cusp of their new record Summer of Lust, due out August 23. I met up with lead singer and guitar player Carl Johnson to talk about their new album and playing the festival circuit. /Kim Jay
Tell me about recording this new album.
Well, we didn't have a jam space in Regina so we rented the Town Hall in Kronau and we spent last November writing the record.
Did being in a small town change how it ended up?
Just like any other time, you have arguments and blow-ups, and other times you are wringing your hands and shaking your head 'cause you don't know how you're going to get this song to work. But it definitely allowed us to have time together and we needed a concentrated amount of time. So it was nice to have eight or 10 hours a day to do it.
Who are your influences on this new record?
There's always the oldies like The Beatles and The Kinks and The Zombies, you know, stuff that you never stop listening to. But we definitely started listening to a lot of Motown the year before we recorded it, so we play with some of those rhythms on the record. The whole band listens to totally different stuff too. I think Eoin survives on a diet of the Holdsteady, Thievin listens to metal and Dawson listens to Japanese metal, electronica and hip-hop.
How would you say your sound has changed from your first record, Hunting Ghosts ?
Between the records we played about 150 shows, so you definitely grow as a band. We went from a 10-piece to a seven-piece along the way. So there is a natural evolution that comes with playing with the same people and that many shows together. And you just learn how to get through in your music the things that you want with that practice. You want the melodies to flow, and for people to nod their heads and sing along and have a song that sticks in people's heads.
So I think the goal hasn't changed but the execution has gotten better as time goes on.
With all that travelling in a van you do as a group, do you have embarrassing songs on your playlist?
If we have had a really good show and we're driving to a party or to another show, we always put on Andrew W.K. [laughs]. That first record where every song has the word "party" in it… yeah, we all pump our fists on the roof of the van and yell and sing along.
You've done a couple festivals now and the Regina Folk Fest is coming up. What's the energy like when playing the festival circuit as compared to a club?
It's larger, but a different kind of energy to harness as a performer interacting with the crowd. But there's potential. That's why you see U2 videos where Bono's got people waving their arms in unison. So the potential energy there is pretty incredible. We looking forward to playing in Regina.
"I worry about people who don't travel and who fear travel, because it really is the best education you can get."
SHOWTIMES: Saturday 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. (Stage 1); Saturday 4:15-5:15 p.m. (Stage 1); Saturday 4:15-5:15 p.m. (Main Stage) ACTIVE SINCE: 2003 GENRE: Folk MAJOR RELEASES: Postcards and Daydreaming (2005); Nice, Nice, Very Nice (2009); Oh Fortune (2011) HOMETOWN/HOME BASE: Vancouver, B.C.
RANDOM FACT: Until his 2009 album Nice, Nice, Very Nice took off, Mangan was working as a server.
Dan Mangan's voice rumbles when I talk to him over the phone, just like it does in his songs. His deep singing, matched with a slight coarseness, is part of what made his 2009 album Nice, Nice, Very Nice a breakout success. The other part was the killer songwriting. Tracks like the single "Robots" were insistently catchy new Canadian folk, speaking to Mangan's identity and his home of Vancouver with great and appealing specificity.
Nice opened up some nice opportunities for the man, like signing to Arts and Crafts, who are releasing his third record, Oh Fortune, in September. According to Mangan, the album finds him "trying to write from a different place not necessarily my own."
The title track, which is available for download at danmanganmusic.com, sounds like an artist ready for another journey. /James Brotheridge
You seem to have a really good balance of songs with an urban setting but also returning to that classic Canadian contemporary folk setting of nature. How do you see those two settings in your work?
It's interesting that you'd say that, and that you'd use the word "Canadian." I think that something that has been a stream of thought in Canadian songwriting for decades and decades -- and is a little bit different than other places -- is that we are dependent and live from the land.
I think Canadians see nature as a grand thing that is bewildering and I think there are other cultures that see nature as something to be conquered and not so much something to be appreciated. Not to say that here in Canada we don't conquer nature and use resources. But I think in the consciousness of the Canadian songwriter, that's something that's been important since a long time ago.
When you tour, when you're a band in this country, you spend a lot of time not in cities. You end up in cities; that's where you play. There's such long distances between the cities... that's what part of travelling is. That's part of what opening your horizons is -- putting yourself in other situations and trying to examine your hometown from the perspective of not being there.
It sounds like a bit of a tall order, trying to put yourself outside of your own perspective, especially when so much of your work has been so personal.
Yeah, I think it's the duty of all human beings to try and get outside their head every now and then. I'm such a strong advocate for people travelling. I think everyone should do some travelling in their life. I worry about people who don't travel and who fear travel, because it really is the best education you can get, to go and see other cultures and to understand that they're not different from you, you're just different from each other.
If you were to act as travel agent to the world, is there anywhere you'd send the average person?
I don't know; there's a lot of cool things on this planet. You could go to Northern Australia and see some incredible beaches but you could also go to Prague and see some cool buildings. And somewhere in between, you can see a whole bunch of different ways of life. What some people see as normal, some other people see as crazy. I think it's not about adopting another person's culture. It's about getting your head around the idea that it's okay.
"I've probably signed more autographs and photos taken in the last couple of years than just about any time previously."
SHOWTIMES Friday 7:00-7:40 p.m. (Main Stage); Sunday 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. (Stage 1); Sunday 1:45-2:45 p.m. (Stage 2); Sunday 4 p.m.-5 p.m. (Children's Stage) ACTIVE SINCE: 1975 GENRE: Folk Music for kids and their caretakers. MAJOR RELEASES: The Cat Came Back (1979), Fred Penner's Place (1988), Where In The World (2008) HOMETOWN: Winnipeg
FUN FACTS: He's a member of the Order of Canada, and a Scorpio.
For the generation of Canadians who grew up in the '80s, Fred Penner is a man who needs no introduction. From 1985-1997 his popular children's show Fred Penner's Place delighted and entertained some of the same crowd that will gather to see him perform at the Folk Fest next weekend.
How does Penner think they turned out? What does he make of today's children's programming? And what ever happened to that infamous log? Read on to find out… / Vanda Schmöckel
You're playing a lot of festivals this summer. Are you always this busy?
It wasn't always, but in the last couple of years, as the first generation of kids that grew up with me are now the main festival goers, these festivals are becoming quite a regular event - and quite silly in the level of response.
Constant autographs. I've probably signed more autographs and photos taken in the last couple of years than just about any time previously.
I guess a whole generation of kids that grew up on your music now have their own kids.
Even the ones without kids. That's the interesting thing. I think you get to a point in your life where you've survived your teens and you're trying to find out the next phase, and you often to go back and look at your influences in life, and I'm part of that world.
So how do you think they turned out?
They turned out great! There seems to be a very nice energy in this generation - unless they're deceiving me somehow [laughs].
Have you found that your audience has changed?
I haven't really. People are people with the same needs, wants and understandings. The only thing that changes along the way is the vernacular and the level of consuming, but underneath there's still the fundamental human values that need to be nurtured.
It's great that little kids still go for sing-alongs, what with all the other over-stimulating stuff that competes for their attention these days.
I think that a lot of children's entertainment tries to make it hip, and I often think they're missing the point. I've been to some shows where the energy goes up at a 90-degree angle right off the top and stays there, and the kids are overwhelmed with colour and sound. They're excited, but ultimately what are they taking away from the experience? A lot of the industry thinks that children have no attention span, that you have to give them a new 'hit' every 15 seconds or you'll lose them. And that's not true.
I have to ask; what happened to the log?
I don't want to disappoint anyone, but the log no longer exists.
In the beginning (on Fred Penner's Place) we had a full, six-foot padded log that I crawled out of and, as the set evolved, it became clear that all we really needed was the front third, and it was trimmed back. So the log is metaphorically in perfect shape, but physically it's altered somewhat.
So you don't even have that portion of the log? You didn't keep it for your living room or anything?
No, I don't have the log. I know where some of the pieces are. They're at a farm outside of Winnipeg. It's non-biodegradable material so they still sort of exist, but that's another story.
"I don't have a process as much as I understand that I don't have a process, you know?"
SHOWTIMES: Saturday 12:45-1:45 p.m. (Stage 2); Saturday 8:10-9:05 p.m. (Main Stage); Sunday 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Stage 2); Sunday 4:15-5:15 p.m. (Stage 1) GENRE: Blues HOME TOWN/HOME BASE: Toronto KEY RELEASES: Blueprint (2008) Brown Sugar (2010)
RANDOM FACT: Involved with the Rwandan Music Festival (http://kigaliup.com) as artist and organizer. /Charles Atlas Sheppard
Kigali Up, as I understand it, is a Rwandan Music Festival designed to showcase Rwandan Culture to the world. How did you get involved?
Oh goodness. I met Kerrie Clark who is the artistic director of the Calgary Folk Festival. Last fall I was having lunch with her and she told me about this amazing festival they were doing, at which point I volunteered to fundraise or do whatever I could. She said, "That would be great but we want you to sing." And so I became involved in an organizing way but not really greatly; [The Mighty] Popo and Kerrie have really taken on a lot of the burden for that. We've had a couple of fundraisers and I believe there was or is one happening in Vancouver.
The whole idea of it was that Popo, having spent a lot of his musical time here in Canada, has really become enamoured with musical festivals bringing communities together and strengthening them. He wanted to bring this idea back to Rwanda. So we are going to Rwanda. We didn't raise as much as we wanted to so we had to scale back from a three-day festival to a one-day festival. But we are also hoping to bring music to the schools… with it all different types of music to illustrate to the kids there how important their musical history is in the spread of urban music.
And the whole idea of it is to celebrate Rwandan music and to share our music and to hear what they have and see what we can do together.
Let's talk about your album. Your first CD Blueprint was an album of covers. The new one, Brown Sugar , is an album of original songs. How daunting was that? Is the songwriting process difficult for you?
I don't do anything first. I do whatever comes. I don't have a process as much as I understand that I don't have a process, you know? Sometimes I'm walking and words come to me, and with the words come a melody. And sometimes I'm walking and a melody comes to me and I sing it into my mp3 player and I'll send it off to Donna [Grantis] and she'll do something with it and then we'll put words to it. Sometimes Donna will come over with a tune, a melody and I'll put words to it.
There is no process. Sometimes there's only words.
What are your goals after this album? Any plans on doing a jazz album?
I'm in the midst of also putting together a symphonic show which I am planning on touring next year 2012. The first show I booked for this is in Wheeling, West Virginia. The show is called Blues in G-Minor. The whole idea of it was to marry blues and classical music and see what comes out of it. I've always been in love with classical music and my youngest daughter is a huge classical music buff. I thought it would be a great way to celebrate a different type music and get a different audience involved in the blues. Getting this album done will be a big thing and I'm getting ready for next year's touring season.
"How likely is it that women would decide to drop bombs on other women's children?"
SHOWTIMES: Sunday 2-3 p.m. (Stage 3); Sunday 10:15-11:20 p.m. (Main Stage) ACTIVE SINCE: 1999 GENRE: Pop/Cabaret MAJOR RELEASES: (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves (2001); Lover/Fighter (2003); MILK and MEAT (2010) HOMETOWN: Huntsville HOME BASE: Toronto
RANDOM FACT: Hawksley Workman was born Ryan Corrigan in 1975.
This interview with the popular RFF semi-regular was conducted by e-mail. /Gregory Beatty
What are you up to?
Lots of shows this summer, re-building my tape studio. I'm pretty much through with digital recording. Lots of hammer swinging, watching the hummingbirds.
Your last appearance in Regina was with a full band at Darke Hall in March 2010. At the Folk Festival, will you be solo or with a band?
I'll be with Mr. Lonely. We'll be doing the thing we've be doing for 12 years, playing songs from most of my records, a little chit-chat. Generally just trying to conjure something wild and special.
Are you superstitious? I ask because MEAT and MILK were your 11th and 12th albums. Have you started work on album 13 yet?
Funny you should say that. I'm not so superstitious, but this is the first time in a while where I'm just enjoying music and playing, and not desperate to make something new.
In addition to closing the festival, you're in two Sunday workshops. "For Him and the Girls" sees you perform with Ashleigh Ball (Hey Ocean!), Beatrice Martin (Cœur de Pirate) and Cris Derkson. That would seem to confirm your reputation for appealing to women. What is it about your music, do you think, that resonates with women?
I didn't know the workshops were named after my songs. Funny about women, they are a creature to be revered. I don't know, they're mysterious and important, and while men pursue violence and unkindness, women are still and creating life. How likely is it that women would decide to drop bombs on other women's children?
The second workshop is "The Happiest Day is a Tokyo Bicycle". That references a song from MEAT . What was your inspiration for it?
Lonely and I hired bikes from the IKEA of Japan. Lonely has a keen sense of direction - a human GPS. I never fear when he's in command. We rode around Tokyo for seven hours, till dark, never once feeling threatened. No honking or middle fingers, like you'd expect on a city commute in Toronto, just very respectful driving and kooky side alley trips. I reckon Tokyo was the last proper mind blow travel stop I've had in a while.
Another song that caught my attention off MEAT was "And the Government Will Protect the Mighty". Can you talk about your inspiration there?
It feels like we're moving in quite dark ways, politically. It's worrying. There's lots of humans on this planet. We're all seeking some kind of comfort, and to avoid suffering. Kindness should be the theme of the future as resources begin to dwindle. Humans will have to rely on each other's skills and goodwill when the food is scarce or the hydro dodgy. We're moving towards lie/fear politics instead of an honest understanding of our current standing and the challenges of a future which probably aren't too distant.
Through policies they champion, right-leaning politicians privilege individual interests ahead of communal ones. As an artist with a history of performing at folk festivals, could you offer a few thoughts on what community means to you?
Community has always been my focus. I realized growing up in the church that the most important part of the whole ritual was song. Sadly, as our secularized world gets cocky in its post, post ironic sentiment - not that I'm advocating on behalf of the church, because I'm not - I'm just saying that the power of music and its capacity to bring people together remains an integral part of the human experience. It's not lost on me. Music is the most important remaining humanizer, and truth beacon too.
You've performed in Regina many times. Is there anything special you look forward to doing when you're here?
No doubt, we could all agree on the superior pizza in Regina. The best Value Village in Canada. One of the most helpful Long and McQuade outlets in Canada. Easily the best home-cooked meal we've ever had at the last Darke Hall show, with homemade everything right down to churned butter (we still talk about that meal... it may have inspired a book).
You appeared in the 2010 movie Score: A Hockey Musical and performed the theme song. Are you a hockey fan?
I don't really cheer for anybody, and don't pay much attention through the year. But the playoffs are fun, and usually coincide with touring, so it's something to watch and talk about on the bus. I do love to play. I'm an incredibly passionate hack.