The new WP record is officially in the can! Details are to follow, but I can confirm that it’s a five-song EP called Old Dreams; it’s once again produced by Murray Lightburn and features longtime WP pals Stacey DeWolfe, Chilly Gonzales, Steve Raegele and my brother Nick Fraser; it will be released this fall in a (very) limited edition 10″ vinyl as well as on all digital platforms, and we will be doing some shows for the release.
There’s a lot of music out there, so much that you can’t keep track of it and invariably miss out on most of it. I wanted to take this space to shout out a few artists who’ve recently released music I’ve found inspiring. Almost all these artists are people I know personally, but I’m not here to blow smoke up my friends’ asses. I just have good taste in music and in friends, that’s all. Maybe this will be a series, I dunno. But I enjoy these and I hope you do too.
Some of you may recall that I wrote a book a few years ago on Ottawa indie rock pioneers Wooden Stars. When I interviewed singer/guitarist Julien Beillard for the book, he professed to being basically done with making music, so I was very pleasantly surprised to hear that he was recording again. And the result—produced by his longtime collaborator Geoffrey Pye (Yellow Jacket Avenger) and even featuring a Mike Feuerstack lap steel cameo for all y’all Wooden Stars completists—doesn’t disappoint. File under: Heavy-duty songwriting interlaced with some noisy explorations.
I’ve known these young sisters since they were little kids, and I’m thrilled to see them making such cool music. I watched the Kurt Cobain documentary the other day (verdict: OK—be sure to take it with a grain of salt, or Buzz Osborne’s review) and I couldn’t help but think, certainly not for the first time, about the horrible influence that Seattle grunge had on mainstream rock. If false grunge is best embodied by Nickelback and its ilk, and its platonic ideal personified in the Melvins, Triples represents its long-neglected sweet side. File under: Heavy riffs, nice melodies, and introspective lyrics.
Stéphane Lafleur is not only a cool musicien (Avec pas d’casque), but one of Quebec’s most interesting filmmakers (Continental, Tu dors Nicole). As an occasional filmmaker myself, I have a special jealousy for people who make music and film (especially when they’re actually good at both). This project is a collaboration with longtime WP friend and collaborator Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux (Organ Mood, Chocolat, Rock Forest) and it’s really great. File under: Eerie and exciting, ambient soundscapes with meat on the bone.
2017 was the first year that I didn’t do any WP shows since 1999, or in other words, in the entire history of the WP. That feels strange. However, I did stay busy with music.
Working with producer Murray Lightburn for the third time, I recorded five new songs. They sound pretty different than anything I’ve done so far, so I’m curious to see what people will think. Murray and I did most of the music ourselves, Stacey sings on a bunch of tracks, and longtime WP cohorts Chilly Gonzales, Steve Raegele and my brother Nick Fraser all make appearances. These tunes will be released in some form in 2018, and the WP will get back on the road.
The other thing that kept me busy was the 30th anniversary tour of the Permanent Stains, the band I’ve been in since junior high school. We released an updated edition of our autobiography, Let’s Get Greasy, and did five shows in Ontario and Quebec. The tour was probably one of my favourite experiences ever. In our heyday we were notorious for being theatrical and confrontational but not very good—but today, with half the band being full-time pro musicians, I knew we could make an impact musically as well as theatrically. Some may be surprised by this, due to my reputation for haphazard sloppiness, but I actually have very high standards both for the WP and the Stains: I want to blow people’s minds. And if I may say so, I think we accomplished that this summer. But don’t take it from me…
Some of the shows were mostly for old friends, which was fun, but when we played in North Bay and Peterborough, the audience was all young people rocking out, which was super energizing. We also got to play with a bunch of really cool bands and artists, including old friends like garbageface, Broken Puppy and Just Like the Movies, but also new (or new to us) artists like Ugly Cry, Eliza Kavtion, Gamma Scum, Like a Girl, Coastal Pigs, Worn Robot and Lonely Parade. The tour was full of friendship, hysterical laughter and ridiculous stunts both onstage and off. To be able to spend that time with the band—my brother and a bunch of my closest friends—and to pull off our absurdist spectacle so successfully, was really like an adolescent fantasy come true, and I hope to work with the Stains again before too long.
While I was on the road with the Stains, I was contacted to host a panel discussion at Pop Montreal with recently reunited 90s band Royal Trux. I was familiar, if not intimate, with their music, but I was curious (and flattered) enough to say yes. Starting at that moment and continuing up until minutes before the panel, people from my close friends to the highest ranks of Pop authority warned me that the band were notoriously difficult. I figured I had to get my Nardwuar on and do scrupulous research in order to not be publicly humiliated.
In the end, the research paid off and/or the band’s difficulty was greatly exaggerated, but it was a pretty great experience—they were just funny, smart, very candid people. In addition to a nominal fee I got a festival pass out of it, which was great. I saw a number of shows, including nostalgic classic album run-throughs by pals The Dears and Besnard Lakes, a great set by Carodiario which also was apparently Maica’s last under that moniker, and a rager by the Trux themselves. The best was a NYC rapper named Quay Dash. I was on my way home from another show when I ran into my friend Roxanne aka Donzelle, who urged me to join her, and I’m so glad I did. True hip-hop, raw and real, like I hadn’t seen onstage in years.
Anyway, I’m excited to share my new music and to get performing again. Thanks for reading, and I hope to be seeing you soon!
The WP has been hard at work this year, getting a new batch of songs in the can. They will be released in some form in 2018, and I’m very happy with them. But this summer, I’ve been busy with another project: the 30th anniversary tour of the Permanent Stains!
The Stains was my high school band, and though we’ve done things here and there since that era, we’ve been inactive for the last decade. I’m very excited about this tour, and the anniversary re-edition of our autobiography, Let’s Get Greasy, with a bunch of new material.
There’s a lot I could say about the Stains, but you can read all about it in the book, or get a hint from this video with some of the messiest moments from our Ottawa early-90s punk scene heyday:
It was weird for me to watch the old footage that I compiled to make this video. A friend was asking me “What were you guys thinking?” and I have to say, it’s hard for me to remember or connect with my vision at the time. We just wanted to perform, freak people out, and have fun. And make good music – we may have fallen short of that particular goal a lot of the time, but we were just teenagers, and we’ve done all right for ourselves since; all of us still play music, many in a full-time pro capacity.
On that note, another thing I noticed going through the old materials was that from very early on, I defined the band as being bad. Was this a pre-emptive strike against criticism, a lazy way to excuse sloppiness, or just the pervasive influence of Mad magazine with its “usual gang of idiots” self-definition? At any rate, I now want to come clean and say that I think, and have always thought, that we actually rule.
Our antics may or may not be as crazy as a bunch of genteel middle-aged artists – we’ll see. All I know is that to play music with my brother and a bunch of my closest friends is something that brings me a lot of happiness, and I look forward to sharing it with you.
Almost exactly three years after we started recording our last record Always, I went back in the studio with Murray Lightburn to start laying down some new WP.
We’ve been taking things at a steady pace, getting together about once a week except when Murray is out of town with The Dears or on his own. I’m hoping the timeline will be something between History of Pain, which we took two years to record, and Always, which was completed in a relatively quick three-month burst of productivity.
All I can tell you is that so far we’ve recorded three tracks; they sound nothing like each other, and completely different from anything the WP has done before. So, it should be interesting.
After a quiet period, mainly due to the birth of our son, the WP started to get back in action this year. In the spring we released our latest EP Always. Produced by Murray Lightburn and featuring a song co-written with Mocky and a cameo from Chilly Gonzales on piano, it’s been called a return to the “classic” WP sound and, well, what more can I say? I like it, and I hope you do too.
We also put out a video for “Hey Joanne” directed by Montreal artist and musician Bryce Cody.
And we got back on the road! It was a short jaunt, but we had a lot of fun. In Toronto, we were backed by a one-off supergroup featuring three of my favourite musicians and human beings in general: Charlotte Cornfield, Adam Waito and Matt Collins. Here we are performing the title track from Always:
In Montreal, we were joined by our longtime collaborators Gordon Allen and Warren Auld, along with Tim Kingsbury (Sam Patch, Arcade Fire) on guitar. In Ottawa, none of my wish-list guests could make it, so Warren, Gord and I played as a power trio with Stacey’s vocals on top. And that was fun too.
In the fall, we had the opportunity to play at Montreal’s best film festival, the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, at an afterparty of sorts for our old friend Adam Traynor’s new web series Le Ball-trap. Murray, Warren and Gord filled out the lineup, and José Garcia did some amazing visuals. Here we are performing “Avalanches” from History of Pain:
I didn’t see a ton of shows this year, apart from some great bands we shared the stage with such as Triple Gangers, Muelkik, EXE, Douce Angoisse and Sheenah Ko. I did see one show, however, that was very memorable. It was a triple bill of Napalm Death, Melvins and Melt-Banana.
They were all awesome, but the Melvins show was really life-affirming. They have always been one of my favourite bands, but I hadn’t seen them play for years. I noticed that they had a new bass player, and he was giving off a really good vibe. You know when a veteran band has a new, young member who just seems really overjoyed to be onstage with these guys? It was like that, but as I looked closer I realized that this guy wasn’t that young. But he had the energy of a young person, just really getting into it and enjoying himself onstage. Eventually he was introduced and I realized it was Steve McDonald from Redd Kross. I can’t really express how motivating it was to see the enjoyment he was having and putting forth to the audience. The fact that someone can still be that energetic and positive after many years in the music game gave me a much-needed renewal of faith.
The other big thing that happened this year was that Gordon Thomas, who we made a documentary about years ago and stayed friends with for years after, passed away just shy of his 100th birthday. I wrote a few words about him and the experience of visiting him just before he died.
I didn’t do a ton of freelance writing this year, but I was happy with this review of gay Québécois wrestling icon Pat Patterson’s autobiography.
2016 was a tough year for a lot of people, and I fear that the next few years may be just as hard or harder. I don’t know what to say or what to do, except to try to be a good person and engage in my community as much as I can. WP-wise, I’ll be working on some new material and a new stage show which I hope to share with as many people as possible.
If you’re reading this, I thank you for your support, I wish you all the best and hope to see you soon!
Leon Russell died this week, yet another addition to the long, sad list of musical legends who’ve moved on this year (not to mention the potential end of the world as we know it, but I won’t get into that right now). I can’t say that I’m super familiar with his oeuvre, but one song of his has been a longtime favourite of mine.
I first heard this version by the Carpenters. The cheese is laid on pretty thick (there’s even a sax solo), but the beauty of the song cuts through, both in Karen Carpenter’s inimitable voice and the strength of the song itself.
I saw by looking on the record that Leon Russell had written it, but I wasn’t too aware of his career. Later, my friend Matt Collins made me a mix CD that had his original version on it. I always felt that his vocal affectations were a bit over the top, but it is his song, so he can sing it however he wants, and if you don’t like it… that’s what covers are for.
Why do I love this song so much? I’m not sure. In the Carpenters version, I always loved the sentiment in the closing line, “And when my life is over, remember when we were together, we were alone and I was singing a song for you.” But in the Willie Nelson version, the part that always hits me is when he sings “…if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, for my love is in there hiding.” In the Carpenters version that line is delivered with a very schmaltzy flourish, but Willie brings to it his famously subtle and understated phrasing, and it really drives home the beauty as well as the melancholy of the sentiment expressed in the song. When he adds a simple melody to the word “melody” itself, it’s slightly corny, but somehow perfect…
Because it’s a song about songwriting (normally a bad idea) and the inability to capture a feeling perfectly with lyrics (“if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, for my love is in there hiding”), it strikes a chord with me as a songwriter, aside from how I might feel as a listener. And ironically (or appropriately?), this expression of being unable to capture the feeling is, in itself, the perfect expression of the feeling. If that makes any sense.
RIP to Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, and the American Dream…
Note: some of these thoughts are taken from a response I sent to Carl Wilson for his Crying Over Art project. I’m not sure if my words were ever used for that, so I thought it was probably OK to repurpose them here.
When I saw the words “NOMEANSNO HAS SPLIT” on the group’s Facebook page a little while ago, I figured it might be one of their cryptic jokes. So I was sad to recently find out that the band has indeed called it quits. But they had a good run, to say the least.
The first thing of theirs I heard was a tape my brother had come across somehow that had The Day Everything Became Nothing and Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed. I was really young, maybe as young as 12 or 13. I was still listening to stuff like the Dr. Demento show. And there was part of their thing that fit in with that somehow. Even though they were dark and intelligent, there was always a very strong sense of humour that came through.
My brother and I went to see them in the early 90s in Toronto. The opening acts were Phleg Camp and The Ex! What an amazing lineup. We were very young teenagers—was it an all-ages show (at a bar), or did we somehow pass as older? Anyway, we didn’t see NoMeansNo because they played too late and we had to get home before the subway closed.
I finally got to see them live in Toronto, in ’94, I think. It was the tour for Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? They started the show as a duo: just the Wright brothers, drums, bass and vocals. I think it was at the Opera House and I was right up front. Rob Wright seemed really intense and scary. Even back then, his hair was completely white, and his age gave him both a certain novelty value and an unmistakeable authority.
More then 10 years later, I saw them again at the Sala Rossa in Montreal. I hadn’t been keeping up with their albums and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was completely blown away. Even though Rob Wright had softened somehow, seeming more genial and less frightening, there was so much strength in his hands, and in his bellowing voice, that I found myself looking up to him as I did to my father when I was a little boy: a mixture of awe and affection with a touch of fear towards an inspiring, benevolent, but incredibly powerful presence.
I saw them again a few years later at Il Motore in Montreal. They were getting on in years but still every bit as amazing. By this point, they had given up any pretense of being “cool”: Rob wore a Papa Smurf t-shirt and John wore these incredibly goofy Bermuda shorts. Of course, that just made them cooler.
I had this notion it would be cool to do a NoMeansNo documentary. I even brought copies of the Gordon Thomas and Corpusse docs with me to that show and was going to bring them to the band. But when I tried to approach Rob, some doofus had buttonholed him and by the time he was done, it was clear Rob was trying to get on with his gear takedown (these guys were their own roadies well into their sixties!). Basically I chickened out. Maybe it will still happen someday, from me or someone else. At any rate, I was reminded while listening to Damien Abraham’s podcast that in the vaults of MuchMusic, there’s a three-camera NoMeansNo show from the early-mid 80s… someone should dig that up and re-archive it before it’s too late!
Anyway. I loved their total unconcern for trends, their inscrutable lyrics (“but I lied when I said that honesty was dead”), their musicality, the way they combined the seemingly incompatible worlds of prog and punk, their work ethic, and the way they stayed true to their vision right until the end. But more than anything, I still love listening to the music. RIP, NoMeansNo. You are a true inspiration.
We’re doing a free show in Montreal, as part of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, curated by longtime friend and associate Adam Traynor. Details are to be announced soon, but I can say that it’s on Monday October 10 and that it will be a good lineup. Update: the lineup has been announced! Adam’s totally insane and awesome web series Le Ball Trapwill be screening, followed by performances by the WP, Sarah Neufeld (violinist for Arcade Fire and an acclaimed solo artist in her own right) and Le Ball Trap music composer Victor Le Masne. And the whole thing is FREE! More details here.
I recently joined Spotify and have been enjoying it a lot. The “Discover Weekly” playlist is a great feature; I find most online entities’ efforts to target my taste comical to the point of poignancy, but Spotify does a pretty fine job of predicting what I will like. I started compiling a playlist of my own, and plan to update it and create more of them over time. Almost the entire WP catalogue is on there too, as indeed it is on most streaming platforms, so if you too enjoy listening to music this way, check it out.
Today is the fifth anniversary of the release of History of Pain. It’s an album that took us a long time to make (we worked on it for at least two years on and off, starting before the previous record Hard Feelings even came out) and one that I like a lot, though I think it’s a bit misunderstood, partly of my own doing.
I sometimes think it’s the most underrated WP album. I’ve been thinking about putting together a “Greatest Hits” compilation for the 20th anniversary of the WP in 2019, and I thought of assembling a parallel “greatest misses” or “shoulda-been hits” collection… but when I started to mentally compile it, almost all the tunes were from History of Pain.
Murray wanted to bring out the garage rock side of the WP, and as it happened, we were listening to a lot of that kind of music at the time. Not the generic three-chord garage stuff, more like a lot of classic power pop and glam rock, and more current stuff like Jay Reatard, Reigning Sound… basically we were listening to WFMU a lot. Plus, I felt like I had really taken the “rock anthems with keyboards instead of guitars” angle as far as it could go. So it seemed to make sense to put the guitars up front.
Somehow, in the promotion of the album, the angle emerged that “they replaced their synths with guitars and changed from electro to garage.” This is a bit misleading; the WP was never really strictly electro, there were guitars on many of the Lost Illusions/Hard Feelings songs, and History of Pain has keyboards on every song but one. But it is a “rock record” for sure, and I think some of the people who dug the raw synth-punk of the early WP were a bit underwhelmed.
Between that, the fact that our distributor went belly-up just before the album came out, and a million other little strokes from the fickle finger of fate, it felt like the record didn’t quite get the attention we thought it deserved. But whatever, I still like it.
Speaking of History of Pain, to promote its release I got a bunch of talented friends to do remixes, and released them for free on this site. For your convenience, this Summer of Pain series is now available on the WP Soundcloud page. Hope you enjoy it!
As far as the present and future of the WP, I’m working on some new songs and strategizing my next moves. Wherever you are, I hope to connect with you soon.