I collaborated with director Adam Traynor, editor Kara Blake, director of photography Jules de Niverville and art director Thea Metcalfe on a video for the song “Everything.”
The WP did our first shows in two years, with Stacey back on drums, longtime member Gord Allen on bass and new keyboardist Valérie B, along with a few special guests. We debuted our new stage costumes by Elise Boudreau Graham. Got to share the stage with old friends (The Canadian Romantic, garbageface, Daiquiri) and new (Marker Starling, Lost Creatures, and the link-less Bibliotek). We were really happy with how the shows went and are excited to play again.
But 2019 is going to be even bigger! It’s the 20th anniversary of the WP and we’ll be doing some special shows. I’m currently strategizing our set list, so if there are any songs you want to hear, let me know in the comments or on the socials.
Some music I’m currently digging:
Mocky, A Day at United
Eliza Kavtion, The Rez That Svmmer
Marker Starling, Trust An Amateur
Speaking of (other people’s) music, I’m going to be co-hosting one of my favourite radio shows, the Free Kick on CKUT, on Sunday January 20 from 11-1 if you’d like to tune in.
This is a weird time in the world, or maybe it’s just reverted to its natural state of chaos and strife. I don’t have a solution, but I think we should try to be more kind to each other. It sounds simple, even pat, but it’s actually not that easy to do. And in general, I’ve found that the hardest things to do are often the most important.
If you’re reading this, all the best and hope to see you in 2019!
This summer, I got together with old friends Adam Traynor, Kara Blake and Thea Metcalfe to brainstorm an idea for a new WP video. I had close to zero budget, but they had some cool ideas.
After hearing the new tunes, Adam and Kara selected the song “Everything” – not the usual guns-blazing anthem we choose for a single, but I was game. We shot it at the end of the summer with cinematographer Jules de Niverville. Now it’s ready for your enjoyment.
The song was produced by Murray Lightburn and features Chilly Gonzales on piano. It’s from the new EP Old Dreams, which you can buy or stream on your favourite platform here.
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.