This is a crazy time, to be sure. Like everyone, I’ve struggled with isolation. I’ve seen people I once looked up to turn into covid-denying lunatics, and I’ve seen way more people–hell, I’ve seen myself–becoming paranoid, chronically fearful and prone to public outbursts of moralizing. But whenever I’m tempted to sink into self-pity (which is fairly often), I remind myself that everyone is in the same boat, and in fact many are much worse off than me.
So, this year is a bit different as far as WP activity.
I didn’t do any shows this year. A number of my friends did distanced outdoor shows in the summer, while others organized live-streams. I’m just not in a rush. I miss performing very much, but I can wait it out–for now at least.
I barely even saw any shows this year, although the few I got in before the lockdown were great at the time and have only grown in stature given the circumstances: Montreal all-star soul cover band There Is Still Time–Brother at Vices & Versa and The King Khan & BBQ Show with The Gym Teachers at L’Escogriffe in January, Eliza Kavtion and Stefan Christoff at La Sala Rosa’s basement space La Sotterenea in February, and Michael Feuerstack and Alex Nicol at Ursa in March. As I told Mike, if that had to be the last show I attended before the apocalypse, what better way to go out?
So it was a quiet year on the music front, but I did do a number of interesting things.
I started contributing a monthly guest DJ set to one of my favourite radio shows, The Free Kick Show on CKUT. My next appearance is on Sunday, December 13, doing an hour-long roundup of musical faves from this year. The show airs Sundays from 11am-1pm on CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal and streams at ckut.ca.
I started my own podcast, What Is This Music?!, in which I attempt to unlock the mysteries of why we love the music we love (and hate what we hate).
I recorded an original Christmas/holiday song, “Winter Blues” (with my brother Nick Fraser and longtime collaborator Steve Raegele contributing their stylings) by request of Chilly Gonzales for his ICI Radio-Canada holiday special. The broadcast, on December 23 at 8pm and again on Dec 25 at 2pm on ICI Musique stations all across Canada (updated to add: if you missed it, scroll way down to the special on this page until Jan 31), is a “soft launch” of the song which will not be available anywhere else for a little while.
And, I also recorded an album’s worth of WP demos. I hope to start the recording in earnest on these soon, and have something to share with you all before too long.
I also wanted to mention that 100% of WP merch and music income this year is being donated to Parc Ex Mutual Aid, a community association in my neighbourhood, which has been hit very hard by the pandemic. Check out the options on our Bandcamp page.
My favourite song of the year, and honestly in a really long time, is from Tim Heidecker’s record Fear of Death. I was suspicious when I heard that Heidecker was making a sincere songwriter’s album, even though I’m a fan of his conceptual anti-comedy. Or maybe because I’m a fan of it: I feared being the victim of an elaborate prank. Anyway, the record is good, but the last song “Oh, How We Drift Away,” sung by Natalie Mering (aka Weyes Blood) who collaborates on the whole record, just knocked me out.
The song grabs me right away, being in one of my musical comfort zones–a kind of California 70s mellow country mixed with orchestral pop. The singing begins right off the top–no intro–bold. The first two verses post the awkwardness of small talk as a melancholy microcosm of growing apart from old friends (“I wish I was as clever as they think” is a sobering, poignant statement from such a comedic talent), but then the third verse takes a turn:
20,000 years ago — can you even imagine?
In the Chauvet caves, women painting on the wall
Pictures of their memories, pictures of their stories
Pictures of their love affairs, pictures of their worries
I wonder if they ever dreamt of us at all
Oh, we stand on their bones and walk on their souls
And the children who lived grew into women and men
And painted over their mothers’ work again and again
I don’t know about you, but this kind of profound reflection on the meaning of art and life really hits home with me, and Mering’s incredible voice puts it over the top. I’ve had this song in my head for weeks, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
For anyone reading this, I’ve made a decision to transition my writings from this old-school blog format to an email newsletter. Just keeping up with the times. If you would like to keep up with news and reflections from me, sign up for the newsletter here.
I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves and each other, and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on the other side of this.
I don’t have any big statement to make about the current unrest—mainly because I think it’s more important, for me at least, to listen and learn from the people who are actually affected by this crisis.
One valuable thing I heard (I wish I could cite the speaker directly, but it was in a sort of audio collage on CKUT while I was driving, so I couldn’t find the source) was someone saying “It’s nice of you [white people] to show up, but what we’d like now is for you to stick around!” Wise words, which added to my nagging feeling of “what can I do to help?”
So from now until the end of 2020, 100% of proceeds from WP music and merch will go to Parc Ex Mutual Aid, an organization that helps the less fortunate in our neighbourhood, which is majority POC and low-income.
Most of their current focus is on helping people get COVID-19 gear and preparedness, but they also help with groceries, housing, and other important issues. You can check out their website and FB group to find out more about the good work they do.
By request of my kid, I’ve been listening a lot to Pete Seeger’s children’s record, Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes: Animal Folk Songs. Originally released in 1955, it’s a collection of traditional folk songs for kids, many of which his stepmother Ruth Crawford Seeger had transcribed from Library of Congress field recordings. The songs get me thinking…
I think of listening to it with my parents when I was a kid.
I think of how hard it is to pull off kid-friendly songs without being corny, condescending, or cloying, and how effortlessly he does it.
I think of how, considering that he was singing already-old songs in the fifties, it’s amazing how the songs don’t have any racial stereotypes or other objectionable content (other than a certain comfort level with talking about death, which it seems was part of the culture back then, as it may come to be again today).
I think of how the songs’ strange magical-realist rural imagery evoke the Anthology of American Folk Music, the early folk anthology that permanently blew my mind when my friend Taylor Savvy introduced it to me in the late 90s. (In fact, the Seeger record and the AAFM share one song, “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” one of my Anthology favourites).
I think of how Pete Seeger was a dedicated socialist his whole life, and was indicted for contempt of Congress for having refused to answer questions at the McCarthy hearings.
I think of him singing “This Land is Your Land” with Bruce Springsteen at the Obama inauguration (and I want to cry when I think about that moment vs. this one).
I think of how much I regret not going to see Seeger when he played in Montreal sometime in the late 2000s. What the hell was I thinking—that I would see him next time he came?! He was in his 90s, and died not too long after.
All these thoughts have a thread—the times that are gone, that will never return.
But my five-year-old son doesn’t know any of this—he just listens, sings along, and asks us to play it again and again. There must be something to it.
I like a good lyric as much as the next person. When a perfect phrase grabs you, it’s a sublime moment of understanding.
But I also kind of like it when a song is hard to understand.
As a kid, I mainly bought albums on cassette. In those days, it would seem tapes were a cheap afterthought from a record business perspective: they came without their own custom design, and certainly without lyrics printed. So I would spend hours trying to decipher what my favourite singers were singing. Sometimes, when I eventually found out what it was, I liked my own interpretations better.
Just as one example, for the longest time I thought that the line in Rush’s “Freewill”—the stars aren’t aligned, or the gods are malign—was the stars on the line of the dark summer night—a more poetic, if less meaningful per se (and certainly less showy), turn of phrase.
(Incidentally, I could say a lot of things about the recently deceased Neil Peart as a lyricist, and his perhaps unfortunate influence on my young writer’s mind, but I’m not sure this is the place, or indeed if that place in fact exists. But I will excerpt this passage from the same song—which incidentally I could never understand despite hundreds of listens, and remained a mystery until I looked it up recently—as a fond farewell…)
Each of us A cell of awareness Imperfect and incomplete Genetic blends With uncertain ends On a fortune hunt That’s far too fleet
Mumbling towards ecstasy
Later in life, I would become enraptured with deliberately mumble-mouthed singers. Obvious examples include Michael Stipe with the early REM, Mick Jagger on Exile on Main Street, Kurt Cobain whose vocals were slurred enough to be mocked by Weird Al… I liked the mystery of these unintelligible hooks, plus maybe I found some justification there for my own inability, or unwillingness, to sing clearly (as a child choral singer, I was often pestered to open my mouth wider and enunciate).
On the extreme end of incomprehensibility, you’ve got outright nonsense lyrics—the dadaist poetry of Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra,” the famous backwards hook in the chorus of Missy Elliott’s “Work It,” or the work of singers like Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser or Duchess Says’ Annie-Claude, who went as far as to make up their own languages… to me, these are the purest reflections of the idea that the important thing in a song lyric is how it sounds, not what it “means.”
I only once had the audacity to try this wordless approach myself in a song, very early on. If I’d been left to my own devices, most or all of my songs might just have had nonsense lyrics, but clearer heads prevailed…
Getting around to the point…
All of this is just to explain why, for many years, I resisted sharing the WP’s lyrics, even though people have asked about them from time to time. I guess I thought that song lyrics were meant to be heard, not read.
In keeping my lyrics obscure I was also deeply affected by David Thomas of Pere Ubu, who once declared in some liner notes that “Printing lyrics is a Bad Thing.” (What can I say? I’ve always been susceptible to strong personalities, manifestos and decrees.)
Well, times have changed, and now I want you all to bask in the brilliance of my lyricism. So I’ve made all the WP lyrics—from the random surrealism of the early days, to the self-help-influenced posicore pronouncements of the mid-late 2000s, to the emotional oversharing of the last decade—public for the people to enjoy. Now, you can saunter on over to the WP Bandcamp page and find out what I’m going on about in your favourite song.
Let me just start with a quick promo announcement: I’m doing a Bandcamp holiday sale through the end of 2019. Everything is 20% off, and the first 5 orders get this cool poster, by Montreal artist HUYNH, delivered straight to your door. Just go to the WP Bandcamp page and enter the discount code 2019 at checkout.
OK, with that out of the way…
As you may have heard, 2019 was the 20th anniversary of The World Provider.
I did a reissue of the very first WP tape, The Elements of Style, with bonus tracks and new liner notes by me and producers Peaches and Taylor Savvy.
My friend Jonathan of Unpopular Arts unearthed this video, shot by Stacey in Berlin in 2000 or 2001 and originally released on a VHS compilation of superhero-themed Super 8 movies by an anarchist film collective:
I did an interview on Ottawa’s CKCU-FM (one of the best campus-community stations out there, btw). The sound quality is not great, but it’s a pretty good overview of the history and theory of the WP for those interested…
And we did some shows, notably an anniversary spectacular in Montreal with a strict Greatest Hits setlist (see poster above), that I was very happy with.
All in all, I have mixed feelings about how the year went, and about looking back over 20 years of the WP. This year, like all the rest, had highs and lows. I’m never sure how honest to be about these things. In the past, when I’ve tried to speak candidly about career stuff, the result has been described (by people I respect a lot) as “whiny” and “depressing.” (I was going more for “honest” and “real,” but as Nigel Tufnel said about clever and stupid, it’s a fine line.)
So let me say instead: I’m more interested in the next 20 years.
Musical highlights of 2019
Charlotte Cornfield: Charlotte is a friend and I’m proud to say that I once even roped her into playing drums with the WP. But I’m not just hyping up a friend when I say that she’s an amazing songwriter and singer. Her new album, The Shape Of Your Name, is her best yet, and her show at Pop Montreal gave me tears and chills. If you don’t know her, get on it.
Triples: I’ve known sisters Eva and Madeline Link since they were little kids, and they’ve always impressed me with their talents. Their new record, Big Time, is a banger. Madeline’s solo project, Pax, is very cool too.
Murray A. Lightburn: OK, this guy I’m really not objective about, as I’m not only a longtime fan but he’s also a friend, has produced three records for me, and we’ve played in each other’s bands. The thing is, as I’ve tried to explain in the past, I simply have really good taste in music, and in friends—I can’t help it.
Anyway! Murray’s new solo record is on an old-school soul/R&B tip and it’s sweet. I had the honour of singing backup at his Montreal album launch show and it was a great experience. For those who are fans of his “other” band The Dears, I heard a new tune of theirs the other night and it was pretty great: monster riffs, strings, laser sounds, and Natalia singing. I look forward to hearing more…
According to Spotify, this year I mainly listened to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Parquet Courts, Reigning Sound, Shintaro Sakamoto, and the theme from the Popeye movie (that was mainly my son’s doing). I’m fine with that, I think—although I’m always looking for recommendations, both within and beyond my musical comfort zones, if you have them.
RIP Justin Haynes
Probably the biggest, and saddest, news on the personal front this year was the death of Justin Haynes. He was not a close friend, but he was very close with my brother, and was someone I respected a lot. Only after his passing did I find out that he had recently published some personal essays about his experiences with homelessness and low-income housing. I urge everyone to read these, to agitate for affordable housing, and most importantly, to check in on the people in your life who need help, and to reach out if you need it.
It’s tough out there, let’s take care of each other.
Yup, it was way back in the final year of the last millenium that I did the first recordings and shows under the name The World Provider.
Since then, the WP has wavered from solo act to duo to band and back again, with many personnel and musical changes along the way.
I’m still figuring it out, and in a lot of ways I’m more interested in the next 20 years than the last 20.
But we are doing a couple of things to mark this anniversary.
We’re going to do some shows this fall with new costumes, theatrics, and a strict “greatest hits” set list.
And I’m doing a cassette reissue of the first WP tape, The Elements of Style, featuring new liner notes from Peaches, Taylor Savvy and myself, as well as two cassette-only bonus tracks from deep in the vaults.
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.