2017: The Year in World Providing

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.

For better or worse, the sax track was never added

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.

Chatting with the Trux. Photo courtesy of Steven Balogh

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!

 

 

Hard Feelings

cvr-hard-feelings

I recently uploaded the WP’s 2008 album Hard Feelings to our Bandcamp page.

I started recording this collection of music in 2005 at the Breakglass Studio. It was completed over the next few years in fits and starts whenever I could afford to go into the studio. It was a very fun, productive series of sessions. Jace and Dave had really stepped up their studio since the Enabler days and there was a lot of gear to work with. Our motto was “over the top.”

I initially intended it to be a series of EPs (starting with Lost Illusions which came out in ’06). And as much as I hate to use the past conditional, I probably should have. I started to get impatient with my label at the time and decided to release it as a full album, even though there are (at least) three distinct musical vibes going on that don’t always fit together.

There’s a kind of “soft rock” angle (heavily influenced by longtime WP cohort Steve Raegele)…

…a few tunes that were recorded live off the floor with the all-girl synth rock version of the WP, trying to capture our live sound at the time:

and a handful of tracks in the classic WP casio rock anthem style that we really took a lot of care to produce well, including audience faves like the title track, “Volunteers” and “Valentine” (featuring Feist), which remains the WP’s greatest hit to date for some mysterious reason.

At one point there was a fairly big American indie label that seemed to be interested in releasing it. A bunch of my friends were experiencing success at that time and I allowed myself to get a little cocky that the same might happen to me. I was setting myself up for a humbling and I got one, one that continues to this day.

But I don’t want to dwell on the failings of Hard Feelings because ultimately, I think it’s a good collection that has a lot of the WP’s best songs. As a bonus for this reissue, I threw in two tunes from Lost Illusions, long since unavailable elsewhere—“Soft Rocks” and “Creativity is Wonderful”—that happen to be some of my personal faves.

The album also has a really good package, designed by Todd Stewart and featuring original artwork by Dawn Boyd, Matt Collins, Julia Kennedy, Billy Mavreas and Joe Ollman, along with a bunch of jokes and puzzles. I was really going for a “post-CD” kind of experience, though we ended up pressing some CDs under pressure from the distributor (who since went bankrupt… but that’s a whole other story).

Whether you’re revisiting it or listening for the first time, I hope you enjoy it.

The Best and Worst WP Shows of All Time: Part II

Some time ago, I posted a list of the best and worst WP shows ever. But the list is from the WP’s earliest days, and there have been a lot of show stories since then. Here are a few of them.

WORST

Montreal, March 2006

We were booked to play a Concordia art party with a bunch of other bands. The show was in a space that used to be a swimming pool, which should have been my first warning. In an empty pool, the acoustics are challenging. And the show was put on by a bunch of students, who were not equipped to meet these challenges.
The set times were dramatically delayed and it was really late by the time we went on. The only thing there was to drink was some apricot-flavoured beer that a local microbrewery had donated. It was gross, but we kept drinking and drinking it to dull the boredom.
When we went on, we quickly realized that the sound guy didn’t have the faintest idea what he was doing. Each time I’d go over to him, the look in his eyes was pure fear. And I went over to him often, because I couldn’t hear anything, except at one point when a keyboard line of Kara’s floated through the sonic swamp and I realized I was singing in completely the wrong key. As a result, this show was literally a nightmare for me, as I have a recurring bad dream about performing onstage and being unable to hear anything.
Perhaps the worst part was that this was one of the best-attended shows we’ve ever played, with an audience of at least 600 art students. They were all wasted, though, and they didn’t seem to care about how horrible we sounded. Dandi Wind played after us and I went down into the crowd. The sound was pure mud, but the kids were dancing and drinking without a care.
Now, could I have done a better job of organizing something like this as a young student? Hell, no. So I don’t hold it against them. But I do have a traumatic flashback every time I see that apricot beer.

Baltimore, January 2009

As we were wrapping up our American tour, the weather in the Baltimore area was unseasonably cold. Our gig was at an art gallery on a cool little strip of town. The cold scared off a lot of people, including one of the other bands, who stormed out because they were afraid of their cymbals being damaged by freezing, which we found hilarious. People kept saying things to us like “y’all are from Canada, y’all are used to this, right?” The fact that our cold temperatures mean that we insulate buildings so that they stay warm inside in winter was lost on them.
Stacey and I got into a fight onstage during the soundcheck. She didn’t want to do the full costume change, mainly because it would have meant stripping down to our underwear in the inescapable cold. We ended up compromising by doing half the show in our winter coats then taking them off halfway. The entire audience (which was basically just the other bands) all kept their coats, hats and mitts on throughout.
After the show, one of the other bands offered to let us crash at their place and we were like “No thanks, we’ll just get a hotel.” (Some consider it bougie that we would rather spend $60 on a cheap motel than sleep on someone’s gross floor. This tour may have marked the point where I stopped caring what such people think.)
The guy was like “Um, you’ll never get a hotel.” It turned out that the newly elected President Obama was coming to town the next day on his triumphant whistle-stop tour. We were so deep into the tour bubble that we’d forgotten the historical moment we were in. So we crashed on some young students’ couch while one of the roommates played guitar and caterwauled well into the early hours of the morning.
The next day we went to check out Obama’s speech. We realized quickly we would never get into the main area where he was actually speaking, so we watched it on a live video feed from the harbour. The experience of the Obama presidency has made this moment a little bittersweet, but whenever people slag him off I often think of watching that speech and the sixty-something black man standing beside me with tears in his eyes.

Montreal, June 2009

We invited Toronto’s Hank down to Montreal to play a show with us. It was a Thursday night, which is usually a pretty safe bet. What I didn’t account for was that Wednesday was Quebec’s national holiday, so a lot of people had been partying for two days straight and were in no mood or condition to go out again. It was also the day Michael Jackson died, so there was a weird pall over the evening.
We played for an audience of about 10 people—including the five members of Hank and two weird old people who’d wandered in off the street. I really respect the Hank folks, as musicians and as human beings, and I was so ashamed that I’d brought them all the way from Toronto for such a miserable turnout. I had guaranteed them their gas money to get back home, which I had to pay out with the change float from the door.
I have to say that as well as putting on an awesome show in spite of it all, they were also a great audience, even though I had trouble summoning the WP’s traditional “stadium attitude” under the circumstances. 2009 was the 10th anniversary of the WP and it was an inauspicious way to celebrate it. I consider this show possibly the single lowest point of the WP’s career; on the plus side, there was nowhere to go but up. And we did have a pretty fun Michael Jackson dance party after the show.

BEST

Halifax, October 2005

I played at the Halifax Pop Explosion with Japanther, Special Noise and another local band whose name escapes me. By that point I was usually performing with the all-girl band version of the WP, but money and scheduling factors made it easier for me to go down and do this show solo. So the show was the road-tested, old-school costumed karaoke version of the WP, perfected over the previous few years’ touring.
Early in the set, my minidisk player broke (oh, my experiences with short-lived digital technologies!). I had a CD backup, but it was in the dressing room, so a guy from the audience gamely entertained everyone with an a capella song while I rushed back and grabbed the CD.
This was one of the only (OK, if I’m honest, the only) WP show whose audience was full of screaming girls, giving me an old-fashioned rock star ego boost. I later found out that Halifax’s student population has a disproportionate ratio of women to men, making their excitement perhaps more explicable.
I saw some old friends and made some new ones, making this night a sentimental favourite. It was also notable for being the last time I ever did the full-body spastic shake-dance during “The Trans-Atlantic Breeze”; I almost passed out and realized I was getting too old for it.

NewOrleans-SaturnBar

New Orleans, January 2009

Montreal to New Orleans is four days of hard driving. When we stepped out of the car, the warm air was an indescribable balm to our Canadian winter-hardened hearts.
We were staying at Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s house and they invited us to go to some art gallery openings before the show. It turns out they had just inherited a vintage limousine, which they used to drive us around. People look at you differently when you roll up to a vernissage in a limo.
As we went around to the various art shows, we started to feel intoxicated both literally and figuratively. This was my first visit post-Katrina, and the spirit of the city had changed, but was still alive with energy. As for the literal part, the New Orleans cocktail is a tall pour. Having a few drinks takes on new meaning when the drink contains more than twice what you’re normally used to.
By the time we showed up at the gig, we realized two things: one, Quintron had successfully positioned it as the afterparty to all the vernissages, and two, we were totally hammered.
The show was pretty sloppy, but so was the audience, so we were all on the same page. Also on the bill were MC Trachiotomy, 9th Ward bluesman Guitar Lightnin’ Lee, and The Bastard Sons of Marvin Hirsch, a punk band consisting of two brothers who at the time were aged 12 and 13. All in all it was an amazing and unforgettable night (with an equally memorable hangover the next day).

Chapel Hill, January 2009

A few days later, we were pretty burnt out. I’d convinced the promoter to add us to a bill; he seemed hesitant, saying that we might not fit with the other acts. I assured him that we were an equally good fit with anyone because we’re so unique, or something. When we got there, though, I realized that the other bands were folkies who were mostly still in high school.
Stacey and I got into a huge fight onstage during the soundcheck (again)—this time, I forget why. Before we played, my mind was consumed with thoughts along the lines of “Why am I doing this with my life?”
Then we played the show, and the young audience got really into it, even joining our choreographed dance at one point. Afterwards, Stacey overheard one of the kids saying “That was the best 30 minutes of my life!” And there was the answer to my question.

Toronto, September 2011

This was the release show for History of Pain. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the show because it was almost cancelled when one of the other bands bailed out. Since I had declined to attend the wedding of one of my best friends because I’d been invited after booking the show, I insisted that it go on.
I only have a few specific memories from the night: a bunch of old friends showed up, and people actually slow-danced during one of our ballads, which has always been one of my dreams. What I do remember is coming off the stage and realizing I had forgotten that playing a show could feel that good.
Many years ago I had a job as a driver for an awards show, and I picked up the band members of a certain Canadian rock icon who shall remain nameless. As we drove, one of the guys was talking about the club show they’d played a few nights before. “It felt like we were playing music,” he said. “Most of the time it doesn’t feel like we’re playing music.” I was horrified and swore I would never be that jaded. But as much as I hate to admit it, now I kind of know what he meant. Sometimes, like on this night, the stars align—the sound, the crowd, the atmosphere of the venue, and the interplay among the band—and it really feels like you’re playing music.

Montreal, August 2014

We were booked to play the Passovah fest at 9:00. Normally such an early set time is a recipe for poor attendance, but the room was full and very supportive. Again, I don’t remember anything in particular about this show except a really good feeling—and the fact that the evening was very well curated, with a widely diverse but high-quality lineup including Maica Mia, Country and Charlotte Cornfield.
We played a short set and the audience called for an encore. I demurred, explaining that we’d been urged to play short sets to keep the evening running on schedule. Afterwards, a friend confronted me: “Your first responsibility is to the audience!” Duly noted for next time.

Precious Memories

Going through some files a little while ago, I found this document (undated, or rather re-dated to when I transferred files from an old computer, but judging by its references, seemingly from around 2004) detailing the best and worst WP shows up until that point.

I’ve had a lot of good and bad shows since then, but there’s something unique about these early, ultra-DIY adventures.

And so, from the vaults, unedited and unexpurged: The Best and Worst WP Shows Ever, circa 2004…


 

BEST

 

1.     Living room show in Kitchener-Waterloo, November 2001

I was doing a weekend excursion with Chris Mills (Just Like The Movies). We had a night off and decided that we should show up in some town and spontaneously play a show. He found out that the Hidden Cameras had a gig in Kitchener-Waterloo, and Chris convinced them that we should play on the bill with them that night. When we got to KW, it became clear that the club was absolutely not into us playing. So we decided to go find ourselves a show.

We drove to the campus of Waterloo University. I got out of the car and walked into what looked like the main building. There were some chicks hanging out, so I went up to them and asked them if they knew someplace where a couple of crazy one-man bands could play that night. One of them says, “Yeah, how about my place!”

So we went to this girl Brenda’s apartment. She invited over a few friends and we did a show in her living room, in front of eight people. There was no PA, we just sang into the air, but we did the whole show with costume changes and everything. It was intimidating but exhilerating to play in front of such a tiny crowd who had no idea what they were getting into.

Afterwards, we headed down the street to the bar where the Hidden Cameras were playing. After their set, Chris and I, still in costume, bum rushed the stage and started singing. After a few songs I declared that we would keep going until we got shut down, at which point the sound guy came and turned off the PA. By popular demand, we headed back to Brenda’s house for an encore.

That night, I crashed at Joel from the Hidden Cameras’ place. I found out much later that he was hoping to get some action, and was all bummed out when he found out that I was not only straight but married. I feel a mixture of guilt and pleasure at having inadvertently cockteased a gay Canadian rock star…sorry Joel!

 

2.     New Orleans, August 2001

I was opening for Peaches on a tour of the Southern U.S. –  in August. The heat and humidity in New Orleans was unreal. The gig was a party at Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s house; they have a lounge set up in the basement. All the people were so friendly and the cliché is true, people in New Orleans have amazing rhythm. For this South tour I had practiced and reworked my set until the pacing was “perfect.” Miss Pussycat told me some time later that some friends of hers had been there, and based on their behaviour she’d assumed they were on acid. Then she saw them a few days later and they said they hadn’t been on acid, they’d just had their minds blown by The World Provider. To be compared to a powerful hallucinogen is one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever been paid…

 

3.     Basement show in Guelph, April 2002

I was playing at a house party with Chris. The Barmitzvah Brothers went on before us and they were amazing. I was drinking malt liquor and getting pretty wasted. So wasted, in fact, that I didn’t think about the fact that I was fiddling with my minidisc player in my pocket. When it was time for my set, I realized that I’d erased half my tracks. I was so annoyed, but somehow the negativity gave me good energy for the set. This show was mostly good because of the Barmitzvahs and the vibe at the house party.

 

4.     Uno-a-Go-Go – Chicago, October 2002

It was a one-man band festival in Chicago. Jake Austen, who puts out Roctober magazine, was putting on the fest. His wife was pregnant and went into premature labour so he had to miss the whole thing! I saw Shary Boyle’s Honkitonkioke the night before my set. She was great.

My show was in a bowling alley. I was playing on the “side stage” which meant in front of the aisles. There were about 15 other people on the bill; Bob Log was headlining. My wife came into town on a different flight which was delayed, and for some reason she had my costumes and my minidisc adaptor. She got in at the last minute and I did the set. It was my last show doing all the Elements of Style tunes, right before going into the studio to record new stuff, and the crowd was great. A chick came and stuck a dollar bill in my pants – I wish people did that more often. The next night we saw Lonesome Organist and he totally blew our minds.

 

5.     Sanchez Bros. Vernissage – Montreal, April 2003

The Sanchez Brothers invited me to play at their vernissage. They had made a film in their grandparents’ living room. One room of the gallery showed the film on a loop and in the other one, they recreated the living room down to the smallest detail. I had been playing a bunch of gigs, so I decided to do a set of tunes I don’t do very often: covers, older stuff, and still-in-progress new songs.

The Brothers invited me to come down early because their living-room set had an organ. I came down and figured out some stuff on it. At the show, their whole family including grandparents showed up and hung out in the living room. When I came and did the tunes on the organ, their grandmother was sitting in a wheelchair right beside me, rocking out. It was so awesome.

 

6.     El Mocambo show with Peaches and Mignon – Toronto, September 2001

This was a month or so after the South tour with Peach. It was her first Toronto show in a while. There were about 600 people packed into the Elmo upstairs, and they were really hyped up. I did the “perfect” set from the South tour and people were just going crazy. The Elmo shut down shortly after that. A few days after the show, I was at the Cinematheque and a guy came up to me and told me that my show changed his life.

 

WORST

 

1.     Berlin, July 2001

This was a huge bill, put on by the headlining band. They’re a great band and cool people, but as promoters they didn’t have all the bases covered, shall we say. Among those on the bill were Taylor Savvy, Mocky and myself. The gig was in this huge, cavernous club that seemed to have some bad kind of chemical in the air, asbestos or something. I had really bad allergies so whenever I’d step outside, I’d want to go back in, and then I’d come back in and breathe chemical dust until I had to go back out.

The door was at 9 but the show didn’t start until midnight. Because of the delay, the promoters asked us to cut our set short. We explained to her that Mocky, Taylor Savvy and The World Provider weren’t one band. Her response: “Yes you are!” What can you say to that, so we agreed to shorten each of our sets.

The sound guy had cancelled at the last minute, so they got some other guy to come and do it, who seemed none too pleased. During Savvy’s set, the above-mentioned promoter came up to me and said “When is he going to be done?”

“He just started,” I said.

“Well, someone told me he was going to be done in ten minutes.”

“Who told you that?”

“I don’t know – I’m too pissed,” she said.

Shortly after this exchange, the sound guy got on the mic, ran to the front of the stage, and started angrily berating Savvy in German. During his set. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Despite all this, my set actually went over fairly well with the crowd. And I was excited to be playing in Berlin. But there’s no denying that it was a Murphy’s Law kinda night.

 

2.     Hamilton, April 2002

This was on one of the weekend jaunts with Chris. The show was on a Monday night and it was pouring rain. As we were pulling into town, we realized while listening to the radio that the promoter of our gig was doing a show on the campus radio station. We drove over to the station hoping to do some extra promo. Not only did he not seem particularly happy to see us, and wasn’t into having us appear on the air, but he didn’t even have our CDs to play on his show. That was the first bad sign.

When we got to the club, there was a situation: the sound guy had come and kidnapped the PA because the club hadn’t been paying him. There was some talk of the show being cancelled, but then finally someone came through with another PA.

During the gig, the band we were opening for didn’t even watch our set. They were playing pool in the other room and all their friends stayed with them there. There were five people in the audience during my set: Chris, two guys who’d showed up to DJ (but didn’t because of the PA fiasco), and this couple who’d come from KW after seeing us the night before. I was so tired and out of it that I played a half-assed show. In retrospect, the fact that people came from a whole other town just to see us – and were effectively the only actual audience – should have motivated me to at least put some effort into the show. Giving such a lame performance for those people is one of the biggest regrets of my World Providing career.

 

3.     Atlanta, August 2001

This was the only bad show on the Peaches Dirty South tour. There’s not too much to say about my set; the people of Atlanta just weren’t feeling it. I went on after Har Mar Superstar, who totally slew the audience, and I guess they just weren’t in the mood for my thing. He’s a hard act to follow, I don’t know why I didn’t go on first.

The vibe of the club was really fucked. Everyone seemed to be on coke. They had set aside a VIP room because it was rumoured that Madonna was going to show up, but she never did, so it was just full of all these sketched-out people.

After the gig we went to a crazy strip club. People had recommended that we stay at the adjacent hotel, but our tour manager went to look at a room (for which he had to be accompanied by an armed guard), and he said that the bed was covered in ants, so he took a pass. At 4:00 in the morning at the strip club, a woman went around shining a flashlight in people’s eyes and shouting, “If you ain’t WORKIN’ here, or you ain’t FUCKIN’ someone who’s workin’ here, GET THE FUCK OUT!”

Afterwards we went to this crazy diner with a bunch of hardcore dykes. The waiter had a necklace made of human teeth, and while he was showing us the specials, he pulled out his dick and slapped it against the menu – a sight which both Peach and I later admitted we thought we’d hallucinated. A really creepy guy came and sat beside me, and was telling me stories about how he sold bulk acid and was part of the Aryan Nation.

In retrospect, it may have been a bad show, but so many crazy things happened that night that it kind of balances out.