Musical News

I’ve been in the studio recording new WP tracks. So far we have one song in the can, another almost done. I feel good about these tunes, and I look forward to sharing them.

In other musical news:

WP producer and occasional band member, The Dears frontman, and multimedia auteur extraordinaire Murray Lightburn has a new single, “A Thousand Light Years,” coming out. He’s releasing a self-directed video (which I’ve seen, it’s very cool) in a most unusual way: at least at first, it’s screening only at appointed times next Sunday, February 9. More info here.

You can also listen to this very cool remix by Sebastien Grainger right away:

 

Looking further forward into 2014, I recently got word that Mocky, the enigmatic producer/songwriter/musical genius best known for his work with Feist and Jamie Lidell, is releasing a new album on June 18. He describes it as the “sonic heir” to 2009’s Saskamodie, which is one of my favourite records of the century so far, so I am pretty stoked. It’s being released on his own Heavy Sheet label and that’s about all I can tell you… keep your ears to the ground.

Various news

RECORDING

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Stacey and I are back in the studio with Murray, recording new WP tracks for the first time since 2010. Those years went by fast. I didn’t mean to take so long, but that’s life.

At the beginning of January, I was feeling pretty down in the dumps (as I think is probably normal in a place basically unfit for human habitation at this time of year). I can’t express how good it feels to be working on music again. Recording is full of its own little frustrations and anxieties, pretty much constantly, but the difference to my general state of mind in doing something meaningful with my time is immense.

Someone asked me today if I had a release plan. Releasing music as a middle-aged DIY artist is a funny place to be at this particular time in history. So we’re working on the details, but the plan is to put out new music and do all the things a band does before too long.

 

BOOK NEWS

A few people have commented on the paucity of Wooden Stars music available to listen to online. As it happens, someone recently uploaded one of their best tunes to YouTube along with a lengthy and thoughtful post about my book and the band’s music. Check it out.

People keep asking me about book sales. I find that a funny question. I can’t recall anyone ever asking me about how my record sales are going (just as well). For the record, I have no idea how the book is selling. I am the author, not the publisher. I imagine I will find out some info about sales at some point down the line, but the book just came out in the fall. Of course I hope that it reaches as many people as possible. I will just add that if you buy a copy, the sales will be doing that much better.

 

LINKS OF NOTE

A pretty interesting interview with soundtrack composer Cliff Martinez. Though it mentions his stint with RHCP in passing, unfortunately it doesn’t get into his previous gigs with two of my favourites, Captain Beefheart and the Dickies.

Something to pass along to the next person who calls Neil Young’s anti-oilsands campaign “hypocritical.”

My Cult MTL colleague Alex Rose wrote a review of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit which made me laugh a bunch. I still plan on seeing the movie, albeit strictly at the $6 Tuesday screening at my local multiplex.

If you like punctuation, as I do, you must read this.

 

CURRENT LISTENING OBSESSIONS

Reigning Sound’s Love and Curses, Willie Nelson and Leon Russell’s duo album (especially the second record of all schmaltzy standards with orchestra), Kurt Vile’s latest Wakin on a Pretty Daze (speaking of punctuation, I can barely tolerate dropped Gs in written form and it’s even worse with no apostrophe, but I guess I have to let this one slide), and the Ramones’ third and fourth records (recently rediscovered on a cheapo CD reissue, signed by the band courtesy of my high school girlfriend, and still inspirational).

 

 

 

Top Shows of 2013

It was a slow year for the WP—only three shows all year, what with me being caught up with my book and the Lion Farm EP—but as a spectator, it was a pretty good year for live music in my life. Here are a few highlights…

Baked Goods
L’Escogriffe, January 4

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I organized a benefit for WFMU at the beginning of the year, and this band was recommended by a friend. Through pure luck of the draw they had to play last on the bill, but they totally owned the “headlining” slot. Their recorded music is fun, lo-fi rock n’ roll, but their live show brings it up several notches with the almost Shaggs-like self-taught feel of the all-girl band and frontman Luke Ellington’s latent swagger. Definitely one of my favourite Montreal bands of the moment.

 

Michael Feuerstack
Le Cagibi, March 14

I spent the year writing a book about Mike’s old band the Wooden Stars, which filled me with bittersweet nostalgia, so it was inspiring to see him making music that’s better than ever. At this show he played a bunch of new songs from Tambourine Death Bed, an album that’s been in heavy rotation chez nous this year. I don’t have much to say about the show except that Mike is an amazing songwriter, singer and guitarist, and he had the Cagibi audience spellbound.


Isaiah Ceccarelli

Église St-John the Redeemer, April 13

I knew Isaiah through some friends, and he had played drums for Gordon Thomas at one of the shows we set up in Montreal. So I knew he was a great jazz drummer, I but wasn’t as familiar with his work as a composer. Upon showing up at the Red Roof Church to see him and an ensemble play his piece Toute clarté m’est obscure, I read the composer’s statement in the program and immediately braced myself for an evening of difficult, alienating music. Isaiah’s love of obscure words and flowery French phrases made the text overwhelming, and his rant about how contemporary audiences want superficial entertainment instead of complex art was a bit much (it’s not that I even disagree necessarily, I just find the debate a bit tired). I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

Then when the music began, I was totally swept up. It was a beautifully minimal and subtle piece using drones, drawn-out notes and silence (the church was so quiet that even shifting in my seat caused an uncomfortably loud interruption). I was blown away, and the rest of the audience was too. It’s very rare for “contemporary” music to hit me on a gut level in this way, so it was even more of a pleasant surprise.


Drumheller

Resonance Café, June 25

IMG_1612Yes, it’s true that this band features my brother Nick Fraser. But that’s not why I’m including them on this list. My brother is one of the best musicians I’ve ever heard, if not the best, but he mostly plays free jazz. And a lot of free jazz, for me, is like your parents having sex—it’s great that it happens, but you don’t want to see or hear it.

Anyway, Drumheller is my favourite project of his, and this show, their first in Montreal for a good while, was killer. The venue, sweet new space Résonance Café, has a piano, and the songs where Doug Tielli played it were just beautifuli. Eric Chenaux’s guitar solo on the very last tune had my jaw grazing the floor.

(I would also include my brother’s CD release show at Casa on September 7 with his quartet featuring Tony Malaby… it was amazing too, but there’s only so many fraternal shout-outs I can make on one list.)


Pere Ubu

Cabaret Mile End, September 17

Before this show, I’d seen Pere Ubu three times. In 1992, I saw them in Ottawa opening for the Pixies (and absolutely blowing the headliners off the stage). In ’94, I saw them in Toronto, where David Thomas threw a huge diva fit onstage about not having a straight mic stand (a position I can now identify with)—he responded, counterintuitively, by duct-taping a chair to his mic stand all while singing a song. And a few years back, I caught them at Pop Montreal, where Thomas somewhat alarmingly got wasted onstage with Robert Pollard-like abandon, swigging from a bottle of cognac he kept in the pocket of his Bogart-esque trenchcoat.

This time, I walked into Cabaret Mile End to an audience of less than 100 people. I couldn’t believe such a legendary band would get such a poor turnout. And I was distressed to see that the no-name opener I’d arrived in time to skip was Thomas himself doing a solo electronic performance, which was just wrapping up as I arrived. He looked his age, and none too pleased about the miserable attendance.

When the band hit the stage a little later, with a few more audience members having trickled in, Thomas started the show with a several-minutes-long monologue about how the band is so huge that they play stadiums all over the world but, like the Stones, every once in a while have to return to their roots by playing small club shows. It cut right through the tension and let us all relax a bit.

Then the band tore into a great set spanning their whole career. Thomas sat in a chair the whole time, but was animated and sang passionately. Biting the hand that feeds him, he mocked the audience’s composition of mostly old guys. But a few young kids were in the front. I kept wondering what they thought of this spectacle. Did it just seem like a bunch of old weirdos onstage? Or did they worry, as I sometimes do, that their own best song might not be as good as Pere Ubu’s worst?


Sparks

Le National, November 1

IMG_1798This was another show that demonstrated the turning tide of audience taste. When I showed up at Le National, the room was barely half full for these underground legends, who hadn’t played Montreal since the early 80s. By the time the Mael brothers hit the stage, the room had filled up to a half-decent level. But the crowd quickly showed itself to be one of quality, if not quantity. The Maels’ genuine delight at the crowd’s enthusiasm was one of the best parts of the show.

The show itself was bold: though the light show was arena-worthy, the performance was just the two brothers, keyboard and vocals; no backing tracks, even on the electro-disco bangers from the Number One in Heaven era, which they performed in the encore. Russel Mael’s voice was still in top form, while Ron had the crowd pulling out their phones as if witnessing a miracle when he took the mic during one of their newer numbers, an excerpt from their opera about Ingmar Bergman. That rare sight was followed by a bit of intriguing news: that the Maels will be collaborating with Canadian film weirdo Guy Maddin on a film adaptation of a Bergman opera.

All that aside, it was inspiring to see a band still staying totally original four decades on. How they pull it off financially, I have no idea (I can only imagine that they must be independently wealthy), but it was inspirational all the same.

Other great shows: The Lonesome Organist and Laura Barrett renewing my musical faith at the One Man Band Festival; Nicole Lizée’s Sask Power at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival; Ben Reimer and co., also playing the music of Nicky Lizée, at Sala Rossa; punk nerds Pissed Jeans tearing up Il Motore, Corpusse utterly destroying Brasserie Beaubien with Les momies de Palerme’s Xarah Dion in the Lorenz Peter role, and one of my guiltiest pop pleasures, Sloan, doing their Twice Removed show at the Phoenix in Toronto.

 

I Have a Book

I don’t normally like to use this space to talk about my “other life” as a writer—much like Clark Kent, I like to keep my superheroic identity separate from my mild-mannered everyday persona—but I hope you’ll allow me to make an exception for the publication of my first book. It’s tangentially related to the WP, anyway.

WS-cover

Halifax-based Invisible Publishing has a series of books on Canadian music called Bibliophonic, and they’ve granted me the great privilege of writing something about one of my all-time favourite bands, Ottawa indie-rock legends the Wooden Stars.

The book tells the story of the band: their music, their career and their influence on the Canadian indie scene. All the members of the band, along with a number of their colleagues including Julie Doiron and Arcade Fire’s Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara, were kind enough to share their stories with me.

You can buy the book on Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, McNally Robinson, or—my personal preference—order it from your local independent bookstore. I’m told that an e-book version will be available soon.

***UPDATE: Here is a list of the indie stores across Canada where you can buy the book. It may also be available at your local big-box bookstore. You can get it in e-book format here.

Montreal
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly
Dépanneur Le Pick Up
Paragraphe

Toronto
University of Toronto Bookstore

Ottawa
Octopus Books

Guelph
Bookshelf

Kingston
Novel Idea

Halifax
Bookmark

Québec
Librairie Pantoute

Calgary
Shelf Life Books
Univ. Of Calgary Bookstore

Winnipeg
McNally Robinson

Saskatoon
McNally Robinson

 

I’m also going to be doing some launch events for the book in November. The dates are as follows:

 

Thursday November 14

Montreal – Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard W., 7 p.m.

Facebook event page

 

Saturday November 16

Toronto – Belljar Café, 2072 Dundas W., 5 p.m.

Facebook event page

 

Sunday November 17

Ottawa – Raw Sugar Café, 692 Somerset W., 5 p.m.

Facebook event page

 

You might not hear a direct thread from the Wooden Stars to the WP at first listen, but their melodies, harmonies, phrasing and lyrics have been greatly influential on me over the years. They are a great band, and if you haven’t heard them I strongly recommend checking out their music (it can be found and purchased online through the usual channels).

In conclusion: buy my book! Stay tuned for more specifically WP-related news soon.

Standing in the (back) spotlight

I have a new gig as a backup vocalist for Murray Lightburn’s Mass:Light.

mass-light

As some of you may know, Murray produced the last WP album, History of Pain, as well as recording and mixing the most recent Lion Farm EP, and has performed as a member of the WP band at our last couple of shows. So we have gotten to know each other pretty well over the past few years.

All the same, I am also a big fan of his work, so it’s a thrill to be part of his show. It’s been described as an “electronic pop opera,” which is as accurate a description as I can imagine but still doesn’t quite capture the experience. It’s a lo-fi sci-fi multimedia musical, all held together with Murray’s usual mix of conceptual grandeur, heart-on-sleeve sincerity and amazing vocal powers.

I am singing backup. It’s the first time I’ve been strictly supporting someone else’s musical vision since being part of the Feist touring band back in the day. Then as now, it’s a great experience to simply learn my own parts and not worry about all the other details. But the parts themselves are a big challenge. The harmonies are complicated, and push the limits of my vocal range at both ends. But it’s a challenge that’s been great fun to take on.

The project had its debut a couple of weeks ago at Pop Montreal, and we are playing Toronto on October 12. Details here. If you’re in town, I recommend coming to check it out.

After that, the project is up in the air as far as I know (though there’s talk of a performance at the M for Montreal fest in November). But I’ve got a lot of other irons in the fire—including some brand-new WP tunes I’m pretty stoked about, that we plan to record this winter and bring to the world in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zev Asher, R.I.P.

zev asher

Image from Alienated in Vancouver

I was sad to find out a few days ago about the death of Zev Asher, who I had crossed paths with a number of times on the underground music and film circuits. He played noise music with Nimrod and Roughage, and had a parallel career as a documentary filmmaker.

I first met Zev through a friend of my wife’s. We were doing film projections for music shows at that time, and our mutual friend told us that he had a similar project, where he played music and screened films. So we ended up booking him at a show we organized with a bunch of like-minded people. I think he played last as Roughage. I just remember him yelling “Born free! Free to wave my dick in the wind!” while noise and images swirled around him.

 

Around this time he was making the documentary on the Nihilist Spasm Band. It was hugely inspirational and probably influential on my own docs in the respectful way it treated its subjects, never stooping to make fun of them as many might have. Great Canadian fogey Robert Fulford wrote an article in which, with typical hauteur, he mocked those who called the decades-strong, influential Spasm Band “legendary.” Zev responded by sending him his autograph, “from one legend to another.”

His next doc was Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. The film, about some art-school kids who killed a cat as an art project and the fallout that ensued, caused controversy when it screened at the Toronto film festival in 2004. (A pretty good summary of the events can be found here). Watching the film was an experience that Zev himself described as “unpleasant.” The title’s obscure word refers to unsound reasoning, and what I remember most about it was how ruthless Zev was in the way he let all the subjects hang themselves with their own rope. His stance was apparently excessively subtle, since he was protested by animal-rights activists (none of whom had of course bothered to see the film).

We reconnected later in Montreal, where we had both moved. One day we made a plan to go for coffee. I arrived at the appointed time and left after half an hour when he hadn’t shown up. Later when we connected, he was genuinely confused, and made fun of me, for the fact that I arrived on time and only waited half an hour. This was my introduction to “Montreal time.”

Zev was an imposing figure. He towered over me (I’m 6’3”) and gave the impression of someone who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Like a lot of people on the noise scene, he had a strongly distinct way of looking at the world and clearly didn’t care about mass opinion. But in spite of this sometimes intimidating presence, he was always very kind and helpful to us and other people in the music and film communities.

After Casuistry, Zev made a few more films, artistic experiments on a much lower-profile tip. I hadn’t been in touch with him for a while when I heard that he had cancer. I’m told he was full of plans for future projects, and had been documenting his experience with the hospital system for a film to be completed when he got out.

He died following a stem cell transplant on August 7, 2013. He was 50.

Zev was a one-of-a-kind person and a genuine, fearless artist.

R.I.P.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WP News, July 2013

I’ve been busy the last couple of months preparing the release of Lion Farm’s new EP.

Nearly 10 years after the fact (UPDATE: actually only five years; clearly I have lost track of time), Spiral Stairs of Pavement discovered our cover of “Kennel District” and expressed his slackadaisical approval on Twitter. I was tickled.

 

spiral__WP

 

That’d be our performance at Waterloo’s Starlight club in  2007 or 2008:

 

I recently found out that MySpace relaunched their latest version, but erased all the content on everyone’s pages except the music and profile picture. I found that pretty annoying. Like most people I stopped using MySpace a while ago, but I did have a bunch of blog posts up there from before this site was blog-enabled. There also used to be, some time ago, a database of all the past shows I’d done, which was helpful for the historical record. It would have been nice to at least have been notified (though, would I have opened an email from MySpace?). Oh well! I guess the bigger question is, is there any point whatsoever in updating the existing music or info on MySpace?

Through a friend I found this link to a rant about the state of the music business by a musician named James Brooks. I’m not familiar with his work, or to any of the people he refers to, but I thought it summed up the situation quite well.

Longtime friend and collaborator Steve Raegele has a track on a new Believer magazine comp with his avant-jazz solo project. Lots of cool stuff on there.

Finally, I recently demoed a bunch of new WP tunes. I’m pretty stoked about getting back on the horse, releasing some new music and doing a bunch of shows for 2014. Does that seem far off? It’ll be here before we know it!

 

The Elements of Style

cvr-elements

I’ve recently reissued the WP’s earliest release, The Elements of Style, on the WP Bandcamp page.

When I got the tracks remastered (or, truthfully, actually mastered to begin with), I listened to them again for the first time in years. It was a funny experience. This may be hard to believe, but I never got why people thought the WP sound was so “weird” in the early days. Now I can see why very clearly! It also gives me a much clearer sense how much the sound has transformed over the years—again, that might seem obvious to someone else, but that kind of thing is harder to perceive from up close.

Dirty, messy, sloppy and out of tune as well as defiantly lo-fi, these tunes represent the WP in its rawest form. They take me back to the innocent days where it seemed like all I had to do was hang out and make music with my friends, such as Peaches and Taylor Savvy who are responsible for recording and mixing these tunes.

I could go on, but instead I’ll just point you over to the link and let you form your own thoughts. I’m also curious if there is any desire for this to be released in a physical form. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the role of physical vs. digital releases, and I’d be curious to see what WP fans think. So let me know… and in the meantime, hope you enjoy this blast from the WP past!

Brave Old Waves

1294063011-radio

Every Tuesday this April from 3-5 pm, I’ll be guest hosting Montreal Sessions on CKUT, one of Montreal’s fine campus/community radio stations.

I used to do occasional spots on CKCU, the campus station in Ottawa, when I was much younger. I’ve only experienced radio as a guest ever since, but I love the format. Much like print media, physical release forms for music, and so on, it seems to be part of the digital-age conventional wisdom that radio is “dead.” However, like those other formats, it stubbornly continues to exist.

When I went for a training session to relearn my extremely rusty DJ skills, it was fun to be surrounded by young people (as well as a few seasoned veterans) who were passionate about music and the radio format.

Anyway, I’ll be spinning music, interviewing a few special guests and occasionally rambling and ranting about subjects of interest. Montrealers can tune into 90.3 FM, or you can listen from anywhere at ckut.ca. As always, any requests or suggestions are welcome. As for specifically WP-related news, stay tuned for an exciting announcement pretty soon.

 

WP @ Nuit Blanche

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On Saturday, March 2, the WP band is honoured to participate in a Nuit Blanche performance doubling as the closing party for New Troglodytes, an installation by our longtime friend and collaborator Philippe Blanchard.

Philippe’s artworks and videos can be seen on his website; his work is known to WP fans as the designer of some of our early album covers. As you can surmise by the above image, the show is bound to be trippy.

The free show takes place at Arprim, room 426 in the Belgo building (372 Ste-Catherine W). Also on the bill are Drainolith and Hobo Cubes. The WP is scheduled to perform at 11. Hope to see you there!