Music, business (part 1)

As many of my devoted fans know, I’ve been blessed throughout my life with a lot of very talented friends, some of whom have gone on to varying degrees of success. I’m happy for them and proud of them all, but of course this can also bring up occasional flourishes of envy or of nagging self-doubt—especially when some of these successful friends give me pep talk/lectures.

“It’s the music business,” says one.

“The business side of things is just as important as the creative side—you should think of them as the same,” says another.

“Think of it as a marketing installation,” says yet another. (I admit that this perspective on the situation spoke to me a bit more).

Are these things true? Why didn’t anyone tell me earlier? And would I have even listened?

A few years back I was reading an article by Exclaim’s music business journalist Allison Outhit. Some guy she interviewed gave a quote along the lines of “If you’ve been working hard for 10 years and you’re still not successful, maybe you suck.”

The quote stayed with me, bringing along with it a stark self-questioning: if I’m not successful, does that mean I haven’t worked hard enough? Or that I suck? (Allowing of course for the possibility of a third option, that this guy is a goddamn asshole).

In 2008, I quit my job, where for the first time in my life I had a respectable income and was settling into middle-class comfort. I felt I wasn’t putting enough time or effort into my creative work, and wanted to take a genuine crack at an artistic career, which I had never truly devoted myself to before.

Two years later I found myself, for the first time, questioning the value of carrying on this project in the face of profound non-reaction from labels, promoters, and the whole trend-obsessed music business machine in general.

It’s hard to write about this kind of thing for a few reasons. First of all, I’m very grateful for whatever small impact I’ve been able to make, and I’m also acutely aware that certain things I’ve accomplished (getting played on the radio, touring internationally, collaborating with famous people, etc) are things that some artists only dream of.

Secondly, I generally feel that it’s unbecoming for anyone to bitch and moan about not being more successful.

Finally, if certain people believe that I am successful for the reasons listed above, a pretty big part of me feels that I should let them have that illusion—it’s a win-win situation for us all.

That said, there are some things that I need to get off my chest and goddammit, what is the blogosphere for if not the shameless combination of self-pity and self-promotion?

To be continued.

Quick Bit of Lit Crit

It’s my 37th birthday. I’m alone, tipsy, melancholy… a normal February evening.

I’ve been reading a bunch of rock books. These are always good to read, a strange combination of brain candy and inspiration. What follows is the first-ever WP literary review…

Life, by Keith Richards

MSM baby boomers were really excited about this one. I love the Stones (up until the early ‘70s or so, natch) so I was excited to read it too. I have to say it was a little underwhelming. It’s very obvious that the ghostwriter simply had Keith talk his ear off and then transcribed it. I’m fully aware that’s how most autobiographies are written, but in this case it was really blatant. Clearly it was an authorial decision to literally capture the voice, but it was captured a little too authentically, complete with the narrator repeating himself, saying things like “you know what I mean?” and so on. Ultimately it’s a bit like being accosted at a bar by a sozzled senior, who has a lot of great yarns but is still kind of annoying. There’s also a lack of self-awareness that shines through, as you might expect from an addled multi-gazillionaire with a golden horseshoe up his ass. It does have a lot of good stories, though, and I like the nerdy parts where he talks about things like how he tunes his guitar.

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

This got a lot of good reviews too, and I think in this case they were deserved. The book is all about Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe when they were struggling artists in New York City back in the day. I liked how Smith honestly portrays her young self as a total dilletante, who wanted to be an artist but didn’t know exactly what she would do and just kind of floundered around for years. It’s no doubt politically incorrect to say so, but just as Richards exhibits typically male characteristics—selfishness, macho posturing, clueless insensitivity—Smith’s book is very feminine in a flaky, witchy kind of way. But her writing style is beautifully simple, and the story is touching and inspiring.

Black Postcards, by Dean Wareham

This came out last year or so and more or less slipped under the radar—somewhat appropriately for the perpetually underrated singer of Galaxie 500, Luna, and now Dean and Britta. Unlike Richards or Smith he never rose to legendary status, and he tells it like it is about the unglamourous side of the music business. The Harvard-educated Wareham is a really good writer—dry, to the point, and sharply critical of others, of trends and music-business sleaze, and—again, unlike Smith or Richards—of himself.

One thing all three books have in common is passages including the writer’s lyrics. Generally, they do not hold up well on the page. It’s almost enough to make me accept David Thomas’ dictum that “printing lyrics is a Bad Thing.”

But I’m being overly critical myself—they are all good reads.

That’s all for now. Last night we finished the final tweaks to the mastering of the new WP album. Exciting. More news on this soon.

Maybe I’m crazy, but…

Going insane is a pretty common lyrical topic in rock music (especially if you listen to a lot of Ozzy Osbourne), and it’s pretty common for me to wonder “Am I losing my mind?” when confronted with some major or minor mental lapse on the day-to-day. But I never really thought about it seriously… until now.

So I got the new Harper’s magazine the other day (yes, I am very urbane, thank you for noticing!) and started reading one of the feature pieces, an article by Rachel Aviv called “Which Way Madness Lies” (not available on their website, sadly) about the possibility of diagnosing schizophrenia before it seriously takes hold.

A really good article, but there were a couple of things that disturbed me. Mainly, a questionnaire developed by a psychiatric institute to detect signs of possible encroaching psychosis. The first question (or at least the first one quoted by Aviv):

Do you daydream a lot or find yourself preoccupied with stories, fantasies, or ideas?

Uh… yeah… who doesn’t? Not, for example, anyone I know. Maybe I should hang out with saner people, but wouldn’t they be kind of boring if they’re not preoccupied with ideas?

The next question:

Do you think others ever say that your interests are unusual or that you are eccentric?

Uh… wait just a second here, do these things make me crazy?!

To my relief, after that the questions get into things that might actually make you crazy, like thinking that the world might not actually exist or that people around you might not be real. I mean, those kinds of thoughts cross my mind from time to time, but not regularly. That’s normal, right?

Later on the article describes the typical personality to later develop schizophrenia:

The only commonalities were that nearly all of them had moved through childhood and adolescence feeling more thoughtful, intelligent, or probing than their family or peers and that there had been an existential tinge to their preoccupations years before their symptoms emerged.

OK, so now I’m starting to get worried, because this basically describes not only my entire childhood and adolescence, but most of my 20s as well. (These days, I’m more likely to feel shrivellingly inferior to others).

I can only come to one of two conclusions: either a) scientists have yet to make a fine distinction between early-onset craziness and creativity, or b) I am at serious risk of going insane.

In other news, a hip underground record label wrote me back recently declining to release the new WP album. (I should stress here that I really, really appreciated the reply, as the overwhelming majority of labels – no matter how half-assed they are, and even those run by people I know personally – don’t even bother to dignify my entreaties with any kind of answer).

Quoth he:
i listened to the album and it has alot of good hooks but it’s not the type of stuff that i’m releasing.
i’m into weirdo synth stuff and outsider rock.

So after a decade of being considered too weird and outsider, all of a sudden I’m not weird or outsider enough.

Sigh. It’s enough to drive a guy…. oh, never mind.

Coupla Shows

So we’re playing this weekend in Montreal and Ottawa. On Friday night at The Playhouse (one of Montreal’s strangest venues, but very accessible to lazy Mile-Enders at 5656 Parc, corner Bernard) with The Man Machine (one of the best bands in Montreal at the moment, IMHO) and Ottawa anthem-mongers Street Meat, then Saturday night in Ottawa with Street Meat and Toronto’s experimental hip-hop artist garbageface.

In my entirely unbiased opinion, these shows will be pretty awesome – a chance to see the WP band in our glorious new post-apocalyptic attire (by our new costume designers Vanessa and Laurence), performing songs from our upcoming new album as well as classics demanded by the public.

They’ll also be your last chance to see us for at least a few months (unless we get a really great offer, which is known to happen from time to time) – Stacey, Steve and I are taking some time off from the WP to concentrate on our roles as sidemen in Lion Farm, the new band (so new we’re not even online!) fronted by my longtime friend and collaborator Michael Aronson aka Mike Foxxx, who old-school/hardcore WP fans may remember as the lead singer and songwriter of Toronto underground rock powerhouses Rock ‘n’ Roll Bad Boy XXXpress and Seventy Whore (bands so old we’re not even online, though I did recently discover some rare archival video of RRBBXXX in our heyday which I will get around to posting one of these days).

In other Montreal cultural news, if you missed The Delian Mode, the award-winning film by WP keyboardist/videographer Kara Blake, it’ll be screening this Thursday as part of an electronic-music-pioneers double bill at Blue Sunshine. Highly recommended.

Finally, wanted to share this link where Brian Eno lays down some seriously thought-provoking musical musings. Yes, it’s on the apparently-no-longer-hip Bitchfork, but still well worth checking out.

The Album Beef

Flush with the revenue from my recent employ as a manual labourer (the last thing I expected to be doing at this advanced age, but you never know where life is gonna take you), I found myself walking by the mighty Cheap Thrills, one of the indie record stores still standing in Montreal, and was unable to resist going in and buying a few albums.

Right now I’m listening to Tandoori Knights, a cheeky but catchy pastiche of faux-Indian rock ‘n’ roll devised by King Khan and Bloodshot Bill. Pretty great stuff. I won’t say what the others are until I’ve had a chance to give them a solid listen or two, but I have been trying to get back into buying albums lately, and the results have been decidedly mixed.

Like almost everyone else, my album purchases have drastically declined in recent years. I never did too much “illegal” downloading (in quotes because of the implied moral judgement, which I’m on the fence about, as well as the fact that it’s not actually illegal in Canada… look it up), but I did exchange a lot of mix tapes and CDs with people—that was my main way of consuming (and sharing) music for a good few years.

For a while, I had a policy that if I heard two or more good tunes (whether it was on the radio, downloaded, or from someone’s mix) by a certain artist, I’d support that artist by buying their album. But lately I’ve been finding that all too often when I do that, it’s only those few tunes I liked that are actually good, with the rest of the album consisting of shameless filler.

I love a great album as much as the next person, but I think all the bellyaching about the form’s “death” overlooks the fact that so many albums, today and in the past, are padded out with a bunch of mediocrity just to fill a length of time that’s fundamentally arbitrary. Not to mention the fact that the long-form album has only existed for a momentary blip on the radar of musical history.

I don’t want to make any sweeping statements that I’ll later regret, but I am seriously considering making the (soon-to-be-released!) WP album (all killer no filler, needless to say!) the last one. Not the last release or the last recordings, but the last time I’ll strive to fit into this nebulous album form. Stick to the EPs and singles… better for the kids these days’ attention spans, anyway.

And to my fellow artists… if you want people to keep buying albums… consider making ’em better!

La Roux, New Moo: Who Knew?

Chilling at the family cottage this summer. Traditions include hanging around on the dock, hanging around on the porch, and later, hanging around by the fireplace. And listening to the New Moo.

This Vermont-based radio station (WMOO 92.1), which brands itself as having the region’s best variety (invariably causing the distressing thought of what less variety would consist of), plays almost exclusively a kind of whitebread corporate pop. It plays a lot of Top 10 and a lot of present and past Idols, excluding almost all R&B and only allowing little hints of country – forget about hip-hop, on this station tunes like Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” and the Soup Dragons’ cover of the Stones’ “I’m Free” have the rap parts taken out – plus a lot of 90s one-hit wonders (New Radicals, anybody?), and seems to generally specialize in a kind of musical universe I wasn’t previously aware existed, one in which Hootie and the Blowfish and Matchbox 20 are the most important, influential bands (I wish I was joking or exaggerating, I really do).

This must sound horrible, and a great deal of the time it is. But we listen to it all the time anyway—I mean, there might be something good on Vermont NPR or the Lennoxville campus station, but then there might not, and then I’d have to spend many minutes cranking back the ancient radio to its optimal microcosmic sweet spot.

I have many great memories from years of the Moo (mostly involving ultra-cool indie-rockers admitting their secret love of James Blunt or the Goo Goo Dolls), along with some traumatic ones (joking that maybe one of the bland, generic tunes sung by thrice-diluted Alanis clones we kept hearing was the new Liz Phair song, and then finding out that it actually was).

So anyway, this weekend we’re listening away as usual, cringing through the crap and singing along with our guilty or shameless favourites, and all of a sudden on comes La Roux’s “Bulletproof.”

Somehow this disrupts my reality a little bit.

Not that I was disappointed to hear it – it’s a good tune. Or that it doesn’t fit in – it’s catchy and poppy, just like the parade of mainstream pop that surrounds it on the Moo.
But I’d been under the impression that La Roux was some kind of underground hipster phenomenon. Certainly, here in Montreal the only time I heard about La Roux was from hipsters.

(Although I am actually interested, on a strictly socio-demographic level, in the question of who or what constitutes a hipster, I will not address this here, except to submit that hipsters do exist, and furthermore there’s nothing wrong with being one. More on this later.)

Now, I am aware that we’re, at some level, past the era where the terms “underground” or “mainstream” have much meaning. The few remaining bands who worked their way up from the DIY scene to the corporate mediasphere, like REM or Green Day, are long in the tooth. Artists like MIA are doing pretty musically radical things in a mainstream context, and a lot of bands considered “indie” are way softer and sappier than anything on the New Moo.

But MIA doesn’t get played on the Moo… or MGMT, Bon Iver, Major Lazer, or whatever the cool kids are listening to these days. Hell, even something like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was too, well, crazy for the Moo. The Moo will play Norah Jones, but not Feist. It’s a corporate, mainstream operation through and through.

Conversely, the hipster crowd does not listen to Nickelback, Lady Antebellum, Rob Thomas, or Avril Lavigne (except when they’re at the cottage with us).

So what have I missed?

Is La Roux the true crossover artist of our time?

A reverse Lady Gaga, infiltrating the underground with mainstream notions?

(Some minimal research seems to indicate that, while they’re possibly an overnight sensation, they’re not a corporate creation but a legitimate indie-turned-mainstream act).

Or do I just not get out enough?

That reminds me of a brief Facebook craze where everyone was suddenly posting 20 facts about themselves, which invariably involved a lot of oversharing. From this phenomenon I learned that several people who I thought of as gregarious social butterflies actually suffered from acute and chronic social anxieties. I felt like reaching out and saying, “Hey, I found a great solution to that… just stop going out!” But then, as I’ve discovered, if you stop going out, you miss out on things.

Like how it is La Roux is being played on the New Moo.

Adieu Fabbie

We played a gig last night at the DARE-DARE Gala. It was pretty sweet… not a lot of our usual audience of old friends there, but instead a bunch of drunk dancing kids. Almost like playing in another town in a way. Also, the venue (Studio Juste pour rire) was of a calibre we’re not used to. Big stage, good sound, proper dressing room, a loading bay and trollies to haul the gear… nice.

Before our set I had a cameo with Donzelle, performing our song. It’s always fun to play with Roxanne and her crew, but this time was a little bittersweet for me… the first time I’d played with the crew since the loss of one of its members, Fabbie Barthélémy.

In addition to performing with Donzelle, Fabbie was a journalist known for cultural reviews and criticism here in Montreal. She also hosted a feminist radio show on CISM with the hilarious name of “Les gynocrates attaquent.”

I was coming home from a family wedding this summer when I got a message about Fabbie’s death. I quickly called a friend who informed me that Fabbie had committed suicide.

Needless to say it was pretty shocking. She and I were never really close, but our paths intersected at different points: in my other life as a film critic, we’d see each other at press screenings, and then there was our connection through the Donzelle crew. We lived in the same neighbourhood, so we’d often share cabs back from Donzelle shows, chatting about films and life in general. In person as in her writings, she always just struck me as funny, smart and charming.

We certainly weren’t close enough for me to know what she was going through, but it’s upsetting to think that whatever it was, that this was her solution—that her life was so bad that she figured being dead would be better.

I remember Fabbie telling me about an impulsive decision to quit her job, even though she had no other work lined up. I’m a big fan of quitting jobs that you’re not happy with, so I enthusiastically supported her decision. Now of course, I can’t help but wonder if that was a warning sign, in the way that all past events get coloured by something like this.

I remember the last time I saw her, in the neighbourhood café. She came in as I was in the middle of doing a radio interview. She gave me a big smile and we made vague plans to call each other soon. Of course we never did, and now we never will.

At the video store where I do a few shifts a week (yes, I have a lot of day jobs), I felt a bizarre impulse to look up her file. There was a note saying she couldn’t rent any more movies until she paid up her late fees. An absurd thought popped into my head: Fabbie, if you come back I’ll give you free rentals for life.


One time after a WP show, years ago, a woman told me that my show had inspired her in her work—she was involved in some kind of suicide prevention initiative for teenagers. I often think of that after I get a shitty review or something—that if I could contribute, even indirectly, to some kid not killing themselves, that’s worth a million bad reviews. But in this case I couldn’t help.


As I’ve discussed with other friends, when something like this happens it’s important not to blame yourself or to get too caught up in what you could have or should have done. All I can really do is say, to anyone who’s having any kind of trouble big or small, is that I’m there if you want to talk.

RIP Fabbie, I miss you.

A Facebook group with links to a bunch of Fabbie’s writings and radio appearances can be found here (en français seulement).

Post-Pop ponderings

On the home stretch of a 16-hour work day, suddenly the wisdom of staying out past 3am seems questionable. I don’t have the stamina of my younger days. But it was worth it all the same, just to see Big Freedia rapping “Ass everywhere, ass ass everywhere” as hordes of kids literally swung from the rafters, popping their booties as best a white Canadian can.

It was the climax of Pop Montreal. Other highlights for me included the Dears (who never cease to amaze me with the contrast between their “mopey pop” image and the raw, guns-blazing, shredding intensity of their live shows), Deerhoof (who I saw twice, at an official show and an afterparty, and who I like more than ever after realizing they’re basically nerdier than Rush), a windy rooftop set by chilled-out pop ensemble Ensemble (no, that wasn’t a typo, I’m just being lazy), and of course the mighty Corpusse at Barfly, working his usual magic (backed up by ever-demure keyboardist Lorenz Peter) on the crowd of old-timers and puzzled young hipsters who were there for the bill of noise-punk upstarts.

This is the first Pop in many years that I didn’t actually play at, but the fest did start out with the premiere of my Corpusse documentary at Blue Sunshine. I’ll say no more since this is the site for the WP, not my filmmaking alter ego, except that I had a great time.

I hesitate to say any discouraging words about Pop after they provided such pleasures, but I feel that not offering constructive criticism is as bad as the reflexive Pop-bashing that was so popular a couple of years ago. Dan and his ever-rotating crew have helped put the city on the map, brought some amazing shows to town, and made a lot of really bold programming choices, and they deserve credit for that. They’re also notorious for their disorganization and terrible communication. They seem to get away with this as “part of the laid-back Montreal charm,” but this year everyone I spoke to—artists, venue reps, technicians—had some kind of fairly major complaint. So all I have to say to Pop is: when your organization and communication rises to the level of your programming, you’ll have truly accomplished an amazing festival. Just sayin’.

Speaking of excellence, we are playing a show this Friday at Studio Juste pour rire—a benefit show for Galerie DARE-DARE with a hot lineup. Details here. Stay tuned for more news soon!


Uptown – new WP single!

Listen here:
[audio: of Pain_MP3/1_Uptown.mp3]

Or download it here!

Enjoy this new tune from The World Provider’s upcoming album, co-written (and featuring a shred-tastic solo) by longtime collaborator Steve Raegele!

History of Pain – the new WP album!

We are pleased to announce the completion of History of Pain, the latest and greatest WP album. Produced by Murray Lightburn of The Dears and featuring longtime contributors Stacey DeWolfe and Steve Raegele, the album (mostly) leaves behind our casio roots to embrace rock riffage and the pursuit of pop perfection! Enjoy a couple of tunes streaming below, and stay tuned for news about the release!