Trevor Abes: Writer

Family Dinner

A new poem, “Family Dinner,” performed at The Supermarket in Toronto. It’s also forthcoming in print in Rummaging for Words.

When TV Watches Back: Coyote Collective’s Like a Generation

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The terrifying thing about watching a lot of TV is that most of the damage it causes is both delivered and received with a smile. Understanding this smile is the central concern in Like a Generation, the latest play from Toronto’s Coyote Collective.

Read my review in Sewer Lid Magazine.

Letters to Hip Hop (video)

Spoken Word Takes a Turn for the Outrageous

Outrageous is a new reading series in Toronto that’s turning heads and making friends by breaking all the rules. Read my article about it in Torontoist.

If you’re in the city, come by for Outrageous X on September 29 at 8 p.m.

From Outrageous VIII: Alex Hood on bass and Callum MacKenzie on sax as the Rainbow Jackson Free Jazz Experience. Photo by Maite Jacobson.

From Outrageous VIII: Alex Hood on bass and Callum MacKenzie on sax as the Rainbow Jackson Free Jazz Experience. Photo by Maite Jacobson.

 

The Illustrated Life: An Interview With Writer And Cartoonist Salgood Sam

 Here’s my chat with Salgood Sam on The Rusty Toque

Salgood Sam (photo by Niall Eccles)

Salgood Sam (photo by Niall Eccles).

 

If On A Winter’s Night Michael DeForge: Redefining The Horror Comic In A Kim-Kardashianized World

Here’s my first op-ed for Sequential: Canadian Comix News and Culture. It’s about Toronto-based comics artist Michael DeForge (Ant Colony, Adventure Time) and his very particular use of horror. Have a read.

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A response to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle

Here’s my response to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle of films in today’s LightNews, the Luminato Festival’s daily newspaper. Give the image a click to read it. 

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Culture Hawker Chronicles: John Bowker and She Said Boom!

From the Toronto Review of Books.

Photo by Ted Best.

Photo by Ted Best.

In this series, Trevor Abes gets to know the people behind the counter at Toronto’s music stores, book shops, and art galleries.

John Bowker is the owner and operator of She Said Boom! Roncesvalles. For five years he served as board director for the Review Cinema and he is the current  chair of the Beautification Committee at the Roncesvalles Village Business Improvement Area. He shares his thoughts on book selling, community involvement and the future of Toronto record stores.

T: How did you co-found She Said Boom!?

J: I had been “seeking a situation” for quite a while, having graduated from journalism at a time when the government believed it was better for Canada to have a %12 unemployment rate than a %12 inflation rate. Eventually, I ignored all the obvious risks of not ever having run a business in my life. A few months later, me and my equally inexperienced partner Randy had signed a lease.

T: Where did you grow up?

J: I was raised in Scarborough, Birchmount-Finch neighbourhood. I moved downtown in my early 20s.

T: What kind of books are Torontonians buying?

J: Contemporary literature is, and always has been, the bread and butter of the store. Non-fiction books have taken a bit of a hit lately, probably due to e-readers.

T: What are the store’s prized possessions at the moment?

J: We have a first edition Slaughterhouse Five, and some really hard-to-find Yukio Mishima and Nabokov hardcovers. I also have The Fugs’ first record and Jodorowsky’s El Topo.

T: Share with us some of your recommended reads and albums.

J: The documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about the musician Rodriguez, and his 1970 album, Cold Fact. As for books, I highly recommend  A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

T: Where do you see the record store business in Toronto going in the next decade?

J: You’ve heard of the Internet? iPods? Kobos? No book or record store owner can predict what the next 10 years will bring!

T: Has anybody at She Said Boom! ever met Fifth Column?

J: They are friends. Back in 1995, when I was trying to think of a name for my store, I was playing Fifth Column’s amazing second album, All-Time Queen of the World. The first song is called “She Said, Boom” and I loved the title’s fun and energy. I asked the band if I could use the song title for my store name, and they very graciously said, “Sure!”

T: How would you characterize Roncesvalles?

J: In my work on the Roncesvalles BIA, I have always tried to give the community a feeling of ownership of our street, so that it is a public space, not just a commercial space; I believe this philosophy is part of what makes Roncesvalles such a successful main street and neighborhood.  There is perhaps no better illustration of the strong relationship between businesses and the neighborhood than RoncyWorks, our guerrilla clean-up crew.

Visit him here.

Never Mind The Musicians: Toronto’s Bill Wood

Photo by Sean Ryan.

Photo by Sean Ryan.

From the Toronto Review of Books

In this series, Trevor Abes sits down with local lights in the Toronto music scene. 

Since 1986’s hit album Just In Time To Be Late, former Eye Eye vocalist Bill Wood has had a family and started a successful renovation business. Yet his dedication to music has never waned. In 2007, he released a solo record called Take It; in 2012, he formed the folk rock outfit Bill Wood and the Woodies and released an EP; and on May 10, 2013, Wood and his daughter appeared on a MindCare-sponsored compilation record in support of mental health.

Trevor: What about music fulfills you?

Bill: For me, the fuel that keeps it all going is the songs. I need to have a certain amount of time in my life chipping away at writing.

Trevor: How do you approach writing songs?

Bill: I have to sit down with no idea and start doodling on the guitar with different rhythms like a painter swishing paint around until I know what to do next.

Trevor: Where does your relationship with folk and rock and roll begin?

Bill: After the first Eye Eye record, two records landed on my lap, Copperhead Road by Steve Earle and Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys: they established in my heart how I wanted to continue writing for the rest of my career.

Trevor: Tell me about the Woodies’ creative process.

Bill: We tighten up the music live in front of people. We play without rehearsing and pull it together organically over two or three gigs.

Trevor: How do you look back on Eye Eye?

Bill: We were signed through CBC Rock Wars and the buzz was fantastic. We toured with Glass Tiger in the middle of their success, and it was a frenzy opening for Platinum Blonde. We were also constantly reminded that the 80s scene was going to end; the record company ordered songs like pizzas.  When Eye Eye ended, I felt a relief to not have to write songs that were products for a market.

Trevor: How did you get into the renovation business?

Bill: I went from stay-at-home dad/pop-star-guy to needing a job when the second Eye Eye album tanked. I worked as a bike courier, a driver, a dispatcher, then I went into flipping houses with a friend of mine. I learned on properties that I owned until I had enough skills to go independent. Now I do property maintenance at a community housing building.

Trevor: Did fatherhood affect your music?

Bill: Fatherhood enabled me to sit with my guitar and write more songs; it kept me home. If the phone rang from wherever, I didn’t really care because I was happy raising my kids.

Trevor: What are you listening to?

Bill: Rogue’s Gallerya compilation of sea chanteys and pirate songs, and I picked up the new Bowie; it’s a little noisy in parts, but I like the first single.

Bill plays Graffiti’s the third Friday of every month.

Never Mind The Musicians: Toronto’s R. Shelley

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From the Toronto Review of Books

In this series, Trevor Abes sits down with local lights in the Toronto music scene.

Michelle Ronchin is R. Shelley, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter whose Sink or Swim EP dropped last April. She has over five years of live performing under her belt, including a set at Hamilton’s Spring Music Festival 2012. When she isn’t writing or booking gigs, Shelley is booking bands at Oak Recording Studio where she works under industry veteran Damon de Szegheo.

T: When did music enter your life?

S: I taught myself how to play guitar in grade 10; all the boys played, so I thought I could too. I started playing piano and writing poetry many years before that.

T: Why do you make music?

S: For me, I put emotion into a song and that’s where it stays. It’s still a part of me, but it’s a song, removed from me to be presented to an audience. So I love when people relate to my songs, say they like this or that verse and there’s an emotional connection, because then I’m grounded, I’m solid.

T: How do you foster those connections?

S: It’s easy to say “I…I…I…” and sing songs about your sadness and how everything bad happens to you, but people don’t want to hear that. If you say “you,” they hear it about somebody else, and they’re included in the picture.

T: What’s the scene like in Toronto for up-and-coming musicians?

S: It’s tough. In Toronto everyone’s serious about hitting it big. That’s not to say people aren’t friendly; they’re passionate over just having fun.

T: How do you work on your craft?

S: I cross-examine myself about how I feel about a gig, how people reacted, and the energy in the room. If people tell me I did great, but I believe I did mediocre, I’ll think about what I think the most.

T: “Running” is my favorite track off Sink or Swim. Where did it come from?

S: A friend of mine in film school at York asked me to write a song for a documentary she was doing to understand her family’s past through pictures. She told me only that the theme was home. “Running” is my interpretation of home as being at your most comfortable, and it could be anywhere.

T: Who’s on your playlist right now?

S: Right now I’m listening to a lot of Sam Roberts and Serena Ryder. Then there’s the older stuff, your Beatles, The Stones, and Fleetwood Mac. It’s a whole range of things.

T: Why R. Shelley?

S: Shelley is my nickname since high school and Ronchin is my last name. Imagine you’re filling out a form online; your last name comes first, and you don’t want to give your whole identity away.

T: Do you feel ready to make yourself at home wherever you may be?

S: Definitely. I put everything into music, so I hope to get the best out of it.

Visit her here.

 

The Devolution of Nikki Yanofsky

Photo by Valerie Jodoin Keaton.

Photo by Valerie Jodoin Keaton.

Even if you can’t tell John Coltrane from John McLaughlin, you’ve probably heard of Canada’s most promising jazz singer, 19-year-old Nikki Yanofsky. Hailing from Hampstead, Montreal, Yanofsky immersed herself in music as a child – her two older brothers introduced her to the Beatles and she enrolled in vocal lessons spurred on by her father Richard, also a musician. She turned out to be a natural talent blessed with perfect pitch, and the results exceeded anyone’s expectations. At 12, she became the youngest artist in history to headline the Montreal Jazz Festival, performing in front of more than 100,000 people. At 13, she recorded her debut Ella…Of Thee I Swing, a tribute to her idol Ella Fitzgerald, at a packed Place des Arts in 2007. The album features astounding renditions of “You’ve Changed,” “Flyin’ Home,” and Etta James’ “At Last,” which Yanofsky dedicated to her dog Hudson after stating that, at her tender age, it was the best way she had to emote during the song. Through the 14-song set, she sounds comfortable beyond her years with both the stage and the cadences of soul earned through hardship. She dips into lower registers like a wrong turn purposefully taken, soars for that show-stopping high note like the powerhouse greats she’s studied since primary school, and she scats with the personality of someone who’s dwelled in hell and found her way out at a snail’s pace. A teenaged hell, but hell all the same.

Two years passed before her first studio effort, the laconically titled Nikki, hit shelves in 2010. Listeners encountered a greater prevalence of pop next to the expected jazz standards, but it was clear in Yanofsky’s delivery that she had a history with every song and artist. Nikki also had experience on her side, with St. Catharines legend Ron Sexsmith and Jesse Harris of “Don’t Know Why” fame on board as co-writers for some of her first original compositions. If the production was more refined, it was all the better for it, a necessary upgrade to meet the normal vocal changes from 13 to 16 years of age. On “God Bless the Child,” Yanofsky conveys a fitting cocktail of loss and longing; she understands Billie Holiday’s personal troubles during her 1941 recording without having to live them. On the playful “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” band and singer offer insights into straight ahead jazz that root Yanofsky in the history of her craft beyond proper song choices. Gone is what a certain critic called her “canny mimicry” – referring to her 2006-07 recording of “Airmail Special” on the compilation We All Love Ella– a sense of self-assurance and ownership over the material having taken its place. Nikki is currently certified gold in Canada, having shipped over 40,000 copies.

Throughout these years, what brought people out to the concerts is sheer amazement, at least on the surface. A kid that belts them like the best of them will always draw a crowd. What brought people out to see her for a second or third time, though, carries a considerable weight, and it’s that what we were watching was, without question, the rise of the world’s next great jazz singer. Diehards will disagree, purists always will until they see the grail before their eyes, but Yanofsky was a girl apart from the singers spoiled by jazz-inflected pop. From her Converse and jeans, she slipped into Ella’s high heel pumps better than anyone on the scene since she first squeaked her way onto it, and that all changed when Nikki signed with one Quincy Jones.

Quincy

Photo by Michael Buckner.

As Yanofsky’s co-manager, Jones had a gradual effect on the young singer’s sound. Jazz played second fiddle to pop song-structures; stripped-down, acoustic accompaniment was ditched for digital overproduction; and her supple vocal runs scooted to make room for clichéd R&B acrobatics. Yanofsky’s third album, Little Secret – long delayed since its initial fall 2013 release– saw her in the studio with Rob Kleiner, a songwriter and producer experienced in club-ready beats who’s worked with Flo Rida, David Guetta, and Cee Lo Green. The songs they came up with aim for a broader appeal and for younger audiences through the dilution of Yanofsky’s musical identity. Nikki has been smoothed out, with only vestiges of the uncalculated, care-free approach to soul, classic blues, and jazz that kept her from being swallowed by the industry. From the title track “Little Secret” to “Something New” to “Enough of You,” the album almost uniformly takes heed from repetitious Top-40-esque dribble. Additionally, the backing band on her Little Secret Tour is roughly 20 years younger than her last, with previous musical director Rob Fahie being replaced by Will Wells, a laptop-reliant arranger whose touring background is limited to a stint with LMFAO.

Yet as I said at the start, Yanofsky is immersed in music. Little Secret is masterfully executed because jazz is not the limit of her repertoire and she is a better singer with each passing year. During her set on June 25, 2013 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, she sang a jazz-medley of recent hits, including Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” and LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” She wrote around her favorite verse on Louis Armstrong’s “Jeepers Creepers” and performed it as the animated throwback “Jeepers Creepers 2.0.” There is ample need for experimentation in jazz – and a need for fun in general, free from critical stuffiness about what jazz is and what it isn’t– as is the case in the career of a girl not yet 20. There are decades still to tread before Nikki’s style settles into any kind of permanence and more changes are surely to come. It’s just too bad the most recent adaptation in her evolution is the outcome of pressure, naiveté, and a desire to excel within conformity when inimitability was already there. 

Culture Hawker Chronicles: Patrick Grant

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From the Toronto Review of Books

In this series, Trevor Abes gets to know the people behind the counter at Toronto’s music stores, book shops, and art galleries.

Patrick Grant has his hustles. He’s been the general manager at Kops Records going on four years and he sings lead in Patrick Grant and the FleshVignettes, an indie rock sextet with soul and funk influences. He also plays guitar at The Comedy Bar for the Sunday Night Live show. Grant’s goal is to “make music that relates to both the body and the mind, to have a really groovy ass band that lets you get down, but at the same time makes you think.”

Trevor: What does your job at Kops involve?

Patrick: I do merchandising, stocking, and ordering of new product.

Trevor: Where did you grow up?

Patrick: I grew up on the North York side of Scarborough, Ellesmere and Victoria Park area.

Trevor: What kind of musicians inform you?

Patrick: My favorite artist of all time is Bruce Springsteen. I like guys who are heavily songwriting-oriented, like a Paul Simon, or in terms of newer guys, I really like Kurt Vile.

Trevor: Where’s your fascination with music come from?

Patrick: It grew through my family. My dad dropped The Boss, The Doors and The Eagles in the car all the time. Hearing “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” when you’re seven has a pretty profound influence on a kid.

Trevor: What have you been listening to lately?

Patrick: A compilation [on Now-Again Records] called Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges. Tracks on this record might have been sampled on your favorite hip hop song, thought most people wouldn’t necessarily know.

Trevor: Tell me what’s so special about vinyl.

Patrick: This is a little heady, but when you’re relating to something that is a physical object scraping against another physical object to make a sound, it reacts with your body in a way that’s not necessarily just in your ears. It’s participation. People like to have a tangible physical medium when they’re consuming art. It’s the difference between going to an art gallery and looking at Picassos on your computer.

Trevor: What do you make of all this hoopla about the death of record stores?

Patrick: I don’t really believe that record stores are dying, I believe that record stores that don’t know their position and function are dying. Everyone wants a place like [Kops]. I see some record stores close because of a lack of an ability to adapt.

Trevor: Have any interesting run-ins during your time at Kops?

Patrick: There was a day a cat came up to me with a Connie Francis record he got out of our 25 cent bin, and he said, “Can you put this on hold for me? I’ll be back tomorrow to pick it up.” I asked him who I should put it on hold for. He looked me in the eye and said, “Andrew Lloyd Webber,” and walked straight out the door.

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