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 Gallery, a 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.
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.
She Said Boom! takes its indelible name from the first song on Toronto post-punk band Fifth Column’s All-Time Queen of the World. It has two locations (393 Roncesvalles Ave and 372 College St), under separate but amicable ownership, that serve two very different communities. The College store is close to Kensington Market and the University of Toronto so it caters to younger customers, mostly college students, while the Roncesvalles store gets more young families and people from Parkdale.
The storefront sign at She Said Boom! Roncesvalles is proof that written explosions are just as eye-catching as hot ones. Open since 1999, it’s one of the first businesses in Toronto to sell both books and music. “The reason was largely accidental,” says owner John Bowker. “I wanted to open a record store, and my partner wanted to open up a book store, and neither of us were able to pay the rent on a full store by ourselves. I remember wondering whether people would be willing to shop for books in a store where loudish, non-classical music was playing. Turns out, books and music worked very well together. And so obviously Chapters and Indigo stole our idea. Now Indigo sells candles.”
Read the rest here: Portrait of a Record Store: She Said Boom! Roncesvalles.
Coach House Books is celebrating the release of a new collection by bpNichol, entitled a book of variations: love-zygal-art facts. The night will be hosted by the book’s editor, Stephen Voyce, and features readings by Margaret Christakos (What Stirs, Multitudes) and Paul Dutton (Aurealities), plus a short-film screening by Justin Stephenson. 7PM. June 6. No One Writes to the Colonel. Free.
Renowned bookseller David Mason launches his memoir, The Pope’s Bookbinder (Biblioasis), in which he shares his unvarnished opinions about his trade. Mason’s devotion to literature began with bathtub reading sessions at age 11, followed him to Paris as a young man, and even brought him a bit of gilding work for Pope John XXIII. 7PM. June 6. Ben McNally Books. Free.
Book Summit 2013 is Woodstock for book professionals. On the bill are workshops, interviews, conferences, and talks by leading authors and publishers about pressing industry topics like e-books and young adult fiction. Chuck Klosterman (Fargo Rock City) is this year’s keynote speaker. 8:00AM. June 20. Fleck Dance Theatre. $92.75-$166.25.
NXNE ART screens a selection of paintings, clips, and visual poetry every 10 minutes on TTC Subway platform screens. Among the themes explored are urbanity, war, and the inbetweenness of domesticity and the wild. June 10-16. Free.
The Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading features poetry performed by Brenda Shaughnessy (Our Andromeda), Jennifer Maiden (Liquid Nitrogen), James Pollock (Sailing to Babylon), and more. 7:30PM. June 12. Koerner Hall. $10-$33.
Heritage Toronto is leading a guided walk entitled Journalists and Editors in 19th Century Toronto. Explore the city’s journalistic past of friendships and foes from 1826 to 1892 spearheaded by Toronto’s first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie. 10:00AM. June 15. 160 Frederick Street. Donations.
Toronto’s Downton Abbey is a guided tour of Spadina Museum. It provides insight into the lives of servants, cooks, counts, and countesses in the lavish 1920s. Thursdays at 7:30PM and Saturdays at 2:30PM. Reservations recommended: 416-392-6910. Regular Admission.
This summer’s Toronto Jazz Festival boasts a lauded group of headliners that touch on every point of the jazz-blues spectrum. Returning favorites include Trombone Shorty and Montreal’s Nikki Yanofsky. The Robert Glasper Experiment plays a special intimate set at The Horseshoe Tavern. June 20-29. Various Venues. Some events free, $ varies by concert.
Luminato 2013 is a multidisciplinary festival formed to stoke Toronto’s creativity. Craftspeople of literature (Sam Sutherland), theatre (Marina Abramovic), music (Joni Mitchell, Serena Ryder), dance, magic, and the visual arts all set up shop in the city to share the lives their passions gave them. June 14-23. Various Venues. Most events free.
As part of Dundas West Fest, the print culture champions at The Monkey’s Paw are holding their inaugural Collage Fest, a competition to create pieces of original art from books, magazines, and pamphlets that would otherwise be recycled and forgotten. 11AM-5PM. June 8. The Monkey’s Paw. All materials free.
Founded in 1976 with a focus on soul music and mod subculture, Kops Records (229 Queen St. West) is Toronto’s oldest independent record store. It’s known for housing the largest selection of seven inch 45s in Canada and for an abiding dedication to musical roots. According to General Manager Patrick Grant, “[Kops] specializes in unveiling to people the roots of stuff that they like. We’re trying to provide [records] that elaborate on tastes you already have.” In this way, you can walk in listening to The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly” (1995) and walk out – with two LPs under your arm – having learned that its memorable sitar riff is sampled from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” (1990) which sampled it first from Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band” (1967).
Read the rest here: Record Store Roundup: Kops Records.
“Any name may be Canadian,” or so says John Parlabane, the defrocked monk in Robertson Davies’ The Rebel Angels (1981), a novel about the inner workings of the College of St. John and Holy Ghost, a fictional Canadian university. He explains himself a little later,
“I think we are foolish on this continent [N. America] to imagine that after five hundred generations somewhere else we become wholly Canadian –hard-headed, no-nonsense North Americans– in the twinkling of a single life.”
In other words, continental generalizations aside, becoming Canadian happens quickly and frequently.
Parlabane is speaking to and about a graduate student in medieval studies, Miss Maria Theotoky, who has told him that she’s Canadian by birth. Immediately unsatisfied, because any name may be Canadian, he pries further and discovers that mama and papa Theotoky are Hungarian. The question to hold on to is, what’s Canadian?
Time for you to test Parlabane’s idea. Take this online ad posted by Now Magazine.
“Meat and Greet Social evening for older trans men and their allies. April 17, 6:30pm. 519 Church Community Centre. 416-355-6787.”
I’d like you to perform a bit of gut-analysis between your neck and your belly button, where the most pressing ethical quandaries are debated, and decide if you feel a need to know where the attendees are originally from to call the meat-ing Canadian.
If you do, you and the CRTC have as much in common, and there is likely a Can-con percentage that, once fulfilled, renders the event Canadian in your mind; then, labelling things “Canadian” that are above their respective Can-con percentages builds our society and cultural industries, and vice versa.
If you don’t need to know, you share Parlabane’s any-name idea, and we have to ask once again, you can stop holding the question now, what’s Canadian?, but this time with a little more information to go on: being Canadian has nothing to do with where you’re from.
Imagine our country as Kirby, Nintendo’s pink puff ball adventurer, with his mouth open wide ready to inhale. Suppose Kirby feeds on cultures and gains nourishment by taking ownership in them, by calling them his own. He’s always indiscriminately hungry; note how the double meaning in “Any name may be Canadian” proves this: 1) Any name has the right to become Canadian. 2) Any name may already be Canadian. Such a varied group of people makes us some of everyone from everywhere, a perfect cross section of humanity. For example, after five or ten or thirty years of visits, you walk into a certain record store in downtown Toronto feeling as confident as you do when you get home after work. Your best friend enjoys the occasional joint at a cannabis lounge in Vancouver. A colleague of your father’s, who you’ve met before, performs FGM on someone’s daughter next week and believes with his whole soul that he’s doing her a favor, even though the procedure is illegal in Canada and should be; a decade later, when her water bursts, doctors at Mount Sinai will have to have received special training on how to treat her.
Of course, we have homegrown examples too, like Standard Time and Canola, and proudly so, but they are only a tiny piece of the pie; universal health care, The Group of Seven, The English Patient and hockey would have never happened (as we know them) without leaving our doors open to the world.
So, does labelling things as “Canadian” build our society? I reckon it does. It guarantees our future. After all, controlling the flow of culture in an effort to sculpt a national identity down to something pure has been known to cause a spot of bother.