Trevor Abes: Writer

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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.

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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.

 

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.

Record Store Roundup: She Said Boom! Roncesvalles

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From the Toronto Review of Books

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.

Jazz, Journalists, bpNichol, and the roaring 1920s: T.O. Events for June 6-June 20, 2013

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Chuck Klosterman. Photo by Collapse the Light.

From the Toronto Review of Books.

Coach House Books is celebrating the release of a new collection by bpNichol, entitled a book of variationslove-zygal-art facts. The night will be hosted by the book’s editor, Stephen Voyce, and features readings by Margaret Christakos (What StirsMultitudes) 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.

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Nikki Yanofsky. Photo by Barry Harris.

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.  

Forging Connections at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (2013) was not your average convention. People weren’t dressed in carefully considered costumes or walking around in character stockpiling freebies indiscriminately. Set in the Toronto Reference Library over the second weekend of May, the intimate space lent itself to discovery and spontaneous conversation more than sweaty-palmed, star struck fervor. TCAF opened its doors to the simply curious and the comic-obsessed with equal grace, focusing attention on creators and their work.0511131157-00

Caitlin Cass, an artist based in Buffalo, NY, is the founder of Great Moments in Western Civilization, a cooperative dedicated to picking and blending stories from history. Her work draws on influences from Heraclitus to Paddington Bear in a poetic attempt to fit the whole world into one craggy group picture.

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Caitlin Cass, holding The Text, her latest Postal Constituent offering, about “the anxiety people feel about language and its unbreakable authority over us all.”

Matt Moses, head of New Jersey’s Hic & Hoc Publications, said, “TCAF is the best in my mind. It’s much warmer, and more welcoming, and so much better organized than most conventions.”And no, he’s not just being nice. As a home for alternative artists who eschew mainstream taxonomies, H & H is akin to illustrated Bizarro Fiction.

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Moses, left, with authors Lauren Barnett (Me Likes You Very Much) and Pat Aulisio (Bowman 2016).

Chester Brown promoted an expanded version of The Playboy (Drawn and Quarterly), a nostalgic and curious treatment of his obsession with Playmates and self-pleasure that was first published in 1992. A believer in the idea of looking back as a way of moving forward, Brown said of his use of autobiography, “I was inspired by my friend Joe Matt’s honesty and openness about his life in his comics.” Then, he flipped one open (Matt’s Peepshow #1and, with a warm and wistful smile, pointed himself out drawn on the page. “Of course, this is when I had more hair,” Brown added.

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Chester Brown with The Playboy.

This year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival showed how the unlimited social circle is the fastest way to becoming yourself. From the small presses happy to have tables, to the centrally located major players digging through boxes of money to make change, everyone’s fictions were courageously laid bare for the sake of forging new connections where none existed before.

Record Store Roundup: Kops Records

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Founded in 1976 with a focus on soul music and mod subcultureKops 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.

The Tobacco Defenestration

The Tobacco Defenestration

Photograph by Jenny Downing.

From Record One: Peep Show

I’m sitting in a vanilla bean office chair next to my bedroom window on the 28th
floor of my postmodern apartment complex, Sonatina, where there’s never any music
playing. The chair used to belong to my uncle: he died from asbestos in the university
where he served as professor, from drinking whiskey and from smoking cigarettes. He
liked Dunhills, the ones with a crimson stripe on the filter.

I’m smoking a cigarette with a blue stripe on the filter, a beer-and-a-smoke kind
of cigarette that imprints on my lungs a hot patch tingle. Not a Dunhill, a Canadian
Classic. The pack has snow on it.

Despite the warmth of an atomic orange hoodie and thick green-scale
lumberjack-chequered pyjama pants, I’m sick as a parrot on a 3-day saltine bender.
My nostrils are dripping. Wiggly phlegm is coalescing in my throat.

The wind tends to blow in on the 28th floor, and I’ve taken precautions. There’s
a pair of dark blue skinny jeans slotted under the door with a wet Martha Stewart striped
towel to prevent smoke-swirls from sliding into the living room where mom
and dad are on the internet. A plastic fan whizzes against the breeze – blades
speckled with soot and ash because I only look at them when they’re spinning – and I
try to exhale into it from behind, into the window.

I don’t know it’s my last cigarette. At a more basic and less demanding location
in my brain, where the fundamental processes that keep me alive are carried out by
idiots and country bumpkins, I’ve known for a while. I’ve felt the tipping point
approaching on piles of guilt and cancer googling.

Read the rest here by downloading the anthology: Record One: Peep Show.

What Does It Mean To Be Canadian?

Canada“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.

KirbyImagine 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.

You can disagree that FGM is on the same level as, say, SARS or the Oil Sands, but you can’t say it’s not a Canadian problem.

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.

Record Store Roundup: Grasshopper Records

From The Toronto Review of Books

Enveloped in a neck-protecting aura of Wu-tang posters, busted amps, Star Wars figurines, and portraits, the vinyl-only Grasshopper Records (1167 Dundas St. West) feels like your coolest friend’s apartment if everything in it went up for sale. Decked out with two black pleather couches and a club chair with armrests wide enough to hold your coffee, the invitation is to hang out and browse rather than come in knowing exactly what you’re looking for.

Read the full review here: Grasshopper Records.

Record Store Roundup: Play de Record

From The Toronto Review of Books

Play de Record marqueePlay de Record, at 357 Yonge Street, is a paragon of adaptation. Opened in 1990, behind a convenience store and with only records and tapes for sale, it has since taken over the front of the building and gone on to become the primo destination for seasoned DJs in need of the latest equipment, as well as upstarts looking to pick up new skills at Play de Academy. Play also sells new and used electronic/dance music you can’t find anywhere else in the city, concert tickets (minus the murderous Ticketmaster convenience fees), printed t-shirts, designer headphones, and rare merchandise.

Read the full review here: Play de Record.

Record Store Roundup: Viva La Vortex

From The Toronto Review of Books

Vortex RecordsNestled in the heart of Midtown (2309 Yonge Street, 2nd floor),Vortex Records and its owner, Bert Myers, have been supplying Torontonians with second-hand CDs and vinyl for almost 30 years.The store carries all kinds of music but specializes in rock and pop and is currently building up its jazz and country stock. They carry an ample A-Z soul section and rows of DVDs and Blu-Rays line the walls overhead.

The space is refreshingly free of impulse buys. Racks of already faded T-shirts, lunch boxes and additional novelty items are absent, leaving room for music, other people, and you, rendering the browsing experience a reprieve from what Myers playfully calls the “isolated beings and tall towers” of Yonge Street and Eglinton.

Read the full review here: Viva La Vortex.

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