Customized Instruments

CUSTOM DESIGNED

 Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

January 2005

Wish you could play the electric guitar like Angus Young or pound the drums like Mike Bordin?

While they may not be able to guarantee you a spot in the AC/DC or Ozzy Osbourne camps, major music instrument manufacturers like Gibson and Yamaha are striving to bring you one step closer to realizing your dreams with their exclusive lines of signature, custom-made instruments.

“It is our finest stuff,” proclaims Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of the Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp., whose product line also includes the familiar Epiphone, Kramer, Baldwin and Slingerland brands of musical instruments.

“Virtually every model that comes out of that business is hand-built because they’re constructed in very tiny quantities. They are the vanguard of our production line.”

And they appeal to the diehard fan, whether you’re an aspiring musician or an avid collector. With the right amount of cash, you can wail along to “You Shook Me All Night Long” on your Gibson Angus Young Signature SG electric guitar ($1900) or use your Yamaha Mike Bordin SD-6455 MB snare drum  ($1079) to ride the rhythm of “Crazy Train.”

According to Joe Testa, artist relations of Yamaha Drums, the sound of a signature instrument is just as important as its appearance.

“When you’re talking about a signature snare drum, it’s supposed to capture the sound of that particular artist,” explains Testa, whose division imprints include customized products by renown drummers Manu Katché, Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd. “If you’re a fan of that artist, one would think that would help sell that drum. That’s the thinking behind it.”

Jimmy Chamberlin, the Smashing Pumpkins alumnus who recently launched a Yamaha signature snare drum of his own – the SD-2455JC ($699) – says reputation carries influence.

“One of my favorite drums to this day is an old Gene Krupa Radio King,” states Chamberlin.

“As soon as you hit it, you know it’s his drum.  That’s what you do as a young drummer — you emulate your heroes. And anytime you can get your hands on some of their gear, it just gets you that much closer to the mark.”

Gibson’s Juszkiewicz estimates that custom and signature lines represent only a tiny fraction of his company’s annual sales of $300 million – “less than 5%” – but the product associations with such icons as Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris and Earl Scruggs offer instant credibility.

“To have an artist like Paul McCartney or Jimmy Page associated with Gibson just reminds people of the quality,” says Juszkiewicz, “We acquire the professionalism and the musicianship of people like Les Paul — who at the age of 90 is still out playing every week — and B.B. King and Joe Pass, guys who are exquisite instrumentalists.

“Equally, the brand stands for excellence, and artists acquire some of that prestige through our relationship.”

But are they paid for that relationship?

“We don’t pay anybody to play Yamaha drums,” admits Joe Testa. “Never have. Once you do that, you dilute the whole meaning of an endorsement. It’s embarrassing to say, ‘We had to pay this guy to play our drums.’ Al Foster and Steve Gadd have been with Yamaha for 30 years because they really believe in the product.”

That’s not to say some financial consideration isn’t a factor. When Paul McCartney agreed to partner with Gibson to issue his Epiphone Signature Texan, the former Beatle only warmed to the idea as a charity fundraiser.

“When we presented it to Paul in the right way, which incorporated benefiting Adopt-A-Minefield, it really made sense to him,” says Pat Foley of Gibson Custom, Art And Historic, who liaised with the living legend on behalf of Epiphone.

“A signature guitar to him is an honor, but it’s not something he needs to add to his legend.”

When Serial No. 001 rolled off the production line 18 months and three prototypes later, Sir Paul auctioned the guitar and raised $50,000 for Adopt-A-Minefield.

An additional consumer incentive is the hands-on involvement of artists throughout the process. Jimmy Page personally selected and tested the first run of 25 Les Paul Honey Burst guitars – but not before spending years helping Gibson perfect the instrument.

“We did a Jimmy Page reissue that had a very unusual electrical set up involving a lot of switching,” Henry Juszkiewicz recalls. “Getting it right took the better part of four years to satisfy him.

“But we’re highly committed to ensuring that the instrument you buy is exactly the instrument the artist is playing. It takes a lot of work to do that.”

Juszkiewicz says a Gibson custom-made signature guitar is also a good value for investor: just recently, Christie’s auctioned a Gibson SG electric played by George Harrison for $567,500.

“On average our Gibson guitars have appreciated 12-17% annually,” says Juszkiewicz.

As far as signature artists are concerned, Jimmy Chamberlin says the advantages of his Yamaha association range from access to a community of musicians to a natural outgrowth of his current career.

“As time goes on and I’m touring less, I’d like to wrap my head around more developmental drums and get more into the Yamaha R&D department,” says Chamberlin, who premieres his signature snare on the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex’s upcoming album Life Begins Again.

“But the snare drum is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll do more snare drums. Then ideally, I’d like to see a Jimmy Chamberlin kit down the road.”

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

March 2003

As the concert business continues its uneven ebb and flow, the casino circuit is continuing to establish itself as an increasingly safe anchor for the touring performer.

Not only is the $25.7 billion casino gaming industry on an upswing — with over 430 commercial establishments operating in the U.S. alone — but many locations outside the seasoned hubs of Las Vegas and Atlantic City are now booking high profile acts as an incentive to increase consumer traffic.

And it seems to be working.

“There’s a marked increase on the revenue we make off our gaming floor on the nights we have concerts,” reports Leslie Herslip, Events Manager for the New Town, North Dakota-based 4 Bears Casino And Lodge.

“I don’t have a percentage figure, but it’s substantial.”

Concert headliners have also proven to be a very effective calling card for casinos located in remote, rural areas.

“You’d be amazed at the number of people willing to travel 75 or 100 miles for quality entertainment,” says Herslip, who has filled her venue’s future calendar with country legend George Jones, classic rock icons Grand Funk and veteran Motown favorites The Commodores.

“It’s a great avenue for us to bring in new people who may not come out here to gamble and expose them to the experience.”

4 Bears isn’t alone in its findings. Casinos across North America are bolstering their bottom line by booking renowned singers, groups and comedians. In turn these renowned singers, groups and comedians are discovering a substantial increase in the demand for their services from on-land, riverside and racetrack gaming houses.

“This market has actually grown pretty rapidly in the last few years, largely because of the growing number of Indian-based casinos,” observes Pollstar Magazine Editor-In-Chief Gary Bongiovanni. “We’ve never done an analysis on it, but I know there are more and more places for artists to play than ever in terms of gaming situations.”

The growth has been phenomenal. Considering the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which legalized gaming operations on reservations in a number of states, wasn’t passed until 1988, the movement has catapulted from an upstart $100 million industry to an $8 billion powerhouse in less than two decades.

Now there are 300-plus Native casinos booking a stylistic gazpacho of established acts, from dancehall reggae veteran Eek-A-Mouse and former Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy to rock ‘n roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and electrifying blues combo Little Charlie And The Nightcats.

The venue is satisfied whether an act sells 2000 tickets or 20 tickets.

“We’re not so concerned that we make a profit off the act itself,” says 4 Bears’ Herslip. “We’re more concerned about making a profit off the gaming floor, making good money on the nights we actually have shows.”

An unexpected benefit, however, is casino circuit compensation for other music business downturns.

“Country acts used to rely heavily on the fair circuit, ” notes Al Schiltz, partner in Nashville-based management firm The Consortium and personal manager of country singers Billy Ray Cyrus and Tammy Cochran.

“But with country music sales suffering, we’ve lost about 20% in the number of venues as a hard ticket sales revenue source. Today fairs are bringing in the Christina Aguileras and older acts like the Three Dog Nights or the demolition derbies instead of country stars.”

Schiltz believes that the casino circuit has filled the void with a winning situation for performers regardless of genre.

“It’s exposure to a market the artist may not normally play to,” says Schiltz, “Usually it isn’t a hard ticket date and the casinos pay well, especially since they use free entertainment as an incentive to expose people to the casino.”

And the long-term benefits?

“The hope is that the people who wouldn’t have initially seen the artist are turned on enough to buy an album and buy a hard ticket to go see them in concert the next time they’re in the area,” Schiltz explains. “It helps build a fan base and there’s not a lot of risk involved.”

Then there’s the pampering. Although his band hasn’t had a blockbuster pop hit since 1978’s “Kiss You All Over” — and hasn’t topped the country charts since 1987’s “I Can’t Get Close Enough” — Exile co-founder J.P. Pennington recently sat in an opulent lounge at Rama, Ontario’s Casino Rama with a big smile on his face.

“The staff here are falling over themselves trying to please you,” said Pennington a few hours prior to the first of two Exile performances.

“Believe me, the accommodations for most gigs aren’t this nice. They actually gave me a suite, and I’m so ridiculously low maintenance.”

Pollstar’s Bongiovanni says the casino circuit provides the perfect forum for nostalgic memory lane bands like Exile.

“All of the acts that are out there touring – whether it’s a Paul Revere And The Raiders, acts like that that pretty well have established names, but no contemporary caché or heat about them, those are environments where they can be successful.”

“The casino circuit has opened up additional opportunities for those acts who are still viable to the consumer, still have a fan base that can draw 1000-1500 people to a venue, and may not have a record deal,” adds Al Schiltz. “It will continue to grow.”

The Sweet Smell of Success

The Sweet Smell Of Success
October 22, 2009

Recording artists bottle their success

GRAMMY.com
Nick Krewen

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have not only experienced the sweet smell of success, they’ve bottled it.

Country music’s first couple has a couple of new scents on the market — Faith Hill Parfums is her first and Southern Blend is his second — and they are just two of the music celebrities that have been tapped by Coty Inc., the world’s largest fragrance manufacturer with annual net sales of approximately $4 billion.

The list of artists sporting one or more of their own perfume or cologne brands run from the obvious (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani) to the enterprising (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Usher) to the unexpected (rapper Daddy Yankee, guitar shaman Carlos Santana and cosmetic rockers KISS).

The fragrance industry also seems to be impartial to genre, with American soprano Renée Fleming, pop/punk princess Avril Lavigne, hip-hop icon Queen Latifah and influential innovator Prince all offering aromatic toiletries for public consumption.

Why are stars so keen to extend their aural appeal to the nasal? Well, there’s the obvious answer: money. Fashion newspaper Women’s Wear Daily speculates that Beyoncé‘s upcoming Coty fragrance will be one of 2010’s most-anticipated spring debuts and could earn her $20 million over three years.

Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst for the NPD Group, says helping to create a representative scent can be another expressive outlet.

“Sometimes celebrities say, ‘We’re not just about making another record,’ so being associated with a fragrance is a statement saying, ‘We’re an artist. We’re looking at this as an expression of our artistic talent.’

“It’s a great way to earn huge recognition across the country. And fans, who may not have the new album, can have a little piece of that celebrity as well.”

In many cases, it’s an affordable piece of celebrity. A 1.7-ounce bottle of McGraw’s Southern Blend — described as “a vibrant burst of grapefruit, star anise, and bergamot” that also incorporate touches of lavender, violet leaves, whiskey accord, vetiver, fresh amber, and tobacco to “create the ideal fragrance for the true Southern gentleman” — can be purchased in department stores or online for a suggested retail price of $30.

As Grant notes, this can be very appealing to fans. “If you’re a huge Britney follower, you’d want the scent as well as the albums,” she says.

It was Spears — along with Lopez and her fragrance Glow — who accelerated the trend of companies recruiting contemporary music stars to invent and introduce new fragrances when she entered the market in 2004 with the Elizabeth Arden brand Curious, which earned $100 million in sales within weeks of its release.

“Those two were such huge hits, really, that they helped to ignite this whole trend of associating the musician with these fragrances,” Grant explains. “So I think that’s when both the musicians as well as the manufacturers began to look and say, ‘This seems like it could be a winning lineup.'”

And it’s certainly been victorious for Spears. Women’s Wear Daily reports that more than 10 million bottles of Curious, Fantasy and In Control have been sold since 2005, and Spears has expanded her franchise this year with the additions of Circus Fantasy and Hidden Fantasy.

Since then, approximately 40 artists from Shania Twain to Hilary Duff have taken the plunge, with hit fragrances — like music — tracked weekly by Nielsen SoundScan.

So how do pop and rock stars come to release fragrances?

Steve Mormoris, senior vice president of global marketing at Coty Beauty (whose musical clients besides Hill and McGraw include Celine Dion, Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Stefani, and Twain), says his company approaches artists based on a number of criteria, including role model potential, someone who “holds high values” and how much they embody the essence of femininity or masculinity.

In all cases, he says Coty is looking for a long-term relationship and an artist “who wants to become involved with the fragrance” from development through execution.

With estimated launch costs of “not less than $2 million,” on the line, Mormoris says extensive market research is conducted before a brand is launched. “We don’t put out a fragrance until we’re absolutely certain it’s going to be a success,” he explains, adding that celebrities are usually paid on a royalty basis as opposed to a flat fee as an incentive, “ensuring that artists are involved for the life of the product.”

Mormoris says hits are determined by sales-generated value and market share percentage, rather than number of units sold, and that the average celebrity scent has a shelf life of five to 10 years.

“The exceptions are Stetson and Elizabeth Taylor‘s White Diamonds, which has been the no. 1 fragrance for the past 20 years,” notes Mormoris. “They’re exceptions to the rule.”

While celebrity popularity can drive fragrance sales, packaging also plays a crucial role.

“As new celebrity fragrances come out and they encompass novelty in design and fun, they still do well,” says Grant. “For example, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers collection was among the best sellers in 2008.

“We do see that younger consumers do tend to resonate with packaging more as well. Since these celebrity fragrances do tend to be more popular with the younger consumer, it’s usually a pretty winning formula.”

Still, there are signs that the celebrity fragrance market may be waning. NPD Group recently reported a 10 percent drop in prestige fragrance retail sales for the first half of 2009.

If sales are flagging, Mormoris hasn’t noticed.

“I keep hearing about it,” laughs Mormoris, who names the Dion and Minogue fragrance lines as two of Coty’s best performers. “But I haven’t seen it.”

(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board’s music industry documentary Dream Machine.)

Bryan Adams slips back into the groove

Bryan Adams slips back into the groove

Canadian rock star Bryan Adams says fans who like his music are going to love his new album, Get Up, “especially if you liked the stuff from the past.”

 

Nick Krewen, 

Music, Published on Fri Oct 16 2015

 

Short, sweet and succinct.

Get Up, the newly released 13th studio effort in the 100-million-record-selling Bryan Adams canon, contains 13 rock ’n’ roll songs that run a total of just over 36 minutes.

But four of those songs are acoustic retreads of the electric originals, so if you just count the nine primary numbers, the whole thing clocks in at 25 minutes.
That’s pretty short.

“There’s no frills,” Adams, 55, the rock star and celebrity photographer recently acknowledged in a Shangri-La Hotel suite during a recent visit.
“I think that’s what’s kind of nice about this: it’s very direct, very concise and it’s a very quick record.”

Adams also said, in this age of short attention spans, it’s an album that his record company felt it could handle.

“When I was getting to the point where I had enough songs, I called my record company and said, ‘Look, I think I’ve got an album here,’” he expounds. “One of my questions was, ‘How many songs do I need?’ And they came back and said, ‘Don’t give us a lot of music, because we can’t do anything with that. We wouldn’t be able to do a lot with a lot of songs. But if you give us a really succinct record, we’ll be able to do something.’

“And I said, ‘That’s quite good . . . because that’s what I’ve got!’” he laughs.

Helping Adams realize that artistic vision was Jeff Lynne, who is reviving his own Electric Light Orchestra with a Nov. 13 album called Alone in the Universe.

Lynne, who has produced hit albums for George Harrison, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, the Traveling Wilburys (of which he was a member) and others, helped Adams craft a catchy, fun, hook-filled album that is full of radio-friendly rock. Most of the songs hover around the two-and-a-half-minute mark.

“He has great understanding about rock music,” said Adams, a Kingston, Ont. native, smartly but casually dressed in a custom-tailored crimson dress shirt and blue jeans.

“When you make a great record, it’s kind of a three-tier process. The first is the writing of the song, the second is the demo and the third is making a record. And you hope with each level of that process that it gets better.

“Whenever I made a demo with (Bob) Clearmountain (producer of Adams’ breakthrough albums Cuts Like a Knife, Reckless and Into the Fire), the level was, ‘That’s where we are now and if it isn’t better than the demo, we’ve got to go back to the demo and figure out what it was.’
“So we’d chase that a bit. And we always made it better, which was good.
“In the case with Jeff, it was exactly that: I would send a demo; Jeff would send it back as a record. I mean, he totally got it on every single level. On my vocal. The placement of my mixes, everything.”

In fact, Adams goes on to say that Get Up is an album he wished he made 25 years ago.

“When I think about the trilogy of You Want It, You Got It, Cuts Like a Knife and Reckless, those records have a real unity to them. These songs could have been on the same record. I feel I could have slotted this album in right after Reckless.”

Contributing to that particular sonic unity is the re-emergence on Get Up of Vancouver-based Jim Vallance as Adams’ chief songwriting partner.

The duo was responsible for such time-honoured Adams classics as “Summer of ’69,” “Run To You,” “Heaven” and “Cuts Like a Knife” before taking a break following 1987’s Into the Fire.

“We’ve been working quite hard over the last five or six years on songs,” Adams notes. “It’s taken us a couple of years to get back up to speed and it feels really natural.”

Adams wasn’t even considering making an album until the duo submitted a track to Lynne.

“When Jeff came along and asked me if I wanted to cut a track, we got it back and I said to Jim, ‘Do you think we’ve got something here?’ He replied, ‘I think we really do.’ We sent another song and, suddenly, everything started to come together. There was a focus: this is where we’re going.”

The 19-time Juno Award winner and Canadian Hall of Fame member says he wanted to hire Lynne as a producer as far back as the 1999 song “The Best of Me.” Currently there no plans to work with him again, but Adams says he’d like to.

For the moment, Adams is enjoying the tail end of a busy two-year period that saw him release his cover songs album Tracks of My Years, the 30th anniversary edition of Reckless — the very first album by a Canadian artist to sell one million records in this country — and an anniversary world tour, as well as a book of portrait photography called Wounded: The Legacy of War (with journalist Caroline Froggatt) that benefited war veterans.

Now he’s planning to follow it up with a world tour to promote Get Up, and figures it should hit North America and Toronto sometime next spring or summer.

“It’s a very cohesive record and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun to play,” he says. “It’s definitely a band album. Fans who like my music are going to love this album a lot . . . especially if you liked the stuff from the past.

“If you like those old songs, you’re going to love this record. It feels modern to me. When you listen to a song like ‘That’s Rock N’ Roll,’ it sounds fresh to me.”

 

Bryan Adams slips back into the groove | Toronto Star

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review

One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with a multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect. Make that nearly perfect.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Aug 20 2015

One Direction
3 stars
At the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Aug. 20

When you consider it, One Direction is the anti-boy-band boy band.

Stack them up against the earlier progenitors of poster pop pablum, whether it’s reaching as far back as the ’60s for the Osmonds and the Jackson 5, or as recently as the late ’90s watermarks Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC, and the one thing they don’t do that all the others did is . . . dance.

But the absence of slick, relentless choreography is something the 40,000 mainly female fans who packed Rogers Centre on Thursday night didn’t seem to mind, since they were sharing the same source of oxygen as their singing idols, Harry Styles, soon-to-be-baby-daddy Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and guitar-strumming Niall Horan.

In its first Toronto appearance since the fifth singer Zayn Malik abandoned ship, One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect.

Make that nearly perfect.

There were some flat notes on “No Control” and “Diana” and a few other spots, especially by Tomlinson, but it’s not like the fans noticed or held them accountable for it.

Instead, they cheered their heroes as they sang each song faithfully, beginning with a fireworks-blasting “Clouds” and following it up with a streamer-shooting “Steal My Girl,” both from the group’s latest album, Four, and screamed at the tops of their lungs whenever they were asked to scream.

If there is a formula to pop music, One Direction and its group of management overseers, which includes American Idol’s Simon Cowell, have perfected it: hire a bunch of influential Swedish writers to craft tuneful three-to-four minute ditties about love, love and more love (with the occasional creative input from 1D themselves).

Then ensure that every singer in the band shares the lead and backs the rest of his pals on harmonies when he’s not singing lead and, while performing, have them walk around the stage just being themselves, with no pre-rehearsed banter, save for the occasional positioning onstage to spread the One Direction love.

Oh and the other pièce de résistance? Every time a different One Direction member grabs the microphone, have them thank their audience often and profusely, because, really, what else is there to talk about when you’re entertaining a bunch of screaming fans?

It’s this anti-approach that’s been a stroke of genius since the band first appeared at the ACC four years ago and usurped where-are-they-now headliners Big Time Rush with their humble, wide-eyed charm.

Five years later and brimming with confidence, One Direction hasn’t really refined their act as much as just become more comfortable with their talent

.
Roaming up and down a T-shaped stage that stretched halfway into the venue, the boys spent the better part of two hours concentrating on their past two albums, only dipping into their first for the upbeat “What Makes You Beautiful,” their second for “Little Things” and “Kiss You,” and their new single “Drag You Down” from the inevitable fifth album that will crash the charts in November.

The songs varied in pacing from power pop to ballads, with Styles, who draped himself with the Canadian flag a couple of times during the evening, seemingly taxed with the more challenging vocal motifs.

The spontaneity came mainly from onstage action: water gun fights between Payne and Tomlinson, a happy birthday serenade to 15-year-old blue-haired Jean, a Payne hug to a gobsmacked fan, Styles’ brief wander into the crowd and Horan’s sloppily improvised Riverdance during the playful Celtic romp “Act My Age.”

It all added up to keeping the disciples pretty giddy and somewhat satiated after 25 songs.

It’s inevitable that time and the fickle tastes of the public will eventually catch up and doom One Direction, but judging by the Rogers Centre audience, that moment seems far, far away.

For 40,000 fans, at least, the band is still heading in the right direction.

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review | Toronto Star

 

Jamie T: Out of sight, not out of work

British singer-songwriter Jamie T seemingly disappeared, but he never stopped writing music. Touring a new album, he plays the Mod Club on Saturday.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Dec 05 2014

In the seven years since acclaimed British singer and songwriter Jamie T released his Mercury Prize-nominated Panic Prevention, he hasn’t exactly been the most publicly prolific of musicians.

Indeed, aside from this fall’s release of Carry on the Grudge, the Wimbledon-bred artist, who appears at the Mod Club fronting a five-piece band Saturday night, has only one other album to his credit: 2009’s Kings and Queens.

Privately, it’s another story: while Jamie Alexander Treays may have been out of the public spotlight for the last five years, he wrote 180 songs, of which only a dozen made the cut for the album that will be considered a sea change in style for those who have followed him.

“It was pretty non-stop recording, to be honest,” Treays said late Tuesday afternoon prior to a San Francisco gig. “I’ve always recorded as I’ve written. I’ll write half a song and then finish it off in the studio. But it did take a long time for many reasons. I’m glad it’s done now.”

When he first burst out onto the scene with 2007’s Panic Prevention, Treays’ music was a concoction of Blur-inspired, rap-scented hyperactivity that mirrored fellow Brit Lily Allen’s smarts and energy, and he was quickly hailed by the U.K. music press as a trailblazer.

Kings and Queens was a tad more electrifying and streamlined, and more praise followed. However, at the end of the touring cycle to promote that album, Treays knew it was time take a breather.

“I’m 28 years old now, and I think part of it was just age,” he says of the break. “There were times in life where I wanted to put a stop on things and work out what I wanted to do. I had gotten into this music stuff when I was 18, and really hadn’t had a moment to stop. So it was important for me to take it at a slower pace, really.

“I also wanted to explore music, and you need time to go down those roads to realize some are dead ends. Also, my parents had been sick and I took time to care for them. So when I put it all into context, it’s really not that much of a long time. It might seem to others like a blank spot, but it wasn’t.”

The slower pace is the most significant adjustment of the Jamie T sound, reflected on several Carry on the Grudge tunes, including the striking ballad “Love is Only a Heartbeat Away,” the melancholy “They Told Me It Rained,” the winsome “Mary Lee” and the opener “Limits Lie.” They all serve as strong contrasts to the more active fare of “Zombie,” the rambunctious “Rabbit Hole,” “Peter” and “Trouble.”

For Treays, it was an opportunity to exercise more rhythmic restraint, and edit his prose.

“When I was recording Carry on the Grudge, I was listening to a lot of stuff that was pretty downbeat — Weezer, Marcy’s Playground, Bran Van 3000 — ’90s stuff. There were fewer tempos involved in everything I was listening to and I became obsessed with trying to find power in my own songwriting, without using tempo. It was becoming a bit of a crutch for me, to get out anger or some kind of emotion within the song.

“Plus, my stuff beforehand was so jam-packed with words and tempos, I was kind of getting pissed off with it, really. Before I knew it I was trying to write different styles of songs, because I noticed if I wanted to say less, I’d have to write in order to make them more ambiguous. It was a good learning curve and I was coming out with different material that was touching on more of a personal note, but was easier because I could hide it behind ambiguity.”

Produced in part by James Dring, the Blur and Gorillaz associate who has worked with Treays on all his albums, the title of Carry on the Grudge reflects Jamie T’s state of mind at the time of recording.

“I was talking to a friend about how hard it is to make up your own mind and have opinions on things when you’re force-fed opinions as you’re growing up,” he explains.

“You’re given these statements as though they’re fact, and it seems a lot of your post-teen years are spent trying to work out what’s fact and what’s bulls–t before you can become your own person. So the idea of the ‘grudge’ is, do you carry on living with all that bulls–t that you’ve been taught, or do you turn around and question things again to become your own person? That’s where me and a lot of my friends were at when I was writing this album, so it seemed like a good thing to call it.”

Jamie T: Out of sight, not out of work | Toronto Star

Sinéad O’Connor gives audience what they want

Controversial Irish singer delivers a mostly solid set of old and new favourites to adoring Toronto fans.

 

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 25 2014

Sinéad O’ Connor at Massey Hall
3 stars

Boy, have they missed her.

The moment the diminutive Sinéad O’Connor stepped on the Massey Hall stage on Friday night, she was greeted with a standing ovation so thunderous, she literally couldn’t start the show until the screams and applause died down a few minutes later.

Beaming at the unexpected reception, the controversial, head-shaved Irish singer and songwriter issued a few short curtsies and then gestured for the near-capacity crowd to settle down.

Then, with her five-piece band standing at attention, the 47-year-old O’Connor endeared herself even further by performing a solo, instrument-free version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” dedicated to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the Hamilton army reservist mercilessly gunned down on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

photo of Sinéad O’Connor performing at the Hague via Creative Commons and Leah Pritchard

Her performance of the I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got classic she first recorded in 1990 revealed the full range of O’Connor’s extraordinary vocal abilities: her wide-ranging voice oscillated between loud intensity and breathless whisper, often within the same phrase, with enough gripping, dramatic effect that your ears were unable to resist being drawn in to catch every syllable.

“I Am Stretched On Your Grave” was a preview of what was to encapsulate the 75-minute show’s best moments: an enviable dynamic range that seemed to work best the more O’Connor was isolated from her bandmates.

Not that there was anything wrong with her accompanying lineup that included guitarist Brooke Supple, bassist Clare Kenny, keyboardist Graham Henderson: au contraire, they were technically strong, united, in sync.

From this reviewer’s vantage point on the first row of the lower balcony, the frustration came from O’Connor’s sound staff: her vocals were so under-mixed that whenever the band played full-tilt, the singer became the weakest link … not so great when O’Connor’s fans are paying good money to hear that inimitable voice.

And especially when the songs O’Connor chose to perform following the sarcastic “Queen Of Denmark,” “4th and Vine,” “Take Me To Church” — her moving declaration of independence — and “8 Good Reasons,” — scattered between her last two albums — I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss and How About I Be Me (And You Be You) — are lyrically intriguing.

O’Connor seemed to be aware of the problem, continuously fidgeting with her monitor control and conferring with her side stage sound man to the point of distraction (and one she apologized to the crowd for) and ultimately subtracted from the overall potency of her showmanship.

So, the barefoot O’Connor, dressed in her cleric collar (she’s an ordained minister), a Catholic cross necklace, a hybrid black/leopard spotted shirt and leather pants, was most effective when she accompanied herself on acoustic for her extraordinarily hypnotic and pensive ballad “Black Boys On Mopeds;” the a cappella “In This Heart,” which she dedicated to her mother, started solo and eventually had the whole band add their voices to; and the first encore of “Streetcars,” softly sung with even softer keyboard accompaniment by Henderson.

But she rocked out as well, with the audience particularly responding to the unleashed aggression of the pair of Do Not Want main set finishers — “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” — with more standing ovations.

If there was a disadvantage for O’Connor, it was that her audience seems to be aging with her: the majority of the crowd represented the late 30-through-50 age demographic.

It’s a shame that today’s youth are either unaware of her or ignoring her: still integral as an artist, songwriter, lyricist and performer, the outspoken O’Connor could teach them a thing or two.

Sinéad O’Connor gives audience what they want | Toronto Star

Chrissie Hynde turns back the clock: review

In concert at Massey Hall on Thursday, The Pretenders founder seemingly hasn’t aged a day since 1978.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Oct 31 2014

Chrissie Hynde
3 stars
At Massey Hall, Oct. 30

 

Dorian Gray, eat your heart out.

Anyone attending the opening night of Chrissie Hynde’s Stockholm tour at Massey Hall on Thursday night could be forgiven for doing a double take and wondering where exactly she’s hiding the painting: The Pretenders founder’s birth certificate may read 62 years, but it’s clear the Akron, Ohio, native hasn’t aged a day since she first kicked out the jams back in 1978.

“You’re so hot!” yelled an admirer from one of the upper balconies early into her 90-minute set, and you really couldn’t belabour his point: the incredibly svelte Hynde stood centre stage, decked out in full rock ’n’ roll regalia of blue necktie, black vest, jeans and a pair of leather boots that stretched to just above her knees, beaming as she surveyed the adoring crowd.

And if rock ’n’ roll has indeed proven to be the source of her fountain of youth, that ageless glow that illuminated Hynde’s skin also extended to her classic Pretenders songs and her husky voice, as both rung with authority and vitality. Joined by a four-piece band that included the current Pretenders lineup of guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson, Hynde turned back the hands of time with a performance that ensured she has lost none of her wallop.

But it did take her a while to get there.

After the lights dimmed, Hynde stepped out on stage and started out with “Don’t Lose Faith,” a snorer of a ballad from her new solo album Stockholm, before veering into a lukewarm blues number called “Biker.” Maybe they’re actually better tunes, but the sound technician was still twiddling knobs and adjusting levels as the guitars blared and drowned much of Hynde’s initial vocals, so you’ll have to pick up the new album to find out.

The first four songs, all new ones, were blasé enough to make one wonder if this was going to be a long night.

But that all changed once the first Pretenders song emerged — an edgy “Talk of the Town” that revealed a nicely gelling chemistry between all five musicians — as Hynde and her band shifted out of neutral gear and the momentum began to swell.

The real turning point came with a gritty rendition of “My City Was Gone,” as the gifted Walbourne’s sinewy handiwork on guitar in terms of handling both solos and complementing Hynde’s strum jacked up the song to a new level of intensity.

This happened again with “Night in My Veins,” another thrilling number that spirited Hynde and her gang into peak form, with a good portion of the crowd on their feet and dancing in their seats as old favourites like “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “Back on the Chain Gang” continued to maintain the flow of high energy.

It should be noted that there were only two tragic occurrences.

The first is that there were way too many empty seats for a woman who is one of rock’s most astute songwriters, an artisan whose topics, even when it comes to love or urban decay, have always offered a provocative and profound perspective. The Massey crowd still delivered a healthy showing of around 1,800-1,900 music lovers, but the place should have been packed.

The other tragedy? That although Hynde and company pulled practically every Pretenders number one might want to hear — including “Precious” and the Kinks’ “I Go to Sleep,” the one she omitted was the biggest of them all: “Brass in Pocket.”

So everyone was left hanging, receiving the cake without the icing, leading one to hope that if she comes this way again, Chrissie Hynde will right the wrong and make sure she plays all the hits next time . . . Hyndesight being 20/20 and all.

 

Postscript:  During the show, Hynde told the crowd how much she loved Toronto and pleaded with them to stop building so many condos, noting the skyline had changed abruptly since her last visit.

John Southworth finds inspiration on both sides of Niagara

Southworth’s latest theme album is a double disc, with an “American” and “Canadian” side. He plays Toronto’s Music Gallery on Sunday.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 11 2014

For his latest album Niagara, technically constructed as a double album with a nine-song “Canadian” disc and an 11-song “American” disc, John Southworth has specific instructions as to how it should be heard.

“It’s not meant to be listened to all at once,” explained the Sussex, England-born Southworth one afternoon last weekend over a pint at the Rhino, near his current Parkdale home.

“It’s two records, so I’d be happy if someone ignored one side for a period of time before hearing it. In that sense, it’s almost a book disguised as an album.”

It’s also not surprising that the 42-year-old eclectic songwriter, troubadour, filmmaker and children’s book author prefers people to allot the proper amount of time for his music to sink in. Songs like “Niagara Falls is Not Niagara Falls” and “The Horse that Swam Across the Sea” on the Canadian side, and “Poor Boy from Buffalo” and “Womb of Time” on the American side are generally gentle reveries with slight jazzy overtones, songs that require a deeper listen before the bigger picture is revealed.

Generally, it’s a largely mellow project that dwells on the concept of home, and an attempt to explore its definition.

“I consider Toronto part of Niagara, since it’s just across the lake,” Southworth says. “I thought it would be the great, necessary and moral thing to make a record about where I’ve spent most of my life.”

 

Southworth will perform plenty of Niagara songs and also dive into his 13-album catalogue when he appears with his longtime band The South Seas at the Music Gallery on Sunday (7 p.m., $15, no opening act.)

“I feel, more as I get older, a desire to connect in terms of what is home. What feels like home? And I struggle with that, no matter how long I’ve lived here, and I want to know why.
“These are the songs about it, although not every song covers the topic. But I think I knew I was always going to make a record called Niagara.”

Southworth allows that one prominent Niagara location — those famous falls — has been referenced consistently in his music over the years.

“Niagara Falls, as a place, has appeared in a lyric on almost half of my records,” says Southworth. “Not out of any preconceived plan, but it’s lived in my consciousness for awhile.

“And I see Niagara Falls as a symbol and a metaphor for many things in our world now, especially North America. I envision it 1,000 years ago before anything and I reflect on this natural creation and the way it’s been ignored. It’s a symbol for me on where we’re heading on a spiritual level, or where we’re at as a culture and a civilization.

“And these two little towns (Niagara Falls, Ont. and N.Y.) that have sprung up on either side, divided by a natural wonder, dividing two countries, there’s so much to explore and write about it.”

The topic of separation within such a close proximity fascinates him, one that he translated into the story of two lovers in “Poor Boy from Buffalo.”

“The woman lives in St. Catharines and the man lives in Buffalo, and they have to continue their relationship with this border between them, and usually do so by night,” explains Southworth, who co-wrote two songs with Buck 65 on the Toronto rhymer’s just-released Neverlove.

“I like the idea that there are people living lives very close to each other, but are divided by a natural border. For all of us, we are living very close to our American counterparts, but we have no idea what they’re like, and they have no idea what we’re like.”

It’s also a return of sorts to an earlier Southworth tendency of naming his albums after locations: one that began with his debut, 1998’s Mars, Pennsylvania, and continued on with 1999’s Sedona, Arizona, 2000’s Banff Springs, Transylvania, 2001’s Rose Milk Appalachia EP and 2005’s Yosemite before he felt the practice “was becoming a little too precious.”

Although Southworth views Niagara as “tying my first record and this record together as a whole,” his means of recording and arranging has definitely changed over the years.

“When I started out and I made that first record, I was 23. At that time, I would write and control all the arrangements. But as I’ve grown, I do the opposite now. There’s very little on here that’s pre-arranged. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked with Toronto musicians who have an improv jazz background.

“Now we play music where anything can happen. When we record studio takes, what you’re hearing is very immediate — they’re learning the songs. If things aren’t happening in three takes, I abandon them.

“In essence, I’ve become more of a jazz musician, although I still have pop sensibilities as a songwriter.”

Southworth’s first children’s book, Daydreams for Night, is out this month through Simply Read.

John Southworth finds inspiration on both sides of Niagara | Toronto Star

Bryan Ferry’s band elevates live show to something truly magical

Music the youthful elixir that keeps Bryan Ferry rocking, with help from a stellar eight-piece backing band.

Nick Krewen

Music, Special to the Star, Published on Fri Sep 26 2014

There’s strength in numbers.

You’ll get no argument from anyone that, on the very eve of his 69th birthday, Bryan Ferry was the star attraction of Thursday night’s sold-out Massey Hall show.

But the truth of the matter is that Ferry’s stellar eight-piece band played such an integral role in elevating the occasion from a great performance into something so truly magical that they almost earned equal billing in their own right.

Not only did they keep up with and sometimes surpass the Roxy Music frontman in terms of energy over the 85 minutes of material that leaned heavily on Ferry’s art rock group past — with the occasional nod to his soon-to-be-15-album solo career — but their joyful enthusiasm alone threw enough gasoline on the fire that the singer looked like a genius for hiring them.

It all added up to an infectious, celebratory evening of great music that pleased nostalgic Roxy enthusiasts to no end, as indicated from the opening blast of “Re-make/Re-model” from the band’s self-titled debut; Ferry would delve deep and often into the catalogue.

True, guitarist Jake Quistgaard is no Phil Manzanera and saxophonist/keyboardist Jorja Chalmers is no Andy Mackay, but they certainly provided enough fresh vigour with their own interpretations that — dare I say it — the mainstays weren’t missed.

Dressed in a floral tuxedo jacket and grey slacks, the lanky and dashing Ferry relished his time feeding off the vibe as well, swaying and rocking to the groove of the music as he slid into “Kiss And Tell” and “Slave to Love” while his two backing vocalists — Bobbie Gordon and Jodie Scantlebury — put on a show of their own with their well-timed, yet seemingly free-flowing choreography.

Fuelled by the propellant of firecracker drummer Cherisse Osei’s hammering beats, and the anchored support of veteran Ferry bassist Guy Pratt, the singer, who alternated between entertaining at the microphone and taking up residence at an electric piano for songs like “More Than This,” was buoyed by the interplay. His tremolo tenor, smoother these days, sounded as strong as ever, although truthfully, the overall sound mix could have been crisper.

But there were a number of times — whether it was a slower take on the Robert Palmer hit “Johnny and Mary” that’s due to appear on his upcoming November album Avonmore, or a slightly accelerated version of Avalon’s “Take A Chance With Me” — that Ferry seemed as lost in the music as his fervent, older audience, and ageless as he rocked the house with a spirited “Love Is the Drug” or a rugged “Virginia Plain.”

He may have been romantically linked to any number of beautiful models throughout his life, but clearly music is the mistress about whom Bryan Ferry remains most passionate.

If there was any complaint, it’s that the show could have gone on a little longer.

After an all-too-brief encore of covers that paired Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together” with a somewhat sombre rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” brought the house to its feet again, Ferry and his merry band left the audience wanting more.

But one gets the feeling he’ll be back as long as his health holds and, for this concert, Ferry gave the impression that music is his youthful elixir.

Bryan Ferry’s band elevates live show to something truly magical | Toronto Star