An Horse is lean but lively animal

An Horse is lean but lively animal

Tegan and Sara opened doors for Aussie transplant Kate Cooper. 

Damon Cox and Kate Cooper are alt-rock band An Horse.


Damon Cox and Kate Cooper are alt-rock band An Horse.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Thu Jul 28 2011

Sometimes songs that have the silliest titles turn out to be the most personal and profound for the artists that write them.

Take, for instance, “Brain On A Table,” a track off Walls, the recently released sophomore album from Australian alt-rockers An Horse, who play the Rivoli on Friday. At first glance, the song might seem to be a humorous comment on some Frankenstein-like episode that caught the observational eye of singer and guitarist Kate Cooper.

Turns out it’s about something much more serious that involved a family member.

“That was my mom,” said Cooper (a Brisbane native now living in Toronto after she “fell in love and moved here”).

“We went out on tour and in the middle of a huge two years of touring, my mom suffered a brain tumour,” she explains.

“It was brutal. While it was happening, I was thinking, ‘Do I go home? Do we cancel the tour? What do I do?’

“On one end, you have my family a million miles away saying, ‘No, you don’t need to come home. Stay there. You’re going to be no good here.’ Then, on the other hand, I feel guilty because I’m not there. It was a bit of a tumultuous time.”

At least there was a happy ending: Cooper’s mom recovered.

“She got a tumour the size of a golf ball removed from her head and, apart from some issues of taste and smell, she’s all right,” sighs Cooper. “It’s quite the miracle.”

It wasn’t quite the end of the trauma.

“Pretty much a week after she had recovered after the operation, her partner, her boyfriend, got diagnosed with cancer, and then he had to go through this treatment,” says Cooper. “It was one thing after another. But they’re both a lot better now, touch wood, and hopefully that’s the end of the run.”

Had Cooper understandably succumbed to earlier desires to visit her ailing mother, it would have put a serious crimp in An Horse’s career trajectory, since the band’s membership is only herself and drummer Damon Cox.

An Horse galloped out of the gate largely due to acclaimed Canadian duo Tegan And Sara.

Cooper’s previous outfit, Iron On, had toured as openers for the sisters Quin in Australia.

“We stayed in contact and I was sending them stuff I was working on,” Cooper recalls. “Damon and I were just friends hanging around in a record store making music.

“We had literally just finished recording a bunch of songs for An Horse and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do with it. We just decided to record it and then figure it out. The two of us weren’t very excited about putting out another independent record in Australia, because it’s a lot of hard work and there aren’t many people there. You go on tour and you do three shows.”

As fortune would have it, Tegan and Sara were playing in Brisbane and Cooper handed them unmixed copies.

“Three weeks later, at the end of 2008, they emailed me and asked, ‘Would you open for us on this huge North American tour?’ ” Cooper remembers. “And I thought it was a joke.

“We went on tour and it was amazing. We were playing to huge rooms and by the end of that tour we had a record deal. So by that point we figured out very quickly that we were going to be a real band.”

As far as bands go, Cooper recommends going the two-person route.

“It’s so good — I recommend everybody in their bands to fire everyone except for one person,” she says with a laugh. “Damon and I have a very similar work ethic, which is great, because you don’t always find that in people.

“I think it also demands more creativity, because you have to make more with less, and that’s kind of why we do it. I like being creative. I highly recommend it. “

An Horse, which has shared stages with Death Cab For Cutie, Cage The Elephant and Silversun Pickups, plays The Rivoli Friday.


Patrick Stump grows on his own

Patrick Stump grows on his own

Patrick Stump grows on his own | Toronto Star

With Fall Out Boy on a break, singer had time to get inspired for music for solo ElMo show. 

Patrick Stump.


Patrick Stump.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Fri Aug 05 2011

When platinum-selling Chicago emo-rock outfit Fall Out Boy announced an extended hiatus in late 2009, each member decided to indulge in a side project.

Guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley formed metal band The Damned Things; bass player and lyricist Pete Wentz opted for the electropop route with Black Cards, and singer and guitarist Patrick Stump — who plays the El Mocambo Monday — has decided to strike out under his own banner.

Just don’t expect the noticeably slimmer and trimmer Stump to perform any irreverently titled indie rock tunes like “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued” or “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)” from his day job catalogue: he’s decidedly trying to separate church from state.

“To a certain extent, I wish that I wasn’t the guy from Fall Out Boy going out and doing this, for both sides of it: I don’t want the Fall Out Boy audience being put off that I’m not playing Fall Out Boy, and I really don’t think it’s just a cut-and-paste Fall Out Boy audience, either,” explained Stump, 27, from Minneapolis on Wednesday, where he was launching the second leg of a month-long tour that includes a hometown stop this weekend at Lollapalooza.

“It appeals to a different taste. So it’s a shame to me that I have to be the same guy. I don’t want to ruin everyone’s favourite band, and if they like my record, more than likely they’re not going to like Fall Out Boy.”

Judging by a five-song advance, Stump’s debut album, Soul Punk, out October 18, is much more rooted in R&B and soul than his full-time band’s complex arrangements. Songs like the driving “Dirty Diana”-flavoured “Explode” and “Allie” — a mid-tempo, falsetto-laden broken-heart ballad that very much wears a Prince influence on its sleeve — take their cues from the ’80s.

“It’s really interesting to me what people hear, because ‘Allie’ is pretty split evenly between Prince and Michael Jackson, which makes total sense to me, because I’m a pop/R&B kid who was born in the ’80s, which was dominated by the epic battles between those two,” Stump agrees. “I’m not trying to hide those influences at all.”

When recording Soul Punk, Stump elected to go the true solo route.

“I wrote and recorded everything myself, on my own time and with my own money,” he explains. “That was a different experience — it was really relaxed. I really didn’t spend that much time in the studio — I got to waste time, which was really great. I allowed myself to be inspired.

“Not to say that Fall Out Boy wasn’t like that, but there were higher expectations placed on us, and people were really waiting for our next record. So it was cool to be nobody again.”

Stump said his biggest dilemma, due to his prolific nature, was choosing a direction.

“It was kind of a challenge deciding what Patrick I was going to be, because I have so many unreleased records,” he admits. “Musically, I’m a chameleon. I’m very comfortable adopting different styles. But at the end of the day, when you listen to the record, it’s still quirky — it still has its idiosyncrasies, and those are things I can’t really escape.”

He even transformed Soul Punk midstream. Originally due in February, Stump had a change of heart when he wrote “This City,” a love ode to Chicago now on iTunes featuring rapper Lupe Fiasco.

“I had this feeling that the album was disjointed, and right before I was mastering, I played ‘This City’ for my manager — I really liked it, but I was unsure about it, although I thought it was what I wanted to say — and he was like, ‘Put it on, it’s great!’

“Then I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to put that on the record, then I really need to go back to the drawing board.’ Basically I took ‘This City,’ ‘Everybody Wants Somebody,’ ‘Allie,’ and a song called ‘Dance Miserable,’ and rebuilt the album around those four songs.”

He released the remaining four songs as Truant Wave in place of Soul Punk, but will be supporting both in concert.

Stump, who is touring with a four-piece band, says the biggest Soul Punk payoff for him is the chance to perform. He hinted that the days leading up to Fall Out Boy’s pause were filled with anything but playing.

“We found ourselves in a position where we weren’t actually playing that much,” he admits. “We spent a lot of time doing interviews and promo and photographs and filming EPK stuff, whatever. We didn’t end up playing a lot of music.”

As for Fall Out Boy’s future, Stump says the intention is to eventually reunite.

“It’s not guaranteed, but yeah, that’s the plan,” he states. “It’s been the plan since the get-go. It’s funny now, because people made it into a thing. But talking about what a band is going to do after hiatus is like talking about what your next kid is going to look like.

“You really don’t have control over it.”


At the Molson Amphitheatre: Endless vacation with LMFAO

At the Molson Amphitheatre: Endless vacation with LMFAO

At the Molson Amphitheatre: Endless vacation with LMFAO | Toronto Star

As unlikely as it seems, the forces behind the big summer smash “Party Rock Anthem” are carrying on the Motown legacy. 

LMFAO promise "high-energy craziness" at their Sunday show at the Molson Amphitheatre with Ke$ha and Akon.


LMFAO promise “high-energy craziness” at their Sunday show at the Molson Amphitheatre with Ke$ha and Akon.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Fri Aug 12 2011

As unlikely as it seems, the forces behind the big summer smash “Party Rock Anthem” are carrying on the Motown legacy.

LMFAO, the electro-rap duo who advocate happy hedonism through dance, romance and alcohol consumption in such high-energy songs as “Champagne Showers,” “Shots” and “I’m in Miami Bitch,” comes by its funky R&B bloodlines naturally: L.A.-based DJs Stefan Kendal “Redfoo” Gordy and Skyler Husten “Sky Blu” Gordy are the respective son and grandson of Berry Gordy Jr., the impresario who founded the influential Tamla/Motown label in 1959 and scored just about as many hits in the bedroom, squiring eight children through two wives and four girlfriends, including Diana Ross.

However, Redfoo — Sky Blu’s uncle and the progeny of Gordy Jr.’s relationship with Nancy Leiviska, a former vice-president of Motown Records’ video division (she directed vids for Stevie Wonder, Rick James, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and another Gordy son, Redfoo’s half-brother Rockwell) — maintains his relationship with the man who introduced Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to the world rarely involved music.

“I grew up with my mother surfing and skating in the Palisades — the same place where they filmed Baywatch,” he explained Wednesday over the phone prior to a Charlotte, North Carolina sound check. LMFAO plays the KiSS 92.5 Wham Bam 2011 at the Molson Amphitheatre Sunday with Ke$ha and Akon.

“Growing up, I got to visit my Dad during holidays and the occasional summer. Then I got to live with him in my teens, going through high school. I felt I absorbed so much of his personality and how he deals with people, and his competitive nature — we played pinochle and chess. I was playing tennis and he was my tennis coach. So it wasn’t really a musical experience that I had with my father, it was life.”

In fact, it was a tennis injury suffered in Sweden that prompted Redfoo to rethink his life.

“I broke my wrist,” he says. “So I got two turntables, a four-track and a sampler, and started making music because I had time off. When my wrist finally healed, I didn’t want to play tennis anymore. With music, I could travel around the world, talk with people and be social, but with tennis, I got to hit a ball every day, and be secluded. So I picked music.”

After trying his hand at independent hip hop and standup comedy, Redfoo began hanging out with his nephew Sky Blu, assembling a mixtape for the 2008 Miami Music Conference.

“It was the greatest week of our lives,” Redfoo recalls. “We’d go to bed late, wake up early, and the parties were all house music with European DJs. We said, ‘This vacation can’t end.’ So we came back to L.A., saw a void — there was no hip-hop electro — and decided that was the next wave.”

Redfoo’s old school chum Will.i.Am called him up, signed LMFAO to his label via Interscope, and now the duo is all the rage, scoring massive sales with the albums Party Rock, the recent Sorry For Party Rocking, and the celebratory “Party Rock Anthem” with GoonRock and Lauren Bennett, which has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the past six weeks.

Redfoo says the Toronto date will include the Quest Crew dancers, costume changes and “high-energy craziness and wild stuff.”

“We’re just trying to squeeze all the party rock juice out of the people.”

LMFAO also appears on MuchMusic’s New.Music.Live at 5 p.m. Monday.


Gary Clark Jr.’s taking quite the axe to us

Gary Clark Jr.’s taking quite the axe to us

The latest Texan blues-guitar hero comes Friday to the Rivoli.

Gary Clark Jr., the latest pride of Austin, Tex.


Gary Clark Jr., the latest pride of Austin, Tex.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Wed Aug 17 2011

You know you’ve got potential when Eric Clapton invites you as the only newcomer to perform at his occasional Crossroads Festival.

Austin, Texas guitar slinger Gary Clark Jr. received the invitation to play in Chicago last year among such six-string heavyweights as Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, Vince Gill, John Mayer and Doyle Bramhall II and so impressed folks with his ability and technique that he was signed to Warner Bros. immediately afterwards.

“That was pretty amazing for me,” recalls Clark Jr., rolling on the roads of Nova Scotia prior to his intimate gig at The Rivoli Friday night to promote his debut Warner Music EP, Bright Lights.

“Since I’m from Austin, and Jimmie Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and Hubert Sumlin all being from there, Clapton was asking about new acts and they brought my name up, which was amazing.”

Although Clark held his own on stage with Clapton, Bramhall II, Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and Sheryl Crow, the truth is that the 27-year-old axe master, whose hybrid blues also incorporates rock, soul and R&B, has been Austin’s best-kept secret for over a decade.

Acknowledging that it was his attendance at a Michael Jackson concert that first turned him onto guitar, Clark Jr. calls himself a “child of the ’80s” when it comes to his initial influences.

“I listened to a bunch of soul and R&B music when I was growing up and was always kind of interested in what the guitar player was doing,” he admits. “So when I was 12, I got a guitar and listened to (Jimi) Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It went on from there.”

He also struck up a friendship with fellow 12-year-old guitar buddy Eve Monsees (later of blues-rock quartet Eve and The Exiles, and female rockers The Bluebonnets, led by The Go-Gos’ bassist Kathy Valentine), and both mentored each other on techniques, new recordings, and exploring new genres.

Clark Jr. says it was a trek down to famous Austin music club Antone’s with Monsees that truly turned him onto the blues.

“The blues jam was awesome, and I kind of fell in love with it, not thinking that we were going to eventually go in a certain direction,” he admits.

Clark Jr. also befriended club impresario Clifford Antone, credited with discovering and giving renowned blues and rock guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan, his brother Jimmie (with The Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Charlie Sexton their first breaks.

Antone, who died in 2006, also extended the favour to Gary Clark Jr. — when the budding guitarist was only 15.

“He was major,” Clark Jr. admits. “Clifford Antone actually introduced me to Jimmie Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall, Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins — anybody that came through, and get me up on that stage with them. He was really encouraging.

“Actually, my first time playing at Antone’s, he hooked me up with Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton, Mojo Buford, George Raines, Riley Osbourn, it was an all-star cast of folks. He said to me, ‘You really want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘There you go kid — go for it!’

“That pretty much changed everything for me.”

He became so revered as a guitarist that by the time he was 17, Austin had bequeathed him his own Gary Clark Jr. Day

In the ensuing years, Clark Jr. has released three independent albums and a self-titled EP — 2005’s Tribute, a mixture of covers and originals; two more collections of self-penned songs in 2008 — 110 and Worry No More, and last year’s Gary Clark Jr.

He’s even already made his silver-screen debut; starring in the acclaimed 2007 John Sayles film Honeydripper with Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Vondie Curtis Hall.

For now, Clark Jr. is touring with bass player Johnny Bradley, drummer Johnny Radelat, and his Epiphone Casino guitar, pushing the four-song EP Bright Lights one that melds his Hendrix-like showmanship with soulful acoustic blues — and working on his first full Warner album with producers Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Dave Matthews Band) and Bramhall II for a spring 2012 release.

“I’d love to do some more acting,” Clark Jr. confesses. “For now, I’m a little busy just doing this music stuff, which is fine by me. I don’t really have any major long-term goals: I’m a day-by-day type of cat.

“I’m happy to go play music, songs that I love, and play a little blues, rock ’n’ roll and soul music.”

Just the Facts

Who: Gary Clark Jr.

When: Friday, Aug. 19

Where: The Rivoli, 332 Queen St. W.

Tickets: $21 from Rotate This

Maroon 5 outpaces Train

Maroon 5 outpaces Train

Adam Levine’s machine races through hits while other band on Molson Amphitheatre bill meanders.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Tue Aug 23 2011

It didn’t take long for the lead singers of last night’s Train/Maroon 5 doubleheader at the Molson Amphitheatre to reveal their diametric extremes: M5’s Adam Levine chose to channel his inner Jagger, while Train’s Pat Monahan decided to exhibit his inner Rihanna?

Yes, for a Grammy-winning pop band that has five studio albums to its credit and 75 minutes of concert time at its disposal, San Francisco’s Train managed to derail itself in almost no time flat, spending a good portion of its show indulging in the type of behaviour that makes you wonder if they were quaffing a few too many glasses of their new Drops Of Jupiter brand of vino when initially planning this tour.

Perhaps singer Monahan realizes he’s more annoying than charismatic as a live performer, or maybe he’s as tired as I am of his lyrical asides that often have nothing to do within the rest of the song he’s singing, but the amount of time Train spent concentrating on either comedy relief or head-scratching covers like sandwiching Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” (sung by their touring female cellist, no less!) with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — which also involved a weird tango of sorts between Monahan and said cellist, while the remainder of the band played drums and pedal steel guitar — was almost insulting.

It didn’t stop there, as a full-on rendition of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” followed. That’s great if you’re in the mood for karaoke or watching your favourite cover band, but when you’re headlining outdoor venues that attract approximately 12,000 people, you’d think you might want to give some of your fans some actual Train music. Points at least should be given to Train for having a sense of humour: midway during “She’s on Fire,” Monahan doffed a cheap cowboy hat and had the band transition into a quick country shuffle.

But then the overkill set in again; as he invited some 40 female audience members he dubbed the “Trainettes” to join him onstage to close out the song. To be fair, the audience got satisfying renditions of the infectious brain-gnawing pop nuggets like “Hey Soul Sister,” “Calling All Angels” and “Drops Of Jupiter,” all which involved sing-alongs from a game crowd who can’t resist a snappy melody and a beguiling chorus. But whenever the band stopped playing, the fact that you could actually hear the silence in between songs suggested the audience was quickly tiring of Train’s antics.

Kicking Train’s caboose by showing them how it should be done was fellow West Coasters Maroon 5, who took no prisoners from the get-go. Opening with their hit “Moves Like Jagger,” singer and The Voice judge Adam Levine and his five-man electrical band brought the funk out early, racing through “Harder To Breathe,” “Sunday Morning,” “If I Never See Your Face Again” and “Misery” without stopping for breath. Prince-inspired rhythmic guitar flourishes and a pulsing disco beat got the crowd engaged in some fancy footwork, and in case there was a dense bulb in the audience who couldn’t connect the dots, a giant disco ball was unveiled to feed the party vibe.

Suddenly, after warming everyone up, Levine and his crew changed directions and brought a harder-edged rock feel to their execution, as the singer slung a guitar over his shoulder and engaged in solo duels with James Valentine. Throughout “The Sun,” from the band’s latest album Hands All Over, and the upbeat “Wake Up Call” and “Stutter,” the momentum shifted, the continuing thread throughout Maroon 5’s 75-minute set being Levine’s impressive vocal range and effective falsetto.

Although neither Levine nor Monahan were particularly compelling, at least Levine had momentum on his side with strong musicianship and a torrid pace that set the standard for the evening, capping Maroon 5’s set with their stirring breakthrough ballad “She Will Be Loved.” As for Train — well, Pat Monahan isn’t Bono.


Sara Evans, stronger than ever?

Sara Evans, stronger than ever?

Sara Evans, stronger than ever? | Toronto Star

Country singer glad to carry momentum into CMT festival.

Sara Evans, now an Alabama resident, comes north to Oro, Ont., near Barrie, for the first CMT Music Festival this weekend.


Sara Evans, now an Alabama resident, comes north to Oro, Ont., near Barrie, for the first CMT Music Festival this weekend.

By: Special to the Star Nick Krewen Published on Wed Aug 24 2011

You won’t find a more relevant country music album title at the moment than Sara Evans’ Stronger.

Ever since the sudden 2006 pullout of her contending role on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars due to what would become a messy and very public divorce from musician-turned-aspiring politician Craig Schelske, Evans, 40, has been battling to regain her career form.

The New Franklin, Missouri native’s recent chart-topper “A Little Bit Stronger” shows her to be back on track, although — with the exception of four new tracks on 2007’s Greatest Hits — Stronger is her first new effort since 2005’s Real Fine Place.

Was she worried about the six-year-gap between albums?

“It caused me to have a little bit of panic,” admits Evans, calling from her Birmingham, Ala. home in advance of her Saturday appearance at this weekend’s CMT Music Festival in Oro, Ontario, just 10 minutes north of Barrie. (Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, Ronnie Dunn, Corb Lund and others are also appearing – check for daily lineups and schedules.)

“Then I just had to trust that the timing would be perfect, and it was.”

The public welcomed the doe-eyed singer back with her fifth No. 1 hit, “A Little Bit Stronger,” another in a string of uplifting songs that includes the self-penned “Born To Fly,” and “No Place That Far” and features her expressive and expansive alto.

It’s a gift that started off in a much different direction than the more contemporary style for which Evans, 40, is renown: When she first arrived in Nashville 16 years ago, she caught the ear of legendary songwriter Harlan Howard, responsible for such classic hits as Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” and Buck Owens’ “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” — a connection that would lead to her critically acclaimed debut album of traditional country, Three Chords and the Truth.

“I got hired to sing a demo for a couple of songs that Harlan had written, one being ‘I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,’ ” Evans recalls.

“He wanted to resurrect that song and try to pitch it to a female artist, so they hired me — I was the new demo singer in town. He was in the studio and he was blown away by my voice and how country I was. He said, ‘you remind me of Loretta Lynn when she first moved to town.’ ”

On the spot, Howard called an A&R exec pal at RCA Nashville and arranged a meeting with the label for Evans.

“I sang for (RCA Nashville president) Joe Galante and he signed me right then and there to a seven-album deal,” Evans remembers. “Thank God for Harlan Howard!”

Her intention was pure: Evans procured traditionalist producer Pete Anderson to produce what eventually became Three Chords and the Truth to “kind of make me into a female Dwight Yoakam.”

“I was 24 at the time, thinking, I’m getting so much attention for being so country, but this is how I was raised and this is how I was taught to sing, so, I’m just going to go with this,” she recalls.

“It just didn’t go over that well with country radio, because I think they felt there was no spot for it at the time.”

She did an about-face with her sophomore album, securing Music Row overseers Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson to produce No Place That Far a little more generically, and saved her career in the process, as the title track became her first No. 1 hit.

Evans has since offered her fans taste of her roots, supplementing recent albums with acoustic and bluegrass remakes of her hits “Suds in the Bucket” and, on Stronger, “Born To Fly.”

“That’s just a part of who I am and how I was raised,” Evans explains. “My mother would put on really old Live At The Grand Ole Opry albums and listen to those just over and over and over again.”

Since divorcing Schelske in 2007, Evans has married radio host Jay Barker and relocated her three children with Schelske from Nashville to join Barker and his four children in Birmingham.

“It’s crazy,” says Evans of being a mother to seven children, unfazed by the notion since she grew up in a household with six siblings.

“I love being and mom and wife and I learned how to cook for a big family from an early age — they’re by far the best part of my life, so it’s great. It’s very busy and our house is loud, but it’s so fun.”

Would she ever return to compete on Dancing with the Stars?

“I definitely would,” she replies. “But I don’t know how we would do it now that we live in Birmingham.

“When I was on the show, the kids weren’t in school yet; well, Avery was in the first grade, but I held him out for the beginning of the school year so he could be there with me.

“Now, it would be really, really hard, because I would never leave them and go to L.A. to do it. But it would sure be fun.”


What: The inaugural CMT Music Festival

Where: Burl’s Creek Park, near Barrie

When: Aug. 26-28

Who: Lady Antebellum, Ronnie Dunn, Rascal Flatts, Corb Lund, George Canyon, Blake Shelton, Sara Evans, and more

Tickets: $29 to $389 at, or 1-855-480-8800


The Cars: Idling no more

The Cars idling no more

It was the last phone call keyboardist Greg Hawkes expected to get: an invite from singer and chief songwriter Ric Ocasek to restart The Cars. 

Greg Hawkes of The Cars performs at the Hollywood Palladium on May 12, 2011 in Los Angeles.


Greg Hawkes of The Cars performs at the Hollywood Palladium on May 12, 2011 in Los Angeles.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Thu May 19 2011

It was the last phone call keyboardist Greg Hawkes expected to get: an invite from singer and chief songwriter Ric Ocasek to restart The Cars.

After all, it had been almost a quarter-century since the Boston-based rock ‘n’ roll New Wavers had put the brakes to their 20-million-selling seven-album career, stalling after a lukewarm reception to 1987’s Door To Door, a major letdown in the face of 1984’s mega-successful Heartbeat City.

Since The Cars had been scrapped in ’88, Ocasek had steadfastly refused to reunite, preferring to concentrate on solo albums and the very occasional live appearance. In 2000, co-founding bass player Benjamin Orr — the bandmate Ocasek had originally hooked up with in a folk trio called Milkwood before the duo forged ahead with their most famous band — succumbed to cancer.

And a 2006 attempt by Hawkes and guitarist Elliot Easton to team up with Todd Rundgren in the revamped New Cars quickly ran out of gas.

“I think it was a surprise for everybody,” admits Hawkes, 58, who will not only be playing such memorable classics as “Just What I Needed,” “Let’s Go,” “Drive” and “You Might Think” next to his surviving bandmates within the intimate confines of The Sound Academy Friday night, but helping the band push Move Like This, its first album of original songs in 24 years.

“I remember getting my call — maybe it was January of last year, or maybe before Christmas, I can’t quite remember — but Ric called up and just said, ‘What do you think of the idea of doing a Cars album?’ ”

Hawkes ended up convening at the Millbrook, N.Y. home Ocasek shares with his wife, the former supermodel Paulina Porizkova, before Easton and Robinson joined the proceedings to hear the new material.

“He played me 25 songs,” recalls Hawkes, calling Tuesday prior to a gig in Minneapolis.

“We went through them and whittled it down to a dozen. And then we got together with David and Elliott.”

Hawkes admits the inaugural sessions were approached with a touch of apprehension.

“Back in 1988, it was pretty easy to see why we stopped. A lot of the band members weren’t getting along at the time. I know that Ric and Ben weren’t getting along — and I still don’t exactly know why.

“Maybe we had exhausted what we could do at the time. We just naturally needed a break from each other.

“Maybe not one quite this long,” he chuckles, “But there you go.”

The animosity that had plagued them in the past had dissipated with time — consider this: they broke up before current chart-topper Adele was born — and Easton says the initial five days they spent together were pleasant and productive.

“We all kind of agreed to start small, and work on three songs together, just see how it goes. But it went really smoothly and we had a lot of fun, so we kept going until we had a whole album.”

Indeed, the sound of Move Like This, with a handful of songs produced by Garrett “Jacknife” Lee (R.E.M., Snow Patrol) is like hearing an old, familiar pal who has been away on an extended vacation: Ocasek’s gift for sprightly, punchy, radio-friendly melodies; golden riffs; crispy, economical arrangements and infectiously sparkling choruses hasn’t waned over the years. The album’s first single, “Sad Song,” is sitting in the Top 40 of Billboard’s current Rock Songs chart, proving that The Cars’ Midas touch is still potent.

Hawkes said the idea to do a short 10-city tour was only decided “a few months ago,” and that there are no live plans past an August appearance at Lollapalooza.

But Hawkes, who plays bass keyboard parts to takes up the missing Orr’s duties, sounds hopeful that The Cars will extend the comeback.

“I’m hoping so. We don’t really have any plans as of yet, but so far things have been going so well that I don’t know why we wouldn’t continue.”


Neil Young: take a look at his life

Neil Young: take a look at his life

The museum set up in Neil Young’s onetime home town pays abundant tribute to his early days, and the rock icon himself has noticed. 

Neil Young checks out Youngtown.


Neil Young checks out Youngtown.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Sat Mar 26 2011

Not too long ago, one of Trevor Hosier’s lifelong ambitions came true.

No, not the one where he creates and curates his own rock ‘n’ roll museum: That dream finally manifested itself four years ago, when he opened Youngtown, a turn-of-the-century, two-story, wooden-framed, aluminum-sided outpost filled with relics of a rock-and-pop infatuated youth, located on a strip of Highway 7 two-hours-and-change north of Toronto, in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet called Omemee.

Hosier’s milestone moment was the visit of that town’s most celebrated son last October: museum namesake Neil Young dropped by with his brother Bob just to see what the music enthusiast had been up to.

“I’ve met Neil a number of times, and since we opened in the springtime of 2008, every time I saw him at Massey Hall or the Air Canada Centre, I’d say, ‘So when you getting out to the museum?’ ” Hosier recalls.

“And he’d say, ‘One of these days.’ ”

On October 7, 2010, true to his word, that day finally came: With Bob Young in tow, Neil entered the building and spent the next hour scanning the thousands of the rock ‘n’ roll relics Hosier has accumulated over three decades of autograph-hounding, auction-bidding and donations.

The 65-year-old Canadian icon, who will be honoured this Sunday at the Air Canada Centre with the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award during the Juno Awards, was duly impressed. That’s if we can judge by the personal memento left by Young, two-time Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, Canadian Music Hall of Famer, and winner of a Grammy just last month for Best Rock Song for “Angry World.”

Young left on the spot the handwritten, introductory verse to “Helpless,” a classic Young song that refers to his Omemee childhood with the words “There is a town in North Ontario, with dream, comfort, memory to spare.”

“When he was leaving, Neil paused at the door, turned to me and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll look through my stuff, see what I’ve got and send it off to you,’” recalls Hosier.

“He was sincere about it, and seemed to genuinely enjoy his visit.”

Although the promised box of memorabilia has yet to show up on Hosier’s doorstep, the 49-year-old family counsellor recently received another prized Young donation.

One recent Sunday, while leading a visitor through a memorabilia-packed maze of exhibits that encompass authentic artifacts from Roy Orbison to The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Grateful Dead, Hosier points to the latest gift: an upright Mason & Risch piano that once belonged to the Young family.

“This was donated by the Young family about three weeks ago,” explains a grinning Hosier, his eyes beaming with pride. “They just sold their farm south of town. Neil and his sister (Astrid) bought this for their Dad back in ’93, when they opened the public school for him and named it the Scott Young Public School.

“Everybody in the family has played this gem.”

Why is Youngtown Rock and Roll Museum (open exclusively on weekends in late April through October) located in the Kawartha Lakes community of Omemee, population 1,100?

It’s the place that served as the anchor of Neil Young’s idyllic childhood, and Hosier said he wanted to pay personal tribute to the Young family, who lived approximately six buildings away from the museum.

Although Neil was born in Toronto in 1945, his father Scott moved the clan — which included his mother Edna (Rassy) and brother Bob to Omemee when Young was four, spending the next seven years in the village. Then, after the publication of Scott’s first novel, The Flood, in 1956, the family relocated to Brock Rd. in Pickering.

Neighbours and acquaintances — most of them now in their 60s and 70s — recall the Youngs, who lived in a three-story house at 33 King St. W., about a five-minute walk from the Pigeon River, where Neil used to fish.

“My late husband, Willard, had a convenience store in town where he sold fishing tackle, comic books, ice cream and hunting rifles, too,” recalls Joan Rehill, owner of the nearby Butternut Folk Art store.

“Neil would go in there with a string on the end of a stick, and get my husband to put a fishhook on it so he could go down to the river and fish.

“My husband used to call him Zeke. He thought that was a good nickname for him, because he said he never thought that Neil would turn out to be the guy he is today.”

Although Scott Young’s friends declined to be interviewed, Hosier says many still talk about the future minstrel with affection, including one of Scott’s best friends, Jay Hayes.

“Jay was saying yesterday, ‘You’d see Neil walking around town with ripped britches — he looked like a little urchin boy.’

“He said, ‘I remember when someone came to town, but he felt so sorry for this little kid that he took him in one of the shops and bought him an ice cream.’”

Enter the museum, and you get a sense of what Neil Young’s simple life in Omemee was like: there are pics of him as a boy, along with a coterie of his neighbours and boyhood chums: folks with names like “Goof” and “Stretch.”

It was here also where Neil first discovered his love of trains (which manifests itself regularly in his lyrics to this day) and where his health was severely tested when he contracted polio. That ordeal hasn’t seemed to diminish his affection for the town.

His father certainly couldn’t keep away, despite the move to Pickering — where Neil’s love for music was kindled as he discovered CHUM Radio — and then to Toronto.

In 1967, just minutes from Omemee in nearby Cavan Township, Scott bought a 100-acre farm and built a house on the land. He sold it in the late 1980s to relocate to Dublin, Ireland, but repurchased the farm in 1992 and lived there until his death in 2005.

According to Hosier, Scott Young’s widow Margaret Hogan sold the farm in 2010, but a Young presence remains: Neil’s brother Bob recently moved back to the area.

Neil Young continues to quietly visit the area, and Hosier has a theory as to why Omemee is still near and dear to the recent Grammy Award winner’s heart, since it represents a happier time before Scotty and Rassy’s marriage disintegrated a few years later.

“Neil and Bob and all of them are fond of this place, not only because their dad was here for so long, but the whole family was still together when they originally moved here.

“It was sort of their day in the sun, so they look at this place as home.”

The Neil Young exhibit contains artifacts other than childhood mementos. There are walls of photos, posters, autographed electric guitars, gold and platinum albums, a life-size stand-up of Young and many other items covering a prolific career that has lasted nearly half a century, including a red-triangle promotional vinyl pressing of 1981’s Re-ac-tor; a limited-edition Lionel Train set to commemorate the release of 2003’s Greendale and the acoustic guitar used to compose a number of songs — including “Natural Beauty” — from Young’s 1992 multi-platinum album Harvest Moon.

“That (guitar) sat on his bus for months,” says Hosier, who says he first drew up plans for the museum 20 years ago.

“I had an idea that I wanted to do something in this town, because there wasn’t anything to pay tribute to Neil or the family at that time,” he explains.

“It wasn’t to be until about 2006 I started thinking about it again. My collection was definitely outgrowing our house and my office.

“Unfortunately my parents passed away in 2006 and left me a little bit (of an inheritance), and my wife, Brenda, and I thought, ‘What can we do to have some fun?’

“So we bought this old building and restored it — it was in pretty rough shape — and came up with the name Youngtown.”

Why Neil?

“In my mind, there’s no greater artist in Canada than Neil Young,” says Hosier. “We have a lot of great artists and we have some wonderful bands — the Guess Who is one of my all-time favourite bands — but as a solo artist performer-musician-songwriter extraordinaire, Neil’s the guy.

“One of the reasons he and his music have stood the test of time is because of the quality of his writing and because there’s a depth to it. Neil is true to himself, he’s true to his ideals. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll rebel who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and isn’t afraid to stand up for things.

“He really does care about people, whether it’s Omemee here and how he treats people, or doing things with his Bridge School or Farm Aid, and multiple other smaller ventures, he ultimately cares about people, and that comes across in his music, too.”

Hosier, who runs Youngtown as a non-profit labour of love, is hopeful that Young will return some day and spend more time at the Museum.

He said Young indicated he might return sooner than later.

“I asked him to play a song on the guitar that we have upstairs for us — I said, ‘How about doing a song for us there, Neil?’” Hosier recalls.

“He picked it up, smiled, put it down and said, ‘Oh, next time!’ ”

Neil Young is receiving the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at the 40th Juno Awards ceremony at the Air Canada Centre, where is he also nominated for Artist of the Year and Adult Alternative Album of the Year for Le Noise.

Youngtown, located at 45 King St. E., in Omemee, opens its fourth season on April 23, at 11 a.m. Admission is $7 and tickets are available by calling 705-799-2903. Web:

Clairvoyant peek inside Robbie Robertson

Clairvoyant peek inside Robbie Robertson

Clairvoyant peek inside Robbie Robertson | Toronto Star

It took a while — a long while — before Robbie Robertson was ready to address the topics in songs on How to Become Clairvoyant.

Robbie Robertson, left, in The Last Waltz, with Rick Danko, centre, and Levon Helm.


Robbie Robertson, left, in The Last Waltz, with Rick Danko, centre, and Levon Helm.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Mon Mar 28 2011

Thirteen years between albums may seem like ages, but it’s not as though Robbie Robertson has been idle.

Prior to this Tuesday’s release of How To Become Clairvoyant — his first album since 1998’s Contact From The Underworld of Redboy — the Toronto native has been spending the years scoring such films as Any Given Sunday and last year’s Shutter Island; overseeing numerous Capitol Records reissues of The Band catalogue, including 2005’s exhaustive The Band — A Musical History and the 25th anniversary of The Last Waltz; planning a traveling tent show with Toronto über-promoter Michael Cohl for “the greatest celebration of Native North American music that the world has ever imagined” and even functioning as a Dreamworks Records A&R executive — signing, among others, Nelly Furtado to her first record contract.

Speaking down the line from Los Angeles, however, Robertson, 67, gives the impression that even if he hadn’t been juggling so many activities, his fifth solo effort wouldn’t have necessarily seen the light of day any sooner.

“I think that these things should go just according to inspiration,” says Robertson, a presenter at last Sunday’s Juno Awards ceremony at the Air Canada Centre who will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Saturday, April 2.

“And I’ve had my focus at different places in the last few years. When I had some good ideas and I felt really strong about wanting to make a record, I just followed that path. I felt a calling, as opposed to, ‘oh, it’s time to make a record.’ ”

However, the 12-song Clairvoyant isn’t just any album: it’s easily the most candid of a 51-year career that began in 1960 with Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, morphed into The Band in 1967 and in 1987, turned solo with the Daniel Lanois-produced Robbie Robertson.

Clocking in at just under an hour, the new collection addresses Robertson’s colourful history: “When The Night Was Young” talks about his wide-eyed musical beginnings; “This Is Where I Get Off” explains his controversial decision to abandon the road on a high note with The Band and 1976’s The Last Waltz; “He Don’t Live Here No More” and “Fear of Falling,” the latter a duet with fellow guitar legend Eric Clapton, documents surviving the days of excessive partying and sacrifices made during the ’70s, all linked together by Robertson’s distinctively wispy tenor.

“It’s the most personal record I’ve made,” Robertson declares, although he’s as baffled as to the motivation behind this sudden soul baring.

“I don’t know — it’s a bit of a mystery of how things come about when they do,” he says. “I don’t have a scientific explanation for it. Sometimes when you’re writing a song, you don’t know where you’re going. I was always more comfortable writing mythical songs that disguised personal feelings, and this record wasn’t like that — it was personal, almost a relief.

“Now it feels very comfortable, like good medicine.”

Although Clairvoyant is a Robertson record, it initially evolved from some planned writing sessions with Clapton, who co-wrote many of the songs and plays on seven of them.

“Eric was part of planting the seeds for this record,” he admits.

“Some years ago, we started talking about doing something together. We didn’t know precisely what we were talking about — we’re old friends, but we wanted to make some good music together.

“Anyway, we toyed around with some ideas some years back, and a couple of years ago, I ran across those sessions and I called him and told him, ‘We did more than what I thought we did, and there were some good ideas there.’ So he said, ‘Let’s go in the studio and see what happens.’ ”

With co-producer Marius de Vries and the rhythm section of bass player Pino Palladino and drummer Ian Thomas in tow, Robertson and Clapton retreated to London in 2008 and recorded the basic tracks.

Later, buoyed by “Fear Of Falling,” Robertson tweaked and embellished the sessions in his L.A. studio, with a diverse gaggle of guest musicians that include Steve Winwood, Nine Inch Nails visionary Trent Reznor, Rage Against The Machine/The Nightwatchman’s Tom Morello and percolating pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph pitching in.

Although he’s rehearsed and played some TV spots with The Dawes (singer Taylor Goldsmith is another Clairvoyant guest contributor), Robertson has no intention of touring behind the new album, or touring ever again.


“The road for me, because I started so young, I felt like I had learned just about everything I could learn from that,” Robertson explains. “I wanted to be able to challenge myself in other ways, and being on the road, it made me feel like I was in the same play for the rest of my life. And the redundancy of that was not exciting.

“As much admiration and respect I have for people that go out and tour forever, they have an attachment to that that I don’t have anymore. I haven’t toured since The Last Waltz, and in that movie, I talked about giving up touring.

“And I’m one of the only people that have stuck to their word on this thing.” he chuckles.

Robertson won’t be performing at his own April 2 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame, either, although he’s thrilled to be recognized for a body of work that includes such Band classics as “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight”; and solo work like “Showdown At Big Sky” and “Somewhere Down The Crazy River.”

Stacking it up against some of his other accolades — a partial list includes The Band’s 1989 entry into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and The Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame five years later; a 1997 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters and a 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, also for The Band — Robertson said he’s thankful.

“When it all comes down to it, you try to do different things that are all exciting. I really have such fun making records, and this was one of the records I feel most fulfilled by, for all kinds of technical reasons — my singing, my playing, my songwriting, all of it.

“But when you line up all of those things, there’s nowhere to go without the song. And I first and foremost, I put that at the top of the list for me of challenges, so that’s why this award in particular really pushes a button.”

Robertson, also interviewed for the acclaimed documentary series Yonge Street — Toronto Rock & Roll Stories that aired on Bravo earlier this week, is also thrilled to be returning here for the ceremony. (“Every time I go back to Toronto, I get a really warm feeling inside,” he states.)

Robertson’s future plans reveal a full plate: in late May, he’ll return to Ottawa to finally receive the Order Of Canada he was awarded in 2007. Then he’ll start working on his memoirs for Random House, something he credits How To Become Clairvoyant for stirring up his interest.

“This record had something to do with opening that door for me,” says Robertson, who will spend a year or two recounting his life.

“I’m really looking forward to just rolling up my sleeves, sitting down and telling the story — and I’ve got a bunch of ’em.

“There have been people in the past who have come to me to write biographies on me, and in that process I really came to the conclusion that I needed to tell them myself.”

He’s especially consumed with the Cohl collaboration in the staging of the salute to First Nations music, though he gave no timeline as to the project’s completion.

“I have a great idea for a show story, and we’re in the process of trying to put that together,” Robertson revealed. “No one’s ever seen it before, what we’re talking about. It’s something that’s never been done before.”

Soon, you’ll even be able to mail Robertson to a friend, as Canada Post is launching his visage on a 57-cent stamp as part of a Canadian recording artist tribute that includes Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Quebec powerhouse vocalist Ginette Reno in July.

“That’s something that I didn’t see coming,” says Robertson.

“I think, some countries, you have to be dead to have your picture on a stamp. So I feel pretty honoured — like I beat the system or something.”



Royal Wood: A Juno coming-out party


Royal Wood: A Juno coming-out party

Royal Wood: A Juno coming-out party | Toronto Star

Beguiling Toronto tenor faces stiff competition for Songwriter of the Year 

Royal Wood credits a year-long residency at the Cameron House for developing his sense of audience.


Royal Wood credits a year-long residency at the Cameron House for developing his sense of audience.

By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Tue Mar 22 2011

Unlike the title of his latest album, The Waiting, Royal Wood is finally on the cusp of arrival.

The next handful of days finds the Lakefield, Ont. native appearing at a couple of events that will boost his mainstream profile. He shares the stage at the Juno Songwriters Circle tonight at Massey Hall with tunesmith icons Randy Bachman, Dan Hill, Sylvia Tyson and veteran song crafters that include Lynn Miles, Luke Doucet and host Johnny Reid. He also helps counterbalance the estrogen at a Great Hall Junofest gig Friday with Dala and Emm Gryner.

It all culminates with his potential Juno Songwriter of the Year victory at this Sunday’s 40th Anniversary awards ceremony at the Air Canada Centre, where he’s also scheduled to present a statuette.

The competition in the Songwriter category is stiff, to be sure. Wood’s mellifluous romanticism, realized in such piano-driven love themes as “Waiting,” “On Top Of Your Love” and “Tonight I Will Be Your Guide,” is up against the big compositional guns of Montreal’s explosive Arcade Fire; Vancouver’s confessional Sarah McLachlan; hometown show host Drake’s silver-tongued rhymes and Vancouverite Hannah Georgas’ rock quirk.

But the tall, slender, perfectly-coiffed singer with the supple, beguiling tenor isn’t fazed.

“I will not walk away disappointed in any way if I don’t win,” said Wood, 32, just prior to a sound check at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre last week, one show of an intimate 32-date, small-market cross-Canada tour that lasts through early June.

“It’s huge for me just to be in the company of the Arcade Fires and the Sarah McLachlans. It means a lot.”

It’s also the most tangible payoff since Wood officially launched his recording career with 2002’s independently issued EP The Milkweed, although his star has been steadily rising as admirers continue to laud the 32-year-old Toronto resident’s gift for stirring melodies and heartfelt lyrics. iTunes declared him Songwriter of the Year in 2010.

A pianist since the age of 4, Wood credits two touchstones for getting him to this plateau of artistic maturity: a year-long residency at Cameron House that ended in mid-2007, and what he considers to be his breakthrough album, that year’s A Good Enough Day.

Wood was raised by his parents on an “idyllic” farm with three older brothers and a younger sister in what he calls a “tight-knit, Walton Family” environment.

“I always wanted to be my own artist,” he says. “Playing music was my outlet, my bliss, and I always considered my gift first and foremost as a songwriter. The performer has come along as the confidence has.

“Even as recently as 2006, when I look back to my abilities as a performer, I was pretty naïve on stage: head down, play the song, thank you and onto the next song.

“And I thank the Cameron House actually for giving me some stage jobs, because doing that residency once a week in Toronto finally forced me to really play a lot of shows for people who didn’t know who you were, and you had to win them.”

A Good Enough Day, propelled by the songs “Juliet” and “A Mirror Without,” landed him an agent, a manager and a release through Emm Gryner’s Dead Daisy boutique label, as well as placement of his songs in such primetime U.S. TV shows as Grey’s Anatomy.

The new album, The Waiting, partially produced by Pierre Marchand, is more direct.

“I didn’t dress anything up in poetry or metaphor this time,” says Wood, who will be back in the studio in the fall. “It’s just finally being in my 30s and being confident in who I am and what I stand for and just opening up on a level.

“Before, I’d dressed it up and hidden behind things. This time, it was a diary — everything that was going on in my life for the year-and-a-half of writing that record just spewed itself out.

“I think that’s why people identify with it. It’s a very honest performance on that record, and I’m proud of it.”