Best of Times, Blurst of Times...

Chalk Eaters and The CBC 

When you enter the CBC Searchlight contest, they send you a little "get-to-know-ya" questionnaire. It occurs to me that maybe some of you, our dedicated Blockheads, might not know these tidbits yourself. So study up, there will be a quiz later. No, not really, you just have to go vote. For us, preferably.

Here's the questionnaire:

Hello, CBC. How are you? This is Ross Smith on behalf of EBH. Thanks for having us on board for Searchlight. We hope your listeners' ears will be pleased. And now, we answer your burning questions.
1) Who are you? 
Why, Edmonton Block Heater, of course. We're a trio of gentlemen who have been playing together since 2001 and finally getting it right. We like catchy pop songs so we write and record those and hope that you find yourselves singing them to yourself in the shower or the elevator but never in the elevator shower where you must lather in silence, looking up at the ceiling. We love all kinds of music and so all kinds of music finds its way into our music. Music. Also, music.
- Tell us something about you that would surprise us!
Boy, I dunno. We're kind of a rock band full of soccer moms. 
We're often mistaken for a band based out of Edmonton instead of Vancouver but then that's a problem we brought on ourselves. The name actually is a song title from the book and film Hard Core Logo, both of which we enjoy very much. It was something I happened to be reading when I moved to Vancouver and we liked the name as a bridge from our past to our present and future. We were once profiled on CBC Radio 2 when our first album came out back in 2005/06 and we wreaked Google search havoc on their research. They claimed we had been playing since the 90's and were on the film's soundtrack. Since we weren't in studio, we were unable to correct them and we were probably to polite to have pointed it out at the time anyway. We were just happy to get a song played on the radio!
Paul Tansey (drummer, man of a thousand other instruments) and I (Ross Smith, bald man, purveyor of words and melodies) both grew up in St. Albert, AB (now in the running for this year's Hockeyville contest!) so people's assumptions about our residence aren't entirely unfounded. Hmmm, what else…? I used to do a lot of musical theatre as a kid… once had a Bay City Roller asks me for cocaine… Brendan Rideout (magistrate of the low end strings and extremely high-end vocal harmonies) has more basses than God himself and we all know how much god likes funk.
- What do you do when you’re not playing music?
Brendan sells golden toilets at a fancy bathroom fixtures store and plays with many, many bands including Celtic rock favourites, The Town Pants. Paul works at SOCAN (oh, we WILL engage you in a vigorous debate about artists rights, remuneration and copyright!) and drives his kids places. I shill cable and listen to all of the complaints about everything and why it's my company's fault. I also write about hockey via a Winnipeg Jets blog: an Oilers fan, living in Vancouver, writing about Winnipeg. My life is very geographically confused.
- When did you start performing - and what made you want to pursue it? 
Ross: St. Albert has a tremendous musical theatre program that set me onto the path of an artistic/empoverished life since the age of 12. As a young'un I've been onstage as everything from The Music Man to a synth pop singing MacBeth - yes, that's a real thing, it's called Nightshriek. Musical theatre just seemed more fun than getting yelled at by intense jocks during a soccer game. Eventually my love of music was too strong to resist so I picked up a guitar and decided to start making music of my own. It was often terrible. I think I'm slowly improving.
Paul: I've been at it since I was 16, starting in church basements, battle of the bands contests and school dances. As soon as I was able to play a basic 4/4 beat, I just assumed that I would be on stage. It's just what you do, isn't it?
Brendan: For me it was a choice between music or taxidermy. I'm still on the fence about it.
2) What inspired the song you submitted to Searchlight?
Kiss Me Kate is a song about finally acknowledging that a relationship is on the skids. The title, though never explicitly mentioned in the song (which for all intents and purposes really ought to be called "Greener Eyes" but nooooo, we had to be obtuse!) is not actually just a reference to the old musical but to the name of a character on a short-lived Canadian TV series. The part was played by an actor I met once at a party and I was smitten instantly. Foolishly, I didn't pursue it and shortly thereafter started a new relationship that became difficult pretty quickly. Over the same time, the actor's show was being heavily promoted in Vancouver and I'd see her picture in magazines and bus shelter posters, like a ghost haunting me, reminding me of a path not taken that was easy to imagine as a better one. It's never that simple, of course, but when we're in a bad situation, we're at our most susceptible to a "grass is greener on the other side" fantasy, n'est ce pas?
Who's the actor? I dunno, CBC, sleuth it out. Between the lyrics and my story here, the mystery might be solvable! ;)
- Is there a surprising story behind how you recorded this track?
This might be only interesting to audio nerds but this was one of the first times that I realized Pro Tools could be a very creative compositional tool. My normal method of recording guitar solos is just to track improvisations over and over until I lock into something I like. This song never delivered a single pass that was compelling to me and so I started breaking it up into pieces and rearranging them on the computer screen like a puzzle. When I hit upon something that sounded both strange and alluring, I knew I was on the right track. I just had to make sure I could play it live - happily, the answer was "yes"! The experience made a persuasive argument for digital recording not just as convenience but as a real inspiration.
3) Please send the song lyrics.
Sure thing:

I made no promise of unconditional love
These days are taking their toll
Are we demanding more than what we did before
Crushing diamonds into coal

I’m not feeling, you’re not feeling
Charitable anymore
Up the wall to the glass ceiling
Hearts beating under the floor

There is a fantasy that I let come to me
She is every second chance
Her hair is burgundy, her dress aquamarine
She keeps asking me to dance

Oh this feeling that I’m feeling
Spreads like a virulent strain
I keep playing, she keeps dealing
Endorphins to my brain

Greener eyes on the other side
Look at me

You’ve seen my lemon pout, you’ve seen my claws come out
You’ve kissed the scars on my face
When everything I do is repulsive to you
With whom am I replaced

This old feeling I know you’re feeling
We’ve stopped trying to hide
Looking back loses its meaning
Looking back from the other side

Greener eyes on the side
Look at me

Greener eyes on the side
Look at me
Look at me
Look at me
Look at me
4) Did you participate in Searchlight last year? 
5) How did you hear about Searchlight?
Twitter and a dear friend who insisted we give this a go.
6) Do you have any local shows coming up?
None at present since we're in the midst of preproduction for our new album but we'll let everyone know if something comes up!
7) How do you pronounce your name? If the pronunciation of your name isn't obvious, please clarify how it should be pronounced (a mispronounced name on radio is the equivalent to a typo in print!). It would be great if you could write it out phonetically and let us know what it rhymes with. 
It rhymes with Edmund's a Chalk Eater.
Thanks again for just being out there, CBC, you're pretty great. I hope this was all helpful. Enjoy the tunes!
Ross Smith - EBH

Blog in the Saddle Again! 

You have to excuse the post title but, damn, I do love terrible puns.

Well, folks, you know, every time a few weeks then months go by and I haven't written anything I always come back with the same notion that I'm going to be a more consistent blogger, this time for reals!! Well, I think I have to finally admit that it ain't gonna happen. Don't get me wrong, I love to write and I'm writing constantly: new songs, scripts (yes, I live in Vancouver and write screenplays - the only thing more cliche would be doing it in LA) and even hockey articles but the EBH-specific updates don't always come fast and furious. I tell ya what - I'll try to be more proactive if you keep trying to make us famous. Deal? Deal. And so to that end...

We're working on a new record! Yup, the experiment of fully self-sufficient recording with the Rover EP was a rousing success for us so we're going ahead with a similar process to record the new full-length. I'll offer up details as we putter along but the broad strokes are this: we've got at least 14 new songs that we've chosen, many of which have been in our set for the last couple of years. We're finally going to have cleared the musical backlog and deliver many of your favourite EBH jams to your eager ears come winter! Then by the time the next record is ready we may have totally reinvented our sound to become some unholy cross between Krafwerk and Dio. That sounds pretty cool, actually. Anyway, we're continuing down the path of leaner arrangements and tighter songs. There's a couple sprawling numbers, as always, but I think overall you'll find this will be the "rockiest" record of ours thus far with songs that tip the hat to 70's power pop, Motown and, of course, our beloved signature jangle and spank.

Also, not for nothing, we've entered ourselves into the CBC searchlight contest. I honestly don't know what we win but if it's nothing more than praise from Peter Mansbridge and the firing of Kevin O'Leary, then I'll be satisfied. Honestly, we realize our whole career has ranged between "I think I've heard of you" to "I've never heard of you" and we'd prefer that were not the case. Oh, sure, we might not ever achieve the level of having somebody vomit on us at a corporate-sponsored event at SXSW but we can dream, can't we? Share the dream, make it your own and your children's dream too. Their dream will take the shape of our perennial classic pop ear worm, Kiss Me Kate. There's even a very tenuous CBC connection to the song, didja know that? All will be revealed in due time. So head over to our CBC band page and make this Canada's new summer jam for 2014. Prove to them that timeless is indeed timeless.

Did that just make us sound like a car ad? I dunno. Someone go find Dylan and ask him.

Thanks for stopping by, friends. let's do this more often.


On Richie Havens 

I could be wrong but it seems to me that a lot of people don’t really know Richie Havens by name but when you point him out in the Woodstock movie or in some doc about the Greenwich Village folk scene, they say, “oh yeah, that guy”. Don’t worry, I’m not launching into a pretentious music-snob screed about how he should be as much of a household name as Dylan or Pete Seeger because he was never that nor will he be. For most he will merely be that great story from Woodstock, holding the fort for 3 HOURS to open the weekend, just a guy and his guitar, and that’s more than enough. For others, like myself, his footnote in history is a rich vein of inspiration to be mined for years to come.

Richie Havens was a masterful song interpreter, a thoughtful writer of purpose and conscience and a beautiful performer to watch. Any genuine appreciation of him has to start with his incredible guitar playing. The open-chord tuning and thumb-based bar chording with his left hand are the most immediately distinctive parts of his style. The chording is an unusual technique I’ve only ever seen from one other player, singer-songwriter Jules Shear. Many guitarists incorporate the thumb into their chording but they don’t use it as the basis of it, as Havens did. That coupled with the a precise and  often furious strumming-hand made him a true marvel to behold. His bushwhacking rhythmic style was impassioned and propulsive in a way that could put even some drummers to shame. On recordings with just another guitar player or a hand drummer, he drove that song forward with fills and flourishes all his own. Try as I might, I’ve rarely been able to replicate his speed or timing but I strive ever to make even the most basic rhythm parts distinctive and lively.

Havens is probably better known for some of his covers than his originals – his versions of “Here Comes The Sun” and “Just Like A Woman” are actually definitive for me; I often go to them over the originals when I want to hear those songs. Even with all the tremendous artists that have performed “God Bless The Child”, there is something so compassionate and hard-won in his voice that it always brings me back.

Politically, his was another powerful voice of protest from an era full of them. The authority with which he addressed race, class and war is the kind that stokes passion for those causes in eager listeners. Folk singers can be a didactic and over-earnest crowd at times but he never struck a false note with me. And while I never had the pleasure of seeing him live (he was playing right up until this past year) but I can only imagine the crackle in the air during a performance of “Handsome Johnny” in the mid-sixties with Vietnam as the galvanizing cultural backdrop.

His profile would rise and fall over the years. I don’t think he ever lacked for a gig – he was a perpetual folk circuit performer and he’d show up in surprising ways, like at the Clinton inauguration in 1993 or even writing jingles. True - Amtrack, Maxwell House, Cotton: the fabric of our lives? You remember. (Hey, man, even hippies gotta pay the mortgage.) I was working in a record store in the early 2000’s when I was delighted to discover his presence on some Groove Armada tracks. Truly formidable artists never rest on their laurels.

In the end, he was a tribute to the power of an idea, a man, a voice and a guitar. This combination is timeless in the right hands. I have a feeling that his legacy will be aided in no small part by YouTube and reissues and retrospectives (not like when I had to go out of my way to special order a “best of” CD back in the day) and I’m glad to know that plenty of people will find their way to him, via Woodstock or Beatles or Dylan or wherever. Sometimes character actors deliver performances that outshine the leads. Sometimes the guy singing his heart out in your local coffee shop takes command of an incalculably bigger stage, even just for a moment. Sometimes he sells ketchup to send his kid to college. Sometimes he leaves his song in your heart. That’s a pretty damned good legacy, isn’t it? 



...on a t-shirt! Is there any higher honour? No, I agree, it's the top one. We're making a new t-shirt to go along with our new EP "Rover" and we want you to put the crowning touch on our design. See, it needs a clever quip! There's an empty thought balloon just waiting for your ingenious remark. If you come up with our favourite caption, we'll send you free stuff - t-shirts (of course) and music too! You can leave your suggestions here in the comments, on Facebook, Twitter (@EBHheater) or by e-mail ( However you wanna do, we want you to do it. Do it. The winner will be annouced, well, once they're printed! This is your chance, maybe your only chance, for glory. Quoth Cheap Trick, "Reach out and t-t-take it."

"F*** or Fight, It's Friday Night!" 

 Another gig has come and gone with Monday morning drowning all illusions of rock stardom in a typical Vancouver winter downpour. Liquid sheets of grey battered down onto my rickety, tattered umbrella as I walked to the Skytrain on my dutiful way to another scintillating day of customer service. And here I sit. It sounds dire, doesn’t it? It was a hangover, for certain, but from a creative high and well worth the Monday blues.

The band often throws around the word “ennui” when joking about artistic pretension but man, oh man, it feels apt on days like this. However, I can just as easily flip it sunny-side up – the reason it feels so dreary is because we had such a great time playing Friday night. If you missed it, that’s a shame, it was a good’un. The rust and nerves commensurate with such a long lay-off between shows were a good kick in the pants for us to be on our game for Friday and it paid off. The set was tight, folks were responsive, old fans were engaged and new fans made. Sold a bit of merch, drank a few beers, traded some contact info with the other bands and flopped into bed spent in the best way possible – well, maybe not the best way possible, that would require someone next to you, equally spent, but, you know, generally satisfied.

Other musicians reading this would find none of this remarkable, as ordinary as mowing the lawn is to a homeowner, but maybe because of the lapse in regular gigs over the last couple of years, the whole night just felt richer to me than usual. It wasn’t an error-free show or a fancy venue – the British Ex-Servicemen’s Club is basically like any small Legion: some colourful regulars, dart boards, a weekend Meat Draw and a portrait of the Queen (Liz, just in case you were imagining Nefertiti or Freddie Mercury) in the middle panel of a triptych bordered by the maple leaf and union jack on either side. This is a place where my dad would hang out. And my playing wasn’t note perfect but it was solid and I was in the moment so I can’t ask for much more than that. What ultimately feels most satisfying is that beyond all the usual, ongoing self-doubt and questioning of my artistic path (even whether the path was ever meant to be artistic) the feeling of correctness that infuses my time performing is indomitable. I forget that feeling in between times onstage. I’m pretty good at what I do when I do it the right way, which means I’ve put the work in, gathered my focus and delivered a performance with energy and sincerity.

I’m getting better at multitasking, not just for singing while playing guitar, but also in knowing what effects need to be punched in or out, what song is next in the set, if I need to relax a little more so my hand doesn’t cramp up, where the cute girls are to make eye contact with… I’ll let you decide if I’m joking about the last one or not. Basically, I'm trying to channel my inner Maud'Dib so that I can see all futures at once. This is no small task. Goofy "Dune" references aside, what’s important is that performing can be a place of unabashed confidence for me and that’s too rare in many other facets of my life. I gotta find a way to bottle that and swig from it in my civilian life. And I gotta find a way to remember it when I tell people about the band. Sometimes it feels like once you’ve past 30, saying you play in a band comes off more like a guilty admission than the proud declaration it is in your 20’s. People assume you should have “made it” or given up by now and wonder why you’re clinging to a juvenile fantasy like a balding man who insists on a ponytail. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t have that artistic drive. Your endeavors aren’t hobbies, they’re compulsions. And “making it” is worlds apart from making something and I’m not sure I care much about the former anymore. Well, maybe a little…

Anyway, we’re reenergized by the show and looking forward to playing more often. The EP is just around the corner – honest! The official release may end up being in the early New Year but mixes are just about locked and ready to master. We’ll be sharing some more artwork soon and we’ll hopefully keep some steady content coming on the site, so, y’know, stay tuned. Thanks again to The Dadolescents, Chris Ford, Oswaldo & CITR and everyone who made it out to the show Friday and made us feel like rock stars!

Now, speaking of performances, I have to go back to work and help some people with their problems and sense of entitlement. “How can I help youuuuu…?”


A Strange Compulsion For School Supplies 

Vacation! It’s not just a Go-Go’s song (ah, how my youthful 2nd Grade heart did flutter for Belinda Carlisle) but it’s what we’ve just returned from. Well, two thirds of us. Paul took a family trip to California, sweat a lot and spent his kids’ college money at Disneyland. I had a couple weeks in glamourous Edmonton, AB for a wedding, an anniversary and, unknowingly, a mosquito-swatting convention. Brendan hung out in Vancouver and glared at hipsters.

We just reconvened this week for our first rehearsal in ages. While I toil away editing the EP, we thought it might be good to remind ourselves what PLAYING in a band is like. And we remembered that we both enjoy it and are pretty good at it. Right out of the gate we tried out a new song I’d been working on, and since it was basically a three-chord wonder, we had it humming along quite nicely within a couple of passes.

It’s kind of a giddy feeling when, as a band, you lock into a song together. Playing music with others is a wondrous way to get out of your own head and just be in the moment of what you’re making. You’re focused and intuitive and in the full flush of discovery: watching the song to see where it’s going without a prescribed outcome. Well, that’s how we work, anyway. I know lots of people demo and outline their songs but I’ve never worked with much of a map of any kind to arrange by. It helps that the three of us know each other so well after a decade that the stylistic instincts are good and sharp as a Henckels knife. Ironically, I can still never accurately predict what the boys will start playing underneath my chords. It’s nice to still be surprised!

So as we get ourselves show-ready, September again feels like a time of renewal for me. It's back to school! Time for new outfits from Sears and The Bay and some fresh Elmer's glue and some cahiers d'exercise! Davey has a mustache this year! So does Natasha!

Maybe it’s just having had a break from the grind of routine and my less-than satisfying day job but I feel restored and positive and ready to tear down old, bad habits and build new, better ones. I’m hardly the poster boy for self-actualization but clearly there’s got a to be a better way of seeking happiness than watching downloaded full seasons of cult TV series while immersed in pints of ice cream. It’s probably not hot yoga or spirit-guided self-affirmations for for me but a noisy, humming tube amp waiting on a fiery open chord is as good a battle cry as I can think of. And then some ice cream. Happy Autumn, everyone.


***Holy shit, I just Googled the lyrics for “Vacation”. It’s really depressing! Oh, Belinda, don’t be sad. I’ll get in my TARDIS and come back to 1983 to console you.

What are you looking' at?!! 

Welcome to our excercise in participatory democracy! We would like to enlist the opinion of each and every willing Heaterette to help us pick our EP artwork. We've narrowed it down to two sketches provided to us by the handsome and talented Barret Chapman and we like different things about both of them, so it's a bit of a coin toss. That's why we turn to you, our educated and passionate fan base. What you'll see aren't the final renderings of the artwork, but you'll get the idea! 

First, a little context: As you may or may not know, we have planned to release the EP exclusively as a digital download but in two different versions. One will be a standalone version, "Rover", with the six new songs that you will pay a teency price for. The second will be as part of a "Mars, Massachusetts" special edtion, or "Rover Edition", where we will add the six new songs as bonus tracks on the album and charge a hair more for it than the original "Mars". Frankly, we did a piss-poor job promoting the album when it came out last year and we know that it's still new to most people, so we want to freshen it up and send it back out to the world with new songs to boot! It's an EBH deluge - build an ark. A Rock Ark. Load up your good times 2 by 2. I'm running out of methaphor.

So as the music on the EP is both an extension and progression from "Mars" we wanted to art to tie in thematically as well! We had a few ideas about how to do so but it came down to choices that reference either the more realistic "Mars" cover art or our CD screen art that was silver-age comics inspired and features our pseudo mascot whom we lovingly call "Rocket Douche". Here are the pieces from "Mars":

And here below are the candidates for the "Rover" art. Some specifics may ultimately change, and they'll be in colour of course, but what do you all think? We'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at, tweet us @EBHeater or comment here or on Facebook. We'll be making our choice in one week's time! We'll also be following up with a request to help us with the new t-shirt too. We have art but we need you to help finish it! You'll see. Thanks, folks! Even if democracy often fails us and gets us Reform party governments, you can take solace in helping a band market itself. That's the same thing, right? One week - get on it!



I promised myself I wouldn’t let myself go long stretches without posting something to the blog and yet here I am, weeks later, incommunicado with you, our loyal 12 fans and you’re probably wondering what you did to deserve the cold shoulder. Nothing, babies, nothing. I’m a bad friend. I’ll try harder.

Frankly, i haven’t felt like there was anything terribly momentous and band-related to write about but then there’s always something brewing in the music world worth piping up about. I’ve been distracted is all.

Work on the EP was halted briefly at the end of June when I answered a call from a friend to provide a sound design for his play. It was all pretty last-minute and required some sourcing and editing of sound effects, a tiny bit of composition, assorted “Pro-Tool-ing” and then learning the theatre’s system in only two days! Madness. But the pleasure of rolling with the challenge as it was presenting itself to me reminded me that I can, on occasion, be cool under pressure. Most times, when faced with adversity, I whine and procrastinate but this time given that I didn’t really have a choice – it had to work, the play was opening the same week – I simply accepted the hand I was dealt and felt confident in my ability to see it through. I understand that this is commonplace for most people but it’s not my normal operating procedure so I’m gonna go ahead and pat myself on the back. Is the end result perfect? Nah, but it works – I’ve seen the show now and it’s really great!

“What’s the show, Ross?” Glad you asked. “The Alchemist” by Ben Jonson is an Elizabethan comedy that director/actor Tariq Leslie has brought a deft comic touch to and realized as a modern satire. Sure, sure the language may be challenging for those who aren’t well-schooled in ye olde timey English but just as with Shakespeare there are passages that absolutely sing. Besides, the pace and performance of the show is such that you could watch the whole thing without dialogue and still know what’s happening. The story is about a trio of con artists hustling through a day when a bunch of their scams collide. It’s smart, funny, purposefully anachronistic and a genuinely fun time out at the theatre. If the usual “Bard on The Beach” fare leaves you a bit wanting, check out this clever production. Of course I’m biased but I wouldn’t write anything at all if I thought it sucked. Go support independent theatre! Prithee, clicketh here for thy details.

Eventually I got back to the task at hand, and am whittling away at the new songs to make sure everything is crackin’! I’m pleased with the results in the earliest stages of editing/mixing though frustrated at my guitars’ inability to stay reliably tuned. I refuse to admit that it might be user error but it’s more than likely – I do have a tendency to grip the neck like I’m strangling it. “Why so tense, guy?” the guitars ask. I dunno. Anxiety is bitch. Sorry, guitars. We even managed an actual band rehearsal in the midst of all this nonsense and it felt like a workout after a month of eating nothing but Haagen-Dazs. Glad to get back to it but gladder still that we’ll have a good chunk of time to whip the EBH machine back into game shape before any live performance in the fall. Recording rawk and performing rawk are surprisingly different skill sets.

We’re also excited to announce that we’re going to have new artwork for the EP by the fabulously talented Barret Chapman. He’s looked after our artwork every time out so far and he’s awesome and we’re stoked that he keeps wanting to contribute. We’ll have some sneak peeks at album and t-shirt art soon! Aside from visiting Barret’s site, which I highly recommend, you can check out the sweet games his company makes over at Nexl Level Games. They’re nice kids who make fun things.

Oh, did you see the new YouTube video? Go there too. More to come. Some many balls in the air. That can be either a juggling reference or a sex thing. I’ll let you decide, you dirty monkeys.


I Hate My Generation 

A recent letter from Cracker’s David Lowery to Emily White of NPR has quickly gone viral in the last couple of days provoking much reaction from the music biz and it is, in my opinion, important reading for anyone who is an artist or supports the arts. The tumult of the rapidly changing music industry is complicated and divisive. Everyone has an opinion on what should stay or go but at the end of the day, the artist is always the one losing out. Lowery's summation of the philosophical issues at stake and how corporate interests obfuscate, if not entirely redirect the discussion amongst music consumers is shrewd and incisive in ways that kinda make me feel dumb for not seeing this perspective before. In evaluating my own downloading habits, it’s hard not to come up with anything more than empty justifications about why I let myself, well... steal.

I do purchase the lion’s share of my music but I’ve bit-torrented enough to know better. What Lowery really nails is both the way we have allowed and perpetuated the erosion of an artist’s worth in our culture and also just how real a cost there can be to artists, highlighting the particularly tragic losses of Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) – two songwriters I greatly admired. They may be extreme cases but I don’t know anyone attempting to earn a living creatively (musicians, writers, photographers, actors, etc.) who hasn’t felt a shift for the worse in those efforts with the emergence of an “everything for free” consumer attitude when it comes to content via the Internet. Most still flummoxed by effective ways to monetize websites, employers’ budgets shrivel. Dwindling advertising, government funding and donation bases all mean less staff, most on a freelance or contract basis, who are forced to work for less than a long-held market worth.

So, yeah, great, Hippie 2.0, it’s a nice idea: art and expression should be free; so should health care and university and doughnuts but they aren’t. I don’t contend that it’s a right to earn an artistic living but that doesn’t mean that those who might, even in the most modest terms, shouldn’t. This isn’t Darwinism at work: this is about where we choose to spend our money. The case is being made that the shiny toys we fill our lives with are nothing without something to fill them with, and maybe that should be worth a few bucks in light of the few hundred or thousand we spend on the husks. I only recently bought my first IPhone so this dilemma is freshly apparent to me. As is the addiction I now have to those insidious Angry Birds.

I have to imagine that the bit-torrent model of collecting music also affects how we listen to it. If you have the equivalent of unlimited means to go into a store and buy one of everything on the shelf, and such a concept appeals to you, why wouldn’t you? People fill up entire hard-drives with a music collection that is all but impossible to really appreciate. Even in my record-buying prime, when I might get four or five CD’s a paycheck, it took a long time to absorb and connect to each of those records the same way. It took more time and focused listening than most of us allot these days to any one activity.

Our entertainment choices are vast. When was the last time you invited a friend over to listen to a new record? I’m not sure this is a by-product of digital culture, maybe just my age. “Yah, bud, when I’m done writing my thesis, preparing my PowerPoint presentation, wiping my kid’s ass and grouting the tile in the guest bathroom, I’ll come over and check out the new White Rabbits record with you. Between all the important text messages I’m going to get throughout.” My own general level of anxiousness may also be to blame. If I’m listening to that record, then I’m not doing something else, and surely that something else is more urgent!!!! (Whoah... exclamation outburst. Sorry.)

From a creator’s perspective, the fact of having to constantly justify my worth is demoralizing. Yes, of course, it’s what we all do every day: to get love, to get raises, to get you to buy my record and there’s no simple determination of quality – it’s not basic math, an equation unarguably resolved. I know some people cherish what I do and some people hate it and most people have no idea who I am and that’s all okay. But this emotional tear-down/rebuild is what we do in our heads all fucking day. Endless judgment. We wonder if we’re actually any good, if we have any business putting ourselves on stage or on record or on paper, if we shouldn’t just get a business degree. Higher incomes and prestige seem to stay in those gated neighbourhoods. God help you if you have talents in the humanities: enjoy your lifetime two-room apartment. That might be a metaphor, I’m undecided.

Some artists have indefatigable resolve and egos that surpass their abilities. Some are just the right combination of savvy and creative and love the hustle. I’m just scared of most things. Regardless, we do it in the hopes that it might become some kind of career. These days, people seem to have become just fine with the notion that the arts should only be a hobby. I almost feel, if I was to give in to my most cynical suspicions, that people love getting music and books and movies for free because it feeds an age-old subconscious pettiness: you’re no better than me, that’s not art, I could do that, I was in a band once...

I shouldn’t go there. We all like free stuff. My perspective is also unavoidably coloured by having been raised on one type of music acquisition entirely to seeing it change dramatically, maybe permananetly. I'm not pining for any good old days but I can't get myself in the head of a 15 year-old who likley has only dowloaded their music, whether paid or shared. Music Industry guru Bob Lefsetz posted a reply to Lowery's letter that seemed to think Lowery was just cranky and bitter and that if he'd written better songs, he'd have sold more records. He defends the model of Spotify - which I've never tried so can't really comment on - and urges embracing the new model, whatever it may become, saying Lowery has missed the bigger picture. I think Lefsetz may be the one a bit off the mark this time, more shadow-boxing against arguments Lowery never actually made than hearing Lowery's version of the big picture. He acuses Lowery of talking in an echo chamber and bullying an NPR intern but here Lefsetz sounds like the barstool crank. Lowery seems neither bitter nor stuck in the past, he's just using White's comments as a launching point for asking the consumer to think about their role and how market forces can shape our personal ideologies. This post on Billboard is actually a much more compelling argument about stealing music, claiming maybe it's not the epidemic we think it is. The author, Jay Frank, sets a more encouraging tone and there are several Intruiging reseach links there - check it out.  

Anyway, the more I think about Lowery’s letter, the more I find most of his arguments irrefutable. He’s perhaps a bit too generous in his description of record companies’ contracts but he understands how fundamentally broken our relationship to music is right now. A capitalistic society demands we monetize just about everything. While that’s what we have, we still have to find room for all types of purpose, even those that aren’t so profitable. I covet the income of a doctor or an accountant but I have neither interest nor aptitude in those fields. If my prioroties were different, I could have chosen a different path so I'm reconciled to the ups and downs of my pursuits. Still, I work daily to better my craft, not more so than those professionals do, but not necessarily less. So what am I worth? Market says, not a whole hell of a lot. Is it just, as Bob Lefsetz contends, that I don't make good enough music? Possibly. But then no one can download an appendectomy, so it's probably not a fair comparison. 

However, that doctor and accountant and I may intertwine unexpectedly. My need for their talents may be obvious upon injury or my money-laundering scheme coming to fruition but their need for mine might be less tangible. I just might help them through a tough day down the road or score a significant moment in their lives, and they may never know it’s my voice in the background.

If you can’t see what value the arts bring to your life, you’re a goddamned blind fool. Someone designed the chair you’re sitting in. Someone thought about the shape and colour and fabric and mechanics of it. Someone might have had Styx or Segovia flooding into their ear canals while they drafted the concept or beveled its edges or Photoshopped the ad for the catalogue. Now think about what it cost you. Was it a fair price for that chair? Is it comfortable? You took the time to pick it out and thought about how it reflected your taste and personality. It’s starting to take the shape of your ass. Now what song have you been humming to yourself all morning? Yes, the answer is “Call Me Maybe”, I know, I know, but seriously… what’s it worth to you? What did it cost?


Manic Sparkles 

Me Myself and I… I’m not sure where the expression comes from but it always makes me think of the classic De La Soul track (90’s hip-hop: delightful.) and apparently, Wikipedia tells me, it’s also a song title for no less than Billie Holiday (I should know that) Chalk Circle (80’s Can-Rock, also delightful) and Beyonce (our generation’s Billie Holiday. Yes, I’m fucking with you). Several plays, stories and self-help jerk-off books claim it as a title too, I’m sure. The reason it pops into my brain right now is because I’m thinking about people who are passionate, single-minded and self-possessed and I wonder why I never have been.

The other night, I had a great evening out amongst artists and craftsmen alike as I attended an open house for Fadermountain Sound in their new digs, the former Little Mountain Sound and also attended a CD release show for Cinderpop’s excellent, new “Manic Sparkles”. The fact that I was out socializing at not one but two events is remarkable given my monk-like tendencies, but the fact that both were inspiring and illuminating instead of stoking pettier emotions like jealousy or regret is damned near miraculous. I’m not trying to host a pity-party. I’m aware that in only two blog posts there’s already a heavy dose of “poor me” but I’m just trying to cop to it instead of pretending that I’m Johnny Sunshine Positivity who shits rainbows and thinks that everyone is awesome we can all just Namaste our way out of any problem in life. That’s bunk, and we all know it. And, as always I digress…

The Fadermountain open house was more or less as expected, a ton of people (only a handful of whom I knew and made brief conversation with) lots of younger hipsters and very schmoozy. Nothing wrong with that; the co-owners are more than deserving of praise for all their hard work in putting together a really beautiful and welcoming space that looks like will be home to many quality recording projects. However, events like this are often intimidating for me. I don’t seem able to shake off an outsider’s attitude when it comes to the music scene. It may be a byproduct of having moved here from another city those many years ago but I think I’m just rationalizing my insecure bullshit. To show up at a place that houses fine former teachers and fellow graduates of the same engineering school feels an awful lot like a high-school reunion where I’m the guy who’s put on thirty pounds and has nothing to show for the intervening years.

“What are you up to now?’

“I co-own a fabulous studio and have bands clamouring to work with me. You?”

“I’m, well, I’m… I made a record with my band…? But what I’m really passionate about is my shitty day job!”

What was new was that the self-flagellation dissipated pretty quickly. This was a relief. In hindsight, I think I came to realize not long after I had finished a music production program back in 2007, that despite loving the world of engineering and producing, it wasn’t going to be my job. I might feel differently if I’d landed a job back then but I really didn’t know how to go about it. My marks and work were excellent but networking is a skill I stumbled over like Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau navigating a set of stairs. I had to admit that my priority was about creating my own work, much more so than helping others materialize their vision. I think that that impetus does exist in me, I’m a big fan of collaborative projects, but until I feel like I’m reaching proficiency in my own pursuits, my devotion to others’ work will always come second. I don’t suppose anyone would ask me to apologize for that but it’s a truth that I’ve arrived at only via several thousands of dollars of student debt. There surely was an easier way.

Regardless, I do wish the Fader fellows nothing but success as they toil for long days and little money just to bring some potentially great music into the world. The same goes for any engineer serving their calling in the surprisingly high number of studios tucked into those few square block of Mount Pleasant or out in the burbs or wherever. Sure, some of them are there on their parent’s dime but a lot of them are there on ingenuity, talent and the coffee-can savings of eager, young singers and guitar slingers. All of them are hoping that their song becomes an anthem some day. We (yes, I’ll include myself) are pedaling on bikes, fuelled by dreams and aching muscles trying to outpace the colossal, rusting Sherman tank of the old-guard music industry that wants to show us how to be nimble. Run to the hills, kids.

Over those hills and across the valley, I arrived later that night to the Waldorf hotel to take in Cinderpop and the Young Liars. The latter, I’d never heard of – a tight band, energetic, not quite my thing but I can see why Nettwerk would sign them. Again, there was a time when I might have felt jealous about the label-signing but, honestly, there they were playing their hearts out for a mostly empty room, and the same way I felt simultaneously apiece and apart over at Fadermountain, so too did I here. I’m regularly in their position. Anyone who gets up on a stage lives in a duality of pragmatism and fantasy. You need to conjure courage by imagining yourself destroying on a stadium stage but you still have to switch your effects pedals at the right moment and check your tuning and play over people chatting about their work day. Every once in a while, there is transcendence. Those guys might turn into someone’s favourite band this show or the next and they will have earned it.

It’s that kind of admiration I have for my friend Kevan Ellis and his Cinderpop bandmates. Kevan has always been able to sprout pop magic straight from his brain onto his demos and once the band fleshes it out into a finished product, there are some beautiful results. While a rusting Sherman Tank idles outside, they play with the intricacy of a Rube Goldberg machine, a contraption built for its own sake with little interest in the diesel rumblings at the door. I’ve always felt that three’s a song of theirs somewhere that will ignite the popular imagination but until then, I’m glad to be part of the lucky few who catch the spark now. The title of the new record serves as a great descriptor for their sound and I hope those manic sparkles light up a few more hearts in days to come.

Have I just cruised waaaay past any version of a coherent theme? I hope not. The point is about being surrounded by dedicated, focused people and not knowing if I’m ever going to be one of them. I fear I’ve settled over the years into being a Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Friends and colleagues have heard me utter this so often, I’m sure they all would like to tell me to shut the hell up and get on with it – something, anything! And so I try. My affliction is this: I see a good movie – I wanna make movies! I see a great band – I wanna play guitar! I read a great book – I wanna write more! On and on and on. I thought I’d reconciled this for myself some time ago. I like what I like and I follow my artistic nose wherever it leads but the insecurities can undermine much what the original flush of inspiration produces. I dither, I procrastinate, I watch whole TV series in a weekend. It’s impressive in it’s own way. Maybe my true talent is half-assery! Or self-deprecation. I could teach a course.

I think maybe the trick is to just focus on the work and enjoy that process and not worry too much about how it stacks up against what other people are doing. Does anyone at Fadermountain give a shit what I have or haven’t engineered? Does Cinderpop think twice about how my album sounds compared to theirs? Does any audience care about anything other than that elusive moment of transcendence? Maybe that moment might come from one of my wonky guitar solos. Maybe it will come from my strained metaphors. (Would an F-35 jet fighter have been better than Sherman tank? Nah, I’ll leave the Harper regime out of this one.) Maybe I’m more a part of a community than I thought, even if I don’t know how to really involve myself in it. Maybe I need to go finish some vocal tracking. There is a still a shit-ton to do to get the EP done… bloggety-blog-blog. Blargh. Art is fun, right, kids?