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?


Smithee









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