Interview With Craig Northey of Odds: Someone Who’s Cool

Listen to this track by Vancouverite power-pop poobahs Odds. It’s their arguably best-known hit song among other well-known radio favourites, “Someone Who’s Cool” as it appears on their 1996 album Nest.

That record marked the end of an era for the band, the last of their releases that included guitarist-singer and songwriter Steven Drake. After this, the band went on hiatus for a period, with solo careers, collaborations, and other projects with each other, and with members of other bands .

But always being hard-working and fiercely local in their emphasis, they came together again at the end of the 2000s, sans Drake, but with a seemingly undiminished capacity for  writing and performing hook-laden songs that sound joyous yet are laced with bitter acrimony and black humour.

Odds_0512 (credit-Cole_Northey)
Odds today (image: Cole Northey)

Singer and guitarist Craig Northey takes lead vocals on the lion’s share of the band’s material these days, although this one was always a highlight for his voice, and a great example of his ability to make self-deprecating humour and subtly tragic overtones into something to which everyone can sing along with gusto. It helps that he is part of a band that is still as passionate about live playing as they ever were, giving audiences that very opportunity.

Their love of playing for crowds stretches back to the time when they played hard nearly every night on the local scene to hone their craft and fund their ambitions to continue to record their own original material, which they’d written even before they served as house band under a different name at Vancouver’s The Roxy. And it’s good that they did, considering that many of their songs, including this one, has become such a vital part of the Canadian pop music continuum.

I had the tremendous pleasure to speak to Craig Northey through the magic of email about this song, about their roots as a west coast band, and about karaoke, too. Here’s what he said.

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Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk Play “I Lost Myself”

Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk Over Land And SeaListen to this track by Calgary-based folk-pop songcrafter Lauren Mann and her  associated and moderately eccentric troupe the Fairly Odd Folk. It’s a cut as taken from their first record as a collective Over Land And Sea released in April 2013, and a single too; “I Lost Myself”.

The band recently appeared at CBC Live in Deer Lake Park last month, an event I was lucky enough to attend. They made their appearance in distinguished company along with a sterling line-up of bands including Tegan and Sara, The Arkells, and Spoon. They played their own set, and later Lauren Mann took to the main stage alone, carrying her ukulele and proclaiming “this is the biggest audience I’ve ever played for!”

She was a charming presence on stage, and even more so when she presented this very song as a solo spot that captured everything that’s good about her music; heartfelt lyrics, melodic, and despite the acoustic and folky texture, decidedly pop too, all conveyed by her clear-as-a-bell voice, and deft playing.

So, how did Lauren Mann come to appear on that stage, the largest of her career? Well, it has a lot to do with an important Canadian value; championing our own. And what does this song represent in all of that? Read more

Current Swell Play “Keys To The Kingdom”

Listen to this track by Victoria BC beach-urchins and roots, blues, and psych indie-rock stylists Current Swell. It’s “Keys To The Kingdom”, the second track from their newest record Ulysses, released last week.  This is their fifth record, laid down in very short order in Vancouver at Greenhouse studios with producer Nathan Sabatino at the boards.

Current Swell UlyssesThis song represents an airy, more psychedelic end of the spectrum on this new disc, and in a career of four previous releases as well. The slide guitar driven neo-blues jam sound they’ve established is still very well represented on several tracks here, including the first single “Rollin'”.

But here, the muscular blues-rock vibe is tempered a bit with hazier textures and dreamier atmospheres. This song represents an expansion of their sound, even as the rest of the record shores up their strengths as a band who can wail in a live context.

And speaking of an on-the-floor live sound, that’s another thing about this track, and the record as a whole … Read more

Basia Bulat Sings “Tall Tall Shadow”

Listen to this track by Torontonian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Basia Bulat. It’s “Tall Tall Shadow” , the title track to her 2013 release, her third record. Bulat is known as a folk songwriter, pulling from acoustic instrumentation and storytelling traditions in that vein, complete with a penchant for performing with an autoharp – none more folk! But, on this track, it’s her pop sensibilities that are on glorious display.

Basia Bulat
image: Amanda Ash

“Tall Tall Shadow” and the rest of the record that bears that title was produced by Mark Lawson, and Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire. This perhaps explains the subtle layerings found here that go beyond the more spare leanings of her first two records.

But despite the more involved production flourishes and varied musical ingredients that include a gospel feel, it’s Bulat’s vocal delivery that sells this song for me, going past the stylistic associations with a folk or even a folk-rock style and into a more singular territory that makes deciding on what style this song actually is more of an exercise in missing the point.

This more sophisticated approach when it comes to a new sound may have something to do with a “deep loss” that Bulat has mentioned in interviews surrounding the making of the record. The one I heard was on CBC radio, and conducted by Stephen Quinn the evening before Basia Bulat was scheduled to play at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver.

During that interview, she talked about starting plans for a third album, and then feeling as though she needed to scrap those plans and start again before entering the studio. She talked about continuing to be honest, but also being less reticent about laying her thoughts bare in the songs.

The imagery in this song seems to reflect something of this struggle, with the psychologically impactful contrast of light and shadow pretty central to the drama. That’s reflected in the video, but in the song’s lyrics too.

Now every hour, change of heart
You’re running away
But the shadow is your own, your own
One day when it finds you
Take it to heart

And the question is that this song presents is who the song’s narrator is addressing; a loved one, or the narrator herself? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s about humanity in general, embracing our dark sides, holding them in check against that which are the sources for light in our lives, with both forces defined by the other.

Learn more about Basia Bulat at her official site.

And here’s that interview by Stephen Quinn with Basia Bulat on CBC’s On The Coast that I mentioned earlier, which features her thoughts on the songwriting process, and on this song in particular.


Raleigh Play “It Will Rise”

Raleigh Sun Grenades and Grenadine SkiesWatch this clip featuring a track by Calgarian chamber-folk-art-rock practicioners, and one of my favourite Canadian bands Raleigh. It’s “It Will Rise”, the closing track to their 2013 record, Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies, their second.

The band is comprised of Clea Anaïs on vocals, cello and keyboards, Brock Gieger on guitar and vocals, and Matt Doherty on drums. The music is nearly impossible to pin down in terms of a single genre, incorporating folk, chamber pop, ambient, and jazz. But, their sound is anchored by the intertwined voices of the two vocalists Anaïs and Gieger, and the polyrhythmic approach that Doherty takes behind the kit.

When they released their debut record New Times In Black And White in 2011, I got to talk to Brock and Clea. This was around the time they took to the road to tour Canada. Now, with the release of this album, they’re about to take another tour to Europe. And I got to speak to Brock Geiger again recently via email, about the new record, about the making of this track and video, and about taking to the road across the ocean, too. Here’s what he said.

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Men Without Hats Play “Pop Goes The World”

Men Without Hats Pop Goes The WorldListen to this track by Montreal new wavers and safety-dancing pop music purveyors Men Without Hats. It’s “Pop Goes The World”, the title track to their 1987 record of the same name. The record was a hit in Canada, even if everywhere else in the world they would remain to be known as one-hit wonders with 1982’s “Safety Dance”.

Even if their fame was only defined by a certain range by 1987, principles Ivan and Stefan Doroschuk still had something to say about the nature of fame , particularly when it came to the music industry. After all, as most musicians do, they spent their energy pursuing it.

What this song does is make a comment on it once removed, and through the persons of Jenny (playing bass), and Johnny (playing guitar), who form a band to pursue worldwide success. Those names even appear in the album credits, along with “a little baby” on keyboards (the one featured on the cover, maybe?), and “J. Bonhomme” on drums, referencing the traditional snowman-styled mascot of the Quebec City winter carnival, and making a pun on Led Zeppelin’s departed stickman at the same time.

But besides the non-traditional band line-up, they throw something else into the mix too with this song, which perhaps aligns it with Cold War 1980s yet remains to be universal here in the 21st century; the end of the world! Read more

Martha Wainwright Sings “Proserpina”

Listen to this track by singer-songwriter and musical-family bred chanteuse Martha Wainwright. It’s “Proserpina”, the last song written by her singer-songwriter mother, Kate McGarrigle in the year that Martha became a mother herself.

martha_wrainwright-1753 - standing in snowMartha Wainwright has an established musical pedigree. She’s a part of a celebrated musical family which includes brother and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, and mother Kate McGarrigle of Kate & Anna McGarrigle fame. Anna is her aunt, of course. And her father, and singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, who had split with Kate when Martha was an infant, had been touted as one of the many so-called New Dylan figures to emerge in the 1970s.

Come Home To Mama is a tribute to these generational roots, in particular with regard to her mother. Kate McGarrigle passed away in 2010, not before writing a stunning song “Proserpina”, which Martha covers on this new record. The song serves as a single, and as a reminder of the connection between strong women who happen to be mother and daughter.

At practically the same time as she lost Kate, Wainwright became a mother herself. You might be able to guess where the fuel to write the songs may have come from.  So how does this song relate to the role of motherhood, not just on a personal level for Martha Wainwright, but in general?

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Andrew Cash Sings “Trail of Tears”

Listen to this track with Torontonian renaissance man and pop singer-songwriter Andrew Cash. It’s “Trail of Tears” as taken from his 1988 debut record Time And Place.  Hooking into a sort of rootsy pop feel much like Blue Rodeo, and especially like Toronto scenesters The Skydiggers, which his brother helped to form, Cash traded on jangly pop guitar hooks and socially aware lyrics too. The whole concoction fit perfectly on the charts here in Canada at a time when the local scene was beginning to enjoy nation-wide attention.

Andrew Cash Time and PlaceThis was the lead single on his debut, typical of Cash’s approach of pop smarts and political content. But, it’s also a superlative example of a late ’80s return in Canada to singer-songwriters who had something to say in a global landscape where the protest song was something of a throwback to another era. With this one, a resident in the First World is confronted by how life around him often comes at the expense of those far away, or even those not so far away but otherwise unknown to him.

Despite how the ’80s as a decade is known for dated textures, thematically speaking this song still lives and breathes today, of course.  It also hearkens back to the past as well. Read more

The Diodes Play “Tired of Waking Up Tired”

Listen to this track by seminal Toronto punk rock scene starters and once nominated “best Toronto band ever”, The Diodes. It’s “Tired of Waking Up Tired” as taken from their 1979 record Released. It would appear on compilation records to follow, and became something of a signature track for the band, enduring even after they’d faded away.

The Diodes Tired of Waking Up TiredLike many bands from this country of mine, the Diodes were brimming over with talent and potential, yet largely unknown to the mainstream in the rest of the world. This is not to say that they didn’t hit the road to put themselves across. They’d associated themselves with east coast punk rock, playing bills with the Ramones, the Runaways, the Dead Boys, and others. They’d also have something of a connection with UK scenes in the 1980s after transplanting the band there.

They’d formed at a time when punk was being recognized by major labels for its radio play potential, and were signed to Columbia records (in Canada, mind you). They’d move on to other labels, with the title of the album off of which this song comes  possibly relating to a changeover to Epic.

But, like a lot of the best punk, this tune has miles of pop appeal rooted in rock n’ roll traditions of the previous decade.

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Odds Play “Love Is the Subject”

Listen to this track by Vancouver-based hitmakers and power-pop champeens Odds, aka The Odds. It’s “Love Is the Subject”, an early single that would be the first of many here in Canada, and showing off their way with hooks, and with irony-tinged pop song narratives, too.

Odd NeopolitanThe song would feature on their first record in 1991, Neopolitan, which the band produced themselves after spending many years jobbing as a cover band around town, particularly at the Roxy on Granville Street in Vancouver where they served as a ’60s and ’70s cover band under the name “Dawn Patrol”.  Seeing as they’d become one of the prime bands in Canadian power-pop, this must have been like going to university where delivering tight performances  for live audiences is concerned.

But another thing on their side was a capacity to take all of those pop instincts and performance chops and pour it into superlative songs of their own. With multiple songwriters in the band, they had plenty to draw from. This initial hit would lead to others, too.

Maybe this is because they so expertly played into the key characteristic of power-pop songwriting – vulnerability wrapped up in a tough package. Read more