My interview with Jeremy Fisher appears in this month's Discorder. Pick up a copy if you have the chance!
By Andrea Warner
Anything is possible in Jeremy Fisher’s world, and it’s this belief that’s catapulted the local Vancouver singer/songwriter into an international phenomenon. It’s the eve of Fisher’s next American tour in support of his latest album Goodbye Blue Monday, his third in six years, and he’s remarkably laid back for a man who is about to play some of the greatest independent venues the US has to offer.
Fisher’s come a long way from his humble beginnings, but he’s always been a musician: studying piano at six years old, picking up the bass and guitar in his teens, and ultimately composing and arranging in college. In fact, Fisher has made the majority of his living in music since he was a teenager.
“I’ve had three jobs that weren’t related to music,” Fisher says. “Leading canoe trips, washing dishes, and being a bike mechanic. I identify as much as a bike mechanic as I do as a musician, but I have a lot of opportunities as a musician right now, so that’s what I’m doing.”
Much of Fisher’s success has been in creating his own opportunities. Back Porch Spirituals was made in his friend’s basement and once it was complete Fisher had to figure out how to get the CD into peoples’ hands. When he thought of his two previoius cross-country bike trips and all of the people he’d met, and his years busking, he came up with an innovative and environmentally friendly plan: bike across North America playing shows in every city he could.
Fisher’s unique approach to marketing Spirituals—30 booked shows and countless impromptu ones as fast as his legs could cycle him there—garnered him plenty of attention and fans, and caught the eye of a major record label. It also helped him forge a deep connection with a hugely loyal fan base throughout Canada and the US. But it was his years playing on the street that taught him how to captivate audiences in the most unlikely places.
“Busking, believe it or not,” Fisher laughs, “is more nerve wracking than playing at an open mic or something. You feel that much more vulnerable because you’re playing a space that wasn’t designed to be a venue. You have to be sensitive and convince people that that’s what that space is for.”
Busking’s bad reputation in Vancouver is something musicians have to contend with, but it’s also an opportunity to hone your skills.
“A lot of people may see buskers as beggars or judge them harshly, you have to draw them in somehow if you want to make a living at it,” Fisher explains. “It’s good for getting over yourself.”
Fisher’s self-made video for “Cigarette”, one of the songs from Monday, cost just $60 to make, and saw him learn animation to create a sweet, funny and slightly sad ode to addiction. Is it possible to know what to expect when you’re at home molding a clay cigarette into various shapes and painstakingly editing thousands of consecutive shots together? So far, “Cigarette” has become a viral hit on YouTube, reaching over two million views and counting.
“I wanted three million hits,” Fisher jokes. “I’d just moved from Sony to Aquarius, and I wanted to try to make something fun, more of a concept. Animation’s something I’d always wanted to do. When I have time on my hands, I like to make stuff. ‘Cigarette’ has done more for me than the two $40,000 videos I made with Sony.”
And this do-it-yourself aesthetic has connected Fisher to his fans in a deep way. Fisher understands the importance of bringing art back into the music industry, and even with major-label support, he still manages to put his own quirky spin on everything he does.
“It’s hard to impress someone with just a budget anymore,” Fisher says. “I just wanted to make a little craft project and broadcast it out to the world. It’s a great way to communicate.”
Fisher’s tenacity and determination have paid off. After signing last year with Wind-Up Records in the US, Fisher was booked for two nights in a row as the musical guest on the Craig Ferguson Show. He’s also appeared on CNN, and Goodbye Blue Monday’s received enthusiastic reviews in numerous publications throughout North America. He toured throughout 2007, and is kicking off 2008 much the same way. Fisher now finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being a role model or inspiration for other struggling artists hoping to emulate his success. His advice?
“Get on your bike and tour across North America. It worked for me,” Fisher laughs. “Just go to any lengths necessary.” After all, anything is possible.
The overwhelming popularity of Jeremy Fisher’s Goodbye Blue Monday is in part a response to his remarkable songwriting skills. Sensitivity is key to the bittersweet landscape of the album. Fisher’s wry lyrics are worldly observations and knowing winks, reminding the listener he’s a storyteller who’s been collecting tales from the road for many years now.
All types of characters seem to fill up his songs, and it’s Fisher’s unique perspective that helps connect his fans so strongly to his music. From being thrown off the grounds of a Catholic Church in Marysville, Ontario to being sprayed by underground sprinklers in the middle of the night in Saskatchewan, one story sticks out in his mind about the kindness of strangers.
“I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan [on the bike tour], and I was in this grocery story with all of my gear and my bike,” Fisher says. “And there was this older guy ahead of me in line wearing a cowboy hat and he saw all my cycling stuff and my gear and he just paid for my groceries and walked out! He didn’t even say anything to me. I had to chase after him to thank him and introduce myself.”