Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mat Kearney

My interview with Mat Kearney is out in the Charleston City Paper this week.

Mat Kearney is a West Coast guy on a Nashville adventure

A new sound in the city

Mat Kearney is the kind of golden boy who makes everything seem easy. Scholarship-worthy athlete? Yep. Gifted photographer and writer? Apparently. An accidental record deal after deciding to ride along for a summer road trip to Nashville? Of course. Even his sound is a fusion of fortunes that probably shouldn't work well together, all about love and loss, the hopeless and the inspiration-drenched, sung in a voice that sounds almost exactly like Coldplay's Chris Martin. He's been so touched by an angel that eventually T-shirts will be mass-produced to read, "It's a Kearney kind of world."

Not that the 30-year-old contemporary Christian musician doesn't work his ass off for what he's got. Between his best-selling 2006 debut Nothing Left to Lose and the new follow-up, City of Black and White, Kearney estimates he played 500 shows in three years, a first-hand education that couldn't help but impact his songwriting.

"The first album was just a little bedroom project that took off," Kearney says. "Nothing Left to Lose was young idealism, and it was kinda me stepping out and saying 'Let's see what happens.' City of Black and White is like, I've landed in this community, there's heartbreak, there's some bad things that happened, but just as many rich things, too."

Kearney's debut was an earnest mash-up of influences: country, folk, pop, rock, soul, gospel, and hip-hop, peppered with spoken-word/hip-hop segments throughout.

"I found this whole voice, which lead to me grabbing my roommate's guitar, and it was just this glove that fit — songwriting," Kearney says. "I was pretty influenced by poetry and the spoken-word element, and, honestly, it was funny, because the hip-hop could be kind of considered a novelty on one level, but it caused me to stand out from the crowd."

Particularly the crowd in Nashville. He didn't expect anything to happen when he tagged along on his buddy's road trip for the summer, but when people started responding to his sound, he kissed college goodbye and made Nashville his home base. A short time later he got his big break.

"I was playing at this little tiny college show," Kearney recalls. "This record guy who'd signed John Mayer showed up, and he was like, 'Hey, I really wanna work with you,' and I looked at the label and was like, 'Okay, let's do it.' It was funny ... when he offered me a deal, all these other big-time labels came along and started throwing money and power at me, but, I don't know, I just wanted to work with him, and I've worked with him ever since."

Nothing Left to Lose became a huge success and a go-to resource for television series like Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs, both of which have a reputation for "discovering" cool indie pieces of longing or lyricism to underscore their characters' highs and lows. Well over 15 television shows have used Kearney's music over the last three years.

"It's odd and amazing and different," Kearney laughs. "There's moments where you're like, 'Really? The song was used for that?' I've been very generous with that. For some reason I don't think my song being on a show can do any damage to my song, you know? My song's my song. People use my songs in all kinds of situations, some that I think are cheesy and some that are amazing, but that's how my songs enter people's lives."

Kearney's songs have certainly brought plenty of big names to his everyday life, and he admits that sometimes he still pinches himself because he can't believe it's real.

"Kenny Chesney, of all people, called me to come down and play a song with him and the Wailers," Kearney laughs. "It was such an eclectic gathering: The Wailers, of like, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Chesney, and me playing honky-tonk in downtown Nashville. Super odd, but I loved it. There are just people everywhere. I met Patty Griffin at a clothing store a couple months ago. I walked out of a Bob Dylan show with Emmylou Harris. Keith Urban came in looking for his wife [Nicole Kidman] at the studio. There's this awesome thing happening in Nashville right now. Just a really cool rock scene, but not necessarily the typical L.A. thing. A little more grounded in tradition."

Nashville, his adopted home, seems the true recipient of the bittersweet love letter that is City of Black and White.

"It was hard for me in Nashville at first," Kearney says. "Being a West Coast kid, I thought it was an odd place, but I fell in love with it. It's a town that's humble, it values humility, it doesn't put up with fluff. It's like the song is king in the music world, so people are always chasing after great songs, and you feel like you're walking around in the shadows of these giants, you know?"

Home sweet home, Mr. Kearney.

Monday, June 15, 2009


My review of Othello, on until mid-September at Vancouver's Bard on the Beach, appears in this week's WE.
Michael Blake as Othello (left) and Brad Frazer as Iago, in Bard on the Beach’s Mainstage production of Othello.

Michael Blake as Othello (left) and Brad Frazer as Iago, in Bard on the Beach’s Mainstage production of Othello.

Running in repertory with The Comedy of Errors, to Sept. 26 on the Mainstage in Vanier Park, 8 p.m. Tickets $18-$34 from 604-739-0559 and

By Andrea Warner
Like some other Shakespeare plays, Othello, a powerful and damning indictment of jealousy, self-doubt, and betrayal, has always dwelled in the thorny briar patch of ‘Is it racist?’ Given that, at its most stripped-down, it’s essentially the story of a black man’s life ruined by a white man’s vengeful schemes, the question is a fair one, but one this production makes no attempt to answer. Instead, director Dean Paul Gibson amps up the play’s dark humour, dulling the seething rage that should propel Othello from start to finish.

The titular character (Michael Blake) is a Moorish (Renaissance English for “black”) general in the Venetian army who is married to Desdemona (Naomi Wright), a white Senator’s daughter. When he promotes Cassio (Kevin MacDonald) over his right-hand man, Iago (Bob Frazer), the latter secretly swears revenge and sets out to sabotage Othello. Thus begins an elaborate scheme, wherein Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair, driving Othello into a jealous — and ultimately murderous — rage.

The charming Blake and Wright have great chemistry together, from their playful young love to the final, horrifyingly violent struggle. Wright, the beating heart of this production, possesses a confident elegance that anchors every scene she’s in, particularly those shared with Iago’s wife, Emilia (Jennifer Lines).

However, it is a cruel irony that a truly successful Othello hinges on a great Iago, and that’s where this production falls short. As with some of the other Bard on the Beach productions in which he has appeared, Frazer seems to be in a different play than everyone else. He bucks the melodic lilt of Shakespearean language, sounding instead like a thoroughly modern man raised on a steady diet of deadpan, sitcom-styled line delivery. His Iago rarely rises above the level of a high-school Machiavelli busily testing the sociological effects of gossip with menace so measly it dilutes Othello from black and white to a muted shade of grey.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rachel Goodrich

My article on Rachel Goodrich appears in this week's Charleston City Paper!

Rachel Goodrich, like, plays a ukulele and sings

Miami Nice

For most people, Miami Beach likely calls to mind images of leathery, tanned retired folks shuffling between beach chairs and 5 p.m. dinner reservations, with the occasional dotting of late-night young clubbers melting in the heat as they grind to hip-hop and electronica dance anthems. You're forgiven if, when you heard "Miami Beach," you didn't think of a burgeoning underground indie scene, home to 25-year-old Rachel Goodrich, a thoroughly modern singer-songwriter with a 1930s vocal style, who also happens to be at the forefront of the global ukulele renaissance.

Goodrich cites an amalgamation of influences that have contributed to her self-described "shake-a-billy" sound, Neil Young and Patsy Cline included, but she credits a teenage boyfriend with pointing her in the direction of her first big influence.

"He was really into Joni Mitchell, and I didn't know much about her, but I soon got into her, and that's when I realized that maybe there's a chance, you know," Goodrich says. "I was never really too familiar with successful women in the industry."

Her second big influence came just a few years ago, when Goodrich visited her father and spotted the tiny stringed instrument that would become her signature. It was love at first sight.

"This ukulele was lying on his couch, and I was like, 'Wow, that's really cute. I really wanna play it,'" she recalls. "I took it home and wrote a couple songs in a couple days. I was so excited to have a new instrument in my hands, and yeah, it really took me elsewhere. It made me create, you know. It made me want to write and inspired me. It made me want to take things a little more seriously. Is that weird?" She laughs at herself as she ponders the concept.

Somewhat weirder is Goodrich's declaration that she recorded her debut album, Tinker Toys, released this spring, by accident.

"I actually kind of just walked into it," Goodrich admits cheerfully. "I didn't mean to record a record. A friend of mine, George Martinez, was like, 'Hey, come over to my place and we'll record a song.' His entire studio is in this bedroom, and I'm pretty much recording in his closet, you know, and the first song we recorded was 'Ukulele Water.' It kind of blew my mind. I was like, wow, this can really happen? It was exciting, so I was like, 'Let's do another one tomorrow.' Then we recorded 'Black Hole,' and we kept going. I walked in with no expectations, and it was all a surprise."

Less of a surprise at this point is Goodrich's decision to focus entirely on her music, embarking on her first major tour throughout North America last week. As she winds her way across the continent, ukulele at the ready, she has no desire to shake off the sun and fun of her hometown.

"Miami kinda lifts my spirits in a way," Goodrich says. "I feel like I can talk about demons and crazy things, but if you put it over a G chord, you know, everything'll be all right."

If anything, Goodrich's songs will just continue to prove to hipster indie enclaves like Brooklyn, Seattle, and L.A., that Miami Beach has plenty of treasures hidden in the hems of its flowered muumuu.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Theater of War

One of the best documentaries I've seen this year.


Starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline

Directed by John Walter

4 stars (out of 5)

By Andrea Warner

Most of us have only a passing knowledge of Bertolt Brecht, the pioneering German playwright who is perhaps most famous for his masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera. In the documentary Theater of War, director John Walter takes those loose threads of familiarity and weaves a complex, stirring, and at times genuinely brilliant tapestry of Brecht as an artist and rebel born desperately ahead of his time.

The film follows the action behind the scenes during the 2006 New York remounting of Brecht’s damning condemnation of people’s complicity in conflict, Mother Courage and Her Three Children. Written in 1939 while the committed Marxist was in exile from Nazi Germany, Mother Courage is the story of a war profiteer who refuses to acknowledge the moral cost of her livelihood and its effect on her family or herself. Big names like Meryl Streep (in the titular role) and Kevin Kline (as the Cook) contribute suitable star wattage, with Streep also anchoring the film with snippets of her performance and candid interviews.

Most fascinating, though, is Walter’s decision to position Theater of War within the context of New York City in 2006, just as North America begins its populist revolt against the Iraq War. Stimulating interviews with Tony Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner (who adapted Mother Courage for the production in question) and Tufts University professor Jay Cantor grapple with one pervasive question: Why are we so tied to what ultimately destroys us?

It is while parsing this all-too-human need for self-destruction that Theater of War is most successful — an electrical jolt to the neurons of apathy, and a call for reaction in the absence of action.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Eat, Drink, and be Married

Jackie Wong and I co-authored this guide to getting married for people who' d like to branch out from the conventional trappings of tradition or expense.

From selecting the invitations to cutting the cake, nothing about your wedding has to be typical — or overpriced.

From selecting the invitations to cutting the cake, nothing about your wedding has to be typical — or overpriced.

Eat, Drink, and be Married

By Jackie Wong and Andrea Warner

Modern-minded urbanites bound for wedded bliss face plenty of challenges on the road from “Will you marry me?” to “I do.” As soon as you put a ring on it, planning the party of your life becomes a claws-out battle of wits, as you and your other half plot, wheedle, and crunch to control inflated costs without sacrificing your shared sense of style. Savvy couples who want to break from convention while still fashioning a day to remember are increasingly seeking out cost-effective, innovative, and, most importantly, fun alternatives to the traditional White Wedding. Here are some options — all of them local — to help you do just that.

Escaping the exhausted — and expensive — cliché of wax-sealed, rose-scented wedding invitations is easy. Just ask Emily Carr grads Brandy Fedoruk and Rebecca Dolen, who co-founded the Regional Assembly of Text in 2005, offering a fanciful line of cards, stationery, and clothing — all of it influenced by typesetting techniques of yore, making use of the duo’s large collection of vintage typewriters and stamps, as well as a letterpress machine. (Please note that they do not sell or supply wedding invitations--they can only sell you the right stuff to do it yourself.) Look here for inspiration to make your own invitations, or seek Brandy and Rebecca’s expertise. Paper-Ya on Granville Island offers a downloadable wedding consultation form to get you started on making your own invitations, while the store itself offers one of Vancouver’s most comprehensive collections of paper from around the world, plus wooden stamps and wedding-specific stationery.

Renting both a church and a reception hall can be costly and time-consuming, particularly the organizational efforts involved in moving the party from one venue to the next. Save time and money by considering just one location for the big day. Restaurants often offer big bang for your buck, taking care of food, the bar, servers, decorations, ambiance, and clean-up. Some of our favourites include La Terrazza, Brix, the Alibi Room, and Canvas Lounge, each of which offers unique rooms and delicious bites.

Community centres and halls can be transformed with just a few strings of lights, and stylish table and chair coverings. Cambrian Hall and Heritage Hall are just blocks away from each other, in beautiful buildings on Main Street. Roundhouse Community Centre offers the beautiful backdrop of False Creek at its back door, and Kitsilano’s St. James Hall still boasts the stained glass and pews from its days as a church, though nowadays it’s typically used as a concert venue.

You could feed an entire village with the amount some caterers are wont to charge for a moderate-sized party. Really go the road less travelled and show off your impeccable — but unconventional — taste by bringing on board one of the city’s most beloved burger purveyors: Vera’s Burger Shack. The local mini-chain, which regularly takes the gold in WE’s Best of the City readers poll, will ply your guests with all the hamburgers and hot dogs they could want. (If any of your friends should turn their nose up at the idea of a burger at a wedding, it might be time to reassess that friendship.) Another meaty option is Memphis Blues Barbeque House, which offers its full menu selection — from brisket to ribs to chicken — and a wide array of side dishes for finger-lickin’ good fun that promises to leave everyone stuffed. And even vegetarians will find their taste buds jammin’ with jerk-infused items from The Reef, the Caribbean-themed restaurant that’s currently celebrating its 10th anniversary; they even offer a backyard-barbecue option if your party plans include the outdoors.

Unless you decide to abide by the tradition of meticulously saving and freezing a portion of your wedding cake for consumption on your first anniversary, boring old white cake can be banned from the menu. Thanks to Vancouver’s impressive legion of independent bakers, your wedding cake can stand strong — and beautifully — as the memorable pièce de résistance to top off the ceremony. Coco Cake is the brainchild of Vancouver’s Lyndsay Sung, whose heartwarmingly twee creations might make you die of happiness, cute overload, or both. (Contact Sung through her website to custom-order cakes or cupcakes for special events.) And the ubiquitous Cupcakes stores do weddings, too. Founded by Victoria friends Heather White and Lori Joyce, Cupcakes offers a wide range of wedding cakes that you can custom-build online before placing your order. For an affordable cake made by a professional pastry chef, try Nina Hemme’s Tartlets (pictured, above left). And finally, if you’re in search of a traditional cake that won’t cost a fortune, look no further than Notte’s Bon Ton, a 76-year-old Vancouver institution where you can still find authentic black-forest amd diplomat cakes.

Regional Assembly of Text (3934 Main, 604-877-2247
Paper-Ya (#9-1666 Johnston, 604-684-2534,
La Terrazza (1088 Cambie, 604-899-4449,
Brix (1138 Homer, 604-915-9463,
The Alibi Room (157 Alexander, 604-623-3383,
Canvas Lounge (99 Powell, 604-609-9939,
Cambrian Hall (215 E. 17th, 604-876-2815,
Heritage Hall (3102 Main, 604-879-4816,
Roundhouse Community Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews, 604-713-1800,
St. James Hall (3214 W. 10th, 604-739-9373,
Vera’s Burger Shack (various locations,
Memphis Blues Barbeque House (various locations,
The Reef (4172 Main St, 604-874-5375; 1018 Commercial Drive, 604-568-JERK;
Coco Cake (604-816-9922,
Cupcakes (various locations, 604-974-1300,
Tartlets (121 E. 1st, North Vancouver, 604-724-7625,
Notte’s Bon Ton (3150 W. Broadway, 604-681-3058,