Thursday, December 22, 2011

Local Love

My year-end series asks local bands and musicians to choose their favourite local albums of the year. Grab a copy of WE or read on here.

Local love — Best albums of 2011

Think Bryan Adams, Theory of a Deadman and, ahem, Nickelback are the be-all-and-end-all of Vancouver music? Think again. Thanks to local record stores, online resources, increasing radio play and a steady stream of live gigs, Vancouver and B.C.-based bands aren’t just the open secret only hardcore music geeks know about. In fact, this has been such a stellar year for our music scene, we couldn’t narrow down our top picks and instead turned the task over to the bands themselves. Welcome to the first of our three-part, year-ending series, Local Love, wherein local bands pick their favourite local albums of 2011.
Hannah Georgas and other local musicians and bands pick their favourite local albums of 2011

Describe yourself/your sound: Catchy, melodic, indie-pop, with many twists.

Your pick: My favourite BC record put out this year is by a new Vancouver band called Drawn Ship. The record is called Low Domestic. It’s amazing! The lead singer, Lyn Heinemann, is a dear friend of mine.

Describe yourself/your sound:I front the recent breakout lo-fi group Pleasure Cruise, and keep my country whiskey-soaked as a solo artist.

Your pick: I recommend Louise Burns’ Mellow Drama, released on Light Organ this past spring. A beautiful solo debut meant for old souls with dear hearts. Heavy on both vibe and verb, Louise is an artist that sings in colour.

Describe yourself/your sound: Defined by our combination of haunting female lead vocals, endearing harmonies, folk-inspired mandolin and brazen horns.

Your pick: Destroyer’s Kaputt sounds like how I sometimes picture Vancouver — a young woman so beautiful in fleeting moments, but most of the time drowned in rainy melodrama. My favourite song of the album “Poor in Love” is a tribute to the young people finding love despite how much it costs to live in this city. The album as a whole is a tragic experience in musical soft-core pornography and is inherently entrancing.

Describe yourself/your sound: Orchestral indie-pop band with twists of noise, folk and art-rock.

Your pick: Destroyer’s Kaputt (Ed's note: see above for image). It’s one of the best produced albums we’ve heard in a long time. We love how Dan Bejar uses iconic ’80s sounds with sophistication and humour; almost like a black comedy. It’s free-form pop music that makes you want to watch Dynasty with your cat, and get physical like Olivia Newton John all at the same time.

Describe yourself/your sound: Reminiscent of the beauty and darkness of what was, music for trick or treating or reading books.

Your pick: Dead Ghosts ST/LP is our choice for this year’s best local album. Everyone can appreciate classic ’50s pop rock ‘n’ roll as well as good neo-garage country twang. This particular slab of vinyl surpasses many cut-of-the-cloth bands, ever since that little old band from Atlanta, GA, arrived on the scene. Also proving that Vancouver has more great bands than people know, but fortunately for Dead Ghosts they are a household name on most U.S. and European vinyl junkies’ record shelves.

Describe yourself/your sound: Folk/rock band with songs filled with heartfelt melodies that tell stories of love, loss and hope

Your pick: The Hidden Sayings Of Maria in the Shower because I went to [Maria in the Shower’s] CD release party at The Waldorf in May and it was a stellar show! A diverse album that’s sprinkled with vibrant songs that have a traditional approach that are poignant and uplifting. It’s better to just
experience them for yourself.

Describe yourself/your sound: Heart-on-sleeve pop about life’s biggest curiousity — love — and all the complications that come with it.

Your pick: Bruise by Adrian Glynn. It’s Tom Waits meets a young Bob Dylan. Perfect for a bubble bath and a bottle of red. I’m drawn to how heartbreaking “Blue Belle Lament” feels. Sigh.

Part II
Last week Hannah Georgas, Jody Glenham, Ruffled Feathers, The Belle Game, Mode Moderne, Redgy Blackout and Carly Rae Jepsen offered their thoughts on the best local albums in 2011. Welcome back for the second of our three-part, year-ending series, Local Love, wherein local bands pick their favourite local albums of 2011.

Describe yourself/your sound: Equal parts arty and accessible, sexy and sweet, bad-ass and beautiful..

Your pick: Cardiography by David Vertesi. This album has beautifully understated production supporting David’s magnetic baritone. It presents a collection of heartfelt songs in a very real and organic manner. It sounds and feels close to home.

Describe yourself/your sound:  Roots-rock band whose songs evoke memories of camping trips, late-night campfire jams, and the open road.

Your pick: The British Columbians’ Made For Darker Things. They’ve been making the kind of noise we love for a few years now. Made For Darker Things is the kind of album you can put on both when you’re gearing up for a back alley brawl, or simply when you have a thirst for a stiff drink and a desire for a secluded moment of reflection. They’ve created a rich, and dirty landscape, and we’ve witnessed them pull it off live on stage too.

Phil Hanley

My interview with comedian Phil Hanley is in this week's WE.

Phil Hanley

Comedian Phil Hanley comes home for the holidays

Say what you will about the much-maligned buttondown or English prof frock, but Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based Phil Hanley knows how to work a cardigan. In fact, his choice of attire says a lot about the standup comic himself: he is confidently amused by his own awkwardness — faux or not; appreciates functional irony — dude is skinny, likely gets cold easily; and understands the value of having a “look” (he’s gotta stand out in the standup crowd). He’s also really, really funny. WE spoke with Hanley in advance of his headlining gig Dec. 22-23 at the Comedy Mix, and got the scoop on everything from tourists in Times Square to backstage antics at The Late Late Show.

You’re at home in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which seems to be the beacon of all hipster jokes.
Well, it’s the beacon of all hipsters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You sense there’s some friendly competition going on with mustaches and eyewear.

Was Movember a big thing there?
In my neighbourhood, you can’t even tell. It’s been Movember for years.

So, you’ve done shows everywhere, but what’s the contrast between a Vancouver audience and a New York audience?
You kind of know what you’re in for in Vancouver. You can get on the same page and come to some conclusions about how everyone feels in the audience. Tonight for instance, in New York, the club’s just off of Times Square, so it’ll be, like, six dudes from the Netherlands, and a German couple and a dozen members of a junior college basketball team. And then I’m doing an indie, alternative room in Brooklyn. Like, people from Ohio and then all the kids who moved out of Ohio and try to pretend they’re not from there. The contrast is great; it’s a good place to try and get a good read on things.

I saw you open for Charlie Demers earlier this year at the Comedy Mix. It was great.
Oh cool. I play the Mix often — Rob and Mario, the people who own the club, have been so good to me. If I’m in Vancouver, I’ll play there every night. It’s my favourite club. It feels super homey. If I’m getting ready for a showcase or a TV thing, I’ll always go back to work on it in Vancouver.

This is a question every Canadian artist asks themselves, but at what point did you decide leaving Canada was the right thing for your career?
I’d come to New York after high school and loved it. It was always in the back of my brain, like even before I started comedy, I wanted a reason to come and live here. And, also, the documentary Comedian. It’s about Jerry Seinfeld. After his sitcom is over, he starts from scratch and builds a new act. I watched it right before I started doing standup and it just looks so glamourous; he’s poppin’ into all these clubs. (Laughs) Of course, that’s a side you only get to see if you’re Jerry Seinfeld. But I’d also heard how many shows you can do in New York. Vancouver’s a great comedy scene and if you bust your ass you can do lots of shows. In New York it’s limitless to how many shows you can do in a week.

What’s your record?
I recently did 28 shows in two weeks. But some of that was on the road. You can do a lot of shows here if you get lucky with the scheduling and the subways.

You’ve been on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He seems fun and unpredictable.
It’s the most fun that I’ve had and it’s because of the vibe of the show. The person who books the comedians is really cool and nice. And [Ferguson and I] chatted and joked up until about 10 seconds before they bring you out. It’s really mellow. There’s like a bar backstage and William Shatner — I was getting ready, but my agent and my friend were in the bar area and got to meet William Shatner and a woman from Community. It’s like a bar with a big screen and it actually looks like a proper bar inside.

Phil Hanley performs Dec. 22 (8:30pm) and Dec. 23  (8pm and 10:30pm) at Comedy Mix (1015 Burrard),  $12-$15 from

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Exclaim Year-in-Review write-ups

My contributions to Exclaim's Year-in-Review include Bon Iver, Jenn Grant and Sunparlour Players.

Bon Iver Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
Back in 2008, Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, won over hearts by taking the broken pieces of his and turning them into his bedroom-bruised debut For Emma, Forever Ago. His outstanding follow-up reveals that while time (and success) healed certain wounds ― note that his own moniker takes the title (twice!) this time 'round ― our folk-hero is still a fractured soul searching for his place in the world. But this time he's armed with fabulous '80s flourishes. The hopeful "Calgary" starts tranquil and cold, but warms as the layers of drums, guitar and synthesizers crescendo and retreat. "Holocene" aches with a similar winter-y feel, but the drum rolls and spare arrangement focus all the attention on Vernon's vocals and the lonely refrain "I can see for miles, miles, miles." For all this distress and earnestness though, Vernon's bolstered by some balls, as evidenced by "Beth/Rest," the album's last song. It works both as a brilliant summarizing of affairs ― electronic keyboards, vocal distortion, moody saxophone ― and a warning cry of what's to come. It forces the listener to fully consider the scope of Vernon's bizarre and brave artistry. Thankfully any egregious bravado is tempered by his grounded humbleness, which is a refreshing combination compared to other creative geniuses.
Andrea Warner

Jenn Grant Honeymoon Punch (Six Shooter)
The faltering steps before you somersault down the rabbit hole of love are sometimes the only clear moments one can remember during the hazy, heady first six months of a new relationship. And as good as that feels ― that promise, those elements of surprise and intense attraction, a hint of something special ― it's everything that comes next that's the stuff of real love songs. Jenn Grant's Honeymoon Punch details every moment of that kind of next-level shit: the moment you both realize that you're in it to win it with all the hope and humour and occasional heartache that entails. Album opener "Oh my Heart" remembers those moments with a kicky, pop love letter while "Baby's Been Away" finds our lovers struggling with priorities against a twinkly one-two shuffle. "Paradise Mountain" is that bittersweet moment where you debate whether it's mean to be, longing to get back to the beginning. It's a brave collection that celebrates real, true, transformational love with lots of momentum from helpful sources: a bass clarinet, synthesizers, and playful forays into '50s pop rhythms, soul and even a little riot grrrl defiance. But true to form, despite the album's often upbeat nature, it's impossible to know for sure if Grant will let her lovers have that happy ending. The final track, "Stars to Waves," is a beautiful, crazy, two-parter (soft, sweet lament and triumphant, instrumental frenzy) that, wisely, lets the listener choose his or her own ending.
Andrea Warner

Sunparlour Players Us Little Devils (Outside)
Sunparlour Players' evolution from Andrew Penner's solo effort to three-part collective with Michael "Rosie" Rosenthal and Dennis Van Dine hasn't been seamless, but the disparate influences and inspirations are what make the band's third album, Us Little Devils, so great. It's the sound of three people moving in harmony ― but that doesn't mean they arrive at the same place every song. In fact, the little devils themselves take huge pleasure in deviating with whiplash speed from any expected alt-country trajectory. There are wild detours into punk and metal-lite, gospel, soul and even the rough waters of a sea shanty. These unexpected journeys might be disorienting at first, but isn't it nice as a listener to be surprised and even a little freaked out? It's disorienting but awesome to stumble from the Kings of Leon-esque environmental plea "Green Thumb" to the aggro-rock attack of "Like an Animal" before going all aflutter on the lilting "Damn All You," which is both sexy and mournful thanks to gentle percussion and creaky piano. This is the right kind of devil's play.
Andrea Warner

Coeur de pirate

My interviews with Béatrice Martin appear in December's Exclaim and online.

By Andrea Warner

Béatrice Martin may record as Coeur de Pirate (aka, heart of a pirate), but her new album, Blonde, could be subtitled "Heart on Her Sleeve." At first listen, it's sunny-sounding, '60s-influenced, piano-based pop that builds on the winning formula of her 2008 eponymous debut: hooky keys, winking vocals and catchy choruses. But even her non-French speaking fans can't help but pick up on a few lyrical cues that something has made the 22-year-old blonde more than a little blue. "I was kind of invisible when I was a teenager," Martin says. "I didn't really have a lot of friends. I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. Then all of a sudden I was releasing a record and everybody knew who I was, especially in Quebec. Suddenly everyone knows your story and it's so weird!"

That sudden fame brought its own strange loneliness, Martin says. On top of the innate learning curve of growing up from an 18-year-old into a 22-year-old, she says she didn't have a clue about boys or managing friendships. And then she had to deal with falling in and out of love in the public eye. "I started getting attached to people who could understand where I was coming from, and the bad part was I was falling in love with these people and I wanted to learn everything from them, and that pretty much set the tone for Blonde."

Martin's reluctant to name her heartbreak, but concedes that it's pretty obvious to whom she's referring: Jay Malinowski, the singer/guitarist for reggae-rock outfit Bedouin Soundclash, and Martin's collaborator on their short-lived indie pop band Armistice. "It's really just a tribute to him," Martin muses. "It was really complicated and I was just pushing him away all the time because I was so scared of being lonely. I really talk about that in the songs."

She laughingly says she's her own worst enemy, but she's working through her insecurities. "I cope with it through writing and that's really what happened [with Blonde]."

News breadcrumbsplit Nov 11 2011

Coeur de Pirate Grows Up with 'Blonde'
By Andrea Warner 

Three years ago, Coeur de Pirate's eponymous debut became one of the few French-language albums in Canada to become a crossover hit with English speakers, thanks in part to singer-songwriter Béatrice Martin's modern, youthful twist on the timeless art of piano-driven pop. Her follow-up album, the recently released Blonde, finds 22-year-old Martin all grown up, delving deep into the '60s for influences from the Beatles and the Beach Boys, crafting sunny-sounding tunes about heartbreak and loneliness.

"I was thrown into an adult world quite quickly," Martin tells Exclaim! from her home base of Montreal. "I was kind of invisible when I was a teenager. I didn't really have a lot of friends. I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. Then all of a sudden I was releasing a record and everybody knew who I was, especially in Quebec. And suddenly everyone knows your story and it's so weird."

She admits that on the surface it would seem as if she had it all after Coeur de Pirate came out. She wanted to fit in and please people, so she attended everything and in return everyone told her she was wonderful.

"I felt really lonely at times," she laughs, ruefully. "Not a lot of people understand that, because they're all like, 'This is so great! You should be livin' the life!' And it was more complicated than that. Through all of it, I didn't really know how to act with boys and keep friends because I was always away. I started getting attached to people who could understand where I was coming from, and the bad part was when I was falling in love with these people and I wanted to learn everything from them, and that pretty much set the tone for Blonde."

The main person she fell in love with was Bedouin Soundclash's Jay Malinowski, with whom she briefly collaborated with as Armistice. She declines to talk specifics about the breakup, but says that the relationship acts as Blonde's throughline, and at first, the songs were written just for her to vent and try to move on, though it took a couple of tries to make it stick.

"There was an angry moving on," Martin laughs. "There's a trying to win back the other person moving on, which is not really moving on, but still. I've been through a couple of phases, especially with this one. I'm really not bitter when it comes to what happened between -- it's fine. It's really just a tribute to him, or how I love too much, maybe? I love too much, but I wasn't even there. It was really complicated and I was just pushing him away all the time because I was so scared of being lonely. I really talk about that in the songs."

Well, if you can understand them. But even if you're not fluent in French, there's a melancholy that lingers just beneath the surface of many of the songs, even though sonically the album is arguably one of the happiest, swingy-iest, warmest kiss-offs yet. Particularly since the album ends on an emotional high note: a song inspired by her current boyfriend and a welcome forecast to the future. Martin is actively working to make sure her romantic past doesn't repeat itself.

"I was my own worst enemy, it was terrible!" she laughs. "Now how I deal with it is I ask, 'Is this what I want for myself?' Do I want something that will make me feel uncomfortable and insecure, or do I want something that will make me feel better and good and wanted and loved? I think that's just something you have to deal with on your own. But I like to cope with it through writing and that's really what happened [with Blonde]."

Blonde is out now on Grosse Boite, and Coeur de Pirate plays Toronto's Mod Club tonight (November 11).

Young Adult

My review of Young Adult is in this week's WE.


Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt
Directed by Jason Reitman

Depending on which side of twee you fall, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s acclaimed debut, Juno, was the love-it-or-loathe-it film of 2007. Their acid-tongued, gut-punch follow-up, Young Adult, is an entirely different beast — though likely no less divisive.

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis, a 30-something mess of a woman who managed to prolong her high school glory years by ghostwriting a popular teenage book series. But the books have fallen out of fashion — no vampires — and Mavis can’t crack writing the series finale. Luckily, a distraction arrives: her happily married high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), sends a group email blast about his new baby, prompting Mavis to return home — beautiful and blond with big city glamour — to win him back.

The reunion doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. Buddy’s now a small-town dad who loves family-friendly restaurants and his bland, big-box existence. But Mavis is hellbent on seducing him, much to the chagrin of fellow barfly Matt (Patton Oswalt), the schlub she can barely remember despite being locker neighbours for four years. Two decades later, Matt’s still notorious as the guy who survived a vicious beating by jock assholes his senior year and Mavis is still the psycho bitch prom queen who “should” be happy but isn’t. They’re kindreds in arrested development and the reason why Young Adult resonates so deeply, despite its bitter surface.

In less capable hands, Mavis could be terribly one-note, but Theron fills out the edges of her character’s abhorrent behaviour, bringing Mavis to a believable breaking point where she briefly lets her barbed-wire guard down. It’s a fascinating performance, and Oswalt matches her every move, particularly in a devastating monologue as Matt recounts his horrific attack.

In a traditional movie, this moment would mark Mavis’ breakthrough, her grand catharsis where she starts to finally heal. That ain’t Young Adult’s style. The film’s beauty is that when it finally offers a glimpse of her fractured soul, it just as quickly snaps shut again. It’s not interested in a big emotional reckoning or tidy resolution. Rather, Young Adult knows all too well the frustrating truth about growing up — most of the time it’s two steps forward, one step back. — Andrea Warner

Patton Oswalt

My quick Q&A with Patton Oswalt ran in last week's WE. The full transcription of our interview will be posted soon.

Patton Oswalt

MOVIES: Patton Oswalt makes leap to ‘Young Adult’

Comedian/actor/writer Patton Oswalt has put his trademark on the funny schlub role (King of Queens), but he’s garnering serious Oscar buzz for reaching outside his comfort zone in the new ink-black comedy, Young Adult (opening Dec. 16), Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s first post-Juno collaboration. The film stars Charlize Theron as a 30-something writer who comes home to win back her high school boyfriend — who’s now happily married with a new baby. Oswalt plays Matt, the equally damaged voice of reason who becomes her confidant. WE caught up with Oswalt in person at the Whistler Film Festival last week, where he received a best supporting actor award — likely the first of many this awards season — for his Young Adult performance.

It seems more natural for comedians to transition into acting than vice versa. Did it feel natural for you?
Well, not at first. The transition began around ‘95. I think I was lucky enough that I hung around with people who were like, ‘Just because you’re doing well at stand-up right now, acting, writing and stand-up are all completely different disciplines, so approach them all as if you were at ground zero and square one.’ Do not assume ‘Oh, I’ve got other skills, how hard could this be?’ And it goes both ways. There are plenty of actors I’ve seen go, ‘How hard could stand-up be?’ and honestly, they are completely different disciplines and they are equally difficult to pull off.

So why did you want to do Young Adult?
I wanted to do it because they offered it to me. I don’t have a lot of choice right now about what I do. (Laughs) It’s not like, “Tell Spielberg I’ll get back to him! I want to read this Cody thing first.” It was offered to me, but I was so excited I was being given such a difficult script to do. A script that could have easily gone the wrong way if the tone wasn’t right. I wanted the challenge. I wanted to know if I could do it.

Do you have the Hollywood glaze of trying to stay away from too much lip service?
I have the glaze of not having slept in three weeks. I’m very, very lucky. I know this is going to sound so fucking cheesy, but it’s so true: my wife is so fucking awesome at spotting the ‘you don’t need to think about this’ or ‘ignore this.’ And also, I have a circle of really amazing comedian friends around me who all we do is bust each others’ balls. No matter what I do, movie or TV-wise, they’re there to remind me next week I have to go on stage again and be funny. So, no matter what you do now, you gotta just keep working, keep doing stuff, don’t get wrapped up in one fucking thing ‘cause that will kill you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Allison Crowe

My feature on Allison Crowe is in this week's WE.

Singer/songwriter Allison Crowe has this advice for aspiring musicians: “Never give up. Just keep doing it and eventually it will all make sense.”
Singer/songwriter Allison Crowe has this advice for aspiring musicians: “Never give up. Just keep doing it and eventually it will all make sense.”

MUSIC: Allison Crowe brings cross-country Tidings

Long before Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was the ubiquitous cover of choice for musicians to abuse and misuse, there was singer/songwriter Allison Crowe’s version in 2004. Her soulful, tortured take on this Canadian classic made media around the world take notice. Never heard of her? You’re not alone, and it’s time to change that.

For 15 years, the Nanaimo native — who now divides her year between B.C. and Newfoundland — has been defiantly DIY, making a career for herself through non-stop writing, recording and touring. She started her own label, Rubanesque Records, in 2003, and has since self-released eight EPs and albums, including Tidings, the basis for her eighth annual seasonal concert at the St. James Hall, Dec. 11. For the 30-year-old Crowe the reward is modest but satisfying: a fiercely loyal, international fan base, and all on her own terms.

“There was an opportunity in 2003 to sign to a label, and when I got into the thick of it, I realized that’s not what I wanted at all,” Crowe says, over the phone in St. John’s. “I prefer to be able to do, write and play what I want. That just means too much to me.”

Crowe acknowledges that while a label might be the dream for a lot of musicians, the reality is drastically different.

“Whether it has to do with wanting to change your image — which kind of freaked me out — or change how you wrote or play or who you work with, I’m not into that,” Crowe laughs. “I’m pretty headstrong and stubborn, so I would be hard-pressed to have someone tell me what to write!”
It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to rein Crowe in. A classically trained pianist and guitarist, her influences run the gamut: there are echoes of folk, jazz, pop, soul, rock and blues throughout her records, and her breadth of covers rivals that of any cabaret artist.

Crowe says this diversity will be reflected in her Tidings concert, which will feature Christmas standards and a few of her personal favourites, including songs by Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin, the Beatles and, likely, that Cohen cover. Crowe anticipates seeing familiar faces in the audience, citing fans who come out every year to celebrate the holidays with her. That closeness with her fans only validates her choice to stay independent all these years. She admits it hasn’t always been easy, but she has some advice for fellow artists still struggling with the uphill climb.

“Never give up — because sometimes you really want to,” she laughs. “Just keep doing it and eventually it will all make sense.”
Allison Crowe performs Dec. 11 at St. James Hall (3214 W. 10th), 7pm. Tickets $15-$20.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes

My interview with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes is this week's cover story at WE.

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith: reports of Mewes death have been greatly exaggerated.
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith: reports of Mewes death have been greatly exaggerated.
Credit: Supplied

ENDLESS LOVE: Jay and Silent Bob grow up

Kevin Smith’s evolution from filmmaker/actor to Prince of Podcasts has been a well-documented series of starts, stops and staggeringly strange sidetracks. He spent the indie cred he earned from his 1994 debut Clerks on a variety of beloved fan favourites (Chasing Amy, Red State) and critical flops (Jersey Girl, Cop Out). He’s also never shied away from spilling his guts, be it online, via Twitter, in interviews or — starting in 2007 — his first podcast called Smodcast, recorded with friend and business partner Scott Mosier. That podcast has elevated Smith into a whole new career, as the master of a veritable podcast empire known as the Smodcast Podcast network.

It’s been a vastly different experience for friend and frequent co-star Jason Mewes. He and Smith made their acting debuts in Clerks as Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). The characters caught on with fans and went on to appear in most of Smith’s earlier films, and even headlining Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  But Mewes’ career was sidelined by a years-long detour into drug addiction. For a long time it seemed to most fans that the funny, endearing actor had taken his embodiment of his vulgar, stoner character to extremes. Smith even recalls People magazine asking him for a comment on Mewes’ (incorrectly) reported overdose death. After several attempts, Mewes finally got sober and Smith convinced him to open up about his experiences on — what else — a podcast. Jay and Silent Bob Get Old started in 2010. The pair just recorded their 58th episode and have taken the show on the road. In advance of their Dec. 7 show at the Vogue, Smith and Mewes spoke with WE in separate interviews, opening up about the ways heroin messed with their friendship, recovery and redemption.


I feel like I know everything about you from listening to Jay and Silent Bob Get Old. Like, from genitals to drugs. Is there anything off-limits to you?
No. I mean there’s definitely been times where — my wife tours with us and I’ll have told Kevin something about us and it’s not even that I don’t want to talk about it ‘cause I’m embarrassed, but I’m worried she’ll get mad. There’s definitely stuff I probably know about Kevin that I couldn’t bring up without asking him first... But he’s usually open to everything, too.

You’ve done a lot of these shows and talk all the time. Do you ever run out of stuff?
I can definitely say I’m getting close on running out of sex stories and stuff. Ten years ago, being really high and drunk or going out to a club and meeting some girl, like we’ll be talking and when we’re on stage I’d remember something, like, ‘Holy crap! I remember that same night this happened!’ There’s still stuff to talk about, I mean day-to-day stuff goes on, but I try not to tell anything twice. I try to keep it fresh. But the thing is I’ve been with wife now for almost six years, so the adventures and the fun of going out and meeting brand new girls and going out and doing crazy stuff has slowed down. But there are still interesting things that happen.

In the last episode you were detailing this lengthy OxyContin story and I was struck by just how much crafty-ness goes into scoring.
Oh definitely... You sit there and think of ways like, ‘Oh my friend just got a $1,000 cheque and if I tell him that my electric’s getting shut off and it’s only $110 he’ll believe it because it’s a weird number and he won’t want me to go without electric, and then I need a ride to the dope man so I’ll tell him I have to go pay my electric bill at this place and then I’ll tell him to park around the corner so he doesn’t realize I’m going into a crack house and not a business.’ It’s pretty crazy the ideas you come up with and the manipulation.

How long have you been sober?
It’s been 607 days. I keep it on my computer and track it before a show.

Do you find it difficult to be around weed?
No, not at all. My wife smokes, my buddies smoke. Before I even got sober I stopped smoking weed. When my mom was really sick I was taking care of her, she got THC pills, and I remember it saying take one every hour or so and I took, like, three, thinking, oh, I smoke weed, I’m going to need more.’ So I took three and I remember sitting there, tripping out like I was on acid. My mom had trouble breathing on a daily basis, but looking at her messed up it was really exaggerated and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to call the hospital but I can’t because I’m so high and the cops are gonna come.’ And I remember thinking, if I’m this out of it, I can’t take care of my mom. So it scared me from wanting to smoke weed ever again. It sounds ridiculous, but I have flashbacks of me tripping out that day and I’m afraid if I smoke I’d trip out like that. So, weed doesn’t bother me. Drinking, I don’t know, I like drinking but it’s just easier not drinking. It would be so obvious and I’d be busted and I’d have to tell everyone I drank and I fucked up, then my wife would be mad, then the next day I’d have a hangover and then it definitely wouldn’t be worth it. I stay away from pills, heroin and coke, of course. If I know any one’s doing that, I just don’t surround myself with them.

Kevin calls himself a goody-two-shoes and says that you’re the bad boy, but you seem to have a good-guy side, too.
As much as everything was messed up when I was younger — like, my grandma raised me for years and, I don’t know, I wouldn’t say I was a bad boy, but I was more carefree and willing to try and experiment with stuff than Kevin. I didn’t have my parents there. Like, he even says, if he was going out at 10 o’clock at night and came home late, he’d get yelled at and they’d wonder where he was. At 12 or 13 years old, I was allowed out ‘til one or two in the morning. It was different for me.

Do you feel content now?
Yes, definitely. Work-wise, it’s pretty awesome how we all get to work with each other and tour together and all that. I almost want to work more. We work a lot, but I want to work more. The only thing that could fulfill me anymore is if we could — I’ve been telling Kevin that the ideal situation for me is if we could do his next movie and the touring through June, but then start a TV show. We could work together every day and make enough money to live and just spend every day together.


The last time we spoke, in March, 2009, it was pre-Cop Out, pre-Red State and pre-your Smodcast empire. Your life has had a complete overhaul.
And the powerhouse podcast, Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, wasn’t even a glimmer in someone’s eye. Mewes was still crawling from the wreckage. He’d fallen off the wagon pretty badly and he had just started to get clean; maybe he had three months under his belt when Smodcastle opened its doors. He’s not himself when he’s doing the nonsense... We had to fill a slot, and Mewes was around, so I said, ‘Hey, we could do a Jay show, you and me, and talk about gettin’ clean.’ For years I’d told him, ‘Dude, just talk about your problems, just tell people you used heroin, tell people about the OxyContin. It’s much easier to fight a dragon if everyone can see it. Right now it’s just you.’ And he’d be like, ‘I can’t man because you don’t get hired after people find out you’re doing skin-poppin’ drugs.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, but you’re being held prisoner to it, even when it’s in the past.’ We went for it and called it Jay and Silent Bob Get Old... Within six months that dude had gone from, ‘Uh, I don’t know if I want to do this’ to selling out a 1,600-seater. It was just predicated on sitting there talking about his drug abuse past, not to mention his myriad sexual antics. We didn’t conceive it as an intervention podcast, but by the time we got to the sixth episode, it became clear that’s what it was... The show is kind of like a filthy, funny version of an AA meeting. It mixes in the tragic, because make no mistake, these tales of heroin are tragic. They’re cautionary tales. They’re certainly not meant to encourage anyone to pick up a needle.

Or glorify it.
Not in the least! But he’s entertaining as hell because he can talk about doing heinous stuff to his body and still make it kind of funny... That podcast has saved his life, man, or it’s certainly changed his life. The idea of having so much of my life and future tied up with Mewes, it wasn’t that way anymore. At points I didn’t want to make those movies anymore because the dude was such a prisoner to the heroin. It was irritating. You want to tell an addict to just shake it, stop doing it, but it’s much deeper than that. I have no experience with that kind of stuff. For me it’s like dieting. First do less and then do nothing, but I’m the last guy in the world who should be giving dieting advice. It was a trying time back then, so much so that if someone had said, ‘Hey man, you and Mewes will be in hardcore business together and you’ll make your living sitting together talking, more so than from the movies,’ I would have been like, you’re absolutely fucking crazy. But that’s where we stand today. He’s living proof that you can’t count anyone out. You know, Mewes was a guy that none of us wanted to let go because he’s all heart. Nickle-fucking-head, but all heart. He had gone down the path so many times, we’d begun to count him out. But it all came from that podcast, because he figured out his own self worth.

And he’s so ridiculously endearing.
Ah, he is! And this is a dude who stole money from me, this motherfucker, $1,100! I remember asking the cop at what point I could prosecute and it was $1,000. That’s how we got him into rehab the first time. This is a dude who’s fucked me over and all of his friends over and we still love him. He’s a dude worth saving. And he ended up saving himself. It came from him seeing that people enjoy him, they love him deeply, like not just through the character he plays but who he actually is. He’s a guy who took all the goodwill that came with the character he played and brought it into the real world. And they’re two very different things but at the same time they’re very indiscernible as well. (Laughs) There are very subtle distinctions between Jay in the movie and Jay in real life.

Your careers are tied together. Do you feel a sense of responsibility for him?
I used to. Our relationship was very father-son, which was weird. I got to train for fatherhood long before I had a kid myself. For a long time that was our relationship. For the last year, it’s been, ‘Hey man, you’re my friend. I don’t have to take care of you. You can actually take care of yourself.’ And we actually take care of each other by taking care of ourselves now... I got a phone call from People magazine once saying, ‘Do you have a comment about the overdose death of your friend Jason Mewes?’ Years later to be able to laugh at all that stuff and see him head towards buying his first house and see moments where he can win in a battle of wits with his wife, that’s inspiring.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Whistler Film Festival Borsos Competition

Isabella Rossellini in Guy Maddin's Keyhole
Isabella Rossellini in Guy Maddin's Keyhole
Credit: Supplied

WE COVER STORY PT. 2: Borsos award shines spotlight on Canadian films

Internationally, Canadian films and filmmakers are still struggling to get the recognition they deserve. But they’re the proud centrepiece of the Whistler Film Festival thanks to the esteemed Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature Film. But it’s not simply the $15,000 prize that has filmmakers clamoring for the honour; it’s living up to the legacy of the man behind the title, the late Phillip Borsos (The Grey Fox and Bethune: The Making of a Hero).

The Vancouver-based director/producer was just 41 years old when he succumbed to leukemia in 1995, devastating his family and community, and cutting short an award-winning career that had already altered the Canadian film scene. But as time passed, his widow, Beret Borsos, wasn’t sure how or if her husband’s legacy would be remembered. Until, that is, local filmmaker and Whistler Film Festival board member Carl Bessai came calling.

“They wanted to do something to honour Phillip and they thought that tying an award named for him to a festival that has a truly West Coast identity was a really good match,” Borsos recalls. “I’d been out of the whole film loop for a long time and sometimes I wasn’t sure if Phillip had just been forgotten, so it was tremendously moving for me to realize he wasn’t. And it also seemed to be something so lovely for my boys.”

The competition is open to up to eight feature films of new, narrative work by Canadian filmmakers, but prides itself on celebrating independent vision and diversity. Borsos says the focus aligns itself well with her late husband’s love for discovering and advising young talent — particularly now that their eldest son, Angus Borsos, is also a filmmaker and therefore a potential future Borsos Competition contender — provided he gets past the judges, of course, she laughs.


This year’s competition boasts six features that will definitely redefine what it means to be an indie Canadian flick. WE has the scoop about what to expect from the 2011 contenders.

Starring Nick Stahl, Mia Kirshner
Directed by Randall Cole
A 1984-inspired thriller about a couple who doesn’t realized they’re being watched 24/7, shot entirely from the vantage point of surveillance and handheld cameras. Think the Blair Witch Project meets The Lives of Others, with a privileged Toronto twist and some very pretty actors.

Starring Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
A love story that weaves back and forth between a recently divorced DJ in present-day Montreal and the young mother of a disabled son in 1960s Paris. Atmospheric, tragic and French, it promises to be a heady, gorgeously filmed trip through the fantastical.

DOPPLEGANGER PAUL (Or A Film About How Much I Hate Myself)
Starring Tygh Runyan, Brad Dryborough, Ben Cotton
Directed by Dylan Akio Smith & Kris Elgstrand
A delightfully bizarre dark comedy wherein a man escapes a near-death experience and then meets his doppelgänger, which sets in motion an only-in-the-movies chain of events: a lost thumb, a stolen manuscript, riding a miniature train, morning talk show appearances and a road trip to Portland.

Starring Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini
Directed by Guy Maddin
Moody, atmospheric, beautiful and disturbing — so, yep, a Guy Maddin film, but that’s where the similarities end. This is a 1930s gangster picture set in a haunted house, where it’s almost impossible to tell when waking life ends and the dream world begins.

Starring Allison Mack and Simone Bailly
Directed and written by Christopher Petry
Another atmospheric pic — this one shot in the gritty style of the 1970s — about a bank robber on the lam with a young runaway. But it’s the source material that fascinates: a story written by Patrick “Paddy” Mitchell of the Stopwatch Gang while he was in prison.

Starring Fellag, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Marie Charlebois, Evelyne de la Chenelière
Directed by Philippe Falardeau
This French-language flick about a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant dealing with personal tragedy and juggling his new job as a substitute teacher is already a winner: it was named the Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF and is Canada’s official selection for the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film.

Whistler Film Fest runs Nov. 30-Dec. 4. Info:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Guy Maddin and Whistler Film Festival

Part 1 of my Q&A with Guy Maddin is in this week's WE, just in time for the Whistler Film Fest. Part 2 will be out when his new film Keyhole gets released.

Director/writer Guy Maddin

COVER STORY: Guy Maddin invites us to peer through the ‘Keyhole’

The USA has David Lynch, Spain has Pedro Almodovar and Canada has Guy Maddin. Arguably they are the modern makers of weird, disquieting beauty that’s rooted in a genuine desire to explore the bottomless depths and shallow pools of human experience. They make movies that mess with our sense of self. Maddin, particularly, is a master of this as reflected by his unsettling new film, Keyhole. It’s a tense, disturbing genre mashup of 1930s gangster and haunted house flicks, gorgeously shot in black and white. It’s also a contender in the prestigious Borsos Competition at the 11th annual Whistler Film Festival. (For more on the Borsos award, see next page.)

The words “perverse” and “strange” get thrown around a lot by writers when talking about your films. Do you take pleasure in having a certain shock value?
Nothing is shocking. And real life can be perverse and strange. I just don’t have it in me to produce naturalistically performed movies set in workaday worlds. I’m not Chekovian enough. And besides, my tastes run to folk tales – savage narratives that tell us in no uncertain terms fearsome things about ourselves, no matter how strange or perverse they might seem. Please regard the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Perverse and strange geniuses and superb role models.

It seems like Canadian cinema has never been stronger, and yet it still suffers from a serious inferiority complex. What’s your take on its evolution?
Canadian cinema just needs a big breakout, a phenomenal film that blows away all our fears, and the world’s preconceptions of our timid ways all at once. It’ll come. You can’t make it happen, it’ll just happen if we keep trying.

What made you decide to ground Keyhole so specifically in a house?
I used to dream of lost loved ones, in delirious nightly dramas during which I worked through, or expressed, feelings that never quite untangled themselves while everyone was alive. Now I dream only of empty architecture. These dreams are more haunting to me than the old unfinished-business dreams involving the family ghosts. I decided I wanted to make a movie that was about a house, about the places in which we live and they feelings they can produce in us. It’s too glib to say I wanted to make a film starring a house, because more often than not I like to watch films with people in them – not always, but mostly. So I knew I wanted to stray from my recurrent dreams and actually populate the corridors of my night-architecture with characters. But I also knew I wanted to stay inside that house the whole film. It’s a good-looking home with lots of detail, lots of surprises, surely more than enough visual richness to support 90 minutes screen time without it wearying anyone’s eyes. After all, we spend infinite hours in our own homes, often loving the environs more and more with each passing day. I wanted viewers to feel comfy, at home, in that house by movie’s end. Who knows if I got it right.

What does it mean to you to have Keyhole be part of the Borsos competition?
I am honoured. Borsos was a great filmmaker. I met him a couple of times and was deeply impressed.

Why is it important to have competitions like this one that honour Canadian films?
The winning of prizes means little, or should mean little, to the filmmakers themselves, but prizes help mythologize and glamorize the craft, help elevate Canadian filmmaking into the competitive and glitzy delirium of showbiz and all its artificial glamour. The prizes help remind us to embrace the artificiality of filmmaking, make us complicit in its fakeness, make us want to participate in the dream on the screen more. Without such prizes we Canadians will watch our films with a grim literal-mindedness we’ve always deployed in shooting down our own work the instant it gets airborne.

What is Canada’s film reputation internationally? Are we held in high esteem?
I can’t tell. I think everyone just feels sorry for me when they say nice things to me, and way more often they say terrible things to me. And I’m too busy bad-mouthing my Canadian colleagues to judge fairly how they’re perceived internationally.

Twenty or 30 years ago, the idea seemed to be that if you wanted to make it as a filmmaker, you had to leave Canada. How much of that perception remains today?
I’ve never even left Winnipeg to make a movie, so you’re asking the wrong person. I even suspect you asked this just to rub that fact in. But I do know that a hometown person is never deemed a complete success until he or she leaves and achieves something significant away from home. That applies to every country, not just Canada. Probably the worst place to be born in is Hollywood itself. These are the kids that have the biggest discriminations to deal with.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

My review of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 is online at

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart's Edward and Bella share a tender moment in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1

Posted By: Andrea Warner

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

Directed by Bill Condon

(Ed’s note: Spoilers ahead)
After plot points about Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 spilled like blood from Bella’s ripped C-section, even non-fans of the series had reason to believe that the fourth film would at least be an entertaining, action-packed WTF. So how can a film that features so many crazy, ridiculous, over-the-top elements — vamp-human sex, a demon baby, blood, gore and a wolf “imprinting” on said demon baby — be so freaking boring?

In part, it’s because Breaking Dawn seems like the ultimate love letter to its fans — Bella and Edward (Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) get their dream wedding, while wolf-in-no-clothing Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is shirtless within the first 10 seconds — but it also has no qualms about taking those fans for granted. The film’s producers, writers and director know that it simply doesn’t matter. The Twihards will turn out in droves and lap it up without discernment or demand for something better. A terrible script, poor pacing, and lousy effects? So what? Bella gets her man.

As usual, author Stephanie Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg keep  punching feminism in its baby-maker with Bella’s “empowerment.” When Edward balks at turning her into a vampire she insists, saying, “Hopefully in a year I’m going to look in the mirror and see someone like you.” Then she literally has to cry and beg him to have sex with her on their honeymoon, stating she likes how he accidentally hurts her with his vampire strength. And finally she argues that if her demon fetus kills her it will all be worth it, basically because abortion is wrong, no matter how viciously Edward and Jacob spit out terse sentiments like, “Get it out! You think I could ever love it? I hate it!”

And honestly, that’s even without going into the absolutely ridiculous sanctioned pedophilia subplot that has Jacob, the new alpha wolf — you know he’s grown up because he can grow stubble — who charges in to kill Bella’s half-blood newborn and then “imprints” on her, forecasting a creepy future wherein she looks exactly like her mother and has no choice but to accept her fate as the intended vamp-human hybrid of a wolf-human.

Yep. Enjoy. — Andrea Warner

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sarah Slean

My interview with Sarah Slean is in this week's WE.

Sarah Slean
Sarah Slean
Credit: Supplied

Sarah Slean waxes philosophical on ‘Land & Sea’

Alot has changed in Sarah Slean’s life since releasing the appropriately regal and rousing piano-cabaret album The Baroness in 2008. She left her record label, got married and completed her philosophy degree, all of which, in one way or another, have planted the seeds for her stunning double album, Land & Sea, wherein the singer/songwriter finally divides her time between a straight-up pop record (Land) and sweeping, cinematic orchestra-backed cabaret (Sea). WE spoke with Slean in advance of her Nov. 23 show at the Rio about going broke, Justin Bieber and the heady world of art and the temporal universe.

The last time we spoke, you said that you need to be constantly evolving, and that means working outside of major labels. Is Land & Sea part of that evolution?
Absolutely. Warner did not constrain me creatively at all, but artistically speaking I always have to go somewhere new. I always want to feel like a new person is making this record, because if you haven’t changed, why would you give the world a piece of expression again? Have you learned something? Do you have a new insight for us? I talk about art-making in terms of entertainment and art. I feel like both are equally valid and the world obviously has desire for both, but I feel like the entertainment side takes you away from life; it distracts you from life. It’s a little vacation from life. But I want to make stuff that takes people deeper into life, that pushes them further into it, not run away from it.

Creating a tension between the consumer and the artist?
Yeah, there’s that, but I feel like neither is wrong. Justin Bieber is great. He fulfills a need, but he doesn’t fill the need of a person who wants to find more meaning in their life through music... David Adam Richards, that book Mercy Among the Children that I championed unsuccessfully for Canada Reads, I felt like that was such a difficult, hard book, but I felt like I was so changed by it! World view, philosophically changed. I feel like that’s what makes it great art... Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, but it’s always transformative, and that’s the kind of stuff that I want to make.

There’s such a distinct line between the Land & Sea. Is this representative of your musical interests, or are they aspects of a whole?
The reason they’re two albums, and why I didn’t release one and then the other, is that lyrically the perspective of each makes more sense in contrast and they develop deeper meanings in relation to each other.

“New Pair of Eyes”, “I Am a Light”, “Set it Free”, “Life” — everything about Land felt almost heavenly.
What I want to talk about with this album is it’s not one or the other. They’re ends of a spectrum and the spectrum is the all-ness of everything that is. To be the person you are with the name you are and the age you are and the statistics on the ID in your wallet, the people in your life, the country you live in, all of these very specific, temporal things, they often blind us to the experience of the eternal, the unity that is all. Being a specific person is the illusion of separateness, but it isn’t to be condemned. And a lot of spiritual traditions have cast aside the body, like ‘Oh, this is all an illusion and we’re not actually separate, this is all one thing.’ But to condemn the body is totally missing the point, because the body is the portal through which we come to that visceral experience of the eternal... It’s almost like God, or whatever it is, is playing with form. Look at the flower. Some flowers are so crazy, you’re like, “There is something having a gay old time playing with shit,” you know? It’s so weird! They look like Muppets or something.

The ambition of this project — particularly Sea which features a 21-piece orchestra —  seems crazy. Why now?
Well, I’m going to quote Rainer Maria Rilke: “All things consist of a carrying to term and then giving birth.” I feel like two or three years ago, there’s no way I could have made this record. When we recorded Sea, it was two days in June. Six hours of rehearsing and then six hours of recording. So everything was live: I was playing piano and singing, looking through a window and watching the conductor. I was nervous on the first day, but if that had been me two years ago, there’s no way I could have done it. I would have been a mess! But I went in there and I had this feeling of right-ness and fluidity and the doubt was at bay. The doubt’s kind of always there, but I figured out a way to ignore it and lean more heavily on the side that knows, like just knows that this is what I do, like breathing. That’s what I mean about the carrying to term. I don’t think this music would have come to me until those powers had ripened. When you’re confident enough and you have that skill-set, the philosophical footing and groundedness I now have, which is a new thing for me (laughs), when all those things had coalesced to the right point, then the music comes through you. It’s really a magical thing to be able to look at my own evolution spiritually and as a person over the trajectory of my albums. I even look at The Baroness and go, ‘Wow, who is that?’

Is there s a specific moment you can mark that was a turning point between this being a dream and a reality?
Well, I don’t think you ever receive an idea — from wherever they come from, the universe or whatever — I don’t think it comes to you without inherent in it the absolute, affirmed possibility that it can happen. They come together. The idea comes with the promise that it is possible. Just holding that inside, just keeping that little flame burning, was enough to weather the storms of doubt that inevitably come. The storms of like, there’s no more money in my business account. Okay, what do I do now? Which happened twice during this recording! But this is the game of life and this is why I love it so much.

Sarah Slean plays Nov. 23 at Rio Theatre (1660 E. Broadway), 7pm. $28.50 from Ticketmaster.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


My interview with Ohbijou is in this week's WE.

Credit: Supplied

Ohbijou become ‘Metal’ heads

Two years ago, following the success of their critically acclaimed breakthrough album, Beacons, Ohbijou was the likely successor to Canada’s indie pop throne. Well, Arcade Fire held fast to the seat by winning a Grammy and the Polaris Prize, but the six-piece Toronto-based collective has made another winning bid with its lushly orchestrated, sonically thrilling chamber pop follow-up, Metal Meets. WE spoke with lead singer/songwriter Casey Mecija over the phone before the band takes to the road for a lengthy tour, with a stop in Vancouver Nov. 19 at the Biltmore.

The song that kills me on this album is “Slygo.” The intensity and urgency and the refrain — it’s very emotional.
It’s a small town in Ireland that me and my bassist went to on tour just out of university. There’s this legend about this Queen buried on top of this huge mountain that overlooked the town and when we went there, we could see this huge pile of rocks on top of this mountain and it was this really beautiful thing. And in that time, also, they had this beautiful tree where people go and hang up charms and rosaries to commemorate people who have passed.

There’s also this unrelenting hope, like climbing your way out of something.
For sure. That song, and with a lot of our other songs, there’s a desire to communicate something darker and meatier, but also with hope intrinsically attached to it.

That might be the kind of record people need right now.
(Laughs) Yeah. It’s better to latch onto things that are more hopeful than not.

When you write songs are you coming from the observer standpoint or from the first-person?
I think from both. A lot of lyrics are inspired by what’s going on in my life and how I relate to the world outside. A lot of it begins with the proverbial “bedroom” writing. (Laughs) I’m by myself with a guitar and a piano and I usually write lyrics, melodies and all of the music at the same time. It’s this very isolated process to begin with, before entering the writing process with five other people, which transforms it into something completely different.

You travelled the world with Beacons. Did that change your relationship to your writing and with Canada?
We were able to travel abroad and play for different audiences in Japan and all of these crazy places. With travel came a desire to look at the world with more complexity and put that into the lyrics and use different lenses to write songs. We wanted to communicate emotions differently from previous records.

There’s so much texture throughout. Like in “Obsidian” there’s this beautiful moment that reminded me of birds calling out en masse.
We really tried to whip up unique environments for each song. We tried to practise restraint, because that’s really important for us as writers. It’s so easy for six of us to pile on top of each other, so being able to maintain an airiness about each song was really important... Sometimes we have these writing sessions and it’s like, well, we all have these melodies, let’s play them all at the same time! (Laughs)

You’ve got Metal Meets and Feist came out a month later with Metals. Should we arrange a throwdown between you guys?
(Laughs)  I don’t think we would win!

Ohbijou play Nov. 19 at Biltmore, 7pm. $14 (Z, H, RC, TW).

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Penlopiad

My review of the Arts Club's newest production, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad.

Colleen Wheeler (left) and Meg Roe star in the Penelopiad.
Colleen Wheeler (left) and Meg Roe star in the Penelopiad.
Credit: Supplied

The Penelopiad a powerful new take on an old story

Love her or hate her, few can argue that Margaret Atwood knows her way around a woman’s words. The female characters in her books pulse with a tangible complexity: They have wit, intelligence and passion. As a writer, she fills the huge gulf between the stereotypical feminine archetypes of Saint and Slut with a nuance that’s often sorely lacking in literature. And now, with the Arts Club's help, Atwood leaps from the page to the stage with The Penelopiad.

A flipside to the Greek myth of Odysseus, it focuses instead on the hero's wife, Penelope (Meg Roe), and her struggles to keep their kingdom afloat during his decades-long Trojan War absence. She chooses the prettiest, youngest women slaves to become her confidants, and it becomes their job to stave off the thug-like men looking to claim the kingdom — and Penelope — as their own. The women succeed, but at a horrific price.

Structured so that it zigs in and out of time, Penelope alternates between recreating scenes from her life and narrating events in the present day from the spirit world (where she’s haunted by her cousin/rival, Helen of Troy and the slaves she failed). The slaves are portrayed by one of the strongest ensemble casts to ever grace a Vancouver stage: Colleen Wheeler and Laara Sadiq are particular standouts, thanks to showy dual performances as Odysseus and Helen of Troy, respectively. Wheeler, who has played a man with great authority before, fluidly transitions between her two roles perfectly with just the slightest adjustments to her mannerisms and movement.

Wheeler also sparks opposite Roe as Odysseus and Penelope’s sexual connection deepens their marriage. Here Roe goes beyond her usual reliably fantastic state and has, arguably, never been better. She’s regal, womanly and her subtle delivery of Atwood’s deadpan observations and poetic phrasing is spot on. She absorbs the pompous surface of Atwood's words in favour of the author's clever and keen observations.

Director Vanessa Porteous, artistic director of Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects, makes a stunning Vancouver debut. Confident, creative and insightful. With the exception of a faltering quasi-musical segment in act two, I’ve never felt — or welcomed — the presence of a director more.
The Penelopiad offers what might be one of the most daring, innovative and extraordinary productions in the Art Club’s canon. That, friends, is the ultimate in female empowerment.

The Penelopiad runs to Nov. 20 at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 8pm (Wed-Sat), 7:30pm (Tues). Matinees: Wed, Sat-Sun, 2pm. $29-$65 from 604-687-1644.

Michael Jackson The Immortal

My preview of the new Michael Jackson Cirque de soleil show is in this week's WE.

Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the King of Pop is steeped in spectacle, yet grounded in the legendary work ethic  that drove Michael Jackson throughout his life.
Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the King of Pop is steeped in spectacle, yet grounded in the legendary work ethic that drove Michael Jackson throughout his life.
Credit: Supplied

Long Live the King of Pop

Fan or not, Michael Jackson’s untimely death in 2009 signified the end of an era in pop music. And for better or worse, it ensured a veritable onslaught of Jackson-inspired revues, music and merch. But few tributes have the scope and grandeur of Cirque de Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour, which makes its Vancouver debut Friday, Nov. 4, a mere month after its world premiere in Montreal.
Immortal offers up a survey of Jackson’s impressive repertoire, from his cute-kid days in the Jackson Five through his solo heydays with Thriller, Bad and Dangerous to the eve of his much-hyped but never realized comeback. It’s exacting, precise and gloriously over-the-top — very much like the man himself, according to Immortal singer Fred White, who toured with Jackson during his HIStory Tour a decade ago.

“Every little nuance vocally, every ping of the cymbals or anything in percussion they do, every little move with the head or the hands, to even the stuff I do with the singing, everything is so detailed,” White says. “We had four choreographers who worked with Michael and they’re keeping it the way Michael would do it.”

By all accounts, Immortal is as obsessively by-the-book as Jackson was when it came to creative precision. The cast and production crew bios read like a sneak-peek of Jackson’s CV: White, musical director Greg Phillinganes and writer/director Jamie King and countless other Immortals earned their entertainment industry stripes under Jackson’s tutelage. On Cirque’s part, it’s ingenious: every member is emotionally invested in protecting Jackson’s legacy, and has first-hand experience with the man’s meticulous nature and legendary work ethic, ensuring there’s substance at the foundation of all the spectacle.

Immortal’s producers also secured previously unreleased and unheard Michael Jackson recordings, which are used throughout the show.

“There were tracks we heard of him singing that I’d never heard before,” White recalls. “I am still amazed by him. In particular, there’s a track of him singing ‘I’ll Be There,’ where his voice is isolated, and he was really young, and it’s like, ‘Wow. He was singing at that level at that young age.’ And he just kept getting better and better as he got older. That made me go, like, ‘Okay, I need to readjust. I thought I was really on it, but now I need to get it together!’ It got me to go to another level. He’s still teaching us now. It’s really great.”

Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour runs Nov. 4-6 at Rogers Arena. $50-$250 (TM).

Sunday, October 30, 2011


My review of Itsazoo's Debts is in this week's WE.


A crowd of people in a small room; the doors slam shut behind you and suddenly the lights go out. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your skin tingles and you realize that it’s mostly strangers, alone, in the dark. The moment lasts probably for no more than 10 seconds, but the panic actually sets in at around three seconds. Seven seconds of increasingly uncomfortable hell is the only transition you need to go from amused, interested observer to tense, uncomfortable participant. Welcome to Debts.

Itsazoo Productions, the young masters of site-specific theatre (Robin Hood; Bridge Mix series), presents writer-director Mack Gordon’s hauntingly cool, existentialist horror story set in the historic Roedde House Museum. Borrowing from “teen slasher” flicks, radio dramas that went bump in the night and Edgar Allen Poe, Gordon’s story covers a lot of ground in its briskly-paced 60 minutes. On the surface, it’s about five teens who crash a wedding at a spooky house, daring each other to go inside, unaware that they probably won’t make it out alive.

But amidst the chills and thrills, the teens have got plenty of baggage of their own to deal with, most notably Annie (Kaitlin Williams) and Pete (James Avramenko), who are nursing the still-fresh wounds from their recent break-up over religious differences. The house’s evil freak-fest becomes the final testing ground for their contentious argument, which isn’t so much about good or evil but about keeping an open mind. It’s a welcome spin on traditional horror conventions, and Williams in particular conveys Annie’s terror with aplomb. The fear is a contact high because the show is so intimate — just 15 people in each audience — which the characters all navigate in and around in close quarters. This plays perfectly to Debts’ strengths: small moments filled with just the right amount of quivering tension, black humour and a ghoulish delight. To Oct. 31 at Roedde House Museum, 7pm and 9pm. $15-$19 from —Andrea Warner

ReUnion review

My review of Pacific Theatre's Re:Union is in this week's WE.

Alexa Devine and Evan Frayne star in Vancouver playwright Sean Devine’s Re:Union.
Alexa Devine and Evan Frayne star in Vancouver playwright Sean Devine’s Re:Union.
Credit: Supplied


Last Friday, President Barack Obama announced that all American troops in Iraq would be home for the holidays, thus ending a decade-long war that has long been likened to his country’s Vietnam II. In a strange twist of meaningful coincidence, his declaration coincided with the opening night of playwright Sean Devine’s debut, Re:Union, a multimedia drama borne from the horrific real-life story of Norman Morrison, a young Quaker who set himself on fire to protest the Vietnam War.

But Morrison didn’t simply set himself on fire. He did so with his baby daughter by his side, outside the Pentagon, in front of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s window. Devine’s script bounces back and forth between November 1965 and November 2001, imagining Morrison’s daughter, Emily (Alexa Devine), wrestling with her father’s legacy in a post-9/11 world. She sets a plan in motion to commemorate her father’s sacrifice by committing an act of terrorism on the anniversary of his death and seeks out McNamara (Andrew Wheeler) for help.

Devine poses timely, relevant questions, and features moments of real clarity, humour and compassion throughout. Where Re:Union stumbles is when Devine indulges in phrasing that comes off as academic poetry: stilted, overly aware and unnatural. This is particularly evident in the scenes between Morrison (Evan Frayne) and Emily, as father and daughter confront the circumstances of his death. It’s a marked contrast to the rapid-fire exchanges between Emily and McNamara, which spark with tension and intelligence. Wheeler proves a particular standout. His McNamara is the most fully realized character: gruff and self-important one minute, vulnerable and chastened the next.

A lot of theatre wants to make you think, but it’s an all-too-rare experience in Vancouver that after the curtain falls, you race home to research more about a play’s subject matter. That night, reading about Vietnam and the arguments made about its echoes in Iraq, it struck me that Devine’s Re:Union lays a claim that wars and plays struggle to achieve: mission accomplished. To Nov. 12 at Pacific Theatre, 8pm. Matinees: Sat, 2pm. $16.50-$29.50 from Warner

Friday, October 28, 2011

CBC Radio 3

My cover story for this week's WE: an oral history of CBC Radio 3

Radio 3 sing it: (from left) host Lisa Christiansen, senior producer Andrea Gin, blog editor James Paolozzi and host Grant Lawrence.
Radio 3 sing it: (from left) host Lisa Christiansen, senior producer Andrea Gin, blog editor James Paolozzi and host Grant Lawrence.
Credit: Doug Shanks

Radio friendly

Sure, everyone knows Canada’s major export is lumber, but our biggest cultural export? Indie rock. And from Arcade Fire to Dan Mangan, it’s been CBC Radio 3 that’s provided the platform — a combination of satellite radio, podcasting and massive online community — launching our country’s best bands as they become international superstars. The magic happens right here in Vancouver, from the bright blue walls of the basement studio at 700 Hamilton. Welcome to the (condensed) oral history of Radio 3.

Steve Pratt, Radio 3 executive director
I believe the original proposal for Radio 3 was a national FM network targeted at youth, kind of similar to JJJ in Australia. It would have news and culture and current affairs and all those sorts of things, but basically a youth-driven national FM service, similar to Radio 1 and Radio 2. [It was deemed too expensive] so they pitched it as a digital-only property which did get approved. They went off into almost like a bunker at CBC Vancouver that was hived off from everything else. They had their own infrastructure, IT systems; they didn’t brand any of the first product with even a CBC logo out of the gate, and starting in 2000 they launched, over the next couple years, a series of websites.,,, lead to the CBC Radio 3 flash magazine, the first thing to be officially branded Radio 3. Saturday nights on Radio 2 became associated with Radio 3. In 2004, Pratt was hired to turn Radio 3 into a music service and get Radio 3 its own 24/7 radio station with Sirius satellite radio, in which CBC owned a stake.

The goal was to merge all the websites into a single website. It would take me 10 minutes just to tell you what CBC Radio 3 was, because there were so many different pieces and nobody really knew all the parts of it and the websites didn’t really talk to each other. Unfortunately, because the budget would not permit us to do all the things we did before, it meant shutting down the flash magazine in March, 2005, which — I certainly did not enjoy being part of the group that shut that down. Budget-wise it had to be either/or, it couldn’t be an and.

Thanks to some foresight and its rich database of Canadian music (bands can make pages and upload their music), Radio 3 was also an early-adopter of podcasting technology. They put out the first Radio 3 podcast in 2005 with host Grant Lawrence. Six years later, it’s still going strong.

Grant Lawrence, writer/musician/Radio 3 host
I had no idea what a podcast was. I had a busy week already, and Steve Pratt comes to me with this podcast thing. It was 2005, I’d never heard of a podcast, didn’t want to do it. He convinced me to just sit down, “It’s just like hosting a show, you’re talkin’ about songs.” So okay, fine. I did it, one, then two, then three, and then iTunes picked it up, put it on their page, promoted it and it became this huge podcast. Spin called it Canada’s #1 podcast. It went gangbusters and it became the biggest entity at CBC that I had ever done before, and I had hosted a national show on Radio 2 for years! But way more people were listening to this new piece of technology called a podcast.

Thanks to Radio 3, the stodgy-seeming CBC became an unlikely leader in digital technology, and constantly working to stay ahead of the curve.

John Paolozzi, Radio 3 blog editor/community manager
Now we’re coming to terms with: is podcasting possibly on its way out? And the reason we’re thinking that, it’s just bubbling to surface for us, is as mobile computing becomes more pervasive and data plans become cheaper, which they should, is podcasting virtually obsolete? There won’t be any changes in the immediate future, but it’s definitely something we’re looking at. And, since 2005, we’ve gone through two website designs. We’re always working on the new design. Our current website seems, to us, very primitive, so we’re very excited about new stuff coming down the pipe. Can’t really talk about that, but when it launches it’s going to be great. It’s going to more or less blow the existing website out of the water. But, that said, once that’s finished, you start working on the next website. You’re already working with something that’s vaguely obsolete upon launch and you have to look at what you’re going to build nex

Radio 3’s online community is changing every day. As of Oct. 12, there were 26,985 artists registered on the website, with 125,000 tracks. And companies everywhere are anxious to replicate Radio 3’s main success: a thriving, fiercely loyal online community, which currently numbers 158,800 registered members. That doesn’t include Sirius listeners, podcast downloads, Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

Grant Lawrence
The Radio 3 blog has become a strong and close-knit community where everybody knows everything about everyone else. They know where they’re from, their real name, kids, what they like, where they go. What I love is all these people have come in as individuals and they’ve ended up forming incredible friendships with each other and then the friendships start networking all over North America and then they start having fan meetups, some two or three people, some 50 people.

Lana Gay, Radio 3 host
As a kid, I was a radio superfan. I would call in to win contests and I would be on hold for 30 minutes trying to request a song and that’s kind of the thing [about our site]: the communication... I know who certain blog users are and their usernames and their personalities. You create a different conversation. It’s not just a phone call; everyone has their own profile, they have their own playlist and can comment on whatever they fancy. There are friendships and even relationships that have formed. It’s amazing! One of our listeners in California took the train across Canada and was put up by fellow listeners and went to shows with everybody. There’s a group in Vancouver called the YVR3 who hang out and go to shows together.

But what everyone comes to Radio 3 for is the music. Everyone behind the scenes is a self-described music nerd of one variety or another who loves music and wants to champion Canadian bands, such as Vancouver indie-pop outfit Said the Whale.

Andrea Gin, Radio 3 senior producer
Grant was basically the guy who listened to Said the Whale’s first recording, loved it and started playing it, and promoted it by talking about them to his friends. He was a really integral part to getting Said the Whale talked about in Radio 3, but also in all the other circles he travels in because he was just so passionate about the band from the minute it started.

Lisa Christiansen, Radio 3 host
When we launched as the radio station in 2005, we spent the day discussing mission statements and stuff like that, and we came up with it then: Breaking New Sounds. It was this idea that you’d be able to come here and hear something new. Our music director curates, but there’s a music committee that listens and makes decisions about what to play. There’s no record executives pushing anything. And I think that’s really exciting for artists to know. You will be given as much attention as Feist, who, when we started playing was not ‘Feist!,’ she was like, ‘oh, didn’t she used to play with Peaches or something?’ Everyone’s a rock star to us.

Local acts Dan Mangan and Said the Whale are reaping the rewards of that attitude, and are grateful for that support.

Dan Mangan, singer/songwriter
R3 Has been a huge blessing to me. I’m told quite often at concerts that people first heard of me on Radio 3, or that they’d been listening to the album(s) there. Especially overseas — there’s a big demographic of ex-pats who keep in touch with the Canadian music scene via CBC3. I’ve been fortunate enough to get serious attention from R3, but my appreciation for them goes beyond my own perpetuation — I deeply take in to account the service that they’re providing both for musicians and listeners. I believe it to be invaluable. Radio 3 is a glowing example of forward-thinking, and the type of institution that will ensure long-lasting cultural vibrancy in our country. Canadian music has never been stronger. We can’t entirely give R3 the credit for such strength, but it is certainly a crucial part of the movement.

Tyler Bancroft, Said the Whale bandmember
We first met Grant Lawrence at the North By Northeast conference in Toronto in 2007 — we gave him our CD and the following week he put us on the Radio3 podcast. Since then they’ve been instrumental in promoting our new albums and tours... not to mention the tremendous support we’ve received from the R3 listening community. Internationally, it’s a point of pride for fans of Canadian independent music. It may sound a bit dramatic, but I think Radio3 provides an avenue through which fans can perpetuate their pride. I think the excitement about Canadian bands can be contagious and listeners almost feel a sense of ownership over certain bands that they may have supported for a long time, so to see them succeed at an international level is reason enough to do their best to spread the word.
Examining Canadian indie rock’s transition from obscure to ubiquitous, it’s impossible not to see Radio 3’s influence along the way — sometimes in the most surprising  places.

James Booth, Radio 3 music director
Black Mountain — at the time they were still called Jerk With a Bomb — had kind of expanded the lineup of the band and changed the direction of their sound. We did this session in Studio One here; there was an audience that came in to see them. It was one of those moments where I was standing in the room and thinking, ‘Wow, this is really amazing.’ We gave them a copy of the recording, which they passed on to this friend of theirs in the States and he loved the recording so much, he basically turned around and started a record label, Jagjaguwar, so he could release Black Mountain records. To actually be a part of that and promote these bands and have a real influence — the weird thing is that I didn’t know that for years and years. Just recently there was an article on the label and it was in there and I’m reading this article, like, ‘Wow, that was the recording that I did with them!’ For me it was very exciting. Black Mountain are such an incredible band. It’s pretty wild.

All the way along there have been these little signposts, where you see something happen, whether it’s Caribou or Crystal Castles. We can run through the list of bands where I think we found them very, very early on. Even, say, the Arcade Fire. We were playing them right from their first EP, this little indie EP they put out and distributed themselves and we just heard it and went, ‘Wow, this is really cool, really nice.’ To actually see those bands breaking other places — but, you know, to me it’s not about being first. You’re rewarded in that other people are picking up on something you thought was really, really good. I’m not sitting around expecting to be patted on the back for it. It really is a case of I love the music, I love the bands and there are so many really great bands in this country.