The Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Hour: Zeus, John Southworth, Forest City Lovers, Cold Specks, Walk off the Earth
Zeus are great, according to Randy Bachman, who all but crowned them heirs to the rock throne in Canada during their appearance on his CBC show. And, with apologies to The Sheepdogs, I kinda get it. They have such an incredible array of skills that they don’t have to just sound like that great new rock revival band that taps CCR — not that there’s anything wrong with that. They are much more. And on their new album, Busting Visions, released on March 27 by Arts & Crafts, they don’t hold back. As they prepare for a European tour with Dan Mangan followed by a cross-Canada jaunt in May and June in support of the album, I checked in with Neil Quin to get some backstory on the band:
“I’m really happy with how it sounds,” says Quin, who had just been listening to the record before the call. “I’m really impressed with my friends. It was a good time, with some really memorable moments and I think we’ve achieved a new echelon for us working together.”
In addition to Quin, the Toronto band includes Rob Drake, Carlin Nicholson and Mike O’Brien. The recording was done in the band’s own studio as well as at Feist’s ranch. And although it is the band’s second release, in a lot of ways it is the first album with all four members solidly ensconced in the lineup.
“With the first record, it was pretty much finished by the time me and Robbie were in the band, and we didn’t work on nearly as much of the record,” says Quin. “And I wasn’t really sure what my role was going to be in the band.”
Well, something clicked and Quin’s made a major contribution to the new record, including its first single, “Are You Gonna Waste My Time,” which, if life were right and just, should do for Zeus what “I Don’t Know” did for The Sheepdogs. That is: make them famous, which is exactly what this band should be.
“It is going to be a busy few months for the boys,” says Quin. “You can expect a good times rock show, we pride ourselves on putting on a good show, a rock-splosion that’s what you should tell them rock-splosion!”
Here they are with Bachman:
On a brighter note, one of those cool, quirky local songwriters who have somehow alluded any kind of regular success despite heaps of critical praise is back! No, no not Ron Sexsmith. I’m talking about John Southworth, who is releasing a new, of course ambitious, new album dubbed Easterween with two special shows at Lower Ossington Theatre on April 4 and 5. On the album, Southworth collaborates with Juno Award-winning composer Andrew Downing, with a seven-piece “street-cabaret ensemble” along for the ride. Southworth, an English-Canadian, hit it big out of the gate when he released the still-revered album Mars Pennsylvania back in the mid-90s. CBC Radio 2’s Rich Terfry might have put it best when he described Southworth as “John is to music what Guy Maddin is to film.” Unless, of course, you don’t know who Guy Maddin is. Well, then there really isn’t any hope is there?
Forest in the weeds
Once upon a time there was an indie band from Toronto, and they called themselves Forest City Lovers. Fans adored the singer, Kat Burns; critics swooned, the future was bright. But, like many a musical love story, the ending is not a happy one. The band called it quits this week and announced that on April 19 the band will perform their final show at The Great Hall. Burns spelled out the situation in a letter posted to the band’s website, saying, “I am both excited and nervous to announce that after our show in Toronto on April 19 I am putting the Forest City Lovers name on an indefinite hiatus.” The excitement comes from the move to release all future musical endeavours of Kat Burns under the moniker KASHKA.
You Say Party on dude
The band Real Boys, featuring Stephen O’Shea of popular Canadian dance-punk band You Say Party! We Say Die!, Oh No! Yoko and GSTS!, released a new six-song EP last week to much hubbub. It is a bubbly, jaunty, hook-laden affair featuring the really high and lively vocals of lead singer Everett Morris. The band is planning a tour of Western Canada over the next couple months, but don’t be surprised if they make their way out to Toronto — likely just in time for North by Northeast. Here’s the video for their first single, “Vacation.”
Good cause alert
A group of top-notch Canadian musicians are gathering at the Sound Academy on April 12 for a special benefit concert in support of a new park to be named in honour of late Toronto guitarist and all-around great guy Jeff Healey. Those performing include Randy Bachman, Paul James, Jack de Keyzer, Danny Marks, Lamont James, Tony “Wild T” Springer and the Dave Murphy Band. The park is located near Healey’s boyhood home in the city’s west end. The proceeds from the concert will go towards purchasing special playground equipment to make the park more accessible for kids with disabilities. Tickets available from Ticketmaster.
And why not spend a bit of time with the late Jeff Healey right now:
Grimes going, going, gone
Montreal artist Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Grimes, is well on her way thanks to her breathtaking album, Visions, which she showcased a couple weeks back at a jam-packed show at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern. But, she’s an artist, and artists need to create. As a result, Boucher is already readying a side project dubbed Membrain with electronic musician Tim Lafontaine. The duo will release a new EP called Sit Back, Rewind later this year.
Who knows what evil lurks
In an era when Toronto and area indies bands from the ‘90s just won’t go away, it is no surprise to hear the instrumental whiz kids Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are reuniting for a gig at Lee’s Palace on July 14. Without the TV show The Kids in the Hall, with its Shadowy theme song, it is hard to fathom whether or not anyone would know this band. They made some noise and put out three albums — so why the comeback? I tracked down one Shadowy character, local record producer Don Pyle, and asked him just that.
“The label reissuing the records, Mammoth Cave Recording Company, asked if we would consider playing Sled Island fest in Calgary in June,” Pyle explains. “It seemed so preposterous and we have always been a sucker for a dare — so we said yes. It wasn’t part of our plans but we quickly realized we could do it, in and out with as little of the icky music business things that mar the music-making experience as possible.”
There you go, from the man himself.
She is Specks-tacular
So, Al Spx, a.k.a. Cold Specks, was in town for Canadian Music Week and I got the chance to sit down with her and go over her meteoric rise to, well, maybe not fame, but solid next big thing. Her debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, will be released May 21 and she’ll be touring Canada with Great Lake Swimmers in May and on June 2 in Toronto, so we’ll be hearing a lot from her. We met up at the Rivoli the day after she arrived after playing a few shows at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, amidst that crazy spring heat wave. I’ll be profiling her in greater detail for an upcoming edition of Post City Magazines, but here are a few highlights:
• First up, she doesn’t live in England. She’s back and forth, and does much of her studio work overseas, but we can still consider her a local. She’s up on the local gossip and does consider Rob Ford an “idiot,” so there you go.
• The whole “doom soul” tag that everyone was talking about was a bit of a joke for her Facebook page when she released her first song “Holland” online. She took it off after five days, but it stuck like Krazy Glue.
• She is buddy-buddy with English band Hatcham Social, who help keep her grounded while the world goes gaga for her unique sound. And still has a load of local friends that help her out.
• Her songs were created during a very “morbid” period. Now she writes more about “boys.” Not sure whether or not the “doom soul” tag still applies.
• She, like many musicians before her, was inspired by the revered field recordings of Alan Lomax.
• The first album she ever purchased was Is This It by The Strokes when she was 13 or 14 years old. No, she doesn’t like the new stuff.
Revered local band Cowboy Junkies just released their new and wonderful album The Wilderness earlier this week completing their four-disc "Nomad" series. The series itself is a must-have for music fans and includes Renmin Park, Demons and Sing In My Meadow, all released in the last 18 months. All of them have very different sounds and sources of inspiration, from geography to artists such as the late, great Vic Chesnutt. The band is in a cool and comfortable spot with a solid fan base around the world that allows them to crank out these gems through their own label, Latent Recordings. If they want to get any bigger, they don’t show it. And if they keep cranking out music like this, everyone will be just thrilled. But, if you crave a little live Cowboy Junkies action, the band has signed on as the opening act for the Canadian dates of one John Mellencamp.
Check out the band playing the Chestnutt song “Wrong Piano:”
The clever kids
Gotye’s Toronto concert date at the Kool Haus on March 31 reminded me off those quirky and cool kids Walk off the Earth, who turned a Gotye cover into a YouTube sensation and a major record deal. Sure, I wanted to write them off as a novelty act, who took full advantage of their 15 minutes of fame. I’ll admit it. And, yes, come to think of it, maybe I’m writing this because I know there are a million people who follow every word written about these guys. Still, their latest video for the song “Little Boxes,” released last week, is incredibly inventive. Musically, well, not so much. But when you create all the instruments and an entire living room out of cardboard boxes I would be remiss not to mention it. The band has already signed a big label deal with Columbia Records, and are apparently in the studio working on a new album.
Who is Feltworth?
A tweet by Feist drew our attention to some weird muppet-like band called Feltworth. Speculation about the true identities of the little fellas is underway, and some suspect Sloan funny guy Chris Murphy’s handiwork. We’ll see. Check out their intro video below:
Also this happened
FYI speaking of Feist — she just added a massive slate of new shows from May until the end of August. And, no, she isn’t playing Toronto. Boo! That is all.