Sunday, August 2, 2015

S is for Sloan, Ron Sexsmith and Jane Siberry

     Sloan has been together for almost 25 years now and has maintained the same line-up since the release of their first album, Smeared.  Smeared  contained the smash hit Underwhelmed.  The members of Sloan are Chris Murphy, Andrew Scott, Patrick Peatland and Jay Ferguson.  One of the very cool things about Sloan is that each member of the band takes the lead in writing songs for their albums. In turn, they, also, switch instruments accordingly depending upon whose song is being performed at any given time on stage. Possessing such strong, multi-instrumental skills has allowed each band member to be able to approach the writing of songs from a myriad of perspectives and, as a result, Sloan has produced a steady stream of Indie/Alternative/Rock and Pop sounding songs over the years such as Coax MeMoney City Maniacs, If It Feels Good Do It and The Good In Everyone
     Sloan has won a Juno Award, as well as, several East Coast Music Awards. However, Sloan is best known for the integrity with which they have conducted their affairs over the years.  They are known as principled band; one that refuses to comprise its' ideals in pursuit of larger commercial gain.  Consequently, Sloan remain one of the most highly-respected bands among other bands in Canada.  They are routinely voted as being at, or near the top, of annual rankings of rock bands in Canada.  In fact, their second album, Twice Removed was voted as the Top Canadian Album of all time in a reader poll in Chart Magazine in 1995. It was ranked third in the same poll in 2000 and, back to #1 in this very poll in 2005.
     Halifax, Nova Scotia serves as home base for Sloan.  As stated in interviews, the band prefers to operate out of Halifax because of the city's vibrant music scene but, more importantly, because the people of the Maritimes help keep them grounded and able to maintain their perspective on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, even for as prodigious a rock and roll band as Canada has ever produced.  Sloan does, indeed, rock!  

    *The video below is from the Choir! Choir! Choir! Sessions.  It is pretty cool in its own buttoned-down way.  The regular rock version is in the link above. :)

   There is the classic Ron Sexsmith story that is told concerning the time Sexsmith found himself at a local coffee shop and a tune of his began to play in the store. The young lady serving him remarked that she loved the song and thought  (fellow Canadian singer) Rufus Wainwright was really talented.  When Sexsmith corrected her and claimed that he was, in fact, the singer of the song she was listening to, she replied, "And, who are you?"

     Who Ron Sexsmith is, is one of Canada's most respected songwriters.  Sexsmith has written songs for Leslie Feist, Sir Elton John, Chris Martin (of Coldplay), Elvis Costello and for Steve Earle, just to mention a few.  All of these industry heavyweights sing Sexsmith's praises.  They all laud him for his ability to create such delicate tapestries with his words. It is claimed that Sexsmith can infuse his characters with a sense of fragility or loneliness or confusion or loss, on a scale unmatched by his peers.  Yet, Sexsmith has never enjoyed a top 40 hit of his own.

     I was born two days before Ron Sexsmith was.  I feel a kinship with him because, on a much smaller scale, I have been told many praiseworthy things about myself, too. I have been told that I should publish my work. I have been called The Wizard of Words by an admirer. I have witnessed others become intimidated, at times, by the power of what I have to say.  I have seen and heard it all before and yet, I never truly feel worthy of the praise.  I always am plagued by feelings of inadequacy.  I never really believe that I am deserving of success. I am not a good advocate for my own work.  Yet, I find it pleasing when my work is well-received.   Ron Sexsmith desires recognition, too.
     On a much larger stage, Sexsmith has been fawned over by critics, fans and by peers but, he has rarely broken into the Top 100 charts, let alone the Top 40 record charts.  He is a Juno Award winner, as well as, being shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize but, there seems to be no place in mainstream radio for such intricately-crafted musical gems such as Gold in Them Hills, Just My Heart Talkin', Fallen, Brandy Alexander and Whatever it Takes.....unless covered by others such as, Feist (with Brandy Alexander) or K.D. Lang (with Fallen).  Whether this is a sign the times or else, a sign of the songwriter, it is hard to say.  All that I know is that anonymity can be a defence mechanism employed to avoid having to deal with the world beyond our own thoughts.  While I enjoy the occasional public pat on the back or kind-hearted comment, I, also, enjoy a sense of relative freedom that comes from being unknown. Consequently, I know exactly how it feels to just be, like Ron Sexsmith, simply the next guy in line for my coffee.


     Finally, I give you one of our country's most beautiful and delicate voices, Jane Siberry.  Often compared to the legendary Kate Bush, Siberry has released many songs which were well-received by critics and the public such as Mimi on the Beach, I Muse AloudOne More Colour, Bound by the Beauty and, with K.D. Lang, Calling All Angels.  

    After experiencing popularity and notoriety, Siberry began releasing albums that contained more complex and lengthy songs. So much so that she began to find her music didn't fit mainstream radio formats any longer. Her on-stage performances stopped being concerts in the traditional sense and became a collection of songs, spoken word poetry, experimental dance; all of which made some of her shows difficult to interpret. As a result, Jane Siberry fell out of favour with audiences and, for awhile, she stopped performing altogether.

    Jane Siberry always believed in her music being on her terms.  As a child, she taught herself to play guitar by practising in her room to Leonard Cohen records. As a songwriter, Siberry believed in the vision she possessed of the poetry in her own words.  Even during the height of her fame in the early 80s, when music videos were just gaining in popularity, Siberry's videos for her hit songs are all very unique and original.  She was never comfortable wearing the uniform provided for her by the Music Industry. So, when Siberry put her career on hold because of the increasingly negative reaction to her work, she claims it was a turning point for her but, in a positive way.

     A comparable story to Siberry's can be found in the recent best-selling book, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.  Palmer is a social media sensation. She once sang lead vocals for a successful local band in the Boston area called The Dresden Dolls.   In her book, Palmer described the tension that would develop between the band and the record label when it came to how she was to interact with her audience.  Palmer always maintained that she desired as direct a connection as possible, even if it meant staying late to sign as many autographs as were needed and selling and merchandising their CDs and t-shirts themselves.  Eventually, the major label dropped the band and Palmer reacted by using social media to connect directly with her audience in a new way. She marketed her songs and albums directly to her fans, asking them to pay whatever they felt the songs were worth.   It was her experience that, given the freedom to choose what to pay that, in many cases, fans will over pay.
     Jane Siberry has approached the second half of her career in exactly the same manner.  Remaining true to her artistic vision, Siberry has established a self-pay system for all of her songs and merchandise. Like Palmer, Siberry has found success raising capital on her terms by removing herself from the restrictive conditions required to play the Industry game.  Jane Siberry is as unique and original a talent as Canada has produced and has enjoyed a successful career on whose terms it matters most to her; her fans and herself.

     A big tip of the hat to the following list of performers whose names begin with the letter, "S":

     Modern day rockers, The Sheepdogs and The Strumbellas, singer/songwriter, Sarah Slean, the legendary singer, Buffy St. Marie, Alt-folksters, The Skydiggers, New Wave stars, The Spoons, Singer/songwriter, Skye Sweetnam, Rockers, Sons of Freedom, Singer, Amy Sky, East coast star, Gordie Sampson, Pop-rockers, Stereos, Montreal's Stars, 70s Supergroup, The Stampeders, Former teen heart throb, Rene Simard, Glam rockers, Sweeney Todd, Jazz star, Chase Sanborn, Rapper Saukrates, Pop star/activist, Lorranie Segato, Singer Jay Semko (of The Northern Pikes), HipHop star, Radio host, Shad, Leader of The World's Most Dangerous Band, Paul Shaffer, Soul singer, Remy Shand, Composer, Howard Shore, Ojibwa singer/songwriter, Shingoose, Soulful lady, Liberty Silver,  Rapper, Snow, Country legend, Hank Snow, Singer/songwriter, Kurt Swinghammer, Pop-rocker, Kim Stockwood, Alt-rockers, The Sadies, Rockers from Quebec, See Spot Run, 70s rockers, Saga, Rockers, Serial Joe, Alt-rockers, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Children's performers, Sharon, Lois and Bram, Jazz/funk stars, The Shuffle Demons, Pop-Rockers, Simple Plan, Rockers, Skinny Puppy, Alt-rockers, The Stills, 80s One-hit wonder, Strange Advance, Hip Hop stars, Swollen Members, Rockers, Sum 41 and Svengali and, finally, the band whose song of drunken excess served as my wedding song for our first dance, Spirit of the West.

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