Episode 264: Laila Biali

26Mar

Vancouver-born and Toronto-based, Laila Biali has toured with some of the biggest names in music, from Sting to Suzanne Vega. The pianist/singer is also a well regarded color performer in her own right, having released seven albums, including a new eponymous record, which debuted in January. The album’s first single, “Refugee,” follows the plight of a child, the same age as her son, caught up in the Serbian refugee crisis. In addition to performing, Biali is also the host of CBC Radio 2’s Saturday Night Jazz, a weekly four-hour show that explores the broad expanses of the genre. In this interview, we discuss the state of jazz in 2018, programming music for a diverse audience and life on the road with a young child.

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Episode 263: Alec Ounsworth (of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)

18Mar

A decade after releasing Some Loud Thunder, Clap Your Hands Say took the album back on tour. A lot has changed for the band in the intervening ten years, of course — not the least of which is the fact that frontman Alec Ounsworth remains the band’s only consistent member. The short stint of shows kicked off after the band finished touring for The Tourist, the group’s most critically acclaimed record since breaking through as the poster children for blog rock. After that self-titled release, Some Loud Thunder fell on somewhat deaf ears — mostly a victim of the band’s own seemingly overnight success. I met up with Ounsworth on the final night of the tour, after watching the band meticulously reinterpret the album’s songs in sound check, so many years after their initial release.  The atmosphere put the singer in the perfect position to talk about those early years and his still evolving approach to writing a song.

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Episode 262: Luke Lalonde (of Born Ruffians)

11Mar

2018’s Uncle, Duke and the Chief finds Born Ruffians performing with their original lineup for the first time in half a decade. Such a return is always an important turning for a band, but it takes on an extra weight for the trio, who began performing together as 15-year-olds in a small Ontario town. It’s a clearly joyful experience for the band, who managed to tap into the initial excitement that fueled the group in their earliest days. According to frontman Luke Lalonde, that sense of pleasure is an essential part of the music making process. Sure the fuel for the songs often comes from ideal circumstances, but he adds that he’d rather hang it up than feel as if he’s simple going through the motions. In this conversation, the front discusses the songwriting process and taking inspiration where you can get it.

 

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Episode 261: Elizabeth Powell (of Land of Talk)

5Mar

In May of last year, Land of Talk returned after a seven year hiatus. At the height of her powers, following tours with bands like Broken Social Scene and The Decemberists, Elizabeth Powell took a break. Between her vocal polyp and a laptop crash that result in the loss of an album’s worth of demos, it was time to step away. Of all things, however, it was yet another personal tragedy that ultimately brought the music back. Powell’s father suffered a major stroke, and Powell began playing again as a kind of rehab. Her father pleaded for her to start making music again, and the resulting record, Life After Youth was became one of her strongest and most personal to date. We caught up with Powell, ahead of a show opening for a reunited American Football to discuss the healing power of making music.

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Episode 260 (Bonus): Minus the Bear

4Mar

Five years between in records is a drop in the bucket for many groups. For Minus the Bear, however, it marks the longest gap between albums in the band’s 17 year history.  The making of Voids was marked by both personal and professional changes, as the group shuffled members and began to settle down and have kids. But there’s a fresh energy on the record, kicked off by “Lass Kiss,” which find the band in peak form. It’s a document of a band that still has has something to say. In this short interview, the group sat down back stage, following an opening slot for The Silverspun Pickups in Brooklyn to discuss changing dynamics and Donald Trump.

 

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Episode 259: Elise LeGrow

18Feb

The track list for Playing Chess is nothing if not bold. The 11 tracks that make up Elise LeGrow’s debut LP represent some of the legendary Chicago Record’s biggest names, including Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Etta James. The collection of covers is both and a risky and savvy move for the singer. Of course, LeGrow’s not exactly new to the industry — the Canadian musician signed with Sony back in 2009, but this record, released early this month, marks a major step, after years of singles and LPs. It doesn’t hurt that, this time out, she’s joined by Betty Wright, Questlove and members of Sharon Jones’ legendary backing band, The Dap-Kings.In the lead up to the record’s release, LeGrow sat down to discuss her curation of covers and the pitfalls of trying to break into the music industry.

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Episode 258 (Bonus): Gina Wynbrandt

14Feb

When I first encountered Gina Wynbrandt’s work at MoCCA Fest a few years back, the Chicago-based cartoonist seemingly came out of nowhere. Here debut book, Someone Please Have Sex With Me was the hands-down hit of the show — and for good reason. The book is an unflinchingly and often brutally hilarious look at sex that turns some of alternative comics’ most unshakable tropes on their head. “I read so many comics about the ugly male cartoonist in live with hot women,” she explains during our chat, “and I wanted my shot at it.” A followup minicomic, Thank You, follows in a similar vein, with the artist beginning the reader to help her foot the cost of a handsome male escort for the night. She debuted the book at Comic Arts Brooklyn, where we sat down for our chat — one she was finished setting up the giant Justin Bieber blanket on her table.

 

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Episode 257: Emil Ferris

11Feb

“Do not listen to people’s idea about what you can accomplish,”  Emil Ferris insists as we wrap up our interview. “ You must do the thing you were sent here to do.” We’re short on time during the quick conversation. Someone’s stopped by to whisk her off to her next appointment. But, she adds, it’s important that she get that one simple and powerful message across. Ferris’ brief career as a cartoonist is nothing if not a lesson in perseverance. In 2001, she was paralyzed by West Nile Virus contracted from a mosquito bite. After a hopeless diagnosis from doctors, she learned to walk and draw again, eventually receiving a creative writing MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2017, at age 55, Ferris release her debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monster, a painstakingly crafted coming of age story that led Art Spiegelman to call the cartoonist, “one of the most important comics artists of our time” in a lengthy New York Times piece. Since then, the book went on to become far and away the most lauded book of the year, with a second part due out this August. In this brief but fascinating conversation, Ferris relays a message of hopefulness for aspiring artists and those dealing with seemingly insurmountable health issues. The cartoonist also expounds on her love for classic horror movies and how to overcome demons of negative thinking.

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Episode 256 (Bonus): Joseph Remnant

8Feb

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Joseph Remnant’s debut graphic novel since he began collaborating with underground comics pioneer Harvey Pekar for the online Pekar Project anthology back in 2010. The moment finally arrived last year when Fantagraphics published Cartoon Clouds, the tale of recent art school graduates grappling with the realities of adult life. Of course, the cartoonist has been busy in the meantime, working on his on-going floppy series, Cartoon Clouds and working on Pekar’s final book, Cleveland, a fitting send off for one of the medium’s most influential writers. Remnant and I sat down at the CAB show in Brooklyn to discuss his work to this point and the process of setting out to create a debut graphic novel after years of shorter work and collaborations.

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Episode 255: Torquil Campbell (of Stars)

4Feb

“Without nostalgia,” Torquil Campbell explains, “I don’t know how you make pop music.” It’s an inescapable dimension of Stars music, if only because the band essentially grew up together in Toronto.  Plenty has changed, of course, in the nearly 20 years since the group formed. Two members married one another, and Campell became the sole member to move away, relocating part-time to Vancouver and a spot near Niagra Falls for his wife’s theater acting career. But the indie-pop group’s career has remained strong. Stars’ ninth studio album, There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light is among their strongest, and we meet up backstage at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, fans are already lined up, waiting to get into one of multiple sold out shows. Back in the city where the spent so many of its formative years, the singer seems especially reflective. “Pop music without nostalgia,” he adds in almost a whisper, “Is like coffee without cream."

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