‘And I just cannot wait until October’: Jumping Back and Forth With Devon More

Devon More in Hits Like a Girl. Photo Credit: Cameron Thomson.

July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe (Facebook Live)
Devon More or Less 

We certainly now know that being a human on this planet is to play a team sport, whether you want to or not. Remember earlier this year in lockdown when we all stuck together by staying apart? Kind of like that. It was a pretty ripe time, if you’re a solo show creator, to wander through some potential framing devices. I’m certainly not the only one. I just can’t help myself. I wrote a song about it. Maybe this was my attempt to write the future back in April.

You won’t believe what I see
Venus, it’s so brightly chasing the sun over yonder
Put down the phone and just get on the road
You’ve got to come over to catch the last of the sunset on the deck


Absence won’t make my heart any fonder
Don’t make me beg you when you know what you want to do
You want to come over
When will you be over?

Maybe in the month of May
May should be okay

Can’t you wait until May?
Okay.

January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview

“I actually measured myself recently, and I am exactly 6-foot and a half inch,” Devon More says, speaking by phone from Kamloops, British Columbia. “You can post that loud and proud. Maybe less so the age.”

I ask the 36-year-old singer-songwriter if she is sensitive about her age.

“I am not really sensitive about it. But I have been warned by other women about the invisibility cloak that falls on you once you’re over 40, particularly as a female on stage. Maybe I’m sensitive about that? But, also, no. Fuck it. I’m trying to be an alternate representation of femininity, and proudly aging is a statement I could happily make.”

More and I met five years ago at the Calgary Fringe Festival, where she presented her one-woman show, Berlin Waltz. Following the show’s final performance, she kindly agreed to an impromptu interview. In our interview, More talked about the inspiration behind Berlin Waltz, planting new ideas through live performance, and working the Canadian fringe festival circuit.

In the years since we last spoke, More has developed two new solo works. Flute Loops premiered in 2018, with Hits Like a Girl premiering the following year.

I ask More to (re)introduce herself and her work.

“The most succinct description I have come up with is sonic storytelling,” she says. “The shows that I put together are not a play, but they are more than a concert. I like to combine live music and lyrical musings on a given topic to create a live music experience that also has a storyline, and that is also tactical. Musically, I think I’ve started calling it protest pop. There are catchy melodies, but there is some lyrical depth in there that is hoping to open your mind and plant some food for thought.”

The last line brings me back to something More said in our first interview:

“It’s amazing if people give you an hour of their time in a world where seven seconds into a YouTube video clip if it’s not entertaining, then you’re onto the next page, right? So, a full hour of time seems like a wasted opportunity to bring people into a room without trying to give them something [that they] can marinate on later.”

The quote remains “absolutely” true for More, whose research for Hits Like a Girl shed light on the relationship between the brain and live performance.

“I did a lot of reading for it. If a person is sharing a story, particularly one that is emotional, the areas of the brain that light up in the storyteller, those exact same areas are engaged in the listener as well. To bring people in a room and put them through a live experience together, you are all syncing up your brain waves. I think I have gotten better at making it an experience that when you leave, you have something to talk about together or to relate to from your own experience as a human.”

May 7, 2020 — Facebook Post
Devon More Music

“Day 50: the finish line for my music marathon!”

April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview

Let’s talk about your daily livestreams. On the 27th, it’ll be a month that you’ve been livestreaming. What made you decide you wanted to perform on Facebook Live? 

There’s so much media out there right now. It’s overwhelming. The numbers. The stats. The gloom and doom. And people are spending a lot of time on their screens because of lockdown. I wanted to put something out there that is not gloom and doom, and that is not a perfectly polished Netflix series. It’s real. It’s live. It’s genuine. It’s a different form of live connection.

And to be honest, I tend towards hyperproductivity. It’s a little bit of a coping mechanism for me, too, because this is what I love to do, play music. It has given me more structure than I have had in the last several years of my life. This month, I am practicing my craft every day. I am noticing an improvement. I have a routine because of it. Just the sheer luxury of leaving my stuff set up in my parents’ living room, which I have completely taken over. I’m not packing my gear in and out of my car or driving from place to place. I’m trying to view things through as positive of a lens as possible. I can also hope that it is helpful to the people who tune in.

It’s important to have those commitments, so the days don’t blend together. It’s too easy to say: I guess I’ll melt into the couch or stay in bed today.

Or scroll through until you read all the terrible articles about COVID-19 from around the world. 

It’s cool that I have heard back from people who I am now part of their routine. During yesterday’s live feed, someone said: “It’s Devon o’clock.” 

We have talked before about people giving you their time. This is like — I am inviting you into my home, and my life, because you’re on my screen.

Yeah. It’s a little unnerving to start because when you are broadcasting your rehearsal every day, it’s not always up to the level of performance standard that I would normally hold myself to, you know. That’s been interesting, too. That’s been interesting to let go of some of my perfectionism. You are learning things as you go. You are going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. That’s part of it, too.

Everyone’s really winging it right now. Do we wear masks in stores? Should I disinfect my groceries? How do I deal with this? 

We are just doing our best. That’s a healthy mindset. We are typically afraid of making mistakes. I don’t know if we talked about this in January, but we don’t have the social framework to own up to our mistakes, to welcome them as opportunities for growth. Right now, we are going to make mistakes as we work our way through this. That’s part of the process. Be kind to each other. If I can model some of the ways we fail as humans on a musical scale, and show people that that’s okay, then wonderful.

July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe
Devon More or Less

I can’t wait to show you the garden’s been growing
Exploding with blossoms and clover
Come have a cup of tea, lay on the grass with me
I would love you to come over
So, come on, just come on right over

Maybe in June
June, it’s coming soon
Can’t you wait till June?
Okay.

It took awhile to find that album on vinyl
Arriving by special order
And I can’t wait to listen
You won’t be missing out if you come right over

So, won’t you come over?

Maybe in July
July should be just fine

Can’t you wait till July?
Fine.

April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview

In January, we talked about your online expansion.

I’m still working on it. It’s funny, isn’t it? I’m grateful that I was in that headspace already.  If you are not forced into it, then it’s harder to make those shifts under duress. Now you have to move your job online.

I had gotten to the end of my term house sitting. Rather than feeling like I had built my foundation, I had opened the door to understanding how to build the foundation. I was in this space of — this is a bigger undertaking than I thought. Maybe it’s not going to be fun along the way.

Then, this pandemic happened. Well, no better time to jump in fully. I would not have signed up to livestream daily for a month pre-pandemic. I don’t know if anyone would have cared if I did — a lesson in being open to opportunities as they arise. It’s a dream to work on the creative side of the craft. If I look at it as a rogue residency than a lockdown, great, I have this space where I can do that.

Are you in Kamloops right now?

I came up to spend the ski season here. I had the opportunity to house sit for four and a half months in my hometown, which I haven’t spent much time here since I left in 2008. So, I already had a weird déjà voodoo winter.

In mid-March, the snowbirds came back sooner than expected. Everything changed so quickly. I moved my gear into my parents’ house, and I have been here ever since. I feel like I have manifested an alternate timeline of my teenage years, and I am living it out. It is way better, twenty years later, being a teenager. One, I am an only child this time around. Normally, I am a middle child. Also, my parents are retired now. They have a lot of time and freedom as well, so they are quite creative. My dad has a keyboard. My mom and I sit down in the mornings and do a free write. The snacks have gotten way better since I was an actual teenager. My parents have Brazil nuts and dark chocolate…! I find it amusing: for all the strange places I spent my 20s in, I am right back in my parents’ house for the end of days.

Devon More performing Write the Future as part of Surrey Civic Theatres’ Digital Stage series.

January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview

Our conversation turns to the fringe festival. 

Since premiering Silent Party Interlude at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival, More has become an audience favourite on the fringe circuit. Her one-woman shows have earned critical praise from numerous media outlets, including a nod from the 2016 Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards (Nominee: Berlin Waltz, Best Creative Concept).

Although rewarding, fringe festivals demand a lot from artists, something More explained to me in our first interview:

“The fringe is…I’ve never worked so hard for meager returns, but you know it’s amazing,” said More about the fringe experience. “Professional development pays for itself — so don’t make me seem like I’m money hungry! But you spend so much time on the fringe working, selling, trying to promote, trying to get people excited about your show…I just couldn’t…you really need to care about, at least I do, what you’re trying to sell to be able to maintain that level of involvement with it.”

Curious to know if the seasoned fringe performer feels the same way, I ask More if the years of experience under her belt have made the process any easier.

“It’s such a wonderful moment for us to have this conversation for me,” More says. “I will preface this by saying: I have applied to zero fringe festivals for 2020, and I don’t intend to. I learned so much. What I love about the fringe is you have to do it all. You can’t just do the fun, creative parts. We love it, the first ten percent of the process. We don’t necessarily love writing a press release, or hammering out your elevator pitch, or trying to make a show standout. You have to do it all to make it work on the fringe.”

More tells me that yes, in some ways, working the fringe became easier as she built an “incredible toolkit” over the years. Name recognition, in addition to effective marketing, helped when returning to familiar territory. It is a big compliment as an artist, More says, when audiences come back years after the initial performance. “Let’s see what you want to talk about this time.”

Nonetheless, More feels it necessary to remove herself from the fringe circuit so she can focus more time and energy on building her career. Would she ever perform at the fringe again? Yes, but only if she felt a “burning” desire to tell a story through that platform. For now, More would like to grow her online presence. 

“There’s an interesting equilibrium to maintain as a live performer. The live show needs to be good. You also need a strong online presence. It’s like your resume. It reached a point where my online presence was so out-of-date with what I was doing live that I wasn’t getting the live bookings I should have been getting. That’s what I’m in the process of doing now, entering this different arena, taking what I learned fringing and independently producing, and applying those skills to catch up with the content that needs to be online.”

Although there is something beautiful about live art “disappearing into the ether” (aside from a few reviews and distinctions), it is simply not practical from the standpoint of a creative professional who only has so much time and energy to invest in projects. “Even though it’s just this digital universe, there is something more lasting about the work you can distribute there.”

Looking ahead, More says there is “a lot of foundational work that needs to be done.” Her priorities are expanding her email list and setting up methods that allow the performer to better connect with fans. One way More plans on connecting with fans is through Patreon, an online subscription platform where fans can support creators and receive exclusive content.

April 27, 2020 — Facebook Live
Lockdown Living Room Show

Now, if you have been tuning in at all, I have been on a livestream marathon. I have been livestreaming twice a day for, it’ll be six weeks on Thursday. And maybe some of you are wondering why? Why do I livestream compulsively? That’s fair. It’s a good question. I ask myself this daily. It’s a three-part answer. Number one, it’s cheap therapy for me. Playing music makes me feel better, even if no one is watching my Instagram feed. I start my day by singing three songs, that’s reason enough. Number two, routine. I have more structure in my life right now than I have had in a few years. That’s kinda cool. And the third reason is, it prevents me from going completely feral during quarantine. Probably better for my roommates and I if I continue livestreaming. When I say roommates, I mean my parents.

But why I do this, this art thing? It’s out of a desire to communicate, I think.

July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe
Devon More or Less

I would never overlook

That I borrowed your book
I read it from cover to cover
As quick as a flash, I’ll deliver it back as soon as I can come over
So, can’t I come over?

Maybe in August
In August, we trust
In August, in August
You promised, you promised

August, in August
In August, we trust, in August
You promised
You promised
You promised August


Okay.

January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview

“I want to make commentary in my work,” More says. “I don’t really consider myself to be an entertainer. What I do is entertaining, but what motivates me is not just being under stage lights but communicating something I think is of value. It appeals to me to spend more time working online so I can make more topical commentary.”

Developing her online presence is not just for the benefit of distributing music and commentary more efficiently. There is also the social element of fans coming along for the ride. 

“It’s lonely a lot of what I do. There’s not the same kind of checklists in independent art that there are in other career trajectories that tell you how you’re doing. I have so much appreciation for the people who continue to follow what I do, and particularly for the people who tell me what they like or don’t about my work. Those conversations are so valuable to me that I am motivated to create a way to have them more regularly with people. Here’s what I’m working on that you won’t be able to see for a year or so, but you can still know the stage of the process that I am in.”

April 27, 2020 — Facebook Live
Lockdown Living Room Show

I’m learning a thing or two about what it means to livestream. What is the difference between this and a real show? I mean, I’m so glad you’re here. This is a real show. I have had these 4:30 showtimes on the fringe. I will just say: there is no way I would have gotten this many people in a house. Thanks for being here.

April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview

But what a time to be a mythmaker, a storyteller, a creator. I have been trying to have these conversations with my fellow creators. We are staying in touch. We have a few accountability partnerships going on. We are trying to be productive during this time as well. It’s okay to want to pull the covers over your head some days, but I think everyone, as we move through this and towards whatever our new reality is going to be, should be considering the stories we choose to tell — our power as storytellers. Draw peoples’ attention to some bigger philosophical questions or deeper values, the sort of things that we can use as catalysts for positive change, rather than the beginning of a terrible end.

That is something we talked about back in January. You said: “We need boredom on a global scale to creatively think about how we can better look after each other and the planet.” 

Did I? That’s quite prophetic. 

July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe
Devon More or Less

You’d never guess but
I’m getting my rest
And I bet you don’t look a day older
Don’t forget when we last met, more or less,
You said that I should come over
So, can’t I come over?

Maybe in September
Things will all be better in September
Till then remember that you’re first on my list of faces to kiss
As soon as all of this is finally over

January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview

“I think where the world is right now, it would be helpful if everyone took a hard look at their personal values,” More says. “What is it that is actually fulfilling to me? If you are honest with yourself, it’s not the stuff. It’s not materialism. People want meaningful human connection. If we could simplify our personal values to what really brings us joy as human beings, then we could let go of some of our materialism, slow down the pace of this insane consumption-based economy we live in, and just take a breather.”

“We need boredom on a global scale to creatively think about how we can better look after each other and the planet. Sooner rather than later, let’s start having those tough discussions.”

August 7, 2020 — Surrey Civic Theatres‘ Digital Stage (YouTube)
Write the Future

Hello, welcome to the show. I’m Devon More, and I make music. I am the show. It’s just me and you at a safe distance. Our show starts with a question: how do you feel about the status quo?

April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview

Let’s go back to your live show, the living room show on April 27th. You set it as your goal. You are playing every day, but this is the show. 

This is the show!

I think that’s so cool. That’s something we talked about in January. You were working on new material. You wanted to get back into the writing and share things that had been in your back catalogue.

I did one show on March 30th, which I had selected because there were the fewest possible conflicts with other livestream events. There are a lot of grants floating around, in theory, for people who are livestreaming concerts. Like most grant funding, it seems easier than it is to actually get the dollars in your hand. I had been working on a setlist for some house concerts that I had coming up.

In the meantime, I have been exploring the livestreaming. I think it’s important to set that goal to have something ready. And also for people who want to tune in only once. If you are interested in the process, tune in every day, and you will get to catch the livelooped musical car wrecks and mistakes and really unexpected good surprises that happen. Sometimes things just go off the rails when you are mixing on the fly with all these different instruments and effects. But I also want to maintain my professional standards in terms of what I consider performance ready, and so I think I will try to do once every two weeks. We’ll see how long it goes on, right?

July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe
Devon More or Less

I’m sorry to bug you, but I need a hug
And I just cannot wait until October
Don’t make me wait until October
Can I just come over?

January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview

“I talked so much. I have been feeling very philosophical lately, so when you reached out, I was like: oh, do I have some thoughts to share.”

April 27, 2020 — Facebook Live
Lockdown Living Room Show

Alright, friends. Thank you for joining me on this Monday afternoon. If you ever need a break from the headlines, this is where I’ll be. 4:30 on Facebook. 10 a.m. on Instagram. Take care of yourselves. Try not to worry about the future. Wonder about the future. And look after yourselves. 

See you soon.


Devon More

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“When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me”: Interview with Singer-Songwriter Amanda Martinez

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Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available now. Photo Credit: Johnny Lopera.

Amanda Martinez is a renowned singer-songwriter who has performed across Canada and on stages worldwide. She has played sold-out shows at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, New York City’s Blue Note Jazz Club, and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara. In June, Martinez released her fourth album Libre. It is hard to believe the Toronto-born artist almost pursued another path entirely.

Born to a Mexican father and South African mother, Martinez grew up household founded upon a strong work ethic. Her father came to Toronto with virtually nothing. He and his brother rode their bicycles to Canada from Mexico. The brothers had $100 to their name. Martinez’s father always told her that there are no shortcuts in life. “It’s all about working hard.”

Acting on the advice of others, Martinez shelved her dream of pursuing a music career full-time so she could follow a “more secure path.” Martinez would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters in International Business from York University’s Schulich School of Business. In time, Martinez landed a job in TD Bank’s trade finance department. Music remained a hobby.

As time went on, Martinez became increasingly worried about her future. She feared growing old and looking back on her life with regret. It manifested “in a bit of a crisis.”

“I just realized that I had been going along with what everyone had told me,” she said. “I had never really given myself the chance to pursue what I had always known in my heart, that I loved music, and I loved to perform.”

At the age of thirty, Martinez left the corporate world to pursue a singing career. It was not long until she landed her first gig at Alleycatz, a jazz club in Toronto.

“I walked into this jazz club and convinced the owner to let me audition with the house band,” Martinez said. “I was very enthusiastic. When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me. He said: I like your attitude, I’ll give you every Monday night. That led to me knocking on doors at clubs around Toronto.”

In the beginning, Martinez sang a lot more in English than she did in Spanish. The singer noticed that “people really responded” when she sang in Spanish.

“They could tell that was what lit me up,” said Martinez. 

When she was not performing at Sassafraz or the Rex Hotel, Martinez was busy auditioning for television. She became the host of Ontario Lottery Tonight, allowing her to give up her temp job. She landed roles in Mutant X, This is Wonderland, and Monk. Martinez also provided the voice for a character in the critically acclaimed video game Rainbow Six: Vegas.

In 2005, the singer embarked on a new chapter in her career. JAZZ.FM91 hired Martinez to host and produce Café Latino, a weekend radio program dedicated to Latin jazz from around the world. 

“I feel like that got my name out there,” she said. “People got to know me on-air, and they would come to my gigs.”

Martinez recorded her debut album Sola during her tenure as host of Café Latino. “It was always my dream to record an album.” The album released in 2006. She left Café Latino in 2008 to focus on her music career.

“I wouldn’t have had a clue that years later I would have four albums to my name,” Martinez said. “And people would still be buying tickets to come see my shows. There was always that dream, but you never where you’ll end up.”

From knocking on doors to performing sold-out concerts, Martinez’s nearly twenty-year-long career is truly remarkable. And there is still much she wants to accomplish in her career. Martinez recently filmed an episode of Private Eyes in which she plays a Mexican actress visiting Toronto. A fan of musical theatre since high school, Martinez hopes one day she can bring her love for music and acting together. “I don’t know if it’ll be something I produce myself, but I would love to use both those sides of me.”

Touring more often is another career goal for Martinez, who performed across Ontario and Quebec this fall.

“I have been doing a little bit of touring but not a lot,” said Martinez. “There are so many places I would love to visit and bring my music to. It’s always a challenge with having young children at home and with my husband [Drew Birston] touring too. I hope to continue performing outside of Canada.”

Reflecting on her days performing at Alleycatz, Martinez says she feels lucky to still feel the same excitement to get on stage as she did back then. Yes, she may have “fewer wrinkles” in pictures from those years, but none of that matters for the 48-year-old singer. Martinez is thankful for the years of life experience that she brings to her music and shares with her audience.

“As the years have gone on, I feel so much more comfortable with myself and what I’m doing,” she said. “I remember when I first started, I was curious about people’s age. Oh, that person is x years old and still doing what they’re doing and loving it. People are still enjoying their music. That brought me comfort.”

“And I remember when I was hosting Café Latino, some of my favourite albums featured these seasoned singers from Cuba. There was this character to their voices. You could hear it in their voices — their life and their experience. That brings me back when I do feel anxious.”

What advice does Martinez have for young people? Follow your gut and try not to second-guess yourself.

“A lot of momentum that I got, especially in the beginning, was through being bold and going after little ideas or opportunities that came my way,” she said. “Even the radio program, I remember thinking who am I to host a show? But then I thought you know what, who am I not to? I can learn. If you maintain that attitude of being open, a lot of doors can open for you.”


Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify. 

Learn more about the artist:
Official Website

Follow Amanda Martinez: FacebookInstagram / Twitter / YouTube

Christina Martin Talks New Album, Life on the Road, and Taking Care of Business

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Christina Martin’s latest album Wonderful Lie is available now. Photo credit: Lindsay Duncan.

“I did not want to turn 40,” Christina Martin says from her home in Port Howe, Nova Scotia. We are talking on the phone. It is a sleepy morning for Martin, home after touring Newfoundland. Martin and her husband/guitarist Dale Murray are enjoying two days of rest before hitting the road again in the morning. Their Canadian tour will take them as far as British Colombia. “I didn’t want to turn 30. I don’t like the idea of aging. I think it has to do with the industry I have chosen to be in.”

Last month, Martin released Wonderful Lie, the award-winning musician’s seventh album. As part of the Wonderful Lie Tour, the singer-songwriter will perform in Fredericton at The Muse Cafe, November 22. The venue is not far from where Martin grew up in the capital city.

“Both my parents are from Saint-Léonard,” Martin says. “I was born in Florida. We moved to Harvey Station when I was about eight months. Not long after, we moved to Fredericton. I grew up in Fredericton with my parents and two brothers until we moved to Rothesay when I was around nine. I lived on University Avenue.”

Martin remembers wandering the neighborhood and catching burdocks on her clothes in the field behind her home. Behind her home, too, was the train. 

“That train went off the tracks while we were still living there,” says Martin. “Nobody was hurt. It did damage some of the homes, though, just around the corner from my house.”

In 2002, Martin released her debut album Pretty Things while living in Austin, Texas. 

“It was a soft launch,” Martin says. “I did record an album and it was available, but I had no concept of what it was to promote an album outside of the town I was living in. As an artist in Austin, I was focused on trying to be a better musician and learning the ropes. I only started thinking about how to properly launch an album independently or with the help of partners once I moved back to Canada and became a resident of Nova Scotia.”

Martin’s attitude towards her craft changed when she began learning how to develop and grow her business as an independent artist. “Before it was all oh, I don’t need to learn that or do that. I’ll just focus on writing songs.”

In her tour journal, Martin speaks openly about managing the details of her business. “We do the best we can and it’s not always glamorous,” she writes. I ask Martin about the journal entry and the work that goes on behind-the-scenes.

“I do it because I have to,” she says. “This is my business. I have to pay the bills, and I want to grow. At this point, I can’t afford to hire somebody full-time or part-time. It really is a full-time job. It could be two peoples’ full-time jobs. I’m doing a lot of it myself. It’s hard. You are trying to find time to write and to record and to tour and to also have downtime to be healthy. All I can say is I just try to do the best I can. I make mistakes. I wish I could do more.”

The work comes with Martin on the road. While Murray drives the vehicle, Martin is answering emails, working on funding reports, and taking care of booking. 

“You are always thinking ahead because you got to plan the next tour that’s like half a year, a year, even two years ahead,” says Martin. “I always feel that pressure, you know. You have to book this now because, otherwise, these venues are going to be busy. You aren’t going to have work. That’s always a fear of mine. That I’m not going to have work, and I’m not going to be able to pay my bills. I won’t be able to continue the mission, which is to build connections with the music and the messages.”

I ask Martin about life on the road and how she stays healthy. Martin says she tries to stick to a routine that includes exercise and drinking plenty of water. “If I don’t exercise, I feel really anxious and just not centered.”

Exercise has always been a major part of Martin’s life. She was an athlete in her teen years.

“If it was sports season, I wasn’t experimenting with alcohol or drugs,” Martin says. “It was when the sports season was off that I started experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Because my brother struggled with addiction, I knew that could be something that I might struggle with. That might not be good for me. I went through a couple of years, on and off, of overdoing it with alcohol. I was conscious of it because of my older brother. I was cautious because I knew the negative effect it had on his life. I was scared that would happen to me.”

In her early twenties, Martin made the decision to stop drinking alcohol. 

“That was around when I started singing,” says Martin. “I was very busy with other jobs. I learned early on that if I wanted to be a singer and manage all these jobs and my music career, I couldn’t. I had to take care of myself physically. That included staying away from drugs and alcohol. Being in the entertainment business, it’s hard to say no and to not be the life of the party. It took until my mid-thirties that I became comfortable saying I don’t drink alcohol. Or to really say no and not feel that pressure to please people.”

Martin recently celebrated her 40th birthday.

Growing up, Martin received negative messages about aging. “The message I got was in the music business if you weren’t young or a prodigy right away, you wouldn’t make it. You would never be a star.” Today, she knows there is no single definition of success. Still, the idea of growing older is something the musician struggles with.

“I suppose it’s ingrained in me that as I get older, I will no longer be useful or wanted,” Martin says. “It’s such bullshit, but it’s still there. It’s a fear. It also keeps me going and working hard. I want to do more. I want to do more in my career and be better.”

And that is why Martin strives to live a healthy, positive lifestyle.

“I would like to be a role model as someone who is aging and kicking ass at what they do,” says Martin. “And breaking negative cycles. Those are important things to me.”

Our conversation turns to the new album and its release.

For Martin, a lot of the details involved in releasing an album are “a pain in the ass.” The details, she explains, take time away from creating more work. Where the magic lies for Martin is in the writing and dreaming of the concepts, as well as the collaborations along the way. “I get excited when I know I can get on that journey again to write and record.”

Wonderful Lie opens with Martin covering ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All.” I ask Martin how she decided on recording the song for the album.

“Growing up, I loved ABBA’s music,” Martin says. “I started going through the material, and I landed on this one. It’s the one that stands out to me as a really beautiful song. I picked up my acoustic guitar and tried finding the right key for my voice. It felt good. It felt right to sing it.”

Before our conversation comes to an end, I ask Martin about her Patreon page.

Patreon is a subscription service where fans can help fund artists and creators. The membership platform offers exclusive content for patrons. Martin tells me that initially, she was hesitant to start an account with Patreon. “Who am I to ask for money? People are going to think I’m begging them.” What changed Martin’s mind was when she realized that in order to sustain her career, she was going to need to ask for help.

“I felt the pressure financially that I needed to change something,” says Martin. “I love touring but, you know, sometimes it kicks you in the ass. Like if you get sick on the road. I have been scared many times where I didn’t know if I could keep touring.”

Knowing, too, that historically, artists have relied on patron support also motivated Martin to sign up with Patreon. “I think it’s really no different today.”

Among the perks Martin offers to her subscribers is a tree planted in their name. Martin plants the tree on her property in Port Howe and sends the subscriber a yearly update about their tree. She calls the initiative her Plantreeon Family.


Christina Martin will perform in Fredericton at The Muse Cafe, November 22. Tickets can be purchased here.

For more tour dates, visit Christina Martin’s official website.

Follow Christina Martin: BandcampFacebook / Twitter / Instagram

“I have an unwavering belief in what I’m doing”: Interview with Comedian Tranna Wintour

TrannaWintourHS

Tranna Wintour is a Montreal-based comedian, singer, and writer. Photo credit: Jess Cohen.

“I wish October could last all year,” Tranna Wintour says from her almost vacant apartment in Montreal. Wintour and I are speaking on the phone just a few days before her big move. After nine years of living in the same apartment, Wintour is moving into a new place. “This is the month where I can wear whatever I want without wearing a giant winter jacket.”

Raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Wintour is a transgender comedian, singer, and writer. She is one half of the CBC podcast Chosen Family. On the podcast, Wintour and co-host Thomas LeBlanc discuss sexuality, pop culture, and community with guests. Guests have included comedian Margaret Cho, actor and director Amy Jo Johnson, and pop duo Tegan and Sara. 

Wintour is back home from Toronto where she recorded a live episode of Chosen Family. The live recording was part of JFL42, where Wintour also participated in a panel discussion about podcasts (“The World of Podcasting”). I ask Wintour how she feels about the recognition she has garnered from listeners and the industry.

“It’s super lovely, ” Wintour says. “But it’s just. We work so hard on the podcast. We take it so seriously. Of course, it’s always nice to have your work be recognized. It’s not an expectation. For all of us, you can’t go into things with the hope of recognition or validation. That’s just a recipe for disaster. If you buy into the good, you have to buy into the bad. At the end of the day, it’s more important to stay focused on the work.”

The work can be all-consuming. That is, she explains, the risk of doing something you love.

“You pour so much into it,” says Wintour. “I feel like I’m basically working 24 hours a day. Even when I’m not specifically working on something, it’s always on my mind — this constant, endless to-do list. It’s been six years of this to-do list.”

Wintour is not shy talking about her relationship with doubt.

Doubt plants itself in Wintour’s mind when career accomplishments fail to produce the expected results. The results, she says, are often internal. “Okay, if I reach a point where I am able to achieve this and this and this, I will feel secure and be able to relax a little bit.” Those feelings of security and stability do not always follow, and that is when doubt begins to set in.

“Fundamentally, I have an unwavering belief in what I’m doing and that it will work itself out,” Wintour says. “If I didn’t, I don’t think I would be able to continue.”

Our conversation turns back to the podcast.

Wintour tells me that the podcast’s listenership has yet to reach its target. “It’s not disappointing, but we are already doing everything that we can.” Wintour is trying not to think too much about the metrics. In her personal experience, focusing on the end result removes joy from the creative process.

“I’ve noticed that I’m happy in the moment that I’m creating,” says Wintour. “I’m super happy when we are doing a great interview. I’m super happy when I’m on stage. I have found for myself that the joy is so short-lived because as soon as those moments of creation are over, I’m back into the mindset of the results.”

Moving away from that mindset is easier said than done.

“Under capitalism, we have all been trained to focus on the end result,” Wintour says. “We tie up the value and the worth of ourselves and the work in the result which is so toxic. It is so hard to deprogram that way of thinking. That’s what I’m really working on.”

Growing up, Wintour’s mother always had music playing in their home. “My mom is a music lover, but she’s not a die hard fan of any specific artist.” As a result, Wintour had no concept of “The Artist.” That all changed when she discovered Alanis Morrisette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill. It was the first time Wintour felt a connection to a single artist.

“That was transformational for me on so many levels,” says Wintour. “I was only eight or nine years old. It was the first example of what it would look like to live your life as an artist. In that connection to Alanis, I knew that one way or another, that was going to be me. That was what I had to do.”

Next year, Wintour will release her debut album Safe From Your Affection. The album, produced in partnership with Mark Andrew Hamilton, will be available on vinyl and digital platforms. Recording an album was something Wintour dreamed about for years.

“Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that dream.” Wintour says. “It was a dream that was always there, but then it became a dream that I thought a lot less about. I can’t believe it actually happened.”

It is a Thursday morning. October has just begun. Change is on its way, and Tranna Wintour is in its path, standing tall.


Tranna Wintour:  Official WebsiteFacebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp /

Chosen Family: CBC Podcasts / Spotify

Laila Biali on Her JUNO Win, Learning from Failure, and New Album

Laila Biali is an award-winning jazz pianist and singer-songwriter. She is also the host
of Saturday Night Jazz, a weekly program on CBC Music that features jazz music from Canada and around the world.

In 2018, Biali reintroduced herself with a self-titled album that saw the Toronto musician bring together jazz and pop. The album won Vocal Jazz Album of the Year at the 2019 JUNO Awards.

Let’s go back a few months. Your self-titled album receives the JUNO nomination for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. What is going through your mind?

Shock. Because I live in-between the worlds of jazz and other genres, I really didn’t expect to get a nomination at all. I have only submitted an album once. It didn’t get nominated, but it was the last record that I put out called House of Many Rooms [released under Laila Biali & The Radiance Project], which was a total departure from jazz. You don’t want to get your hopes up. You want to focus on the reason why you make music in the first place which is not necessarily to get a JUNO or to receive a nomination.

Of course, I was also thrilled because it felt like affirmation of this direction I have been going in which blends jazz with other genres.

While preparing for this interview, I found an interview with you from 2005. How do you think 24-year-old Laila would have reacted to your JUNO win?

Oh my gosh. You know what? I think 24-year-old Laila would have expected it more than 38-year-old Laila. I was more optimistic and, to some degree, not more confident…a part of me was seeking my sound, which I think I have settled into more authentically now than ever.

Back then, I was a little less beat up, just by virtue of years on the planet. I hadn’t weathered the ups and downs that come with being in the music business. I would have been like yeah, man, I could get a JUNO.

You were already making waves. You won the CBC Galaxie Prize at the National Jazz Awards in 2003, and then two years later you won SOCAN Keyboardist of The Year and Composer of the Year.

Yeah! It felt like the world and the industry, and what we might have called gatekeepers back then, were more on board with who I was at that time. And then I went through this spell of 10 plus years of searching. During that time, I started to question — Is what I do viable? Who am I? I love jazz so much, but I really love pop and mainstream music. Is there a way to combine those worlds? Or am I always going to be too pop for jazz and too jazz for pop?

But we are now in an era where artists like Esperanza Spalding are all over the map. Jazz has claimed Snarky Puppy and yet the Grammys they’ve won have been in different categories, like contemporary instrumental. Jazz really embraces them as a fusion group because those guys all come from and respect jazz. It is an integral part of their sound, even if it’s not jazz as many people would conceive of it. I feel like I’m in this neat creative time where the idea of what jazz is, is becoming more expansive and allowing more room for play and crossing over.

I want to go back to the 10 year period you just mentioned. It seems like it was a difficult time for you. What is your relationship with failure, and what lessons have you learned from it?

It’s a real cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. You know how they say the journey is as important as the destination? In a way, that is completely my motto, musically speaking. Anybody who’s gone backpacking or travelled knows there are always ups and downs. Challenges. Missed flights. Illness. Maybe the destination you get to isn’t even the destination you expected. You have to allow for that as part of the process and embrace that for what it is knowing that it is, I think, as important as the destination.

You also can’t let it define you. The process is not the destination. They are not to be confused. When somebody writes a really critical article, or you put out a song that doesn’t do well, that can be a teaching moment. There might be some good you can take from that. You can allow it to shape you and inform steps forward. Or, if you disagree with it, then hopefully it enables you to focus all the more on the places where you think the truth lies for you.

Failure is a refining part of the process. It’s like when people talk about the crucible. When you want to refine gold, you put a flame to it. If you think about the equivalent for us as people, it’s like “Aah! That hurts! That is not comfortable.” But you come out a little more focused, a little more purified, and hopefully a little more you.

You mentioned that sometimes a song doesn’t get as much love as you would have liked. Is there a song or project that you wish had picked up more attention?

Yeah, House of Many Rooms. We got so much love from this whole other community of younger listeners and the college radio crowd, kind of the indie-alternative world. But because I was known as a jazz musician, very few within the jazz community really embraced that project. They were like, what is she doing? That kind of hurt, because that was like my music family. And so, I felt like a woman divided. I really had hoped that I could still be Laila Biali the jazz musician, or the contemporary jazz musician, and then have this other project that would signify to people that it was a different approach but equally me.

I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone about Taylor Swift and her transition from country to pop. Even though she is wildly famous, that was actually a very difficult transition for her. She kind of wanted to be in both worlds, but she went through this period where she was getting rejected by both. She said, and this is a loose quote, you can’t chase two rabbits. The genres representing the rabbits. I was like, oh, maybe I’m chasing two rabbits. That was when I was like: what happens if we try to combine these worlds? That’s what I felt like I did on the self-titled record which is why we made it self-titled. It felt like it brought these two formerly disparate aspects of my artistic self together.

It seems that these days, there are a lot of things competing for people’s attention: Netflix, YouTube, podcasts. Where do you think jazz music falls in the mix? Do you think Canada’s jazz scene receives enough attention?

I think we are lucky in Canada to have grants bodies like Canada Council for the Arts, all the provincial arts councils, and then also SOCAN Foundation and FACTOR. They are getting behind all the genres, including jazz. Jazz musicians are able to pursue their art without packaging it in a way that gives it its best chance of commercial success. So, you are getting a lot of music in our country that is distinctive and has managed to reach more listeners because of the grant support and being able to hire publicists. It gives album releases the campaigns they deserve in terms of marketing, radio, and publicity. I think that’s kept our scene more diverse.

In terms of the general public, I actually think audiences are increasingly open to different styles and the blurring of the boundaries between different genres. I do think the appetite for longer form music has decreased to some degree, but then at the same time, we are engaging with music a lot of the time as the soundtrack to our lives. In that sense, and especially with Spotify, it doesn’t matter if a track is seven or ten minutes long and is less radio friendly. People will have access to it anyway. And if they really enjoy what they are hearing, then they are going into incorporate into their day, even if it’s just as background.

Since 2017, you have been the host of Saturday Night Jazz on CBC Music. Has the program changed the way you listen to and appreciate jazz?

Yes! Other than the fourth hour which is intentionally a little more experimental, I am reminded of what makes jazz, jazz in terms of its traditional roots. There is a real sense of the tradition and the roots of the tradition. It’s good for me to be reminded of them because sometimes an artist like myself is at the risk of breaking away from those roots altogether. 

My producer Lauren chooses all the music. A lot of the times she chooses songs I wouldn’t choose myself. And so, it stretches me which is healthy!

What keeps you grounded when life gets too stressful?

My family. They are my northern stars. They are the constant. And my faith. People have come at life from many different faith perspectives. I was raised in the church and then moved away from the church in my late teens and early twenties. I came back to it with a different and more broadened worldview, but it still provides a real sense of anchoring and where I want to go as a human on this planet with one life. Those two things are very centring. Faith, family, and friends — if you want to go with alliteration!

How do you organize and schedule your day?

My husband is a freelance musician. We are constantly colliding and trying to manage co-parenting and everything else. We routinely have a morning meeting, because we don’t have day jobs. One of us, or both of us, will drop off our son at school and we will come back home for tea/breakfast. We will sit together and talk about the day, sometimes the week, sometimes the month, or sometimes the next few months. We lay out what we can. We might say a prayer together to get our hearts focused in the right direction. And then, we dive into the work, but also try to be flexible when things arise, which they often do.

We don’t lock into our schedule obsessively, but in a time like this season where I have a pretty tight deadline to come up with a new record, we have to map things out and stick to those commitments as much as we can.

Can we talk about the new album? Going into this new album must feel pretty good with a JUNO under your belt.

It’s also terrifying, because I’m like, aah!

What do you want to achieve with this album?

It sounds so cheesy and so basic but be myself without judging so much. I think the thing that’s my undoing now and in some ways more than ever in light of the JUNO is: are people going to like this? Is this jazz enough? I won a jazz vocal JUNO, so now I have to be a jazz musician — that thing is creeping back in. Instead of allowing the songs to dictate the direction we go in. My husband, who is co-producing the album and co-produced the last one, always reminds me of the importance of that.

Once you have birthed these songs into the world, they no longer belong to you. They belong to everybody who listens and for whom they take on meaning. You have to let that be what it may be. That’s the beauty of being an artist. For me, the goal is to express and then connect. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish on this one.


Laila Biali will be playing Saturday, May 25 at the CBC Music Festival in Toronto. The festival will feature performances from Alvvays, Coeur de pirate, Peach Pit, and many more!

She will tour across Canada starting next month. For more information, visit: https://lailabiali.com/

 

JUNO Nominee Alison Young on So Here We Are and Learning to Let Go of Perfection

 

Alison Young, saxophonist.

Alison Young’s So Here We Are is up for Jazz Album of the Year: Solo at the 2019 JUNO Awards. Photo Credit: Lisa MacIntosh Photography.

In January, saxophonist Alison Young earned a JUNO nomination for her debut album So Here We Are. The album is up for Jazz Album of the Year: Solo at the 2019 JUNO Awards. The Toronto-based jazz artist remembers feeling shocked when the news broke.

“Initially I thought, that’s got to be a mistake,” Young said. “It’s my first album, and that it got nominated is a big deal for me. The recognition is so meaningful to me. It feels really important to be acknowledged like that.”

“You never know if you are going in the right direction or if people like what you are doing. You feel heard.”

The Ottawa native has been active in Toronto’s jazz scene since the early 2000s. She studied music at the University of Toronto, and since then has toured across North America, Europe, and South America.

Young describes So Here We Are as a “musical hello” and an amalgamation of all the music she likes to play.

“I’ve been wanting to put out an album for years,” Young said. “I’ve been trying to talk myself into it for five or six years. It’s easy to get distracted from my own projects.”

Movement on the album began when recording engineer Jeremy Darby of Canterbury Music Company offered Young studio time.

“The way it happened was Jeremy Darby gives away a day of free recording time to people he thinks deserves it, “ Young said. “It was a real push, him awarding that to me. That really forced me to get the band together and actually lay it down.”

“I felt like I wasn’t ready. I felt stressed out. It was hard to make decisions about how the songs should be presented,” Young said about recording the album. “By the time we did the second session, it was a lot more fun and cool and not as stressful.”

Young recorded the album with her band the Alison Young Quintet. The band has played together since 2012. “We are all friends and have played together in various bands and also as a band. It’s a good hang. It’s good musical chemistry there.”

Young has learned many things over the years as a jazz artist, but perhaps the most important lesson she has learned is to let go of perfection.

“I actually quit playing after going to university, because I over thought everything so much. I thought I needed to make music more complicated than it needed to be.”

“You just have to start. You’re always going to learn as you go. Let go of the idea of ever attaining any kind of perfection,” Young said. “The more you know, the more you don’t know. Be okay with it always having to be a learning process. That’s the thing about music, it’s really beautiful and daunting, but you never get there.”

What’s next for Young after the JUNO Awards? In June, Young is going on the road with Corey Hart, the latest inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. After the tour, Young says she hopes to play music festivals with her band.


The 2019 JUNO Awards will be live from Budweiser Gardens in London, ON on Sunday, March 17 at 8 PM ET and broadcast live on CBC, CBC Radio One, CBC Music, the free CBC Gem streaming service, and globally at cbcmusic.ca/junos.

Learn more about Alison Young at alisonyoungmusic.com

Follow Alison on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Dr. Wendy Freeman Talks Conducting and Building Trust with the Ensemble

In her senior year of high school, in Grandville, Michigan, Dr. Wendy Freeman auditioned for the position of drum major. She won the position and enjoyed a successful year with the band, which performed all across the state of Michigan. While Freeman had always loved music, practicing flute from an early age and singing in the church choir, it was this leadership opportunity that sparked her interest in music as a conductor.

“I actually thought I was going to be an architectural engineer,” says Freeman, speaking on the phone from Westmount Charter School in Calgary. “After I realized how much I enjoyed being at the helm of the music, that sort of took over my scholarship applications and my dreams.”

Today, Freeman is the music director at Westmount, where she conducts students from grades 5 to 12. She is also an adjunct professor for the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. (Freeman received a Master of Music in Conducting Performance from U of C.)

“I teach the undergraduate education students interdisciplinary learning,” says Freeman about her duties at the Werklund School. “I’m a field instructor, so I’ll watch the student teachers teach and give feedback on their lessons.”

And at the U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, Freeman helps with the Music Education courses.

“I’m a pretty busy gal.”

“I decided early on that I didn’t want to just be a tenure track professor,” Freeman says. “I wanted to have a farther reach. Part of that for me is seeing young people grow their technical capacity and being able to influence future teachers.”

When I ask about the work that takes place before rehearsal, Freeman tells me there are two essential things that happen: “picking repertoire that suits the ensemble well” and rigorous score study.

“Before you can get on the podium and lead a group, you have to be able to sing every possible part,” Freeman says. “You have to know the music inside and out, and you have to have a vision for how you want it to go.”

Score study is important for building trust between the conductor and ensemble.

Respect is earned, says Freeman, when it is clear that a conductor has studied the score and they can deliver feedback that helps make the music sound better.

“I think in adults, anyway, it garners a certain amount of respect.”

With younger people, it’s more about “communicating effectively.” When a change is made, Freeman helps her ensemble to listen to the sound result. “We always refer back to, do we like that better? And if so, why?”

But building trust can also happen outside of rehearsal. “I try to know as much as I can about my musicians and who they are as people. I think it’s about caring for the whole person.”

“And when they do trust you and you have a journey in a concert that goes well, there’s also that sense of shared joy. If you can get to a place of shared joy, I think that’s really important.”

“And also [shared] disappointment. It’s how we handle the challenges that teaches others who we really are as people. You could be a crazy conductor with horrible stick technique, but if you are a lovely person who cares about the people in your ensemble and you can show empathy and you can be a kind person off the podium I think that goes a long way for adults and children.”

What advice does Freeman have for young conductors?

“Breathing with the musicians,” says Freeman about conducting orchestral and/or wind band musicians. “That’s really key for young conductors to remember, that they want to take the same breath with the musicians to start each phrase, to start each piece or to start each new entrance as they would use to play their own instrument.”

“If you breathe with the musicians, they will breathe with you. You will get a much more beautiful attack or start to the phrases. That’s something that young conductors often forget, to breathe with the musicians. It’s weird, because we don’t actually play. The baton isn’t making the music. We have to remember to breathe, because when we breathe with them they also take a nice breath.”

And practice self-assessment: “In my master’s journey, I videotaped every rehearsal.” Later, Freeman would go back and think about what gestures were helpful (or not) for musicians. She also considered the effectiveness of what was said to members of the ensemble.

Freeman also recommends watching videos of the great conductors and “going to a lot of symposia over the summertime.”

What does Freeman find rewarding about music?

“What I love about music is that it breeds a feeling of community and belonging. Whether you are in an orchestra or a wind band or a school band, you belong to something greater than yourself.”

“We always hope that the end performance will be the best time that we’ve ever run the work and we often do find that it is. To me, the hard work, the best work, and the most rewarding work is done in your eight rehearsals that led up to the concert. That’s where the team really grows.”

That brings Freeman to her last piece of advice for conductors.

“When you take a bow at the end of the concert, you are also doing that on behalf of the players that made the music. After the concert, I think it’s really important, no matter what age level, to say thank you.”


The Calgary Wind Symphony will be presenting Starry, Starry Night on Sunday, December 16th at 2:30PM. The concert will be held at the Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall (Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary). 

About Starry, Starry Night: “A collection of music to highlight the best parts of a Canadian winter, including the endless night sky.”

Dr. Wendy Freeman, an associate musical director with the CWS, will be conducting part of the concert.

Tickets are $20 (12 & under free) and can be purchased online.