"Can't Corner Me": Part 3
Welcome to the 11-part Blog Series serving as a “literary drumroll” to the official release of 11:11, my newest musical creation. This is day #3 and there are 8 more albums to talk about after this one! Each album embodies a period in my career that has come and gone and includes audio snapshots of what was happening in my life at the time. Now, I have also included some literary (and photographic!) snapshots to accompany them! I really hope you’ll enjoy this retrospective and continue to tune in to each day’s episode!
InsectInside had been out for just under a year when my feet started to itch to record again. It was early spring when I started to look around for a studio and some options that would accommodate my new band.
My introduction to a full-band vibe when I played with Lyndell and a drummer at the 2007 release party (whose name was Ange Holmes but who only worked with us for a couple of gigs) had expanded into a fuller band that now featured two brothers, one on drums and one on trumpet (Russ and Chris Stadey, respectively), Lyndell on violin (that she often ran through an octave pedal and plucked like a bass) and me on guitar and voice. All of us are photographed on the back cover of the album: bald-headed Chris behind me, Lyndell crouched down with her hair scooped back making it look like she had a flat top, and Russell leaning against the wall.
We had been performing around Toronto and also had travelled out East in Canada as our first official tour in the fall of 1997. Around this time, we were gearing up for a big tour in the summer of 1998—the first tour of Central and Western Canada that featured two major festivals!—and so I knew it was time to make sure we had a recording that reflected the band’s sound.
I’m not sure how I was introduced to Karen Kane “Mix Mama” as a possible engineer/co-producer on my album project, but I liked her immediately. I was thrilled at the idea of working with a fellow (non-hetero-identified) woman, too, especially one with her level of experience and knowledge. I asked Karen what her impression of me was when she first met me and she wrote this:
“My immediate impression of you when we first met was the fact that you were NOT a typical singer/songwriter. You did not follow the rules in ‘standard’ songwriting. You were a breath of fresh air. I saw your passion and commitment to making music the way YOU wanted to. The first gig I saw, you could hear a pin drop, the audience was mesmerized.”
Karen knew of a small studio on the edge of Mississauga that would accommodate our low budget and we went about organizing a spring recording session. I remember it well. I was going through a major breakup at the time and remember feeling weary and unsteady. Lyndell was a good friend who kept encouraging me to eat and keep my focus on the project rather than the sadness that was at my heels.
We both recorded and mixed the project in a marathon three days, all ‘live-off-the-floor’ with only the vocals and guitar isolated. I sang and played at the same time, though, and so they bled into each other and couldn’t be overdubbed if there were mistakes. All the other instruments were in the same room: drums, trumpet, violin. The trumpet player, Chris, sang many of his harmonies through the trumpet mic! The album was recorded to ADAT and then mixed to DAT tapes.
This album features a re-make of “Show Up Outside” that originally appeared as the first track on my “Self-Titled” release. It’s also the first track on this album and is an epic stream-of-consciousness piece that we all loved to play and continued to develop for the next several years. It also features a really raw song called “Nesting” that I wrote over a period of fifteen minutes just a few days before the sessions began. I knew it needed to be included and I performed it only once in the studio and used that first and only take. I’d argue that “Nesting” was the strongest song on the record, but people also really loved “Mental Breakdown” and “Ridiculous.”
Speaking of “Mental Breakdown,” I was never happy with the recording of this song on “Can’t Corner Me,” which may explain why we re-recorded it two more times! We played it too slow that day and our performance in the studio didn’t seem to capture the song’s energy. It wasn’t until it was re-released for the third time on the 2006 release “The Dirty Pulse,” that I felt this song finally found its rightful sound. I guess sometimes songs need to mature into themselves just like we do! Besides, they say “the third time’s a charm”!
The funny thing is, when I was planning that first tour across Central and Western Canada, it hadn’t occurred to me that trying to get gigs and media attention with “InsectInside” wasn’t exactly the smartest of plans. Like usual, my focus was on the fans and I knew we needed a new album that reflected the band’s sound to sell when we were touring, but the planning stages for the tour didn’t register as equally important.
Therefore, I had sent out copies of “InsectInside” to every major festival and recognized music venue that I could locate across the country. (My student loans were depleting as a result!) When we arrived in these places that summer, however, the music had evolved so quickly from the music that they had received in the mail that we regularly confused people. What’s more, the “bedroom-style recording” (a quote I’ll always remember from one of the less flattering reviews of InsectInside,) not to mention its young songwriting, did nothing to help my reputation in Canada. Many presenters heard this as representative of what I had to offer, period, and locked it in. In other words, it took years to open their ears again to how my sound and music was evolving and maturing.
First impressions are powerful and, if I were to go back and do it again, I would not have blitzed the music community with my sophomore release that way. I would have waited a few years before aiming for such high heights. Being organized and business savvy was essential, to be sure, and went on to frame my whole ethic around this independent industry, but giving the music a chance to develop into itself before implementing those business skills—at least so comprehensively—would have been a better choice. At the time, however, I was anxious and eager and unable to see the forest for the trees. Live and learn!
The release party was at The Rivoli in Toronto—a venue that is still going strong on Queen Street West. It was in June, just after my convocation ceremony when I was officially a graduate of the University of Toronto. The opening act was a young artist from Ottawa who was just starting out her career named Kathleen Edwards. She hadn’t done much travelling and I still remember her rushing across Queen Street to catch up to us when we were off to get dinner, breathlessly thanking us for having her in Toronto and excited about the show that night. She was fantastic, too, doing a brand of aggressive folk that she later set aside for a more country-blues approach to songwriting. We didn’t really stay in touch after that but I switched on a hotel room television in some random city after a show many years later and there she was on “Late Night with David Letterman.” (Google tells me that was in 2003.) You just never know where people will end up when you cross their paths! I was really happy for her and watched her whole performance.
So, now I had three albums: a cassette and two CDs. All of them had weird folds and time-consuming assembly, although “Can’t Corner Me” was a little better than the rest. I manufactured an odd-shaped square design with the CD insert (sourcing that strange square design had to happen through a different printing house!) and then folded all the corners in as a reflection of the album’s title, one that I came up with to express my rejection of being boxed into style categories. .
The “unkempt” that is written on the t-shirt on the album’s back cover (see pic above) was photoshopped in, by the way. I’ve always wanted a t-shirt that said that. On a whim, I asked David Adshade (my graphic designer) to put that on my shirt and he agreed. I made me happy! I also felt like this was the toughest possible photo I had ever taken. I felt totally righteous and street savvy just looking at it. To me, the picture positively growls. Of course, at that time in my angsty life, that made me happy! Don’t forget that I was nursing a broken heart and so my defenses were at their max. In fact, you’ll also catch the “Oscar The Grouch” t-shirt that I was wearing that shows its decal on the folded-corner liner notes as well as the backwards, topless, warrior-like stance I’m holding in the image on the disc itself, with my guitar strapped to my (then not-yet-tattooed skin) like a shield of armour.
Suzy Malik, once again, was the photographer for this project. She also drew a fantastic cartoon that she called the “screaming guitar baby.” I loved it and we placed it in the montage on the tray card, right against the only image of me on that record in which I am laughing. I was (and am) a huge Joni Mitchell fan and so every time I view that combination of the screaming guitar baby with its puddle of tears set against my laughing image, I get Joni’s lyrics in my head: “laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.”
By this time, David and I had worked out a deal on the graphic design. I never had enough money to pay him up front, but every year I would tally my sales and give him 2% of the gross. We actually worked with this system right up until 2007 when he agreed to stop collecting yearly royalties. I was grateful because in the early planning stages, I hadn’t thought to set a term. It could have lasted forever!
Interesting fact about this record is that we never could get the blue green of the paper to match the blue green of the disc. The first run was slightly off and the second run was terribly off. Eventually, we gave up and made the CD itself red. So, if you have a blue-green disc, then you have one of the first or second runs of the project. If you have the red disc, you have any runs that came after it.
After that summer tour—one that ended in a coveted spot that we had won in a contest called “Last Chance Saloon” for the Summerfolk Music Festival in Owen Sound—Russell (who had changed the spelling of his name to “Rustle,” as in what leaves do in autumn!) decided that he had to return to the fair skies of Western Canada and live the hippie life. This meant that he was choosing to leave the band.
We were then on the hunt for a drummer and a few weeks later met Cheryl Reid, who had just moved to Toronto that August. Later that fall, Chris followed his brother’s lead and also left the band. We became an all-girl trio then. Lyndell had also started learning how to play the bass (and had debuted it at our CD Release for “Can’t Corner Me”) and so the band was starting to find its sonic balance.
That fall, we continued to tour the album on short stints across Eastern Canada, Quebec and Ontario. The all-girl trio was fun and we were enjoying getting to know Cheryl Reid.
In the spring, we took another stab at the US after having done a short journey there in the spring of 1998. It was now the spring of 1999, we were gearing up for another recording session in between doing short touring runs in small upstate New York towns like Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany and then our debut in Northampton, MA at the now defunct but classic venue: The Fire & Water Cafe.
It was the beginning of what would become regular road routes for us in the years to come.