"Self-Titled": Part 1
Welcome to the 11-part Blog Series serving as a “literary drumroll” to the official release of 11:11, my newest musical creation. Each day for the next eleven days, I will be chronicling the previous albums, the journey of their arrival, and the stories behind the recording experiences and release parties. In most cases, I was also able to reach the original engineers or producers for the projects and so these blogs contain their impressions as well. 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!
Until I started to perform in legitimate live music venues, I hadn’t even conceived of having a professional recording. It hadn’t even crossed my mind!
I moved to Toronto when I was 22 and continued what I had started doing in Ottawa, Ontario in the folk scene there playing open stages and benefits. I played all over Toronto, riding my bike back and forth, uptown and downtown, with my guitar bobbing dangerously on my back, and introduced myself to songwriters whose music moved me. I tried to arrange shows and co-bills. I was slowly making connections that led to my own shows, as well. Sometimes, if my university homework load was light enough, I would perform up to five times a week.
One of the people I met was Lenni Jabour. She’s a piano player, composer, songwriter and vocalist who was a bit older and more experienced than I was and I looked up to her. She suggested I make a real recording and, of course, I had no idea how to do that. I must have looked at her with that numb and confused face that beginners get because she hastily told me that she had a friend who had set up a recording studio in his basement and he was looking for artists to record in order to hone his skills. She gave me his number the night I opened for her at a local Toronto venue called “C’est What.” The next day, I phoned it.
Chris Leonard, a musician living with his wife and new puppy (“Puddle”) up at Mount Pleasant and Eglington in Toronto, was really warm and friendly to me over the phone. He invited me over to his place to see his studio and talk about working together.
What followed was a weekly mission uptown every Wednesday evening, during which time I would travel subways and buses for an hour in order to get some studying in, record for 3 hours, and then travel the hour back home again with my text books splayed across my knees.
I was a student at the University of Toronto at the time and living entirely off of student loans. He agreed to talk about fees later and must have taken one look at my broken guitar case that I held together with a men’s necktie stuffed into a secondhand hockey bag that I used as a guitar cycling back-pack and realized that money was going to be an issue for me. Even still, he loyally met with me each week and was incredibly supportive.
Over the winter of 1995-1996, I recorded and re-recorded enough songs for a full-length release. I also had fun with some doubling of vocals (I wasn’t quite ready for harmonies!) and towards the end we found ourselves redoing some of the earlier recordings as we had both improved!
It was a solo guitar and vocal record. Simple. I hadn’t thought of an album title so I just put my name on it. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that this is called a “Self-Titled” release.
Stylistically, I called it “folk-punk.” At the time, my bleached blond Mohawk hairdo (and creatively shaved head) mixed with my aggressive guitar style seemed to scream punk, while my sweet soprano voice (trying desperately to growl) couldn’t be anything other than folk. I was starting to lean into jazz a little, though, which can be heard in the track “Take.” My jazz exploration has continued to this day.
At that time in the indie music scene of Toronto, bands released cassettes. CDs had begun to be popular for mainstream artists, but they were really expensive to make and seemed out of my league. I asked around and found out how to manufacture a cassette, got my instructions, and off I went to the printing company with my questions.
My parents helped me find a graphic designer in our hometown who volunteered to design a j-card for me. I, of course, couldn’t possibly release a basic, boring design and so I worked out an origami riddle that wasn’t easy to explain. I had to journey back to Woodstock, Ontario with mock-ups and instructions and meet with the designer in person. After it was finished, the inserts had to be manually colour-photocopied (two-sided and they had to line-up perfectly! It was labour intensive!) and then they had to be hand-cut to create the fold-down right-hand section (see pictures).
Quite frankly, my creative idea was really a pain in the butt. I remember sitting with a ruler and Exacto Knife painstakingly cutting each of those inserts myself on my card table that was my dining room table in my apartment. The cutting and folding together took forever to assemble and so I worked at them in small batches over a month!
To this day, I can’t remember if I manufactured 600 of them in total or 900 of them. I know they were made in batches of 300, but they’ve been sold out for years. I finally put the tracks on iTunes in 2005 after I had been asked about the songs too many times by those who wanted to complete their collections.
I kept track of every sale and kept the money separate and paid Chris in small installments. The second time I tried to give him a cheque, however, he told me to put it towards the next project. I was so touched that I resolved to work with him a second time.
A funny aside about this cassette is that until October 13th, 2011, I didn’t even have my own copy! I hadn’t had my own copy in years, in fact. I guess I just got disorganized with my archives and knew my parents had one and so I didn’t really notice that I wasn’t in possession of one myself.
I do have the Master recording on CD, but when it came time to offer the digital back catalogue to the Ambassadors of the “11:11” project, I realized that I had no idea where I’d put that Master CD!! Since I’m also straddling two continuents, it makes searching for things difficult at the best of times. In the end, I had to download it off of iTunes in order to make it available for free download to the Ambassadors!! I love the irony of that!
At my Montreal show this past tour, a friend and fellow artist Jonathan Eaton (stage name: Johnny Eden) came up to the merch table with a copy of that cassette in his hands. He had recently found it amongst his things and decided on a whim to bring it along with him to the show that night. I laughed out loud as I turned it around in my hands and then spontaneously offered to trade him my new record for it. He readily agreed!! So, now, I’ve purchased and bartered my way to two separate formats of my own first album! At least I can say that my own archives are complete now!
I had a cassette release party at the local queer bar that was well-frequented by Toronto dykes called “Buddies.” (This is also a full-scale theatre and has continued to have a strong presence in the Toronto theatre and LGBTQ community to this day.) It was August of 1996 and the event took place in the early part of a Friday evening just before the venue became a mostly-girl dance bar. At the very end of the evening, I noticed a fuller crowd at the back as the bar goers started to arrive.
Among those bar goers was Lyndell Montgomery. She told me later that she had seen the girl with the Mohawk of long white braided extensions and had been told my name. A few weeks later that summer, we were introduced through a mutual friend and I found out that she was also a musician (a violinist) and had just moved to town from Vancouver. We started jamming weekly and had our first performance together in December of 1996.
And tomorrow, the story continues…