Thursday 4 April 2013

artist's statement: Erika Werry

 The Alphabet is a band name I came up with not too long ago, after Kate joined;
I'd been toying with the idea of an all-girl band, and was going to call it Alpha Betties,
but then I couldn't find any girl within my circle of acquaintances who could come even remotely close to the playing of Mike Hopkins, who has also been playing with me for many years, at one point on bass,
and we've toured a lot as a guitar duet.
He truly is a musical genius, and composes music for his other projects,
The Spanish Waiter and The Formula, all-original classical / latin and afro funk awesomeness.
We've gone out on the road a bit this year as a full band, playing in Pittsburgh and Montreal,
and Peterborough, and Sudbury... kind of haphazard, but for the road trips I needed to replace Wes on bass,
and lo! the incredible Josh Cavan, a fellow Humber alumni of Kate's, who we called in to play organ on the album, offered to pick up the bass: he's a great player, and fun to watch too! he plays left handed like Jimi Hendrix.

Mike Tuyp (guitar) and Tim Alchin (drums) are also key members of the band - it turns out Kate is getting very busy as a drummer, and so we're fortunate enough to have the exciting beats of Mr Alchin to groove to, who I first met a couple years ago as a member of The Bon, a great punk band fronted by Craig Daniels. So I guess long answer short, you could say this ensemble's been together almost two years.
The current lineup is different from older versions of the band namely in the form of KATE MACLEAN,
who altered the course of my life, no joke really, by offering to drum for me after a solo set I played at Not my Dog in the summer of 2011. The timing (was) interesting, because although I fell in love with her drumming and singing on that fateful night, I already had a great drummer in the Erika Werry band.
but Marshall Bureau had been getting so busy playing in other bands that on the day following Kate's offer,
he finally called me to say he couldn't play any of the dates I'd sent to him for that fall.
How sad I would've been, had Kate not made her offer only the day before. So strange and so nice.
As for the other members of the band, Wes Neal has been playing with me since 2005;
his double bass is an important element in my 2006 release Time on our Hands, a really beautiful album if I do say so (featuring a slew of guest players, including Christine Bougie, Bryden Baird and James Robinson).

This is the first time I've been invited into a REAL pro studio, complete with ENGINEER Tim Vesely,
formerly of the great Canadian band The Rheostatics.
Tim's solo stuff as The Violet Archers is also amazing.
Tim is house engineer at the Woodshed studio on Danforth Ave,
aka Blue Rodeo's studio,
which means he has the keys,
and the skills!
After a few glasses of Christmas cheer at a party at the end of 2011,
he suggested I come by sometime, and "record a tune or two".
So I pulled into the studio with my full Alphabet and we recorded a 15-song album.
How's that for creating opportunity and a happy ending?
I have to say, Tim was a great sport about it, and ended up I believe really enjoying the project; he decided to mix the tracks for us too, so his name's all over the thing and it's a really great, very live-sounding album.
I discovered Ian Blurton, relatively recently, as lead singer and guitarist of the band C'mon.
I heard them at Carvalho's NXNE bbq in the summer of 2011, and then I caught his other band Change of Heart's reunion show at the Horseshoe, and was completely blown away by his guitar playing,
and melodies and just overall everything.
I'd been smitten by the notion of working on my "punk" tune with him,
and he was cool enough to make it happen. We spent two days together in his studio down by the waterfront, and turned the Woodshed recording of "What" into the first track on Think yer so Smart,
We shot a cool video for the Woodshed version of this song; see it at YouTube! 
Another recording highlight of the year 2012 was being invited into Revolution Recording for a full day,
as part of the studio's professional development program for its junior engineers. Revolution is Joao Carvalho's other studio, touted as the highest end studio in town. It was GORGEOUS!  (Joao's another helpful supporter of me and the Alphabet, and he mastered Think yer so Smart) Although the intention was to include the 3 live tracks we got at Revolution on the album, the sounds ended up being quite different, and with the Blurton track already throwing a brick into the mix, I opted to keep these songs off Think yer so Smart. But the live Revolution tracks are still around, and are mixed and mastered... the songs themselves will certainly be included on the band's next album, at this point slated to be called Cruisin for a Bruisin, Truthfully, total time spent working on this album was much, much less than when recording in a home studio, as on previous Erika Werry albums, but the planning around peoples' busy schedules delayed getting things wrapped more quickly).

The end product, a 15-song, 43-minute album, true to the live sound of the band
 (except for the first track, which is the Ian Blurton production),
culminated in an incredible showcase of live music at the Piston in Toronto on April 4th, 2013.
Tim Vesely opened the show with a solo set of 5 or 6 of his great songs, f
ollowed by Joao Carvalho's band Lost and Profound. I
t was wonderful to keep our big release party an all-in-the-family affair;
truly if not for Tim and Joao, and not to mention the Alphabet, there would be no new album..
at least not just like this one. Me and the Alphabet performed a great set, with 6 members on stage,
complete with light show, and closed the evening with a screening of
the awesome video Keith Urquhart directed for us last summer
on the hottest day in Trinity Bellwoods park.
It's nice to have all of our hard works rewarded
in the form of this little square five inch cardboard wrapped disc
to offer for sale at our shows.
It does sound great; I love listening to it myself.
It looks great, too, thanks to Tom Perry's artwork.

I've been playing a while now, like.. 15 years or so.
I have friends who own amazing venues like The Piston and The Press Club...
gosh there really are so many great places to play in town,
and I mean just being around in the right places can sometimes lead to really cool opportunities,
for instance I opened for Richie Havens at Hugh's Room,
thanks to a fun game of pool at the Intersteer with Todd Bruder, the guy who used to book Hugh's.
He just mentioned something like "I need to find someone to open for Richie Havens"...
and you can bet I was all over that. haha. Havens was a sweetheart too;
he listened to my set, and after the gig we chatted for a bit.
He seemed like a genuinely happy soul; all he does is tour and play,
and after he plays his gig, he'll jam into the wee hours,
I enjoy talking about how I opened for the guy who opened for Woodstock.
I've also had the pleasure of playing at Mary Margaret O'Hara's martian awareness balls on St Paddy's days,
and various other one-off fun things,
singing a duet with Bob Wiseman at the Tranzac valentines day event,
played in other peoples' bands and sang at Glenn Gould studio with Christine Duncan's element choir,
but this is the first year I've really truly benifitted from being a Toronto girl,
with this album coming into being simply because Tim is a fan of my music
I opened for his 2008 Violet Archers cd release and that was another highlight gig,
 And then Joao also having heard my music , and being willing to help, just means so much to me.

I think like anywhere, if you stay in the same place too long you get put into a category.
People come and hear you once, and judge you. And certain places just won't give you a gig;
Toronto is a cliquey place.. (I can't even spell that word). Also, I keep applying for OAC grants but never get one, and then I see the list of people who do, and .. I mean, .. why them and not us?
There's no good answer to that question. The answer, like my dad would say, is "just because".
But overall I think Toronto's a great town. I love that I was born here, and my first babysitter was Chinese,
while my mom studied at U of T. She came to get me after class one day,
and the babysitter had fed me solid food, of some sort...
my mom figured the woman knew what she was doing, as she'd had babies before.
So my first real food was Chinese! I still love it.

like I said above, The Piston is #1. The new owners (of 3 years or so now)
fully rennovated the place, and built it especially for a great live band sound.
I love the owners at the Press Club, and it's a fun place to play... curiously, the room sounds great,
I think, even without a fancy PA or monitors etc. The Monarch tavern is turning into a nice place to play too.
We also enjoy the Horseshoe, and my big show in 2006 at The Supermarket has endeared that place to me forever. Now that Sam Grosso owns the El Mocambo, I have very high hopes for that venue. 
Sammy D: Who are the best local acts?
The Spanish Waiter and The Formula. No online presence,
I know I know it's pathetic but it makes them that much cooler...
they don't play much but when they do it blows my mind.
Neil Quin, if he'll ever play a solo show apart from his band Zeus,
Polyester Heart, if Dave Marcotte would come out of early retirement,
Emily Jill West, the sweetest songbird in town, Alun Piggins, Dryer, Leon Knight,
Dani Nash, John Borra, umm I know there are others...
John Tielli moved to Montreal but when he was here I was in his band and it was great. 

Sammy D: I auditioned to be Dryer's drummer once. 
So you sell hard copy of your album. why?

This is a great question!! Why indeed. I guess I'm just enough of a ... luddite,
to feel appreciation still for the hard copy. I listen to cds in the van. I really want to release a vinyl record someday; at home I listen to vinyl, or else my itunes...
the only thing I prefer about listening to music on my computer is not having to get up and flip the record.
And the real answer to the question is, because people do actually buy cds,
up north in the far flung places we play when on tour.
At least I HOPE that's still true!
Just yesterday, I wrote a song that made me feel so sad,
because it's such a sad song, but I wasn't sad in the first place.
put myself in someone else's shoes, and wrote from her perspective.
It's the first time I've been able to to that effectively, or even tried to,
and I hope to do more of it. I've written songs about my grandmothers,
and start crying if I think too much about the lyric while I'm singing...
 and yes, generally speaking, I'll write a sad song when sad, an angry song when angry,
but always the act of writing and completing a good new song always makes me feel good ; )
As for open stages, Sam Grosso offered to have me host a night for him when he still owned Graffitis in Kensington market, and it was a great open mic night - people still reminisce about it.
Mark Sasso used to bring his banjo down on a weekly basis, before starting his band Eliott Brood.
Dave Azzolini of the Golden Dogs, and so many other great songwriters used to come out.
I formed my first band there, with Ryan Fairhead on guitar and he recorded and produced my debut album which was awarded four NNNN's in NOW magazine. Today I think a great open mic night happens at Not my Dog on Wednesdays, and Mondays at the Tranzac, and Tuesdays at the Press Club, but I don't go too often.

Sammy D: what kind of guitar do you play? are you particular about your gear?

I'm not a gearhead, but friends who are make sure I have the good stuff;
Ryan Fairhead found my acoustic for me at the 12th fret years ago and called me up to go buy that guitar
It's a 1962 Gibson LG2 acoustic, a small size. Ryan installed a pickup in it for me,
so I can plug it in and I've been writing on that guitar and performing with it ever since.
Recently I've been playing the odd show with my 1971 sunburst Fender Telecaster,
through a vintage Princeton Reverb amp, and that sounds pretty cool. I'm playing that on a few of the album tracks, as well as the acoustic. With Mike Tuyp joining us more and more frequently,
whenever he's free, and he being the Tele King, as it were, I'm tending to play the songs on the acoustic
Really I think it's what I prefer, and the amount of stuff to carry is less, which is a bonus!
Sammy D: What are your goals for the rest of the year?

I plan to play as many shows as possible, in and out of town 
particularly the latter, either as a full band or as a touring acoustic duo act, 
and sell as many of these cds and just basically get the word out. 
Our next show is Friday June 1st at the Silver Dollar,
 opening for two great bands:
Jimmy Ohio and the Ultimate Lovers (from Detroit), and
Simply Saucer (from Hamilton), so come early!!

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