Author Archives: Sarah Kurchak

Peaches Does Herself: Wants ‘Rocky Horror’ Cult Fame for TIFF Film

Peaches Does Herself

Peaches Does Herself

Long before Toronto’s Merrill Nisker stumbled into a career as the electro art provocateur Peaches, she had every intention of becoming a theatre director, at least until reality set in.

“I quickly figured out that I didn’t want to work with actors or all of these factors I thought would give me a heart attack by the time I was 30,” she tells Spinner.

Still, when Hebbel Hau Theater in her adopted home of Berlin asked her to do a production, Peaches was thrilled to have a chance to go back to her artistic roots. Assembling over 20 songs from her four albums, the foul-mouthed and sharp-tongued singer crafted a retrospective “anti-jukebox” musical loosely based on her life called Peaches Does Herself. She also filmed the show, which ran at the Hebel in October of last year, because she wanted to document it in some way.

Ten performances’ worth of footage, 1,500 edits and just under a year later, the film version of Peaches Does Herself is making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie, as described on Peaches’ official site (we’d try to paraphrase, but there’s no sense in messing with perfection) “tells the story of a young woman who, inspired by a 65-year-old stripper, begins to make sexually forthright music. Her popularity grows and she becomes what her fans expect her to be: transsexual. She falls in love with a beautiful she-male, but gets her heart broken and then ventures on a path of self-discovery.”

The elaborate dix and tit-shaking spectacle is written and directed by Peaches, who also stars in the film as herself. Her supporting cast includes Naked Cowgirl Sandy Kane as the 65-year- old stripper in question, transgendered porn star Danni Daniels, electronica artist Mignon and a dance troupe known as The Fatherfucker Dancers. The flick’s set designs and props feature, among other things, various labia representations, laser harps and a gruesome exploded phallus that’s becoming notorious for its ability to make audiences squirm.

“It should be uncomfortable, like ‘Is this a joke?’ This has actually turned really gory, but it’s actually really weird-looking,” says Peaches. “It was actually done by Babes in Horny, a company that makes dildos and they made me two exploding penises.”

There’s also a pair of exploding breasts in the film, but Peaches is less impressed with how they come across.

“I must say the dick was much better than the boobs.”

A replacement pair of blasting boobs was eventually crafted for the stage, but logistics prevented them from getting their big movie break.

“One unfortunate thing is that we did have new boobs — new exploding boobs that were way better — but we had to use the shots of the old ones and actually we had to reshoot one scene where I had to put on the old costume for the closeups and stuff.”

The new, improved and more Cronenergian boobs are now in storage in Berlin, thwarting any temptation she might have had to wear them on the red carpet for the film’s premiere.

If things go well with Peaches Does Herself the artist says that she’d be interested in revisiting it as a theatrical production, but it would have to have the right funds behind it.

“I’m waiting for a mega-producer to give me money, and then I’m there. Let’s see… who should give me the money? Maybe if we say someone’s name, they’ll set us up,” she says with a mischievous grin. “I want money from… I want money from Snoop Dogg.”

“Snoop Lion,” a member of the documentary crew that’s currently following Peaches around corrects her. It’s one of the many projects she currently has on the go, including a new single (“BURST!”, which comes out next month), DJ gigs and her continuing efforts to support Pussy Riot.

“Snoop Lion? He’s not Snoop Dogg anymore?” she asks.

“He’s a reggae artist,” it’s explained.

Peaches shakes her head, unimpressed.

“Then I don’t want him. Forget it,” she says dismissively. “But really, in a real world, it should be Tina Fey.”

In the meantime, the singer is doing things the low budget way, trying to wrangle the cast of Peaches Does Herself for a Friday night performance piece at Toronto’s Drake Hotel called, appropriately enough, Peaches Does The Drake, and attempting to find family and friends who will let everyone crash with them during TIFF to save on hotel costs.

After that, it looks like PDH is primed to take on the film circuit. On the strength of the first press screening alone, Peaches has already received offers from other festivals. Beyond that, she’s hoping that the picture reaches the kind of cult status the live show was starting to cultivate in Berlin.

“I started to see people who came the second time start to dress up. If it went on longer, maybe it would have started to have that Rocky Horror kind of feel of yelling things and stuff. I think someone even threw something one night.”

In other words, does that mean that she’s hoping that her film will someday have its own callbacks and midnight screenings?

“Hell yeah!” she says smiling.

This feature originally appeared September 14, 2012 on AOL Spinner.

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BrokeNCYDE Don’t Care They’re The World’s Most Hated Band

BrokenCYDE

BrokenCYDE

BrokeNCYDE (pronounced “broke inside,” just like their feelings) might only have a few years of crunkcore under their belts, but they’ve already generated more controversy and venom than most bands will receive over their entire careers.

Offended by the band’s antics and their music’s subject matter, parents have banded together and formed groups like Mothers Against BrokeNCYDE. Unimpressed by their unique blend of crunk and screamo and lyrics like “You make my peepee hard” and “Eenie meenie minni moe/So much bitches at our shows,” critics have called them everything from “fucking horrendous” (Metal Edge) to “a near perfect snapshot of everything that’s shit about this point in the culture” (Warren Ellis).

It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the level of antipathy that Se7en (vocals), Mikl (vocals), Phat J (synths, guitars) and Antz (“fog machine and lights”) have generated in their young lives.

Limp Bizkit were the butt of plenty of jokes and criticism in the ’90s and early aughts, but their cover of “Faith” at least inspired a dose of good will or benign apathy. Insane Clown Posse and their juggalos and juggalettes are often regarded as signs of a diseased society, but at least they bring greater recognition to Faygo pop.

Even if you multiplied the level of bile hurled at those two giants of questionable culture, you would probably fall short of the sheer hatred some (like Thrash Magazine‘s Jay Thrash, who wishes that he could go back in time like Superman and crush them at birth) are starting to feel for this band.

Now it’s time for Canada to lock up its daughters and music snobs, because BrokeNCYDE are coming to town in support of their brand new album I’m Not A Fan… But The Kids Like It!

With the rest of his crew boisterously on the hunt for porn in the background, Mikl (the man behind the less screamy, more Auto-Tuned vocals) took some time away from the good fight to get on the phone with CHARTattack and talk about the band’s detractors, their fans, moms and bitches.

CHARTattack: You’ve been the subject of some pretty heinous reviews. Do you care about what the critics think at all?
Mikl: We don’t care what people say at all.

Even when they speculate that your music is actually a joke? Does that bother you?
I don’t care what people have to say. None of us do. We do this for our fans. People are entitled to their own opinion and if that’s what they want to say, then cool. We really don’t care.

Do your fans care, though?
They stick up for us, they have our backs, you know? But, you know.

So, they start flame wars on the internet in your defence?
Yeah. They always protect us.

Were you aware that the name BrokeNCYDE has made it to the Urban Dictionary?
No.

It’s being defined as a synonym for “ear rape.”
That’s cool.

Yeah? You like that?
Not really, but it’s whatevs.

Now you do have some pretty naughty lyrics, and I just have to ask you: Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
I don’t kiss my mom. That’s kind of weird.

Even on the cheek?
Even on the cheek.

Is your mom bothered by your lyrics at all?
No, my mom supports me in everything that I do. Like, she’s on my side, you know?

Do your songs really get you a lot of chicks?
Yeah, a lot of the guys. I have a girlfriend, so… it helps all of these other losers in the band.

So, do girls really fall for lines like, “You fucking bitch, come suck my dick?”
I don’t know. We’re just saying what people say. But yeah.

This interview was originally published October 13, 2009 via Chart Communications.

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Stevie Nicks ‘In Your Dreams’: Fleetwood Mac Singer’s Doc Almost Foiled Due to Vanity

Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks

Toward the end of In Your Dreams, Stevie Nicks and Dave Stewart’s documentary about the making of their album of the same name which opened at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox last night, Stewart muses about the magic that he experienced in that year of writing and recording with the rock ‘n’ roll legend and his hopes that a piece of that comes across in the film.

“I hope it brought you a little closer to Stevie’s heart,” he says in his closing narration.

The film certainly lives up to Stewart’s expectations. The result of the producer and former Eurythmics member’s almost obsessive need to film and document everything in his life, In Your Dreams takes viewers deep into the year-long creative process behind Nicks’s 2011 album — her first solo release in over a decade — and just as deep into the heart of its co-writer and co-director.

With his omnipresent camera essentially becoming part of the gang, Stewart documents almost every detail of what happened from the time that Nicks asked him to produce her new album to the assembly of her band and crew (including superstar producer Glen Ballard and her Fleetwood Mac bandmates Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham) to the videos the crew made to accompany each song on the disc.

Obviously comfortable with her creative partner, Nicks opens up about almost everything. Her family, her early music history, her sometimes rocky history with Buckingham, and her current inspirations are all covered. She even waxes poetically on her love of the Twilight films, which were the inspiration for the song “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream).”

“I was taken with this movie because what happened to Bella absolutely happened to me,” she says about Bella’s post-Edward heartbreak in New Moon.

The result of this intimate and open atmosphere is a documentary that actually does make you feel like you’re part of the action, as cliched as that phrase may be. And, as it turns out, the film was only really the opening act for people who attended one of the two screenings and Stevie Nicks Q&As last night. In the flesh, the rock star was even more personable and charming.

Clad in one of her trademark flowing outfits, Nicks amiably sauntered on stage after the screening, settled into her seat and started regaling the sold out crowd with a story about the genesis of the In Your Dreams film, and how her own personal insecurities almost destroyed the project before it even began.

Stewart, she explained, original brought up the idea of filming the whole process when he first agreed to produce the album for her. Nicks wasn’t big on the idea, as it stood in the way of all of dreams of recording and home and dressing as a complete slob.

“That means serious hair, makeup and clothes,” she said, in mock horror.

In the end, though, it was Running Down a Dream, the 2007 Tom Petty documentary, that convinced her to give the camera a shot.

“I remember the footage from Tom Petty’s very, very long four-hour documentary, which I personally loved, every minute of it,” she said. “But there was a part on the Traveling Wilburys that was so brilliant and it really showed the five of those guys like they were in the James Gang or something. And we got to see them for a half-hour really be who they were and just looking so handsome and playing this amazing music and then, within minutes, it seemed, two of them died. And if they hadn’t have done that, what a shame that would have been.”

This got her reevaluating her own priorities.

“What a shame it would be if you, Miss Vanity, said no to this because you don’t want to spend a half an hour doing makeup and picking a uniform,” she continued. “What if we come up with something that’s really great and we don’t film it? And then how are you going to feel a year after that? You’re going to go, ‘Wow, now you really can admit to the vanity of women because you lost out on something really brilliant.’ So I said ok.”

Soon, she said, her appearance wasn’t even on her mind.

“It’s amazing how easy the process becomes because of the people involved.”

Taking questions from the crowd, Nicks indulged the audience in questions about making the classic Fleetwood Mac album Rumours (“It wasn’t a very pleasant experience,” she quipped before embarking on a more philosophical reflection on the romance and the drama behind those days), and opening up about the death of her mother.

She also talked about how the promotion of In Your Dreams really forced her to adapt to the new realities of the music business. For someone who came of age in a wildly different music industry, it hasn’t always been an easy transition.

“The music business has turned to stone,” she said. “I can’t expect anyone to help me.”

She also pointed out that record companies just don’t have enough money to invest in bands for the long term anymore, using Fleetwood Mac’s post-Rumours career as an example.

“If it had been now and we had done Rumours and had that success and then we did Tusk, the double record from Africa? Warner Brothers would have said ‘Get out and take your African tusks with you!’ It’s such a different age now.”

Nicks credits her fans and their support or allowing her to tirelessly tour and promote In Your Dreams and help her make it the modern day music business success that it is. As such, she pointedly thanked those in attendance for their part in it.

“I’m not going to worry about record sales anymore and I’m not going to worry about what people think,” she said.

“Because what really matters is what I think, because if I’m thinking good and I’m thinking happy, then what I do is going to turn around and make you feel good. So we just bounce off of each other. I throw the dreams out there and you throw them back at me. And that’s how we make this together. This is not anything that is done by one person. It happens because we’re a team. And you’re my team. You are. I mean that.”

This story was originally published April 16, 2013 on Spinner.

 

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The Tragically Hip, ‘Now For Plan A’: A Big, Weird Interview With Canada’s Biggest, Weirdest Band

The Tragically Hip in Kensington Market

The Tragically Hip in Kensington Market

There’s something surreal about seeing one of the country’s biggest and most iconic bands play in a small club in Toronto’s perennially underground Kensington Market.

The crowd packed into the back room of Supermarket — renamed “Now For Plan A” Headquarters for the duration of The Tragically Hip’s three day residency in celebration of the release of their brand new album of the same name — can barely believe what’s about to happen as they wait for the band to take the stage for their first in a series of free mini-sets they’re playing throughout the day.

Despite the fact that The Hip stopped foot traffic with a number of surprise performances the day before during one of the artisan market neighbourhood’s beloved Pedestrian Sundays, despite the widely publicized promise of more shows on Monday and Tuesday, and despite the fact that the wristbands we were given at the door prominently display the band’s name in bold black letters, the fans around me nervously joke that the whole thing might be a ruse, that some no-name band who didn’t write Canadian classics like “Courage,” and “Ahead By a Century” will promptly take the stage at 3 p.m. on a Monday afternoon and dash all of their dreams.

It takes the appearance of all five founding members of the band — guitarists Paul Langois and Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair, drummer Johnny Fay and, of course, singer Gord Downie — on stage to finally convince them that this is really happening.

The Tragically Hip, the band that have been filling Canada’s arenas for over two decades with stories of wrongfully convicted killers, tragic hockey players and young love blossoming in the face of the cold war, somehow seem both larger than life and completely at home amongst the few hundred fans who have skipped work and school to see them play. Downie shares conspiratorial smirks with the crowd as they launch into Now For Plan A‘s opening track, “At Transformation.” Then they encourage a singalong to “Grace, Too” before capping things off with a chilling take on another new song, “Man Machine Poem.”

But after the band finish their three-song set — and wrap up a genial autograph session in which the band trade jokes with fans as they sign every last piece of Hip memorabilia and Plan A vinyl — I find myself in a scenario that makes everything that happened before it seem normal and mundane by comparison: actually sitting down and talking to The Tragically Hip.

As I trade greetings, shoe compliments and, somewhat inexplicably, neck tattoo jokes with Rob Baker and Gord Downie, I decide to start things on a light note. I ask if the title of the song “Streets Ahead,” a phrase that became a running joke on an episode of the cult TV show Community, was inspired by the character of Pierce Hawthorne (played by Chevy Chase) and his use of it.

Watch Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) Explain “Streets Ahead”

“Pierce Hawthorne,” Downie repeats, blank-faced. “Is that a writer?”

I say that he’s a character on a TV show, and that he claims to have coined the phrase.

“Oh really? How do you ‘coin’ something?” he asks, bemused.

The Hip, it seems, came across the words “streets ahead” in an entirely different way.

“I definitely heard it in passing, but I think it was a BBC program… Is that guy English? He sounds English.”

“Pierce Hawthorne. He’s French, Gord,” Baker jokes.

“Well then, I understand,” Downie says with a laugh. “No. I don’t know.”

I try to explain the joke and the use of the phrase in the context of the episode, but it’s too late. I have unwittingly started a feud between the lead singer of The Tragically Hip and a fictional character.

“I’m just incredulous, sort of like… aghast and really impressed by that kind of convincingness. ‘I coined that!'” he muses. “Anyway, you tell him I’m looking for him.”

We move on to more serious topics after that, starting with their lyrics. For a band that made their name on storytelling epics like “Wheat Kings” and tongue and brain-twisting tunes along the lines of “Poets,” Now For Plan A feels like a departure. Over time, the dense wordplay and metaphors that characterized their work seem to have evolved into more oblique and sparse imagery, with relatively simple phrases often repeated like mantras. The difference was particularly noticeable during their performance when the thoughtful and wordy “Grace, Too,” from the band’s 1994 album Day For Night, was juxtaposed with the more stark and obscure “Man Machine Poem.”

I ask if they feel that their lyrics have become more abstract over time. Downie mulls it over.

“Abstract? No. I think… visceral, for sure. But again, a practical, not a mystical kind of thing. I said to the guys, ‘Give me five things each. Let me just react to something.’ And they did, knowing a sort of improvisation is better than anything you can write — spontaneity. And so certain songs came like that. ‘Man Machine Poem’ is an example. It came very quickly and I really did want to screw with it. So what did you call it? Impressionistic? No, you said abstract,” he pauses and considers the word again.

“Maybe.”

Watch Tragically Hip’s “Machine Man Poet” Video

We move on to the sound of the album, which mixes meaty, Fully Completely-esque bar rock with the more introspective and occasionally haunting sound they’ve been nurturing since Trouble at the Henhouse and “Ahead By a Century.”

Baker takes over.

“I don’t think you ever leave stuff behind,” he says. “You know, we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band. We know what we do well and you try and learn from everything you do and carry that forward into what you do next. We had great experiences making the last bunch of records and they’re great learning experiences. And we carry that forward, and some of it is ‘Yes, we want to take this and we want to leave that.'”

Downie leans over and asks his guitarist a question.

“With Fully Completely, did we know those songs really well before we went in?” he says. “We went over to England to do them, so I bet we did. We really worked the shit out of them.”

“Well, it was a mixed bag with Fully Completely,” Baker says, reminding him. “About half the album we really knew and had road tested and there were about five songs that we hadn’t.”

“It’s like this record in that regard,” the singer offers.

Baker recalls feeling frustrated with Fully Completely at first, that the songs he loved playing so much on the road sounded “sterile” on the record.

“You never know,” he shrugs. “When you walk out of a studio after making a record, you feel pretty shattered. Like, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t play the guitar or… it can be a pretty brutal experience sometimes. And I remember walking out of Fully Completely feeling that way.”

“What brings you back?” Downie asks, stroking his chin in mock-seriousness.

“Because you go out live and it’s like ‘Yeah. This is really good. These songs are good. Some of these songs really have life.'”

I ask Baker if he’s reached a similar level of acceptance with Plan A yet.

“Some of these songs we’ve been playing live for two years now,” he replies.

“We knew them well,” Downie agrees. “For various reasons, the record was held up and delayed, but it just meant that we would sort of woodshed and really work the tunes, like we did in the earliest days, because you only had limited amounts of studio time to go forward.”

“We never made a record so quickly as this record,” Baker interjects.

“And then we went in, here in [Toronto neighbourhood] Parkdale, on Noble Street, and cranked it out in 10 days, really,” Downie continues. “And so those sort of sonic differences or sonic similarities might be that, might be that we knew our songs well before we started singing them, as Dylan says you should, and then recorded them knowing everything, going through those elusive things like emotion and performance and then you’re close. Then you’re close on a recording. But we just played ‘Modern Spirit’ yesterday for the first time live out here in Kensington and it just jumped into where it should be. You know, it’s there, but now it’s exactly where it should be. But it just took 10ccs of Kensington Market.”

“Sometimes it feels like the songs on the record are a template for what the songs are supposed to be. We kind of freeze dry them in recording, but then you have to thaw them out and microwave them up on stage, serve them up and it’s often very different. Sometimes it’s way better,” says Baker. “Records are like… they’re very strange. I always think we’re in the… our chosen profession is performing music live. That’s what we do and the records feed into that, the songwriting and everything else.”

With record culture giving way to internet-fueled singles and Radiohead-style releases, though, will a legacy band like the Hip continue to make traditional albums in the future?

“I don’t think record culture’s gone,” Baker replies. “There are people who are very devoted to it.”

“And they’ll always want to come together with other people,” Downie adds. “Which is why we’re here doing this today. I’m not going to say ‘It’s still a people business!'” he laughs, adopting a cartoonishly earnest voice. “But it is. People who are into music want to talk to other people who are into music and that’s where record stores… Like the passing of Sam Sniderman last week. My God, it just reminded people of what a hub that was, for a million reasons. You’re coming in from Newmarket, ‘We’ll meet you at Sam’s,’ and everyone knew what that meant. Music meant… but it still does mean that stuff. It’s just because the hubs are leaving and gone…”

Watch Tragically Hip’s “Ahead By a Century” Video

“You know today’s the 30th anniversary of the CD,” Baker points out. “The sale of the very first CD was 30 years ago today.”

“I promised I wouldn’t cry,” Downie deadpans.

This rather conventional interview happening in the midst of a rather unconventional promotional event is about to take a turn for the strange.

“Yeah, you know what? The very first CD was Billy Joel, and it was a horrible day for music, really. Because I think it was…”

“Wait a second,” Downie stops. The horror of the situation slowly dawning of him. “The first CD down the line…”

“It’s like the invention of the Big Mac to me,” Baker muses.

“Billy Joel,” sneers a stunned Downie, pounding the table in front of him.

“Billy Joel,” Baker confirms.

Downie collapses back into the couch, giggling. “A Big Mac sounds way better. The Billy Joel burger!”

“Yes, the Billy Joel burger was served today out of the window to a passing car.”

“I heard a guy on the radio today say that the NHL was like KFC,” Downie offers, like it’s the most logical segue in the world. “It’s a franchise and if people in the market don’t like your chicken, you’ve got to go.”

I try to argue that most Canadian will probably never be able to look at hockey in such clinical terms and that the way many think about hockey is more…

“Abstract?” the singer grins. “I’m giving it no oxygen, Sarah. Just, full disclosure. I’m giving it no oxygen. Tell me when they’re gonna drop the puck. Everyone else do the same. I’m telling you now. Save your oxygen! It will make the fire go out!”

Their label rep slips back into the room. After 11 minutes of streets ahead, abstraction and fast food metaphors, my time with The Hip is coming to an end.

But Downie’s not quite done yet. He’s given himself something to riff on — hockey — and he’s reacting to it. In this case, he begins to rhapsodize about the twine used to mesh hockey nets in the ’70s versus present.

“And make the nets with looser meshes, so that every goal’s an explosion. Every goal’s an event! Everyone in the rink knows it’s a goal. The mesh explodes.

“It used to be like… The Russians, they had the mesh that hung down. As a kid, I used to draw that. With the puck, the mesh ridiculously extended. In soccer, net into the mesh, like these tight meshes? Why? The ball hits, bounces, goal. But when the mesh…”

The rep refers to the phenomenon as “the old bulging onion bag.”

“Oh, Christ. I knew it!” Downie groans. “Bulging the onion bag!”

“I thought that was something entirely different!” Baker jokes.

“Sorry, Sarah,” Downie says. “That was so brief and weird.”

Given everything that’s lead to this moment, from the multi-platinum-selling band finding themselves in the indie shops and bars of Kensington, to the elusive new tracks they’ve debuted in such a unique fashion, to Downie’s eccentric, stream-of-conscious storytelling between songs in the short pre-interview set, brief and weird is somehow strangely appropriate.

Watch Tragically Hip’s “The Darkest One” Video

This story was originally published on Spinner on October 5, 2012.

 

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Carrie Underwood: Country Star’s Grunge Rock And Hair Metal Past — ‘I Was All About Pearl Jam’

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood

These days, Carrie Underwood is known for her trademark hotpants and her sunny, good old country girl demeanor, but there was a time back in the ’90s when the American Idol-winning singer was far more likely to be found in grunge rock-approved plaid shirts — and be mistaken for a ruffian.

“You know those stupid school pictures that you’d always forget about until you got there?” Underwood confesses to AOL Music Blog. “I wore those wide-legged jeans, like skater wide-legged jeans and a black and white oversized plaid shirt. And I remember when I got my picture back, one of my friends saying I looked like I was going to go rob somebody. Like I was a menace!”

Underwood’s not-so-secret grunge past goes a lot deeper than the collection of plaid shirts she still keeps in her closet. As it turns out, the Oklahoman was raised on rock ‘n’ roll.

“I grew up listening to ’80s glam hair metal. And then, when I got older in the ’90s, the whole grunge thing was huge and I was totally into it. I was all about Pearl Jam, all about Alice in Chains and Nirvana and all of that stuff.”

Now Underwood’s tastes run about as wide as her old skater jeans and, even though the recently released Blown Away is still very much a country album, she thinks it reflects the fact that she listens to a little bit of everything.

“I feel like now people don’t listen to one genre of music. They don’t listen to one specific kind of artist. My iPod is rannn-dom,” she says, practically stretching random into a four syllable word with her emphatic drawl. “I would guess everybody else’s is, too. It’s OK to listen to random things back to back, and I definitely feel like I’m influenced by that.”

At this point in her career, she says, she feels comfortable and confident enough in her abilities and tastes and follow her musical muse wherever it takes her.

“I feel like, with my fourth album, I can really do what I want,” says Underwood. “It’s not like I need to appeal to and appease this certain group of people. I want to go what feels good to me and what’s best for the song and for the album.”

In the case of Blown Away, doing what was best for the album meant going into the songwriting and song selection process with a completely open mind.

“I try not to put parameters on things when I’m writing or when I’m listening to things,” she says. “I don’t want to be like, ‘I need a big power ballad and that’s all I’m looking at!’ and ignoring everything else and potentially missing out on really great writing opportunities because I’m trying too hard to write one kind of song.”

She didn’t try too hard to force one type of vibe or feeling on the album as whole, either. Although Blown Away is already earning a reputation for being Underwood’s “dark” album, and it does take the singer through some previously unexplored territory filled with revenge and murder plots, the singer is quick to point out that there’s a lot more to it than unrelenting morbidity.

“We definitely take some of the songs in a darker direction,” says Underwood. “That said, I also have light, happy songs and have songs that are more traditional country than I’ve ever done before, so we kind of take the album in a lot of different directions.”

Underwood hopes that people like her musical and emotional hybrid, (“If there’s nobody out there to hear my music, does it really matter that I’m making it?” she muses) but also displays a bit of that old school picture day attitude when it comes to Blown Away‘s critical and commercial success.

“It could totally backfire,” she shrugs. “But at least I’ve done something that I really want to do.”

This story originally appeared May 24, 2012 on AOL Music Blog.

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 7

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 7.21.57 PM

The Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton, Ontario

Previously:

Smile and Wave

The Drowned

Eating The Rich

Million Days

Birthday Boy

Fire In The Head

Between the fifth and sixth grade I changed schools and entered a full time gifted program. Ostensibly, I did this because I was such a bloody genius and I needed more of a challenge than my local school and teachers could offer, but that was maybe one per cent of the reasoning behind my final decision. In reality, I was being viciously bullied and I needed to get the fuck out.

As a result of this, I adopted a scorched earth approach to everything that I thought might have made me a target in the past. I started wearing jeans because someone once made fun of my stirrup pants (oh, the early ‘90s) at the old school and I thought maybe that was part of the problem. And I completely turned my back on all things science fiction-related because my Dune and Star Trek love really hadn’t gone over well at all.

While I missed comfortable pants, I actually found it easy enough quit sci-fi cold turkey. Whatever enjoyment I’d received from the genre was too heavily weighted with baggage. Space and science just felt like victimization. I felt vaguely sick when I even tried to watch or read that shit. And I soon fell in love with indie rock and had no room for any other entertainment in my life, anyway, so it was a relatively painless break.

In grade eight, our teacher included a science fiction unit in our language arts studies. The majority of the class – male geeks who were allowed to stay in at recess to play D&D – were thrilled. The brilliant burnouts and academic overachievers were either apathetic or somewhat game.

I was mortified.

I was viciously disappointed in our naive teacher for even suggesting such a thing. Surely she could tell how vulnerable we were as a small class of gifties in a normal school. Why on earth would she bait all of those potential bullies by making us visibly read and engage with science fiction?

When it came time to write our own sci-fi stories I did the only thing in my power to protect myself: I sort of made it about indie rock. And, um, Hamilton, Ontario.

I was really, really, really, really into the Killjoys and the Sonic Unyon bands at the time and their hometown had taken on almost mythic proportions in my mind. I loved Hamilton beyond all rationality. Like, I used to tag along on my family’s (strangely frequent, in retrospect) road trips to the Lime Ridge Mall just so I could be in Hamilton.

Which is how I ended up writing a (not terrible?) science fiction short story about people with bright hair getting killed and committing suicide a lot set at the Lime Ridge Mall and named after the band Smoother to defend my coolness.

I showed them.

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Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 6

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On the right: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Asshole

Previously:

The Drowned

Eating The Rich

Million DaysMillion Days

Birthday Boy

Fire in the Head

At some point in late 1997, I finally got over my wretched obsession with Joseph Conrad and ran straight into the equally dead white male arms of James Joyce. I spent the first half of 1998 reading Ulysses and screaming at Ulysses and going to the few parties I was invited to as a highly unpopular homeschooled teenager and talking about how much I both loved and hated Ulysses and when I finished it I declared that James Joyce was the greatest influence on my young life and that I would write the next Ulysses yes I said yes I will Yes.

This is not to say that I became a great modernist writer. Or even that I experimented with any modernist tendencies whatsoever. The thing I loved about James Joyce above all others was that he was a petty and vengeful writer. I read that he used to get drunk and sit in the corners of pubs, threatening to write everyone he knew into his books — and that the bumbling and awful character Private Carr in Ulysses was, in fact, based on some poor sod named Henry Carr who once had the temerity to argue with Joyce over a pair of pants — and realized that I had never admired or envied another human being more.

So when I stopped subconsciously working through my breakup with my best friend via stories about murder, death, and guilt on the shores of Lake Erie, I started consciously writing even worse thinly-veiled tripe about her and what I considered her “totally fake” personality. That is why this sad little story exists. Even the the musical inspiration was a shot at her, because “Smile and Wave,” from 1997’s Headstones album of the same name, was by her favourite band.

I don’t suppose Tom Stoppard will ever get around to writing a play inspired by this epic literary burn.

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