Interview with Canadian Actress Rachael Ancheril

Interviews
Rachael Ancheril
Photo credit: Rachael Ancheril

I’ve known Rachael for quite a number of years, but only more recently discovered that she was into acting. If I were to describe Rachael in three words, they would be: super-positive, passionate and energetic. She’s down-to-earth and one of those people who puts 110% into everything she does.

Contact

IG: @rachael.ancheril

Twitter: Rachael Ancheril

www.rachaelancheril.com

About

Rachael is a gorgeous multi-talented actress born and living in Toronto. A few of her television credits include Kate in the upcoming season 2 of Nurses, Star Trek: Discovery (Commander D. Nhan), Mary Kills People (Lucy Oliviera), Rookie Blue (Marlo Cruz), Killjoys (Warden Rennika), The Art of More (Alesha Foley) and twins, Mattie (the Blacksmith) and (Iron Witch) Gretta on Wynonna Earp. 

Interview

Me: Rachael, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. It brings me great joy to be able to highlight and celebrate Canadian talent like you. I never even asked you what led you to an acting career. I read somewhere that literally breaking your leg – was the catalyst that changed both your career and life. How and when did you decide to go into acting?

Rachael: Thank you for having me!  

I went to an arts high school. I auditioned for drama (twice!) and visual arts and was admitted into the visual arts first round. During high school I decided I wanted to be a police officer, so I went to post secondary for that.  The year I finished, I was in the middle of a multi-car accident and broke my leg a month before my admittance testing. This shifted my perspective in a very big way. So while spending almost five (restless) months in a cast, I decided to go back to school and went into fashion design to try my hand at a career in illustration.  After graduating I ended up working as a Brand Manager for a fashion retail company, but found that I wasn’t a great fit for the corporate world. To get out of it and make some money I thought I could do commercial print, but the agent I signed on with said “let’s give acting a try” (to which I scoffed seeing as I didn’t get into the arts program TWICE!) and that was the beginning! 

Me: So, it sounds like acting was meant to be! I’m most familiar with your role as Officer Marlo Cruz in Rookie Blue. You were “out of context”, so I didn’t even know it was you until you mentioned it.  What’s the first role that you played, and in your career, which role would you say challenged you the most and why?

Rachael: After a few years of student films and non union productions, I booked my first guest spot on a tv show called “King”. The director Rob Lieberman was wonderful (as was the cast), and I always credit him with giving me my “first shot” as that was the role that gave me my first union credit. Then two weeks later he hired me for a quick little spot on The Listener. I got to work with him again almost ten years later on The Art of More with Kate Bosworth and Dennis Quaid.  My first “big shot” was on Rookie Blue and that was both a nerve wracking yet an incredible opportunity because it was my first “series regular” role on a show that had a large and dedicated fan base. Coming into that as a character who not only was the “other woman” but also struggling with a bipolar disorder was intense, but what an immense opportunity! Probably the most fulfilling so far as it educated me on what it means to live with a mental illness, societal perception and personal struggles that can come with that. The most challenging role was that of Lucy in Mary Kills People, and for the reason of going to work every day, prepping while you’re in a mind state of dying. It scared me, the thought of living with that every day.  The roles that make me question or get philosophical are the toughest because they breakdown something within myself, it’s not just dress up, it becomes more personal.  I crave “lightness” after these kind of roles, a craving for comedy, something that brings laughter, but I would never trade those roles for anything. 

Me: I really admire people such as yourself, who can get into a role. I can’t act for beans and can appreciate the difficulty of getting into Lucy’s mind and making her character believable. You play the role of Commander D. Nhan in Star Trek: Discovery. What’s the exciting story behind how you got that role and out of curiosity, how long was the makeup process?!

Rachael: Yes, Nhan, bless her, I think she’s a badass but in a very reserved way, she’s not trying to be tough or making a show of it, she just is, quietly waiting for instruction, ready to do what she needs to – I love that character.  This may be lacklustre, but I had auditioned for that show a few times and grateful to have booked the role of Nhan.  For makeup, it takes about three hours give or take.  An hour with prosthetics, an hour in beauty make up, an hour in hair and then my lenses and breathers go on when I get to set, and it’s about an hour to remove everything (if I don’t try to do it myself haha!). 

Me: That’s a brutal process, but tells me that you have a lot of patience! I hate listening to my own voice on a voice-recording and seeing myself in pictures/video. Here’s an odd question for you – do you enjoy watching yourself after your shows are aired/films are released?

Rachael: It’s really tough for me to watch back footage objectively.  I tend to watch things back and on the first pass I pick at everything (to be clear – of myself!), but I also learn that way, and try to take what I’m doing/did and adjust.  Sometimes I do things I have no recollection about in certain roles such as weird little quirks, physically and I have no idea where they come from!  But that’s the thing, you do all this prep and then on the day you let it all go and just engage with your scene partner.  So I try not to get too hung up on stuff, you can’t change what’s already done, you can only try to improve. 

Me: While doing some research for this interview, I watched Sirens, a short but very intense film that was featured at the Austin Film Festival. You played a paramedic who just discovered that she was pregnant. You were so good! Did you need to research your role as a paramedic or was it instinctive for you? And generally speaking, do you find it difficult to get “into role”?

Rachael: Ha! Thank you! That was a fun shoot, a crew full of great people who incidentally helped me out tremendously when I did my first directing adventure! Alex Clark (the director) was terrific and knew exactly what he wanted, and I really like that. I was interested of course in how paramedics work, what they go through, but as usual, I look to the director to adjust me and I think he did such a great job on that film, especially being his first!

Me: I love the insider scoop. I know that there are “less glorious” parts in the music industry and I would assume that the acting/entertainment industry is similarly competitive and cut-throat. What are some of the things that you like about the industry and describe a couple of challenges that you have experienced along the way in your career.

Rachael: You know that old adage about doing something you love. When I’m on set I light up, I love being there, I love the family that builds so quickly, I think letting go of that and those people after a role is done, particularly one where you’ve spent a lot of time on set, no matter how challenging, is hard to let go of.  I generally take a bit of a break in between characters to let go and reset. 

Also the idea of “competition” and people having “angles”, I find very challenging. I truly believe roles are meant for people, there have been some I wanted so badly and didn’t get, or couldn’t do, and those are meant to be for the person who got them.  I also find it challenging when people aren’t straight with me. I’m a very candid person and don’t see what the sense is in that, probably why I love East Coasters so much, they just say it how it is and then move on.  

I think there is an impression that acting is easy or some want to get into it to be “a star” but the truth is, like anything, it takes dedication and hard work. It’s taken me 15 years to get here and I would say I am millions of miles away from being a star.  I’ve had younger ones say to me they want to act and I always ask why – if it’s to be famous, in this day and age there are 50 million ways to get limelight. There’s always this reality check in the arts – it can be tough on the psyche, you’re constantly going back to the drawing board (which includes a lot of rejection) to book the next. I find it can be very taxing on your heart, your mind, and your body.  Even (or maybe, particularly on) your spirit.  You’ve got to develop an incredibly thick skin, very quickly, not only to deal with rejection in the room, but then sometimes on social media.  Sometimes that part is the worst! People can be very brave in the anonymity of the internet and sometimes, unfortunately, very cruel.

Me: Thanks for sharing. Learning to develop thick skin is definitely a life skill. The COVID pandemic has sadly killed many people and businesses. Our world will never be the same again, but we’ve been forced to learn how to adapt. How has COVID affected your day-to-day life and career?

Rachael: We had just started to shoot Nurses, I think we may have been two episodes in when production paused for the pandemic.  Of course then everything was met with uncertainty (and it still is but thankfully we’re progressing towards that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel). I am so grateful to have been on that production as we were the first ones back to work and they kept us so safe, and were attentive to concerns we had, and everyone was looking out for each other. It was a special show to be back on, and we finished just as the second wave was approaching.  Auditions are self tapes or virtual sessions, as were my ADR sessions (glad I’m married to an audio engineer!). The industry adapted pretty quickly, which I think is amazing, that’s a lot of moving ducks!  I may have adapted “too” well with quarantine, I love our home and all the beings within it (we’re “rescue” people) – home for me truly is where my heart is.  

Me: Awww, you guys are too sweet. I rarely watch any television, but I did plan to watch Mary Kills People after I saw the ads. It’s been a few years since the show first aired, and I still haven’t watched it. You told me that it’s into its third season already! I only found out that you were in the show when you posted on Instagram about your character, Lucy Oliviera. For that reason, I’ll have to watch – but be warned, I will blame you for the hours that I lose catching up on the show!  What did you learn from playing Lucy?

Rachael: Haha!  It’s such a great show, so smart, so beautifully written and the cast was absolutely incredible, not only to work with but as authentic, beautiful human beings.  As I mentioned before, Lucy caused me to think deeply and it made me uncomfortable (which is a good thing), and even after all this time, I still crave doing comedy (for the rest of my career if I could). There is an incredible talent in those that are able to do it, which is something I really admire and strive to do.  Drama is great, but I think there is a beauty in the ability to make people laugh, after all, it’s the best medicine!

Me:  I totally agree about laughter being the best medicine. I occasionally laugh to myself, just for the sake of laughing. In addition to your character shots, I’ve seen some of your photographs on your Instagram posts.  Your photos are beautiful and artistic – you have a great eye for detail.  Are there any other interests/hobbies that you are actively engaged in or any passions that you are chasing?

Rachael:  Thank you so much, that means a lot.  This is where I thank all my teachers in the visual arts program! I invest a lot of myself in my artistic pursuits, being behind the camera is definitely something I love. Spending time with my camera in nature is a soothing activity for me, it grounds me and allows me the space for concentrating and settling into the role of the observer.  I get uncomfortable as a human being who happens to be an actor of the idea of “playing the part” in my normal life, of always being “on”. Behind the camera, I  can do my own thing. I can get very philosophical and also become very humbled in the presence of everything that is much larger than me. I don’t get that same experience with acting, for me it’s more about being true to the character than to myself, with photography, I’m 100% true to myself…if that makes sense (🤨)

Me: I totally get it. That’s how I feel in nature too. When we chatted recently, you made me very happy by saying that you went plant-based.  It was fun and exciting talking about our love of oat milk! There’s definitely a global movement toward a plant-based diet – for health, the environment and the animals. For myself, being vegan is about ending animal cruelty and reducing the impact of animal agriculture on our planet. There’s no denying that our planet is being destroyed and something has to be done to save it. There are also tons of health benefits associated with a plant-based diet.

You mentioned that you initially participated in Veganuary (www.veganuary.com), which encourages people to try a plant-based diet in the month of January. You told me that after the challenge, you stopped eating meat altogether. Was it difficult for you to make the shift to a completely plant-based diet? And why did you do it?

Rachael: My first inkling towards being vegan was filming in the meat packing district in Toronto (which is now condos) and seeing the meat trucks in the middle of winter with sleet and snow coming down and these poor little (intelligent) souls in a metal truck (what a miserable ending to life!) for probably hours on the way to the slaughterhouse.  We watched What the Health and went vegan overnight.  It was 100% for the animals, with the environment being a close first.  After two weeks I gutted our kitchen and bathroom and got rid of anything that had any animal by-products or was tested on animals.  Four months later I wasn’t well and realized that what we were eating WAS vegan, but that didn’t necessarily make it healthy (ahem french fries and processed food seemed to negate the “salad”).  So we went vegetarian as I was craving eggs. About a year after that, we watched Game Changers and realized we should give it a go again and did it far more responsibly this time round (knowing what we needed and where we had gotten it previously in our diet and how to get it through plant foods) and we’ve never looked back.  Now we’re on a mission to reduce our waste even further – and through all of this, my perception has changed, I see things differently (I can tell you the grocery store was a trip after the first month vegan!), I see nature differently (much more than before).  It’s been an incredible journey, and I encourage everyone to try it – and to those that try, applaud yourself! Don’t be hard on yourself, your journey is your journey. It took us four years to get to this point and every step of the way, big or little, is a step towards the inclusivity and connectedness I feel. Veganuary is SO supportive, and I use the information on their site throughout the year (and throughout ALL these years!). 

Me: Hooray! I am way more aware of the world around me after I woke up. There’s no “un-seeing” the horror that animals go through to be our snacks/meals and clothing/accessories, etc.

We’re into spring already…what are your plans for this year?

Rachael: I’m heading back to work in a few weeks and working with an author right now on converting one of his novels to a script – a new adventure!  I also plan to spend a lot more time in nature. This past year I have read so much on nature and the beauty of the natural rhythm and all beings connected, I can’t wait to get back to her…says the country kid in the city haha! (Books: Walden, Connecting to Nature and The Age of Union). 

Me: It’s been wonderful chatting with you. I look forward to watching more of your shows and films. For all of you out there, don’t forget to follow Rachael’s career. Rachael, is there anything else that you wish to share with the world?

Rachael: No, thank you! So great to do this with you! Thank you for having me.

—End—

Interview with UK musician Andrew Ford of Inner Pieces

Interviews
Andrew Ford of Inner Pieces
Photo Credit: Andrew Ford/Inner Pieces

Instagram (and other social media) is a very powerful tool in connecting the world.  As you may already know, I’m very passionate about music and always looking for new musical experiences.  I’ve been searching for ear-pleasing meditation/yoga music for a long time.  I’ve spent hours listening to different music on iTunes and YouTube, trying to find the “perfect” meditation/relaxation music, but I only managed to add three songs to my playlist. I had trouble finding music that I found peaceful enough to trust closing my eyes. Often, I find that the pieces have these annoying isolated chiming sounds (ping!) or the sound of water running (which I hate). I would never have imagined that I’d find my perfect meditation/relaxation music from the United Kingdom (UK).  I was admiring art from one of the art curators I follow on IG, then clicked on the artist’s profile, then the artist had a musician playing a piece in front of her painting, then I clicked on the musician’s profile and somehow got to Inner Pieces. It’s amazing where a few clicks can take you.

Though, my focus is on interviewing Canadian musicians, I’m really happy to make a special exception for Inner Pieces.

Contact

IG: @inner_pieces_music

Facebook: innerpieces1

www.innerpieces.co.uk

EXCITING NEW SINGLE RELEASE: “MOTION” on MARCH 5, 2021. A collaboration with James Oram.

Photo Credit: Andrew Ford/Inner Pieces

Inner Pieces’ Music

The Calling, Feat. Inner Pieces by Sean Tinnion – single (2021)

Breathless – single (2020)

Rains, Pt. 2 – single (2020)

Space – single (2020)

Within – album (2016)

One – album (2013)

About

Andrew Ford is the talent behind Inner Pieces. Based in Bristol in the United Kingdom, Andrew composes music, collaborates with other musicians and runs music meditation/yoga sessions. He plays the Hang, RAV drum, Native American style flute, Sansula and the piano.

The story behind his project “Inner Pieces” is an inspirational one. It was created out of Andrew’s personal journey of metaphorically putting pieces of himself back together in light of Scoliosis – a rare genetic condition where the spine twists and curves, his experience with hearing loss and Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and respiratory failure. 

Interview

Me: Andrew, I am so grateful for your music and a chance to interview someone so special. BTW- I love your accent! Through your music, I literally found the peace that I’ve been looking for.  Your sounds are so beautiful, smooth and peaceful.  For so long, I’ve been feeling so claustrophobic and cluttered in my environment (too much stuff mainly). I’ve put off any action to fix this because life is too busy, but after listening to your music for a few days, I was driving and suddenly knew that I have a mission to accomplish – declutter and turn my room into a “zen” space, where I can truly relax and calm myself. 

I’ve never met you before, but your energy and vibe translate into your music. Where do you get your inspiration from? When did you first set your hands on those unique instruments that you play? And where do you even buy them?

Andrew: Hi Monica, thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this interview. I am really pleased that you have managed to find some peace from my music and I can totally relate to the cluttered environment! (Note to self, I must empty those two boxes in the cupboard from when I first moved in 2 years ago…)

Hmm, I guess it was the Hang that inspired me to start Inner Pieces. Late one night playing the Hang I felt this strong urge to somehow use my musical abilities to help people and to share these beautiful instruments with those who might not normally get to hear them.

So I did some research and then I started volunteering once a week at a Children’s Hospice playing relaxing music to the children and nurses. In fact a lot of the musical ideas and melodies for my previous album ‘Within’ spontaneously developed while improvising at the hospice. It was such a privilege, and at times heartbreaking to be able to play my music to these children. The work they do at the hospice is truly amazing. 

But yes, it’s hard to pin down exactly where I get my inspiration from. Often I will just be improvising and experimenting and I will stumble upon a melody that wants to be fully realized. Sometimes it happens quickly, but sometimes it is a long drawn out affair filled with doubts and trepidation as it was when I composed ‘Breathless’.

It was July 2012 when I picked up the Hang. The Hang was invented in the year 2000 so its a very new instrument and not so easy to get hold of. Over a space of a year I wrote a couple of letters to PANArt, the creators of the Hang and they eventually invited me out to Switzerland to choose my instrument! It was such an amazing experience meeting the makers and trying out all the different Hanghang (plural of Hang) in their workshop! I must have played around 70 different instruments and they were all slightly different. In the end, the one I chose seemed to come to life more than the others I played. 

I think I picked up my first Native American style flute from Ebay at around a similar time, but several years later I met David Cartwright from Second Voice Flutes who made me a beautiful drone flute and gifted me a flute specially made to fit with the tuning of the Hang. 

The Sansula and RAV drum were later additions to my collection of instruments. The Sansula I stumbled upon in a little shop in Amsterdam and the RAV I discovered on YouTube.  

Me: That’s an incredible gift from David Cartwright. And lol, who would have known that the plural of Hang is Hanghang! I like how you identify the different instruments played in each piece on your IG posts. It’s a great way to learn about them and the sounds they make. I can’t play instruments, so I’m really curious how you learned to play them. Did you learn on your own or through formal lessons? And were they hard to learn?

Andrew: One great thing about these instruments is that they are very accessible to play and don’t require years of training. The Hang, RAV and Sansula are made in such a way that it’s not really possible to play a wrong note. They lend themselves very well to improvising, as the instruments only have 7 or 8 notes which have been chosen to produce a certain mood. The Native American style flute is also quite simple to play, as it is tuned to a 5 note pentatonic scale which is very pleasing. However, like all things, these instruments do benefit from practice but you can be creating beautiful sounds in a matter of minutes. 

I learned to play mainly just by experimentation and listening to others. With these instruments there is not really an absolutely “correct” way of playing them. A lot of Hang players I saw would use the sides of their thumbs or their palms hitting it like a drum. But I found I didn’t really like the slap sound of metal so much, so I started playing with my fingertips to get a softer sound.     

Me: Needless to say, the way you play these instruments is incredible. I would just hold and stare at them with no clue where to begin.

Congratulations! You’re about to release “Motion” – a collaboration single with musician James Oram.  I love the beautiful simplicity of your cover. What is the significance of the title “Motion” and what was the inspiration for the single?

Andrew: Thank you, I am really excited about releasing “Motion”. It’s quite different to anything either of us have released before. This is my first collaboration with James Oram and the track is definitely a little more energetic than the stuff I usually create. 

It came about when I posted a little clip to Instagram of a rhythmical groove idea I came up with on the Hang. There wasn’t much to it but there was definitely something in it that required further exploration. James had seen it, and then sent me a recording on WhatsApp of him jamming along to it on the piano. It sounded great and took the groove into a totally new direction that I never would have taken it to on my own. 

Because of the lockdown restrictions, we sent some ideas back and forth over the internet and had a couple of jams in the garden. I think it took us around 6 months to fully craft and record the track. 

As is usually the case for me, the title of the track came much later. The track felt like it was going somewhere. In my mind, it felt like travelling through space and passing different planets in the solar system. And the piano definitely added to the feeling of motion with its cascading melodies. “Motion” seemed like a good fit.  

Me: I can’t wait to hear Motion. I listened to some of James’ music as well and he is very impressive. To get to know people better, I always like to ask musicians who are their top 3 favourite musicians. Who are yours?

Andrew: Ah, this is always a difficult question. I guess I’d have to include Beethoven for the sheer breadth of emotion in his piano works, Manu Delago for his creativity and Hang playing and maybe Nitin Sawney for blending Indian classical music with western contemporary styles. But there are many more, Bob Marley, Chopin, Thievery Corporation, anything unique and interesting really. 

Me: Very interesting. I haven’t heard of a few of those artists…I’ll have to take a listen. Because of the COVID pandemic, the world has been an absolutely crazy place for about a year now. I enjoyed a live concert the day before the lockdown here in Ontario and have only been watching online concerts since then. How has COVID affected your day-to-day life and music?

Andrew: Yeah its been quite a ride this past year. I make a living teaching piano so this all stopped very suddenly. But thankfully I was able to transition most of my students online which I am really grateful for. Thank god for the internet! But it has actually given me a chance to slow down and dedicate more time to my creative projects which has been really great. I don’t think I would have released as much music last year if it wasn’t for lockdown. It has definitely made me reassess my priorities.

The biggest thing I miss are the gigs! I have done a few Facebook live gigs which have been really fun, but it is an odd experience performing in my living room. You get the interactive comments and stuff but it’s not quite the same as looking people in the eye and talking to them in between tracks.    

Me: Yes, the common theme with musicians playing via live streams seems to be the oddity of performing in a non-human interactive environment. I can tell from your IG posts that you have quite the talent for photography and videography. How did you develop these interests? And are there any other interests that you have?

Andrew: I guess I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like to do everything myself. I always enjoyed taking photos but videography came about through necessity and lack of money. These days, music is becoming much more visual so it’s vital to attach music to video wherever possible. 

That’s actually been another benefit to lockdown life. Its given me so much more time to watch 100’s of hours of YouTube tutorials learning different photography techniques. Last year I did a ‘Photo a Week’ project where I had to take a photo every week for a whole year. I didn’t expect to be confined to my house for most of it so it forced me to get as creative as possible! I really feel I’ve stepped up my game this last year. I am however really looking forward to going out and about with my camera a lot more!

Other than that, I enjoy going to gigs and watching bands, and seeing films. 

Me: Hopefully, you’re sharing your “Photo a Week” collection somewhere. I’d like to check it out. You seem to be really in-tune with your inner-self. Since you’re involved in guiding meditation/yoga sessions, can you give a few recommendations to those wanting to try meditation?

Andrew: Yes, I do try. I go through phases of meditating a lot and then sometimes not at all. Before the lockdown my partner and I would often meditate at the Buddhist centre here in Bristol, which I really miss. During lockdown I have found it much harder, but recently I have got back into a daily meditation routine as I came to realize I was neglecting my self-care. 

I guess my advice to those wanting to start, is to try and set aside 5 minutes a day at first. This is what I am currently doing. Because we are all very busy and there’s always so many distractions. But there’s really no excuse to not be able to find 5 minutes somewhere in the day! 

I use an app called Insight Timer which is free and has lots of different guided meditations. However I use it just to time my meditations as you can set your own meditation length and it will begin and end the session with a chime from a Tibetan Bell. For me, focusing on the sensation of breath is my favourite type of meditation, but there are many different techniques out there.  

With meditation, the effects are cumulative, so little and often is a good way to start. 

Me: So true – there’s no excuse to NOT find five minutes a day to calm your mind and body.

I was reading your blog on your website about Scoliosis. You’re very open about your traumatic physical, mental and emotional experiences relating to the condition, as well as the metal rod in your spine. What gave you the confidence to share your personal story with the world?

Andrew: This has been quite a long journey. I spent most of my life trying to hide the curvature of my spine from the world and I never spoke about my worries and anxieties growing up. I was an anxious child. I guess this goes hand in hand with meditation, as I have been on a quest for self-discovery and psychological healing for quite some time. At some point I realized that to really heal I would have to shine a light into the shadows. 

In Jungian theory it states that there is a lot of energy tied up in the shadows (I’m paraphrasing badly here). For me I can see that it took up an awful lot of my resources pretending that there was nothing wrong. Trying to hide my body with more clothes than necessary during the summer months for instance. So these days I am trying to embrace it and accept my body’s asymmetry. My hope is that my writing can inspire others to fully embrace and heal themselves too. I still have a long way to go, but I feel a lot lighter and happier than I used to be. 

Me: I never thought about the concept of energy being tied up in the shadows before, but I can see that it’s true. I go through phases where dark thoughts consume me and drain my mental energies. I’m thankful for my writing because it helps me to re-channel the negativity onto the paper or screen. On your blog, you also wrote in detail about your experience with hearing loss and Tinnitus. Normally, the thought of losing ones’ hearing and ringing in the ears is scary enough, but I would imagine that it’s even scarier for a musician. You mentioned that you took precautions by wearing ear protection when playing electronic music in the past and being around loud music, but it wasn’t enough.  You also wrote that Tinnitus could be more of a mental issue than a physical problem. What are your struggles with hearing loss and Tinnitus, with respect to music?

Andrew: Yeah that was quite a transformative time. It completely changed the direction of my life with music. But in the end it definitely helped change my life for the better. 

I had lost a fairly substantial amount of hearing from gigging and working in noisy environments for many years, but my hearing tests showed me that my hearing had stabilized despite the increasing volume of the ringing in my ears. With the help of a Tinnitus therapist I was able to see that a large part of my negative experience with Tinnitus was caused by my mind and the way that I think. I went through a lot Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to eventually rewrite some of my problem neural pathways. The Tinnitus is still there, but it doesn’t affect me so much anymore. Most of the time I don’t really notice it, which is quite a relief as when it was at its loudest I really didn’t know how I would cope.

But yeah, I ended up quitting all the music I was doing at the time and I was in a really low place. I slowly began piecing things back together and it was around that time that I picked up my Hang from Switzerland. The music I am making today feels truer to my inner self and more fulfilling than anything I was making before. If I hadn’t had all the problems with my hearing, I don’t think I’d be making the music I am today. 

Me: I love the visual and emotional aspect of piecing yourself back together. That’s so inspiration. You already went through so much, then you were recently diagnosed with respiratory failure. That’s crazy! My heart breaks for you. But you’re so tough and keep fighting back.

I already loved your song “Breathless”, but appreciate it even more after I learned the story behind it. You were literally breathless and in need of a ventilating machine for sleeping. Does this condition affect your flute playing?

Andrew: This was definitely one of my biggest challenges to date, but I do want to make clear that it was not as extreme as it sounds. Because of the Scoliosis my lungs are restricted somewhat and therefore at night when my body relaxes, I don’t take in quite enough oxygen. It had been creeping up on me for many years and it just meant I was becoming increasingly groggy in the morning with headaches that would persist for the whole day. It is technically respiratory failure as my lungs are not exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide as well as they should, but not in an immediately life threatening sense like it can be in more extreme cases. I now use a ventilator every night to keep my oxygen and CO2 levels in check while I sleep.

Unfortunately this does affect my flute playing as my lung capacity is greatly reduced so I am unable to sustain notes for as long as I’d like. But it doesn’t stop me being creative and expressing myself with the flute. 

Composing “Breathless” was a rather cathartic experience and it really helped me to channel a lot of  difficult emotions. I think it’s probably the most honest piece of music I have ever created. 

Me: Andrew, you’ve proven that even though life can throw a bunch of crap, beauty (your music) can stem from it – much like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

I’m really looking forward to your new collaboration single and new music from you. Thank you so much for being you and agreeing to this interview. Everyone, make the meditative sounds of Inner Pieces part of your lives and channel your inner peace…Om….

Andrew, do you have anything else that you wish to share?

Andrew: Thank you so much Monica. It has been really awesome connecting with you over the last couple of weeks. 

—End—

Here’s are a few of my favourite songs:

Interview with Canadian musician Ben Vezina

Interviews
Photo credit: Rick Arbuckle

Written by Monica Ng

If you ever wonder why I spend my free time interviewing Canadian musicians and others, the answer is simple: I LOVE music, writing and sharing. I’m also very inspired by these people and enjoy learning about what drives them on their paths.  If you have a chance, check out my interviews with Canadian musicians, Eric Nguyen of The Moon & I, Al Capo of Stuck on Planet Earth, AARYS, Neon Dreams, Craig Stickland, King Khan and Jeff Fero of jFEROcious; and writers, C. Fong Hsiung, Kelly Ann Charleson, Tony Wong and Sharon Rampersad.

A quick note about new music: Neon Dreams recently released their new album, “The Happiness of Tomorrow” and Craig Stickland has released a couple of new songs for an upcoming album. The Moon & I, Stuck on Planet Earth and AARYS are getting ready to release new music soon!

Follow your dreams

The world can be a gloomy place. But there are many people like Ben Vezina and those mentioned above who inspire others to be their best, persevere and follow their dreams.

Ben and I went to the same elementary and high school. Yup, stuck in the same jails for 8 years! Ben has always been a genuinely nice person. Back in high school, I knew that he drummed, but that was pretty much all I knew about him. Though you may have known the personality of your classmates, you didn’t always get a chance to know them well or find out what they did outside of school. 

Flashback to my (night) clubbing days. It just happened that the club where I was at had a live performance that evening. It was Ben drumming with his band.  I was shocked to see him there and for sure, had to communicate a hello in the partially dark and noisy place. Ben’s band was playing some wild catchy tribal music.  Being at the same place at the same time gave me a chance to re-connect with him.

Ben was low-profile with his talent, but another classmate was an underwear model – so news of that guy’s “talent” spread quickly lol.

Contact

Facebook: Ben Vezina

www.musicircleschool.com

About

Ben lives in Montreal with his family. He currently plays in a couple of bands – Hi-Fins and the Janis Joplin tribute band and teaches drums at Musicircle School of Music.

Photo credit: Frederic Serre

Interview

Me:  Ben, it’s always great catching up. It’s awesome to have a chance to interview you. I think it’s the coolest that you’ve followed your passion for drumming all these years.

Someone told me that parents with kids who are learning to play drums and violin have it the worst. And I can imagine why! When did you pick up your first drumsticks and how did your parents deal? And do you play other instruments?

Ben: I’m not sure I would call them drumsticks because they were homemade, as was the Styrofoam drum set. I made them for a lip-sync talent show in grade 5. I was playing the part of the drummer in a fake band doing a Bryan Adams song. I had almost no experience with musical instruments, aside from being forced to take piano lessons as a 7-year-old. I was SO happy to quit because we were moving, but mostly because I couldn’t pick up the reading part of it. My family is a dance family. More specifically a ballroom dance family. My sisters were nationally ranked, my parents were 2nd in the province and I had begrudgingly begun in that world as well. So this grade 5 talent show was my chance to get out – or so I thought. I went “full-on” with that, that I then decided I would be a drummer. It was the one instrument I could teach myself without having to read. I later found out I am dyslexic. But I would have to wait until high school for the chance to play drums. That’s actually where I picked up my first set of sticks. On the first day of music class, we were told to select the instrument that we wanted to play with two alternates. We were told if we chose drums we would have to play the xylophone first. So I picked the xylophone to ensure that I got the chance at drums second. Miss Walsh figured out my scheme. As a result, she decided to take a chance on someone with zero experience or previous drum lessons and put me on drums right away. I never looked back or touched a xylophone!!! My Dad liked that I had found drums but had no interest in hearing them in the house. He was very against me getting or even bringing a drum set into the house. But my mom was cool with it and actually borrowed a drum set from a co-worker for me over the summer, which became my first drum set after 1.5 years of only playing the school kit. As far as other instruments that I “pretend” to be able to play, I would say the bass guitar is the one that I’m the most proficient on. But proficiency is a bit of a stretch… I don’t have a melodic brain, it’s 100% rhythmic. Although being in bands for 30 years and more specifically 16 years in the Freddie James Project, I’ve been able to develop the melodic side more.

Me: I don’t remember you playing on the styrofoam drums back in elementary school lol. I think that I phased out elementary school altogether. In high school I was forced to play the keyboard but spent most of my time in the “washroom” because I hated it. It’s great that you were able to by-pass the xylophones in music class. I’m impressed that you were able to pick up drums and guitar.

I like your nickname “BreakNeckBen”. What’s the story behind it?

Ben: After people would see me play, one of two things would almost always get brought up: 1. “you make me think of Animal from the Muppets” and/or 2. “doesn’t your neck get sore during the show?” My objective was to try and create the feeling I’d had as a competitive dancer. I always moved a fair bit when I would play, but this was me turning drums into dancing, and I thought “BreakNeckBen” explained everything, plus I didn’t really want “animal” to be my only moniker even though I am a bit of a crazy man!

Me: That’s awesome! I love that you’re inspiring people through your music and teaching drums. How did you decide to become a teacher?

Ben: It’s funny because I never actually made that decision, it was made for me by my music teacher Brenda Walsh. She took a chance on me with the drums. I was instructed by her during my music class, to give some “inner-circle” students drum lessons to keep them occupied so they wouldn’t continue vandalizing the theater during their spares. I didn’t like doing it but it came naturally to me. So I graduated high school with some extra credits for teaching. That in turn led to me running a lunch hour program at Cedar Park Elementary School where Miss Walsh was transferred to. She needed me to occupy a bunch of hyperactive kids with drum lessons during their lunch hour. How I would have loved to have gone to that school!!! I even ended up teaching some of those kids all the way through their high school years. So it just became something I was always asked to do. In the end, teaching chose me and I’m a more enriched person for it.

Me: Wow, teaching drums in high school must have been a great experience for you. Also, I haven’t thought about the “inner-circle” until you brought it up. Wonder what became of those kids. Are there projects that you are currently working on and any other passions that you are pursuing?

Ben: I spent a decade and a half focusing on being “BreakNeckBen” and I’m finally back to working on myself. My main group is The Hi-Fins and I’m currently playing in several other groups and do some subbing for other drummers from time to time. I had been trying to work on a new project with an old student and some other friends, but as of March 2019, everything is on hold…which brings me to my many interests!!! I’ll try and make this concise. I was an auto mechanic for a while and then I studied engineering before music got the better of me. In the last two years, I’ve taken a deep dive back into my world of mechanics. I have two project cars I’m currently fixing. One is a long-term full restoration and the other was a quick restoration that took place during the lockdown this summer. I also spent the better part of twenty years deep into the world of triathlon. I was even trying to get to the pro level but due to injuries, ambulances and cancer, I’ve been forced to focus my efforts mostly on running and getting my body working properly. Post bone marrow transplant, I’m also a bit of a bike hoarder, which allows me to fix my kids’ and their friends’ bikes and anyone else that swings by my place and needs a hand. If it’s not obvious, I LOVE fixing things!!!

Me: That’s quite a portfolio. I’ll be sure to bring my bike over if I need it fixed.

I love the cover you did for Brittany Spear’s Toxic (on YouTube). Though I love the sound of drums, I don’t know much about them. I also love the sound of the guitar and bought myself one recently.  I figured that I would learn how to play on my own.  The guitar I bought was not a huge cost investment, so it was easy to commit. What are some tips that you can offer about learning drums, including whether or not one should invest in a drum set? And what are your thoughts on electric drum set pads or similar products?

Ben: Hmm…I gave a good solid effort in trying to love electronic drums in the early 2000s but I ultimately found them to be problematic and unreliable on stage. That has since changed for the better. Unfortunately, their latency issues and bad tactile feel make them bad-habit forming for learning. The best bet, in my opinion, would be studio and rehearsing work. Practice pads are very useful for working on some technical things (i.e. rudiments/wrist and finger techniques etc.). But in the end, one needs a platform to learn how to correctly use the drumming technique in the language of music. So if possible, I always recommend an acoustic set of drums. Even a really cheap crappy set will properly reinforce correct habits.   

Me: I watched your YouTube video where you were bringing a worn-out drum skin back to life.  Very interesting! I had no idea that the skin could be restored to new. Your video is a must-watch for those thinking of replacing the skin altogether. Any other tips for the general maintenance of a drum set?

Ben: Drums usually don’t wear out. Only the skins, more specifically the snare drum skin. They usually get replaced 99% of the time. But even then, it can be brought back pretty easily if it’s not broken. Maybe if there is water damage to the shells, the wood might warp but usually, drums can last decades without failure. As long as one plays within the tolerances of the metal components, even the cheap ones today are pretty strong. But the three things that I deal with on a somewhat regular basis, due to my forceful playing are bent rims (incorrect tuning), broken cymbals (nicks on the edge) and broken bass drum pedals. You can’t really do anything for the rims or cymbals once they’re bent or cracked. I used to go through a couple of crashes a year. But a good cymbal case would help tremendously with saving one’s cymbals. As far as the kick pedal goes, I have a particularly strong bass drum foot so I think broken pedals are a “me” thing. I’ve had to customize my pedals in the past. But it shouldn’t happen, it’s an instrument that is designed to be hit.

Me: Some time ago, we were chatting on Facebook. I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up, but I find your story so inspirational. You mentioned your battle with cancer. I watched a YouTube news clip video about a fundraising run for cancer.  The kids that you coached in soccer for many years participated in the event and talked about how you were always there for them and not only trained them but trained with them.  That video brought tears to my eyes.  What kept you strong and fighting? And from what you went through, what kind of perspective/insight did you gain about life?

Ben: Wow, these are big questions to answer. Let me start by saying that I think most people are built with a very strong survival instinct. I definitely am. Luckily I was also born with a clear and very calm mind under extreme duress too. This was strengthened through years of beating up my body and callusing my mind by playing drums for my “day job” (i.e. late-night job for The Freddie James Project), often playing 3-5 sets a night six nights a week for months at a time and still training hard for triathlons and running races. All the while trying to be the best parent/husband possible. I also saw what cancer had done to my dad a year and a half earlier and was three months into my chemo when my sister also passed away from cancer. Thankfully I was in fantastic shape and mentally ready for the insanity – being cancer. I went into it like an endurance race or a never-ending set on stage. I even had my kids smuggle my racing bike and trainer into my hospital room during my first five-week stay so I could maintain a “good fighting” feeling about my situation while being attached to my chemo machines. That was definitely the easier of the two hospital stays. The second one was the bone marrow transplant. More of a “second half” of the race type of deal, where you either quit or don’t give yourself the option to quit. For the transplant to take, all the healing parts of the blood (white/red cells & hemoglobin) need to be dropped to almost zero. Being isolated in a room for six weeks not being able to eat, talk or leave the room gave me a glimpse into what it might be like to be very old and weak. So the first of many perspective shifts on life was getting a second chance at midlife. After not being able to do anything except listen to music all day in a room by yourself, you become thankful for ALL of the little things. Moving forward with love and purpose becomes the endgame. 

Me: I’m so sorry for your losses and happy that cancer did not beat you. It must have been really tough for you to be isolated from everyone for so long. On the topic of isolation, no doubt that COVID has hit a lot of people in a bad way. How has it affected your day-to-day life and your music?

Ben: Post cancer I had a couple of lifelines in the music community. These allowed me to let people know that I was still around and planned to continue being active. So I dug my heels in and started saying yes to everything. Focus and hard work have always been my “modus operandi“. The lockdown flipped everything upside down, to say the least. But the longer we’re in this lockdown, the more I feel things are now right-side-up for me. When you’re a gigging musician you must always keep your foot on the gas. Covid has allowed me to look inward – something I haven’t done since high school. My day-to-day life is now focused on neglected hobbies and personal goals. Rebirth of my love and passion for drumming has come out of this. I think I’ll be a better and happier teacher and when we do get out of this. I think my own inner musician/drummer will have evolved to something better than it was.

Me: What are you plans in the near future – life, music and career?

Ben: Hmmm, as a family we lean on each other more now and we’ve become very tight. I’m an optimist, so hopefully more of the same on that front. And because I’m not someone that gets derailed easily, I will definitely continue teaching, as that’s the mainstay. I look forward to getting back on stage soon, and back into “fighting shape”. Being on stage is still the one puzzle piece that’s missing….

Me: I appreciate your insight about life and sharing your passions. I look forward to seeing you perform live again. Is there anything else that you wish to share?

Ben: Love.

Thanks Monica 🙂

Me: Thanks again for taking the time for this interview.  Stay safe my friend!

—End—

Here are a couple of Hi-Fins performances:

Interview with author, Sharon Rampersad

Interviews
Sharon Rampersad
Photo credit: Sharon Rampersad

Social media is a great way to re-connect with people from the past. I was recently chatting with my elementary school classmate, Sharon through FB or IG (can’t remember which). Always the curious person – I love finding out what my classmates have been up to. Sharon told me that she was working hard to finish off her book since she had more time – thanks to COVID.

Interview

Me: It’s been great catching up with you. Time has really flown by since elementary school. But it sounds like you’ve been busy all these years – working, exercising, being a mom and most importantly – improving and trying to find your true self. You told me that you had time to reflect during this COVID pandemic and pushed yourself to finish your book titled “Finding Yourself and Accepting the Person You Find”.  I’m proud of you for following through and self-publishing your first one.  It’s actually quite a feat, as I read that only a small percentage of people who set out to write a book end up publishing it – so congratulations! 

Since I’m working on my own novel, I know how much hard work and editing goes into the process. As my friend, Tony Wong, writer for the Toronto Star says about his deadlines, “If you can sleep on it, take a day off and come back to the work. It always pays to bake the goods a little more”. Basically, editing, removing yourself from your work and editing some more is key. It may be hard to believe, but I can still find typos in my manuscript though I’ve been at it for about 2 ½ years. That being said, life is busy enough for me with my regular day-to-day stuff – never mind trying to pursue a passion for writing and sharing on the side.  What inspired you to write your book about the complicated world of dating and self-empowerment and what gave you that “final” push to complete your book?

Sharon: I noticed that I had recurring conversations with people about dating and self-empowerment. Often we beat ourselves up and make ourselves feel bad about the choices we’ve made. I’ve read many self-help books that I found inspiring and helpful, so I decided that I wanted to write one to help others in the same way. I wanted my book to be easy to absorb and relatable.

I think that many of us go through similar experiences in life, some of which are embarrassing to admit to – never mind hard to talk about.  I think that some of my insights are if nothing else – something to reflect on.  I’m sure there are people who are much more “together” than I am, but still there could be something in my book that can be helpful to them. 

The final push toward the publication of my book was the desire to accomplish what I set out to do. The other part of the push was knowing that I was going beyond my comfort zone.  Comfort is the death of ambition.  From past experience, I know that it can take me some time to get there, but eventually I push past my fears and insecurities and just go for it.  I acknowledge my fears and then ignore them.

Me: The main thing that stood out to me about your book is your honesty about your struggles to make it as a single mom and your bold attempt to navigate the murky waters of dating. In your book, you mention that by sharing your stories, you hope for others (especially women) to realize that there is hope at the end of the dark tunnel. What do you think is the most important message in your book?

Sharon: Truthfully, I think they are all important.  But if I had to choose, I think the most important thing would be learning to love yourself.  It’s about learning to talk to yourself kindly and with love.  I think this attitude builds a strong foundation for everything else. We all make mistakes and we all do things that we wish we hadn’t, but it’s ok to forgive yourself .  You just need to promise yourself that you won’t make the same mistake again and proceed with a new awareness. 

And I also think it’s important, especially when things are bad, that even if you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel – doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Just keep doing what you’re doing and eventually the Universe will show you some dividends.  Sometimes it may take a while for things to happen, but like most things in life, time and consistency will pay off.

Also, the reasons behind pushing yourself forward are also really important.  It’s easy to let yourself spin out of control or get sucked into a negative mindset when you aren’t focused.

See?  You tried to make me choose and still I couldn’t…lol.

Me: I’ve done my fair share of dating in my life, but if I learned nothing else from my past relationships – I believe that you should do whatever comes naturally to you. If you want to send a text message to a guy/gal you’re interested in – just do it. I don’t particularly agree that people need to filter what they say or the frequency of their messages. I think that in general, if a person is truly interested in you, they should be happy to hear from you and not be afraid of what you have to say. If that person isn’t mature enough to handle you, then they don’t deserve you. In your book, you discuss your fear of “looking like a crazy person” regarding checking out someone’s social media account when the relationship isn’t working out. By placing too much emphasis on what “not” to do in a relationship, do you think that you will drive yourself crazy instead of just looking crazy?

Sharon: I do what comes naturally, but I also observe the reaction I get from the other person when I am myself.  We can choose the terms of the relationships that we have.  I’m no dating expert, but I do know how taxing a bad relationship can be on your self-esteem.  I’m not trying to say the other person is malicious, but as you get older, you know how you want to be treated and the kind of relationship that you want to have. For example, at some point you should get the hint that you’re not a priority in someone’s life if you’re constantly making plans with them and they’re always busy. People won’t tell you the truth most of the time, but they will show you the truth through their actions.  Nobody owes anyone anything, but we owe it to ourselves to be aware of how our attempts at making a connection are received and choose whether or not we want to accept it. If you start to feel bad about yourself or have feelings of insecurity in a relationship, it’s important to evaluate the situation to determine if it’s worth the pursuit.

Me: Let’s chat about Chapter 3 – Positivity. I agree that a glass that is half-full is way more appealing than one that is half-empty.

In this chapter, you share five points:

  1. “Being positive is a choice.”
  2. “Rid yourself of negativity.”
  3. “If you don’t see the positive in a situation, look for it.”
  4. “Reinforce positivity in yourself.”
  5. “Share positivity with others.”

I think that these points are self-explanatory, however, what would you suggest to someone who feels “stuck” in their situation and can’t find anything positive about it?

Sharon: I remember what that feels like.  When you feel like you have no way out.  You don’t know what to do or how to move forward.  What I have learned is that everything in life takes time, whether it be learning a new skill or talent, losing weight or finding a partner.  Nothing happens overnight.

Thinking back to the time I felt really stuck and literally had no way out, I started taking steps towards getting myself “un-stuck”.  You can have small victories until you’re ready to take the leap.  For example, if you are trying to get out of a bad living situation, you can start taking steps towards your liberation by saving money, acquiring furniture or whatever little things you can do.  I once heard on a YouTube video, “Do what you can with what you have available to you.”  That just got stuck in my head.  So really, we’re never ‘stuck’ – it’s a state of mind rather than a barrier. There is always something we can do.  The challenge is taking actions toward the unknown.  What I’ve learned is that change will happen when misery outweighs comfort.  Sometimes we just need to be more proactive and take control of ourselves and our situation.

Me: In Chapter 5 – Setting Goals, you wrote “If you’re not happy with something do something to change it or accept it.” I definitely agree with you. I hear a lot of complaints from people about their lives, but some do nothing to change it. Basically, if you don’t plan to change, then you may as well accept your situation right? How do you think setting goals can help someone is this predicament and push them to make changes?

Sharon: Change can be difficult, and sometimes overwhelming.  Setting goals can help remove those feelings because you’ve broken the end goal down into smaller, more manageable, and much less intimidating tasks. For example, wanting to lose 30 lbs.  Right there, if you have no plan and no goals – where do you start?  Breaking the goals down can help you reach them, like adjusting your eating habits, exercising more, exploring the idea of hiring a personal trainer, etc.  These things may not be the same as losing 30 lbs, but will contribute toward your goal. 

If you start taking consistent steps in the direction of where you want to go, you can feel good to be moving in that direction until you start to see results.  I tried to lose weight for years, and nothing ever really worked until I started setting smaller goals.  Evaluating all aspects of my life helped me to improve my diet, change my attitude, and develop a consistent routine in my life.  The key is consistency and choosing to keep your promises to yourself. 

Me: You explore the concept of self-love in Chapter 6. One suggestion that you have is to “talk to yourself like you would talk to someone that you love.” How do you think this slight shift can empower someone?

Sharon: It makes a world of difference because it’s rare that someone judges the people they love, as harshly as they judge themselves.  Most of us don’t think about it, but the hurtful things we would never say to a friend, we don’t think twice about saying to ourselves. 

At the end of the day, we are each stuck with ourselves forever.  If you don’t like who you are, then maybe you should start working towards becoming who you want to be. Start speaking to yourself with encouragement instead.  This would be a healthier and more productive approach.  For example, instead of wasting time berating myself for a mistake, I’ll forgive myself for being human.

My body, mind and life are mine alone, so if I don’t like something about them – I have the power to make a change.  Be happy with yourself and look at everything you have accomplished as well as what you’re capable of.  That way you’ll treat yourself with love and respect.  Learn to speak to yourself in a way that is self-soothing – just like how we teach our children to self-soothe.

Me: Now that you have one book under your belt, any plans for a follow-up book?

Sharon: I would like to.  I have tried to keep myself busy this year and have other artistic endeavors that I’m working on right now, but it is definitely a possibility for the future.  I’m still thinking about it and collecting content, but I will definitely let you know when I do. 

Me: Sharon, thanks for your time and insight. I wish you the best of success with your book!

If you’re interested in supporting Sharon by purchasing her book, you can order online on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-yourself-and-accepting-the-person-you-find-sharon-rampersad/1137355280?ean=9781728364223

Interview with Canadian musician AARYS

Interviews
aarys photo
PHOTO CREDIT: LANE DORSEY

Contact

www.aarysmusic.com

Instagram: @itsaarys

Facebook: AARYS

Bedtime find

AARYS is an incredibly beautiful and talented singer and songwriter. On top of that – she’s CANADIAN! If you’ve read my other interviews with musicians Stuck on Planet Earth, Neon Dreams, Craig Stickland, jFEROcious, and King Khan – you would know how much I love Canadian music and supporting Canadian musicians. If you haven’t read those interviews – chop, chop! Check them out under my “Interviews” tab.

I was about to sleep when I came across AARYS’ music. I saw her name mentioned on a post relating to Stuck on Planet Earth or one of their band members. AARYS’ sultry and powerful voice in combination with the music hooked me immediately – a true gem of a discovery. I quickly bought a few of my favourite songs (Bad Thing, Different Kind of High and Leave the Light On) and looked forward to listening to them the next day.

About

AARYS, originally from the Niagara region, has made Toronto her home. Her debut single, Echo, became a SOCAN Song of the Week, and was featured on radio stations throughout Canada (e.g. CBC Radio 3 as one of “3 Ontario Songs You Need to Hear”). Her debut album, Secrets, was written in both Toronto and LA and released on April 5, 2019. Since then, she has joined Toronto label Division 88 and released a slew of new singles and remixes, with much more to come…

AARYS lives with anxiety and has become a strong advocate for mental health – releasing her song, Talk, on Bell Let’s Talk Day 2020 and organizing a singer-songwriter event as a fundraiser for CAMH. She has also spoken on the subject of mental health and music in a TEDx Talk back in 2018.  

Her music

Genre: alternative/pop/electronic

Echo (single) – 2018

Secrets (album)– 2019, songs include: What My Secrets Are, Arizona, Bad Thing, Different Kind of High, Heavy, Echo, It’s Good to Be King, Leave the Light On and Goodbye.

Talk (single) – 2020

Body Heat (single) –2020

Uninvited Guests, Glenn Gould (collab album) (Ft. the songs “No Roses” and “Better”) – 2020

Interview

Me: AARYS, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. You radiate such a positive energy from your IG photos and videos alone and it’s been great having a chance to chat with you. As I wrote up this interview, I was listening to your music and added “Talk” to my music collection. What a beautiful song.

Congratulations! You recently released your new singles “Body Heat” and “Talk”. You wrote on one of your IG posts that “Body Heat sits in the middle of two themes that hit you in the peak of lockdown: 1) the fear of losing closeness with someone you love (emotionally or physically) and 2) our very human need to touch, see and physically be with each other.”

COVID has affected the whole world in such a horrific way, but at the same time I heard many comments about the “good” things that have come out of it – mainly, the realization that there are more important things in life than being part of the rat race.

What were you doing at the time COVID took over the world stage?  And how did the pandemic affect you with respect to your music?

AARYS: Thank you so much! Before COVID first hit, I was making my living performing live full-time. I would play anywhere from 2-6 gigs in one week give or take, always commuting, and when I wasn’t gigging, I was out in the scene in some other way. I was very used to that fast-paced lifestyle, always performing and surrounded by people who would validate my talents with applause, although I would often burn out. The pandemic obviously put a complete stop to all of that. It was tough, mentally, to adjust and I got to thinking a lot about those themes in Body Heat as well as what I was going to do now. I wound up actually doing what I was always too busy to do before, which was learn how to start producing, as well as engineering my own vocal sessions. I’ve also been doing a lot of songwriting, getting tons of new stuff ready for release soon. And I actually enjoyed getting to stay put in Toronto all summer instead of being on the road. Of course, pandemic life still affects me mentally sometimes, but like you said there have been some silver linings.  

Me: I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how did you decide on AARYS as your alias? It’s an odd but interesting name.

AARYS: My first name is Sarah, and when I was about 15 or so in my first band, my bandmate started saying my name backwards, pronouncing it like “heiress”. It stuck.

Me: I saw your posts about “Uninvited Guests”. Can you explain the story behind that project?

AARYS: Myself and a collective of amazing artists, released an album that we all worked on together called Uninvited Guests. Division 88, which is the label I am a part of here in Toronto, partnered with Sony Masterworks and Primary Wave to distribute this project that remixes the works of the renowned Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould. Gould spent his life doing things differently by creating his own interpretations of classical pieces; left the world of performing for the recording studio at age 31; and basically predicted our use of technology and the way we would be making and consuming music today. Billy Wild, as the lead producer and president of Division 88, worked for several years on being granted the rights to use Gould’s recordings, and along with a team of other producers and artists, created Uninvited Guests by sampling and remixing these classical pieces. The final result was an album that was a fusion of classical samples and modern, hip hop/electronic/ pop music. I’m featured on the songs “Better”, and “No Roses” (with Your Hunni and Ro Joaquim).

Me: That’s really interesting. I’ll have to check out the new music. I watched part of your video where you were at Kensington Market shopping for a mannequin to burn for your Body Heat video.  What is the symbolism behind the mannequin being burned?

AARYS: We were really just trying to come up with a unique way to physically represent someone’s “body heat”, so we made a body hot by lighting a fake one on fire!

Me: Where do you get your musical inspiration? And do you play any instruments?

AARYS: I play guitar, piano and can still rock the flute because I played all through high school and still have one of my own at home. I first got into guitar because of my Dad. He’s also a musician, so he was probably my earliest influence. I get my inspiration from my own life mostly – relationships, experiences and often my journey with mental health. I also get influenced by favourite artists of mine. Currently I’m most in love with Bishop Briggs, BANKS and Lennon Stella.

Me: How long have you been in the music industry? And what would you say was the “moment” where you determined your path as a musician?

AARYS: Well, I’m 25 now and I’ve been working as a musician since I was about 14/15 years old. I was involved in several projects and bands over the years, but I’d say the moment I determined my own path wasn’t until I started working on my album “Secrets”, with my first single as AARYS being released in 2018. That project was the first time I felt like I was finding my sound, and being myself, and it led me to some amazing people and opportunities. I also moved to Toronto because of working on that album, and that’s been the best move ever.

Me: Now that you’ve released Body Heat, Talk and Uninvited Guests, what’s next?

AARYS: Some cool things are still about to happen while we promote the Uninvited Guests project, so stay tuned for those. And next up, I have my next single on deck as well as another exciting collaborative project in the works.

Me: That’s is very exciting. Sounds like you’ve been very busy. My personal mission in life is to find happiness. I feel that life’s too short and you can’t keep putting off the things that you want to do, because it could be too late by the time you get hit with something unknown (like in my dad’s case, he always wanted to take the Transcanada train, but then he got hit with a life-changing stroke just months after his retirement). What are some things that you do to de-stress yourself and find balance in life?

AARYS: To de-stress, I need physical activity in my life. I just love weight training. I also go to therapy when I need to check in on myself, and always make time to have long talks with my family and close friends. Otherwise, I keep trying to find the balance between being so focused on my career, and just having fun as a 25 year-old woman with her whole life ahead of her. 

Me:  You are a big advocate for mental health awareness.  You talk openly about your personal battles with anxiety and self-doubt. I enjoyed reading your comments about your album, Secret. Basically, the album was a medium for you to expose your deepest feelings and thoughts, while allowing the writing process and singing heal you. I completely agree that music has a way of influencing our brains and emotions. Plus I find that the world is too quiet without music.

I watched your short video on YouTube where you talk about your therapy sessions and the “thought replacement” technique that you learned.  An example you gave was replacing a negative thought, in your words, “if I stand up for myself, people will think I’m a bitch” and replace the thought with a fact such as “I’m always empathetic, always care about feelings…and would never do anything that was mean, so why would they think I’m a bitch?”

I can relate to you, as I had a lot of self-doubt and emotional issues growing up and it took me decades to learn not to care what others think of me. What are your thoughts on mental health specifically relating to youth?

AARYS: I just think back to when I was younger, and very clearly living with anxiety, yet having no idea that’s what was happening until I was 21 and having a terrible breakdown. I think it’s important for mental health to be widely talked about and accepted so that youth can feel comfortable asking questions and learning about mental health early on. It’s always helpful to see how many other people deal with the same thoughts and feelings as we do.

Me: I ask this of every musician I interview – what tips or advice would you give to someone wishing to pursue a career as a musician?

AARYS: Try not to compare yourselves to other people, even though it’s hard when social media mainly shows you how awesome your peers are doing. Also, be as authentically yourself as you possibly can be, and you will be happiest with your art and find yourself surrounded by a lot of good people, in my experience.

Me: It was great discovering your music and having a chance to learn more about you. I’m proud of you for helping to breakdown the stigma surrounding mental health and sharing your vulnerability with others, in hopes that they can find a way to open up and get the help they need. It’s also amazing how you turned your negative thoughts and feelings into such masterpieces.

When the world ever returns to some form of “normal”, you’ll see me at your next live performance.

Is there anything else that you wish to share?

AARYS: You’re so sweet! Thank you for these thoughtful questions and I’m glad you’re a fan of my music! Last thing I’ll just reiterate is to stay tuned to my socials for a couple of online performances and upcoming releases being announced soon! Also, there’s a world-wide pandemic going on, so if anyone is feeling down or unmotivated, that’s entirely and completely ok. Check on yourself and talk to each other! 

—End—

Here are a few of my favourite songs:

Interview with Canadian musician: Jeff Fero of jFEROcious

canadian music, Interviews
Photo credit: Jeff Fero/jFEROcious

Contact
Website: www.jferocious.com
Instagram: @jferocious_ 

Mystery Man

I discovered musician Jeff Fero of jFEROcious through Instagram.  What caught my attention was Jeff’s unique voice, song rhythm and videos.  That’s not all – my curiosity was piqued because there seems to be a lot going on with jFEROcious’ feed – not just “straightforward” music video clips. In fact, I didn’t realize he was a musician until one of his most recent video clip posts. The detective in me figured that he is Canadian through his use of hashtags lol. Being Canadian myself, I am really inspired by Canadian musicians and support them whole-heartedly. On top of that, I am a very curious person and wanted to learn more about this mystery man (who has no bio information on his website), so I reached out for an interview.  And here we are.

EXCLUSIVE PRE-RELEASE LISTEN

You heard it here first! I am extremely excited that Jeff offered a pre-release listen of his new tune “Our Currrency” for this interview. Click here to take a listen. Our Currency has a really great vibe. Keep your ears out for more new music from jFEROcious…

About

jFEROcious is based in Kootenay, British Columbia.  Jeff is not only a super-talented songwriter, singer and guitar player, but has skills in web/graphic design as well as video/sound editing. According to Jeff, his “broad skill set in digital media, which was [his] main side hustle in the early years, [allowed him to] keep touring, recording, and being a musical fool, ha.”  Jeff finished his university degree in marketing at The University of Lethbridge – getting a 4.0 GPA. One smart dude. He “pursued a degree in marketing after about a decade in music, after realizing that 80% of what [he] was doing with touring, promoting, and labels was marketing… 20% of it was music.” Jeff played for many punk rock bands including Live on Brighton, but decided to experiment with a different musical project which involves collaboration with other artists.

jFEROcious’ songs include: Uke, Sound Advice, Never Wait, Won’t be late, 3 days from May, and my personal favourites Hysteria Amplified, First World Tragedy, Close the Distance and Days Gone.

Jeff Fero of jFerocious
Photo credit: Jeff Fero/jFEROcious

Interview

Me: I’m always looking for new music. I remember commenting on your post when I saw your Hysteria Amplified video clip – it’s such a great song. I can’t quite grasp how that song makes me feel, but something like being caught in time in a dark spot – but in a good and interesting way. All of your songs are really solid and catchy.

Jeff, I must say that doing research for this interview was like gathering a bunch of random pieces with rough edges and trying to piece them together into a puzzle.  With my sociology, interior design and legal background, I generally like to organize my thoughts and ideas in a way that I can understand them.   If I can articulate this properly, watching your video for “Uke” feels taboo – like watching something that I’m not supposed to watch.  In the video you are looking intensely directly into the camera so watching you shave your beard seems like something forbidden.  Yet, I am oddly compelled to watch.  I suppose it is human nature to be curious! BTW – you look great without a beard 😊

You mentioned that you are experimenting with a “project” and doing some work with others to get away from your previous punk rock style of music.  If you had to “define” your new music style, how would you do so? And what are your thoughts on how your project is progressing?

Jeff: Thanks for all the kind words – they are greatly appreciated! I was really motivated to make “Hysteria Amplified”, because for me, the point of songwriting is to capture a moment in time. At times, I fall into the trap of writing, planning, rewriting, producing, and refining music – which takes time, and can end up removing the moment from the song. This one was done entirely at home during quarantine, with no production, some noticeable flaws, mixed and mastered at home – it’s just a real song from a real moment in time. I don’t often do that any more, and it felt great to make happen. I am really happy when I can look back on a song and it takes me back to an identifiable moment, and I feel this will be one of those songs. Defining the style for me is hard. I’ve been writing a ton of different songs lately – some fall into the darker indie / pop world, some are full on rock tunes, and songs like “Uke” fall somewhere in between. The purpose of jFEROcious for me, is to get away from the music I’ve become really comfortable making, and to force out something new and hopefully somewhat strange. When I first started making songs, they were certainly odd (probably a little too odd), but when I realized that people preferred hearing the refined pop rock stuff we would sometimes make, I fell into that cycle of trying to make songs that sounded a certain way. Songs with formulas and rules.  Ultimately, jFEROcious is an outlet to ditch that and make original music. I’m stoked to be getting the positive feedback I have been getting so far, but I’m in a good enough place right now that I have zero concern on making songs sound a certain way, and I am not concerned about appealing to a certain crowd. The marketer in me hates this terrible approach… but songwriting is the passion here. Not a dedication to any one sound or genre.

In terms of how the project is progressing, the relative success of the song “Uke” was a major push in the right direction. The other three songs on the initial release (Songs That Were New) were not a far stretch from my former alt rock self. But “Uke” was the first real effort to create a song without a guitar – and unexpectedly, it got more positive feedback than anything I’ve written. I even signed music over to a major record label in 2012, but there was something about “Uke” that people were liking in a way I had not experienced before. That made me a lot more comfortable in my pursuit of doing something different. In the summer of 2019, I started another four songs, and did so with zero guitar (at least in the writing stage). Making the conscious decision to do this resulted in something that feels truly unique to me. Reverse ukulele riffs, vocal basslines, pen clicks, and a pile of other experimental things found their way on to these songs. I don’t even care to divulge the full scope of weirdness. I am not doing it to come across as weird, but sometimes a pen click is a better snare sound than a snare… and you never know until you try. And you’ll never try if you’re just making music that “needs” to fit a certain mould. 

Me: So, in my opinion, you were successful in conveying your message through your song Hysteria Amplified – as I mentioned, when I listen to it I feel like I am caught in time – oddly comfortable in a dark spot.

The first part of your band name is obvious, but how did you decide on the second part of the name, jFEROcious?

Jeff:  I have long wanted to establish a “solo” musical identity. Certain bands come and go, and then songwriters like me are back at square on trying to form a band and build a new following etc. jFEROcious is me wanting to put music out as individual… but as an individual not brave enough to use his legal name ha. Largely, the name can be attributed to auto correct. Fero is my last name, and whenever you type it into a phone, the phone really wants you to type the word Ferocious. And j for Jeff. Bam jFEROcious. 

Me: That’s a good point about bands coming and going and needing to start from scratch again if they break up. I am happy that you are brave enough to venture out on your own. The music you have created is really original and fresh.

At what age did you pick up your first guitar? And at what point did you decide to pursue music?

Jeff: I honestly didn’t touch a guitar until I was 18. My friend forced me to play bass so he could have a band, and the rest is history. At 20, I dropped out of University to pursue music. At 23, I moved to Kelowna to go to a sound school. Learning music theory and how to properly record were major goals of mine, and helped me out tons. Being surrounded by various musicians was a huge help… almost all of which were far better and more experienced than I. It was non-stop music for a long time. A few bands, touring, labels… but I honestly don’t think I was very good until…. 27ish. It took me about 10 years to feel comfortable and confident in my abilities.  

Me: Do you have any other hidden talents?

Jeff: None that I can express publicly no.  

Me: You are so hilarious! Maybe you’ll disclose them in a subsequent interview?

I ask this of every musician/band I interview because I think it would be helpful for budding musicians to know –any tips or advice for anyone considering becoming a musician or being in a band?

Jeff:  Don’t make music for other people. There will always be bands and labels trying to build / replicate a certain sound. Making something that actually represents your personal creativity is way more rewarding, and holds greater potential to stand out. Don’t be Dbag. Objective talent only goes so far. If you want to book shows or festivals beyond your Instagram feed, you need other bands, artists, and venue owners to have your back. Fans too. Assuming of course that you already know how to write good music, and know where/how to deliver it – being a good person matters. Thank someone who compliments you. Watch the other bands set. Be gracious for every chance live opportunity you get. Learn covers you would never otherwise learn – and play them the way the songwriter did. Not for your shows, but to learn. For years I did pop punk covers of every hit song I liked. It was easy. When I actually sat down and learned how to play something the way the original writer did, it was hard, but vastly expanded my ability to write. Learn marketing. If you’re trying to make ground in your music… spend time marketing – as opposed to re-writing and changing songs so they fit some other mould. Don’t pay for streams, don’t pay for PR if you’re in a indie band or artist – but do learn basic marketing skills. YouTube is a great place to learn. Legit representation is hard to find, learn how to do it yourself. 

Me: While it may seem unoriginal for a band or musician to play covers, it makes sense the way you put it. I heard Al Capo of Stuck on Planet Earth say the same thing on a live stream. Jeff, you mentioned that you played with the band Live on Brighton for 5 years and performed many live shows with other bands.  Do you have plans to play live as jFEROcious?

Jeff:  Live on Brighton was definitely the epitome of my touring life. We covered Canada coast to coast and some parts of America too. That shit is hard. My reality right now is songwriting – it is far and away my favorite part of “The Biz”. I ran away from the scene and big cities to live in mountains, and I am happy to never return. There has been a bit of pressure to perform as jFEROcious, but I’ve handily talked my way out of it thus far. And well, COVID… so no immediate plans. My concern on playing live is that I have a bit of a vision for it – and that vision includes visuals and lighting etc. If it happens, it will be work – but we will cross that bridge if we get there.  

Me: What is it like working with a producer for your song Days Gone, who as you mentioned has Taylor Swift as a recording credit?  And do you plan to release an album?

Jeff: Yea, I had reach out with more than an ask on some of these new songs… I had to use a bank account too, haha. I have a studio network in the alt rock world, but it has been hard for me to find people in different genres and with different tastes. So for the song “Days Gone” I hired Matt Tryba – a fellow Canadian, who has album credits galore. Not gonna lie, it was a shock for me. He took that song in a WAY different direction than I had recorded the demo. I had to fight my urge to undo all his work, but in the end, I just trusted his choices and put it out. For the song “Sound Advice” I hired another pro, Cooper Anderson from New York, who has a grammy for his work with “FUN.” I really liked working with him, and that process was more of a collaboration with a lot of back and forth. It was a great experience, something I will likely make happen again. As mentioned, I started four songs last year, with the idea of releasing another EP. However, the way social media and Spotify have changed the game, releasing as singles give you a way better chance of being picked up on playlists and the algorithmic stuff as well. There is something so satisfying about dropping an album or even an EP – but at this stage in the game, singles are a better move for me.  

Me: What aspect do you find the most challenging about your career as a musician and self-managing yourself?

Jeff: Knowing where to direct my energy, and my budget. Spotify has changed the game in a big way. The early era of Facebook, and everyone just ripping music off the internet – circa 2008 – I think was good for indie bands. If you had a good song and worked hard, you had a chance. You knew you were not going to make any money off your music, but you could find fans easier than ever before, and you could learn the right places to play and find the right bands to play with. Shows and touring were a great bet. Now though – I think people prefer headphones to live music. While Spotify still holds potential for indie music discovery, I do think it’s a return to the days of big record labels running the show. Major playlists are controlled, and you are fed whatever Spotify decides. Apple Music and YouTube are very similar. People (and algorithms) like to see big stream numbers. For a while, finding the next new thing was a trend – Not sure that is still a thing. With that said, my career management is probably easier than most, because this time around I’ve made the deliberate decision to focus on songwriting and showcasing. So there is a lot of reliance on social media. The hardest part of this approach for me is getting people to actually listen to the songs. Lots of people see/hear the song in part, and click like or share, but that doesn’t mean they are actually listening – and if they do, it doesn’t mean they will listen more than once. You need to get them to see your track, listen to it, like it in real life (not a social like), then search and save/buy it. Social media interaction is often so superficial that it’s hard to tell who is a fan, or who just wants you to go like their stuff. 

Me: I totally agree with your comments about “social likes”. The world is a totally different place now and you can’t tell who is really interested in your posts or following you just for the hell of it. The most annoying thing for me is getting tagged in advertising. For me, Milka brand has been tagging me – when I am vegan!!! Since a lot can be done online and through social media these days, how has COVID-19 impacted your daily life and music?

Jeff: Well, I was enjoying Mexico when the borders were shutdown… so that was fun. But we all got home, and made it to quarantine. I live in a very quiet area, so COVID has really just been something I see in the news. That said, our local shops are being pummeled, but that’s a conversation for another day. Oddly enough, I had a bunch of music scheduled for release between March and July – so the timing was good as I had time to work on some video/visual pieces. A big part of luring people into that first listen is a good visual. I think everyone being at home helped the song releases get more attention than normal. But (unfortunately) people have been bored and scrolling social media more than ever. So for me… I guess the timing was right. But honestly, watching bars like The Hideout in Toronto close their doors forever – among many others – is concerning. Venue owners labour for the love of it… not the profit. I think the Canadian live music landscape is in trouble. We’ve got a huge country, that is very hard to tour at the best of times. Without those venues in the small cities that most people haven’t been to, there will be a lot less up and comers getting the chance to hone their skill and build a fan base.  

Me: Yes, it is looking like a grim future for some music venues. But hopefully, music supporters will be quick to return to venues after all this is over. To name three – which musicians or bands would you say had the most influence on your music?

Jeff: I grew up on Green Day – and sure, I can brag about listening to their earliest music as an elementary kid, but the American Idiot album is a course in songwriting unto itself. Can’t even say I listen to them much anymore, but influence is there and it’s permanent. AWOLNATION had a huge impact on me. I watched their front man Aaron play in a few bands and grow spectacularly as a songwriter. From grunge punk rock into whatever they are now. I think he’s as legit a songwriter as they come. And the bands ability to take that highly produced music into an incredible live show is impressive.  Fall Out Boy was, perhaps to my detriment, the band I always tried to check my songwriting against in my rock days. I learned a lot of structure and format from the production in their music. But the biggest thing is vocal pattern and singing style. I can’t sing half the stuff their front man Patrick does, but if I’m ever stuck on a vocal melody, I will crank a few Fall Out Boy tunes for inspiration. 

Me: Interesting – I will have to check out AWOLNATION. Never heard of them before.

I finished my entire first draft of my novel manuscript back in April but decided to re-work the entire format. It’s a bit of a frustrating process and I find it hard to focus at times. How do you deal with re-working your music? Have you ever spent a lot of time working on a piece and scrap it at the end?

Jeff: Well that’s super cool. I always though writing a novel would be an incredible feat. Not that I want to do it… but the time and effort, impressive! The first time I noticeably took the time to do that was in “Uke”. I finished the demo, and the bridge was straight up boring. Usually, I would just go into the studio and spice it up with instruments and background sounds, but that can be a total cop-out. So I cut it out in full and made a new one. It is way better, and part of the reason song has been well received. As far as full songs being scrapped – that has definitely happened too. However, I don’t think any of them ever go fully to the graveyard. Instead they live on a hard-drive waiting to be revived one day. At least that’s what I tell myself. 

Me: You posted about SOCAN royalties and asked people to guess how much you have made from royalties, and if someone guessed you would give them the money.  I can relate to your comments about micro-pennies from my own experience with my blog site.  Since I began my blog about a year and a half ago – despite having thousands of views, I have made a whopping $0.57! There’s no retirement with these funds.  Lucky for me, sharing my writing is not my day job.  So, will you now reveal the answer?

Jeff: I coooooulllld reveal the answer, but you know…. “Mystery Man”. Kidding, it was $0.98. I think the most I’ve ever made from SOCAN was about $600 in a year – and that was from full scale touring and some FM radio play. In the streaming world, most royalty payments come right from your music distributer these days, so I’m not actually sure why SOCAN paid me at all. Last year I probably made about $150 off about 16,000 streams/purchases. This year is looking better, but ya… streaming music isn’t the best choice of day job.  

Me: Actually, it’s really funny, because by the time I drafted and posted this interview, I made $0.99 from my site. Jeff, this interview has been a great opportunity to learn more about you, your music and the finicky music industry. Thank you again so much for agreeing to this interview.

Everyone – if you haven’t already, check out jFEROcious’ music. Help Jeff increase his “micro-penny royalties”!  I have been helping while enjoying great tunes. Jeff, any last thoughts that you would like to share with your existing fans and new ones?

Jeff:  Beyond “THANK YOU” I should probably wrap this up! Though – I really would like to know what other artists or bands I sound like. It is a question I often get and don’t really know how to answer. So if you do listen, drop me a line with what you think!

Thanks for everything Monica! 

—End—

For you guys (apparently like me lol) who enjoy watching guys shave:

Here are a few of my favourite songs:

Interview with Al Capo of Canadian band: Stuck on Planet Earth

canadian music, Interviews

Written by Monica Ng


Get in touch with Stuck on Planet Earth

www.stuckonplanetearth.com
Instagram: @stuckonplanetearth
Facebook: Stuck on Planet Earth

!!!ALERT: STUCK ON PLANET EARTH’S DEBUT ALBUM RELEASE DATE IS JUNE 26, 2020!!!

Photo credit: Stuck on Planet Earth

Phoenix Theatre

November 22, 2019.  That was the day I was first exposed to Canadian band, Stuck on Planet Earth. Stuck on Planet Earth was Moist’s supporting band. I have been a fan of Moist since I was about 18 years old and I am a huge supporter of Canadian music.  It’s always great to discover new artists and music. I even picked up a free nifty Stuck on Planet Earth logo sticker at the merch table. Recently, I took the sticker on my forest run. Pictures from the photo shoot are pictured above. I thought it would be suitable for this post, as it would appear that the astronaut was indeed stuck on planet earth!

I was just polishing up my interview with Neon Dreams when I caught one of Stuck on Planet Earth’s live streams on Instagram. It was a lot of fun because Adam and Al had the chance to answer all of my questions during the stream. I decided to reach out to Al about participating in my blog interview. I was totally honest with Al and wrote that I was just discovering their band and would need to do some research in order to prepare my interview.  Further, I told him that I am not a professional writer but write for the love of it. So no pressure right? Nah.

About

Stuck on Planet Earth is an alternative rock band based in Toronto.  The band is made up of three members – Al Capo (vocals, songwriter and bass), Adam Bianchi (vocals and guitar) and Andrew Testa on drums.  The “3As” band! The band has been playing together since 2007.

Anthem Records recently signed up them up for a record deal.  The record label represents bands like Rush and Big Wreck. Stuck on Planet Earth will be releasing their first album titled, Beautiful Nowhere on June 26, 2020. Prior to this album, they mostly released singles. Their repertoire of songs includes: Higher than the Drugs, Rising, Permanent, I Want it Now, Just to Have You, Gone, Another, Lights So Low, Stay Away, Alive and so many more…

Stuck on Planet Earth
Photo credit: Stuck on Planet Earth

Interview

Me: Al, you are a singer, songwriter and bass player. I find this very impressive – as I cannot sing, write songs, or play any instruments. I am so honoured to have a chance to interview you.  From what I gather so far, you are super-charismatic and a “straight-to-the-point” kind of person.  Adam and Andrew – you guys are very talented as well! You guys are all so well-spoken – I am enjoying your live streams/chats. Al, I appreciate and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in my interview.

What I remember most about your band from the concert was your enthusiasm.  You guys were genuinely excited to be on stage and there was definitely a positive vibe. The one bad thing was the quality of the sound at Phoenix Theatre.  A friend warned me about the issue.  The vibration of the music made it difficult to hear any lyrics and the guitar and drum sounds were a bit muddled for both yours and Moist’s performance.  I basically had to stand near the back to have better sound. That might be the reason that I wasn’t completely hooked on your music already.

Al, thanks for directing me to a Podcast your band did with Michael McDonnell (@allaboutthesong – Episode #68). You told Michael that at the start of your band’s musical career, people were telling you that you sung/played out of tune. But you guys practiced and persisted. Music is obviously a passion for you guys and you have been playing since high school.  Because becoming a musician is not a traditional path, I ask you the following question – what was the “defining” moment when you knew that you wanted to pursue a career as a musician and did anyone encourage or try to discourage you?

Al: I’m not so sure there was a defining moment. I think it was just the passion and desire to create, write songs, and perform live… once I really delved into it, I knew that no matter what, I always wanted music to play a big part in my life. Like in anything, once our band started to make a name for itself- it was like “oh okay, maybe we can actually do this”. Of course along the way there have been people who have not favoured my career path, but to be honest, I’m not the type of person who really ever cared what others thought of me. I truly believe in life you’re supposed to carve out your own path. 

Me: I love your don’t care attitude and totally agree about finding ones own path in life. Any advice for those considering pursuing a career as a musician?

Al:  I usually don’t like to give advice, because there isn’t a rule book that tells you how to pursue a career in music. However, I think one has to be willing to get knocked down, and have really thick skin. I also think staying true to your authentic self is very important. If you can remain true to who you are, while creating your art – that to me, is more important than any accolades. 

Me: I have to ask because I am curious and cannot find the information anywhere – how did you guys decide on your band name? To be honest, when I first heard your band’s name, it took me a long time to remember it – I just knew it was something about planet Earth. But, when I think about your name now, I am reminded that so much happens in our lives and this planet called Earth, so to be “stuck” here may be a bad thing?!

Al: We wanted our band name to be a statement. A name that could make someone feel something, whether that’s a curious feeling, or an understanding. Also, given the chaotic ridden times we’re currently living in – it seems our band name because it’s more relevant as each day passes. 

Me:  Yes, I remember you mentioned in one of your live streams that the astronaut in your Higher Than The Drugs video was roaming around in a deserted place – which is similar to our empty streets post-COVID-19. The pandemic has definitely taken a toll on the world.  You were probably performing a lot before then. Shortly after the Moist concert, I saw that you guys were playing at The Drake. I wanted to catch your SOLD-OUT show but didn’t get a chance. What is a typical COVID-day for you? How has COVID-19 impacted your life?

Al: Before the pandemic we were either in the studio recording, or touring and playing shows. Although all of our summer touring plans have been cancelled, the positive out of the situation is that it’s really allowed us to focus on our social media presence, and given us the opportunity to connect with our supporters and fans. 

Me: Just to get to know you a bit better – aside from music, what are some other hobbies/interests?

Al: I like to make art @kid_capo, [Instagram account], I love basketball, hiking, and love hanging out with my family and close friends. 

Me: That’s amazing! You recently mentioned your artistic talents in a live stream. I can’t say that I’m surprised that you have more talents. I will definitely check out your art. Generally speaking, what drives you and keeps you going both in life and your music career?

Al: To me, I’ve always been driven by the notion that we can’t take anything with us when we leave this place. Making music and art is my imprint on the world, and I love that sentiment – as morbid or beautiful as that is, depending on how you choose to look at it. 

Me: As I am getting older, I too have come to the same realization -that we can’t leave earth with any physical possessions, so I am all about life experiences versus material items. I would much rather go hiking or kayaking and surround myself with nature than drive around in a fancy car. How do you manage your stress day-to-day and when touring?

Al: Haha, I’m not that great at stress management. I’m a bit of a control freak with a lot of OCD tendencies. Luckily, Stuck has a great team around us who help us manage all the stresses that come along with the lifestyle. 

Me: I believe that what music people listen to can provide a lot of insight into who they are, so I ask this question of everyone. I know that I asked you guys this during your live stream, but I have to admit that I was only half-listening because I was working at the same time –oops sorry! Who are your top 3 favourite musicians/bands?

Al: I don’t think I could ever narrow it down to just 3 – but I can tell you some of my big musical inspirations: The Police, Cage The Elephant, Nirvana, Jimmy Eat World, Killing Joke, The Raconteurs, the Gypsy Kings … the list could go on. 

Me: I haven’t heard of one-third of those musicians and will definitely check out some of their music. I’m sure the life of a musician is exciting.  What is the craziest thing a fan ever did for you?

Al: I don’t know about crazy – but when we first started touring the US, we had a rough go on a few dates, and a fan decided to put us up in a hotel, where we could get some real rest and recovery time from all the floors we had been sleeping on. So not crazy, but nicest thing. Very grateful to that fan to this day. 

Me: In the Podcast with Michael McDonnell, you talked about your band working together and being on the same page; and being straight when working towards your common goal. Whereas, other bands often break apart possibly due to resentment of one member (ex. one person does all the work).  Did you ever have conflict with Adam and Andrew, where you couldn’t agree on a particular direction for your music? And if so, how did you overcome the obstacle?

Al: We love like brothers, and at times fight like brothers. I think over time, we have just learned our individual roles in this band, so we don’t step on each other too much. We usually overcome conflict by talking very openly and honestly and don’t hold anything back.

Me: That’s great that you can be open with each other and not let anger manifest itself. On that note, you are known for writing and singing about the raw blunt truth of life. Your band plays songs about topics that most people would shy away from – like in your song, Another. It’s actually one of my favourite songs. The lyrics go, “I am thinking about another when I’m with you.”

I studied sociology and psychology in university and mostly explored concepts of human nature.  While it may be normal to think of someone else while being with another, no one vocalizes it.  Correction – no one except you guys! What type of feedback have you received from friends, family, or fans about your lyrics in general? Has anyone told you that you are singing about their life?

Al: A lot of people have told us that our lyrics really resonate with them in many different ways emotionally. That’s why we do this, to connect with people through our music – we’re very grateful for the privilege of being able to communicate through our music. 

Me: From what I gather –  over the years you have been releasing singles for budgetary reasons as well as allowing people to enjoy one song at a time.  You also mentioned that when albums are produced, some songs get lost on an album. How do you feel now that your first album is about to be released? Do you think that some of the songs will ‘get lost’?

Al: I think we’re at a point now where our style and sound is very focused. We know which direction we’re headed sonically, and all we can hope, is that it doesn’t get lost. 

Me: Can you give your fans a hint of what “vibe” your overall album will have?

Al: Beautiful Nowhere is a very dynamic record – it’s all rooted in alternative rock; it’s vibey, dancey, and anthemic. 

Me:  I’m so glad that I stumbled onto your Instagram live stream because I had a chance to re-visit your music. I am hooked now and can’t get enough. Seriously looking forward to listening to the new songs on your album and catching you guys in concert.  I have already pre-ordered your digital album 🙂 I wish you the best of luck with your new album.  Thank you again for agreeing to this interview and your time.

Everyone out there – check out Stuck on Planet Earth’s music. They are Canadian and TOTALLY rockin’!!! Before wrapping up this interview, do you have anything else that you wish to share with your fans?

Al: Our debut album Beautiful Nowhere is our everywhere on June 26th! 

—End—

Here are a few of my favourite songs:

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Interview with Canadian Band: Neon Dreams

canadian music, Interviews

Written by Monica Ng

neon dreams logo
PHOTO CREDIT: NEON DREAMS

This post is dedicated to Lauren (IG: @neon_dreams_lover), who I met through Instagram because of our shared love of Neon Dreams.  I don’t know Lauren personally, but I could tell by her posts that her life is profoundly affected by Neon Dreams’ music and her interaction with them. Plus she reminds me of a younger version of myself.

Get in touch with Neon Dreams

www.neondreams.ca
Instagram: @neondreams
Facebook: Neon Dreams

Love at first concert

If you have been following my other posts, you would know that I only discovered Neon Dreams in October, 2019, after I saw their name listed as one of Tyler Shaw’s opening acts. When I searched for their music on YouTube the night before the concert, I started dancing the moment the smooth and catchy rhythm of About You played.

Long story short, Neon Dreams played at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. I enjoyed their performance so much that immediately following the concert, I bought their album, Sweet Dreams Till Sunbeams. I was really lucky to have a chance to meet Neon Dreams’ dynamic duo in person at the Meet and Greet following the show. I told Frank and Adrian that they have a new HUGE fan.  I just had to see them again as I was hooked. For the first time ever, I bought tickets to a concert for the opening/supporting act and not the main performer. Sadly, the Strumbellas concert was cancelled due to a health issue of one of their members. Neon Dreams and Frank Kadillac have already inspired a couple of my blog posts (Dreamin’ of Neon Dreams and Pure Happiness) which are posted on my site. If you are curious about the meaning behind their vibrant orange and white logo, you can read about it on Neon Dreams’ Instagram account and Facebook page.

neon dreams
PHOTO CREDIT: NEON DREAMS

About Neon Dreams

Canadian talent alert! Neon Dreams is made up of Frank Kadillac (Vocalist and Ukulele player) and Adrian Morris on drums and guitar. Frank and Adrian are from Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Neon Dreams released their album, Sweet Dreams Till Sunbeams in 2019 and was touring in Canada and the United States up to the time the Coronavirus (now known as COVID-19) began its spread across the world. Neon Dreams is currently working on a new album, which will include the three songs they released this year, Turn Back Now, Walk Away and most recently released – Sick of Feeling Useless. Did you know that Neon Dreams was also nominated for the 2020 Juno Awards?! Also, the super-creative guys created their own stop motion video for Sick of Feeling Useless (see YouTube video below the interview).

Interview

Me: Frank, you rock. Adrian, you rock.  I have nothing more to say. Just kidding! I always have more to say. 

Frank, you command the stage with your constant movement and jumping off speakers – and of course, your vocals are incredible. Adrian, I am totally mesmerized by your drumming. You are the most amazing drummer I have ever seen perform.

You guys make it look so easy performing on stage – a true indication of the hard work and dedication that goes into your music and performances. How much time would you estimate that you put into the preparation for your concerts? And how do you handle the stress of touring?

Frank/Adrian:  Since we were kids we’ve dreamed of being on stage, played in so many bands and watched so many YouTube videos of our favourite acts crush it live… I feel like we have been preparing for each show since grade 10 haha. To this day I’m watching Linkin Park at Rock am Ring on YouTube hoping that one day we can do that!

Me: Frank, I read on your Instagram post that you have to do a lot of cardio to maintain your energy on stage.  What else do you do to keep in shape both physically and mentally? 

Frank: Reading self help books to get different perspectives of life usually helps my mental health a lot. Before doing this I was a wreck… I don’t know why “reading books”  was an uncool thing to do when I was growing up. After reading the books I’ve read, I gained this knowledge I can never forget that just adds to my armour.

Me: Frank, I can totally appreciate your comments about reading books. I didn’t go out much as a kid and spent my time with my nose in a book. My love of reading lives on. You can visit a whole other world through a book.

Adrian, I ask you the same question – how do you keep in shape both physically and mentally? Also, I saw from your posts that you are a movie buff. What are your top 3 favourite movies of all time?

Adrian: I find it pretty hard to keep up with working out when we’re on the road (although moving all the gear counts right?!), but when I’m home I make sure to run and hit the gym as much as I can. I try to run 5 km every other day or so. Mentally I try to explore and enjoy everywhere we go as much as possible even if that’s just taking a walk in the town or city we’re in or checking out some locally fave spots. I’m usually the one on the road trying to find all the good food spots. 

Top 3 movies!

  1. Lord of The Rings Trilogy
  2. Entire Star Wars Collection
  3. Tarintino Films

I couldn’t just pick three so I went with collections.

Me: It’s great you work to stay in shape. About food – I totally get you – I love food too! Adrian, your drumming is crazy amazing. I mentioned to you before that I tried to do your drumming move where you effortlessly cross your arms over to hit the cymbals. I admit that I was struggling! Frank mentioned somewhere that when he was initially looking for a drummer you were able to play his songs immediately. When we were chatting at the Meet and Greet, you talked about your talent for playing many instruments.  It’s obvious to me that music is in your blood. How long have you been drumming and playing guitar? And what other instruments do you play?

Adrian:  I’ve been playing drums since I was about 13! I started off on piano before that. I didn’t have a lot of friends that took music as seriously as I did so I had learn as many instruments as I could, so I could record demos on my own without having to rely on anyone else. But then I met Frank! 

Me: Adrian, it’s really interesting that you learned how to play instruments so as not to rely on anyone. You have such a gift. Wish I had musical talent.

I know you guys must be disappointed that your tours are postponed for now because of the pandemic, but it’s amazing that you guys have been going live on Instagram during this time. It’s so kind of you to chat with the world and share your music.  What are your thoughts about how the pandemic has changed the world?

Adrian:  We try to find the positive or upsides to every situation no matter how hard or blindsiding it may be. We’re actually really excited to have this time to work on our new music and live show. It’s like a video game, you can’t make it to the next level without training your skills first.

Me: I am really excited about your new album. What are you thinking about for a theme for your album?

Frank/Adrian: All I can say is that its going to feel like the soundtrack to a coming of age movie from early 2000s!

Me: Can’t wait! I am curious how you guys co-ordinate to work on your album with Frank living in Arizona?

Frank: I don’t live there – just there from time to time between seasons! Me and Adrian are always together.

Me: Awww…you guys are the sweetest! Based on your fans’ posts on Instagram and your own posts, you guys really have a way of connecting with people. You mentioned that people tell you their own personal stories about their lives and how your music may have changed things for them. Frank, you have shared your deepest secrets about your life with the world. Your message is constantly one of staying positive and love. What is the message that you would like to share here?

Frank: I told this once in an interview because I can only express things that are deep with people that seem like they care but I feel like you do. I tried to harm myself and it didn’t really work thankfully, but before that I had an ex share with me a book – she said I was gonna need it someday (she was very spiritual) and of course the book was right there when my darkest night came around. It taught me how to meditate and find my purpose. Over thinkers like me that don’t have a purpose can get lost in a fog of thoughts that lead to one thing “why am I here?” but I found my purpose through meditation. I’m just here to help people find their true selves. I used to try and be person that helps people one on one and fix problems they bring to me but I was bad at that and realized I have the power of music, so I’m just building this sanctuary for all the misfit toys that were lost like me. 

Me:
 Frank, I really appreciate you sharing something so personal with me and your fans. I know you have been through a lot growing up, and I am happy that you have found your “path”. Your story is very inspirational.

Adrian, what is your vision for the music that Neon Dreams produces?

Adrian:  It has to feel good when played live! We have so many genre influences and we incorporate all of them into our music but the one thing about all the artists we love in all these different genres is their music ALWAYS feels massive in a live show and makes the crowd move. 

Me:
 Do you guys have any tips for people who want to pursue a career as a musician?

Frank: 
Listen to people that live the life and have the career you’re working towards.

Me: “I had a dream, you were a red lush maple leaf, losing its identity…I wish there was a little flood, a little flood just to carry you…” (Lyrics from About You).  Those are probably one of my favourite lyrics so far. I had About You on auto-repeat for about two months straight. What I love about your music is the vibe and energy. Your songs are upbeat compared to other sad songs out there. I also like that some of your songs begin with a certain rhythm then changes in the middle to a different style at together – like your song, If Not Now, When?

What is/are your favourite song(s) on your album, Sweet Dreams Till Sunbeams?

Frank: Sweet Dreams till Sunbeams and Life Without Fantasies!

Adrian: If Not Now, When? We Were Kings and About You.

Me: Adrian, those are my favourites as well. Frank, I like Life Without Fantasies too. When I am out hiking, I think how amazing a place is and fantasize about all sorts of things. I think of your lyrics, “what is life without fantasies” and it’s true – life is nothing without some fantasies. Fantasies keep us going. You have no idea how many times I have sung, About You, in the forest – usually when I am alone lol. Thinking about your red lush maple leaf! I just did a whistle version video!

I believe that the type of music someone listens gives a lot of insight into that person. Most of my favourites are Canadian – you guys, Matthew Good, Moist/David Usher, Ria Mae and Craig Stickland. Who are your top 3 favourite musicians?

Frank: 
Funny you say that. That’s what I say all the time. When someone tells me their favourite song I know instantly who they could possibly be. If I was rating it off of which artist I can listen to every single song and love, it would be Linkin Park, Coldplay and The Fray.

Adrian: I feel through music instrumentally first then lyrically usually. I need to feel emotion through what’s going on through the instruments. Blink 182, Sum 41 are the only artists I probably know their entire discography and I return to the most. Bring Me The Horizon’s album AMO ignited a whole new sense of inspiration for me.

Me: On a topic unrelated to music (directly at least): I love tattoos. I currently have three of my own. One of them says, “This Thing Called Life”, which is the title of my personal blog site.  It represents my journey through life and its ups and downs, and my love of writing. I notice that you guys have a lot of interesting tattoos, so here’s a more personal question that I hope you don’t mind answering. What is the symbol of one of your tattoos and the meaning behind it/reason why you got it?

Frank: I have 3 hearts on my hand from the game Zelda. Only one half of one heart is filled in to remind me when I’m at my lowest I’m still alive I still have a heart beat and the game is not finished yet.

Adrian:  I’m Algonquin of Pikwakanagan and I have my tribes emblem tattooed on my arm. My grandmother was forced into residential schooling in the 1950’s and after that some of my family hid our indigenous blood. I can understand why that may be. But it’s important for me to show proudly who I am.

Me: Very cool Adrian. Great story behind your tattoo. Your arm tattoos are beautiful. Frank, after you returned this interview to me, I wrote back to you about how I got chills reading about the symbolism behind your hearts. I can relate to how you feel when you are down to just one ‘life’ in video games – same thing for real life.

It’s been great learning more about both of you. I have been wanting to chat with you guys for a while. When you agreed to do this interview, I had to sit and think long and hard about the questions that I wanted to ask you. There’s just something magical about you guys and trying to capture the essence is not an easy feat.  Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.  It means so much to me and probably your fans out there.  I am really looking forward to hearing new music from you guys and seeing you in concert again.  Also, your friend, Alex Gayoso (IG: @alexgayoso_) has done some amazing videos for you guys! I enjoy all of your videos. Everyone out there – check out Neon Dreams’ music. They rock!

Is there anything else you would like to share with your fans?

Frank: Look out for each other this is your family you guys built this – we just provide the music.

Adrian: Take care of each other, meet each other, become friends with each other because like Frank said – you guys created this and we’re a community together. 

–End–

Check out the cool stop motion video for Sick of Feeling Useless:

A few of my favourite Neon Dreams tunes

In this thing called life, really “connecting” with others is a truly an amazing experience.

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Interview with Canadian Musician, Craig Stickland

canadian music, Interviews
Craig Stickland musician
Photo credit: Craig Stickland
https://www.instagram.com/craigstickland/

How Craig came into my life

To be honest, I never heard of Craig Stickland until October, 2019, when the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts announced his name together with Neon Dreams (as opening acts for Tyler Shaw).  That evening, all of the artists put on an awesome show and later came out for an amazing meet and greet. I find that meet and greets are the ultimate part of a concert experience – as it’s a chance to make a connection between the music you listen to and the musician(s). Some artists are particularly interactive when it comes to social media as well. From my personal experience, Craig and Neon Dreams take the time to interact with their fans, which makes them really down-to-earth and personable.

Typical me, when my writing bug comes out, I write about everything new that I experience. However, it took me some time to write an Instagram post about Craig’s performance after I first saw him in concert, because I needed time to digest it. During his performance he played mostly rock songs that I couldn’t really relate to, but I was blown away by his last song, Break Every Rule. That song really showcased his powerful and soulful voice.

Craig has this intangible quality to him – a certain vulnerability and old soul wrapped into a rugged yet sexy “stereotypical” rocker (wink, long hair, goatee, t-shirt, black jeans and black leather jacket). Craig left me wanting more. I was so happy when he announced that he had an album in the works.

Release of Starlit Afternoon

Photo credit: Craig Stickland

Craig just recently launched his album titled, Starlit Afternoon, on February 28, 2020

I listened to his album the morning it was released.  My favourites so far are: Starlit Afternoon, Break Every Rule, Good Love and Stop at Nothing. If I were to take a stab at Craig’s album music style, I would say it’s a mix of alternative rock, with a touch of country, jazz, blues and soul.

About Craig

Photo credit: Craig Stickland

Canadian talent!

Craig was born in Vancouver then moved to Toronto when he was 3 years old. He is currently living in Los Angeles where he continues his modelling and singing career. Craig discovered his passion for music when he was about 16 years old. He picked up his first guitar when he was 16 years old and was the singer in his high school band. Finally, after finding his true passion in life, he released his first EP titled, Leave me to the Wild, which includes songs such as Break Every Rule and Tears in the Rain.

Craig has toured with some amazing Canadian talent. To name a few: Tyler Shaw, Alessia Cara and Matthew Good.

Interview

Me: Craig – I am so excited and honoured that you agreed to an interview with me. Thank you for taking the time for me and your fans.

Congratulations! You just released your new album titled, Starlit Afternoon on February 28, 2020.  I read that the last song, Good Love, on your album took about five years to write. What part of the process took the longest? And how did you finally “let go” and decide that it is complete?

Craig: The part of the process that took the longest was finding the right production to match each song. When a song is written it can be produced any number of ways, and the experimentation until I was satisfied is what took so long. There’s a gut feeling when you know something is done. You also need to trust your friends and collaborators. 

Me:  I only recently discovered that you are multi-talented.  You are a songwriter, singer, guitar player, piano player, actor and model! Do you have any other interests/talents? Being a musician is quite different from modelling – what would you say was the “turning point” in your life, where you decided to become a musician?

Craig: I decided I wanted to be a musician in high school when there was a band that needed a singer. I auditioned, got the role and was hooked. Recently I’ve been very into designing and making furniture as well. I started a studio furniture company with a close friend called @callusandco

Me: I love that you are so real. In one your Instagram post’s you mentioned renting out your apartment as an Airbnb, so that you could afford to keep touring/working on your music career.  I messaged you if that was the life of a musician, and you replied, for some.  With this in mind, do you have any tips or words of advice for people who are considering becoming a musician?

Craig: Everybody’s path is different, but I’d say there’s no substitute for hard work and dedication to your craft. Unless you get incredibly lucky very early on, you’ll have to make sacrifices in order to continue pursuing your dreams. My journey is coming up on a decade and a half, and I just put out my first album. 

Me: Your white van seems to be a huge part of your life. You coined some of your songs as part of the “The Van Sessions” (Very creative by the way!). For some reason your van reminds me of the one in Scooby Doo!  I enjoyed watching your YouTube video (see video below) where you were building the interior of your van to make it liveable and Canadian winter-proof. I am sorry to say that I was chuckling when you were cursing in your video 😊 What is it like to live out of a van? Do you ever feel claustrophobic?

Craig: I really like living out of the van and I do feel claustrophobic at times, but only when my van isn’t clean. It’s taught me a lot about living simply, focusing on minimalism and being organized. 

VIDEO OF CRAIG BUILDING HIS VAN

Me: I know that life inspires your music. What was your inspiration for Starlit Afternoon?

Craig: I’m always inspired by my personal experiences, feelings and emotions. The daily things I go through in life, that we all experience in some form or another. I try to find the best expression of that and create it into a song. 

Me: Other than meditation, how do you manage all the stress that you are going through?  It couldn’t have been easy touring and trying to finish your album at the same time.

Craig: If I don’t center my day with a workout, I feel stressed. I’ve been really into daily journaling as well and making furniture keeps me in a very present mindset. 

Me: Please also finish this sentence (lyric from Phil Collins’ song, Groovy Kinda Love):

Craig:  “When I’m feeling blue…all I have to do is sing a tune.” 

Me: Very cool. I wish I could sing. Is there anything else that inspires your music? 

Craig: Other music, or often times a powerful film or documentary. 

Me: So many of my favourite musicians are Canadian: Matthew Good, Moist, Neon Dreams and Ria Mae. I love my music like crazy! But I recently discovered that I had no idea what type of music my family and friends listened to.  I find that knowing what type of music people listen to is enlightening and tells a lot about that person. Who/which bands are your top 3?

Craig: I’ve recently been incredibly into Frank Ocean. Coldplay is one of my favorites especially after touring with them and seeing them live every night, and John Mayer was a huge influence when I was coming up. 

Me: I am really enjoying your new album. I think you would be happy to hear this:  My daughter always shuts down my music the moment I start the music in the car.  When I was playing your album for the first time, I told her I could sing Break Every Rule. Suddenly she turned off the music. I was like What the hell?! -thinking she was shutting me down again. Turns out she was waiting for me to continue singing your song. Then she actually turned the music back on.  But of course, that now that she’s heard your album once – it’s turned off again.

When will you be touring again?

Craig: I’m pretty much always on the road at some point or another, although I don’t have a tour booked at the moment, I’m sure something will come through with the release of my album! 

Me: Is there anything else you would like your fans to know about you and/or your music?

Craig:  I think you covered it all, thank you! 

Me: On that note: Craig, you can sing to me any time.  I hope to catch one of your Toronto shows soon.  Thank you again for being so open to this interview and your time.  You are super-talented and not to mention – gorgeous! I hope everyone discovers your music soon. Best of luck with your new album.

***** END *****

A few of my favourite tunes

In this thing called life, you never know what could happen when you just ask. Like this interview!

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Interview with childrens’ book author, Kelly Ann Charleson

book reviews, Interviews, Uncategorized

This post is dedicated to my new friend, Kelly Ann Charleson, who took the time to DM me on Instagram — pointing out that we are both children book authors, plus HUGE fans of Matthew Good!  On top of that she has the same name as my daughter and has two sisters as well!

photo of childrens author kelly charleson
Photo credit: Kelly Charleson

Kelly Ann Charleson is the author of “If I were a Dinosaur”, and The Woodland Series: “The Deer”, “The Den” and “The Socks”. She is a passionate writer and illustrator. Kelly is originally from Australia, but now lives in Ottawa.

You can follow her on Facebook: Kelly Ann Charleson and Instagram @kellyanncharleson

Below are the links to her current four books:
https://www.blurb.ca/b/9334245-the-socks
https://www.blurb.com/b/9337555-the-den
https://www.blurb.ca/b/9311692-the-deer
https://www.blurb.ca/b/9337490-if-i-were-a-dinosaur

Kelly’s story

I am very lucky to have the opportunity to interview Kelly, as she is one busy lady! 

I wanted to share Kelly’s story, because she is so genuine and has such a lovely message behind her books.  As well, her stories are not ‘typical’ – three of her books deal with difficult life issues written in a way that children can understand and relate to: such as miscarriage in pregnancy/loss of a sibling (The Deer), living with an auto immune disease (The Socks) and loss of a parent/adoption (The Den).

Me: Recently, you posted a copy of an ‘old treasure’ – a book titled: “Kelly’s Holiday Story Book” on Instagram.  You wrote: “Looks like I’ve been an author/illustrator from the start.”  It’s amazing what children are capable of creating on their own, if left to their own vices.  I find that these days, kids don’t have a lot of down time -just a chance to sit down and be creative.  I remember spending my childhood engaged in creative play and drawing, but my own kids don’t really like to read (think electronics!).

So, what exactly motivated or inspired you to begin writing and illustrating for publication?

Kelly: I’ve known for years that someday, I would like to be a foster mom, so until I’m in a position to do so I’ve joined a few groups so that I can learn more about the reality of it all. One thing that stood out to me was the amount of parents asking for recommendations of books that deal with issues relating to foster care and adoption, and how few fictional resources there were to meet those needs. Initially, I was making books for the little ones in my life just for fun, but once I realized that there is need for these very niche, touchy topics to be addressed, I decided to create The Woodland Family series, and started making my books available to a wider audience.

Me: It’s hard enough to be a self-published author and your book content is very unique.  I asked you why you included a full free preview of your books on blurb.ca, and you replied that you wanted to “make sure that any child who could benefit from reading one of my books is able to access it, whether or not an adult can buy it for them.”  That is ABSOLUTELY amazing! So, with this in mind, what are your plans to reach your target market?

Kelly: Once I start taking my books to markets, libraries, schools, etc., I’m hoping that the exposure and word of mouth will help the books to find the children who might need them. In addition to that, I hope to continue teaming up with local organizations that are relevant to the topics covered in my books. I really enjoy supporting worthwhile causes, so if an opportunity for working together to bring attention to an important issue arises, I’m more than happy to go for it. My latest book was loosely based on a local project, and we’ve both been able to see some of the impact that partnership has had already, which has been really exciting.

Me: I learned about your books because of your DM through Instagram.  Do you think that social media is a helpful venue for you to market yourself and your books?

Kelly: At the very least, it’s great for networking. I created an Instagram account to promote my work, but have found it to be more a place of community and support than a marketing tool. It’s great seeing all of the other authors on there, and sharing/receiving tips and encouragement.

Having said that, hash tags do seem to attract people to the themes of my books when it’s something the individual has a personal connection with, and I’ve found Facebook helpful for advertising and promotion. I am rather oblivious when it comes to any social media platforms outside of those two!

Me: I saw online that the first book you wrote “The Garden Thieves” is no longer available.  Can you explain why?

Kelly: The Garden Thieves was originally written a year prior to publication under the title Princess Akeeba and the Night Thieves. The first edition was created as a gift for a little girl who I loved very much, and I re-designed the illustrations of the book as a part of my grieving process when I lost her. Removing the book from circulation was a tough decision, because I really liked the book, but ultimately I realized that it was an important step in that process for me.

Me:  I am very sorry for your loss and hope that your book has helped you heal.  I love that you allow people to contact you with special requests for book topics (a note at the end of each of your books).  For “The Deer” – you mentioned that you were asked by a mom to write a book about miscarriage, after she suffered the loss of her baby and didn’t know how to explain to her son why his sister would not come home. 

There are so many sensitive issues that we might experience early in life, so I am thrilled that you have found a way to address them in your books using very simple language and illustration. Reading, “The Den” brought tears to my eyes – children not feeling ‘loved’ because of a new addition to the family.   I believe that life is uncomplicated from the view of children, so parents paying more attention to the ‘baby’ is equal to them no longer being loved.  But in real life, this is not true at all, yet it takes growing up to learn this.

I have two suggestions for book topics: 1) death of a parent/sibling 2) divorce of parents.  I have seen the impact on friends/family who experienced these traumatic events as children.

That being said, are you working on your next book?

Kelly: Thank you for your feedback – those are definitely important topics, and I’ll see what I can do with them.

I’m taking a bit of a break over the summer (I can’t believe I ever took sunshine and warmth for granted! Living in Canada makes me want to LIVE outside between April and November…), but I’ve started putting some notes together for the next stand-alone book. I’ll be diving back into my counselling study notes for this one, but it’ll be an easier read than The Woodland Family books, in more ways than one!

Me: Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.  It’s been great learning about your creative process and hopes of helping children deal with real life issues.  I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours!

Kelly: Thank you so much, Monica! It has been an absolute pleasure interviewing with you.

In this thing called life, you never know who you might touch with your words.

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