Amir Epstein, the one guy in Toronto’s Crash Karma who didn’t come from a multi-platinum-selling Canadian rock band, wasn’t intimidated about playing his songs to ex-I Mother Earth singer Edwin, ex-Tea Party drummer Jeff Burrows and ex-Our Lady Peace guitarist Mike Turner, even if, “truth be told,” he says, “I Mother Earth influenced me heavily as a musician.”

The bassist, who earned his credentials as principal songwriter in the jam band Zygote, says he had full confidence in what he originally played for the guys at Turner’s recording studio, The Pocket. “I sat down with an acoustic guitar and played 24 songs,” Epstein recounts. “They didn’t have names, they weren’t finished and they didn’t have lyrics.”

No one rushed into starting a band. Turner had his studio and played in Fair Ground, Edwin was three albums into a solo career and Burrows was an on-air host at CKUE The Rock in Windsor, Ont., and a frequent session player. Epstein was actually finishing law school — in Australia. “[The project] would go into hibernation during those periods because we were all doing other things,” says Turner, who ended up producing the self-titled album. “It was definitely something we approached gradually. It was like, ‘We’ve got a weekend, let’s work on this.’”

Epstein, now back in Toronto for good, and Edwin would congregate at The Pocket; Burrows would take a morning train from Windsor and get back in time for his radio shift. “We’d grab a guitar and go, ‘Well, that’s cool, how about let’s arrange it like this?’ It was done on the fly. We started to do drums when we were still finalizing arrangements,” says Turner.

As they continued to work on songs, such as the psychedelic “Awake,” a recent Top 10 radio hit, and “Fight,” the empowering second single, they realized they had something, an amalgamation of all their personalities, pedigrees and signature styles. Of course, that might have had something to do with Epstein writing songs with the others in mind. “Even when I was singing, I’d imitate Ed to see how that would sound,” he says.

As Crash Karma emerged as a band, the four started behaving like one, including undertaking a tour in March/April. “We’ve all known each other a long time and respect each other enough to listen,” says Turner. “And Amir was so open. He more or less said, ‘Hey guys, I love what you do. Do what you do with this.’”

While Epstein never had “new-guy syndrome,” he does admit it’s kinda cool to be in a band with one of his favourite singers. “What a voice,” he says of Edwin. “Hearing him sing a melody I’d written, it sounded a bit like I Mother Earth but it was my song. It was really trippy.”



Hawksley Workman rarely gets a day off. And when he does, he’s often in a van, talking to press. The Toronto-born singer-songwriter doesn’t mind, though. “I’m adjacent to the St. Lawrence River, barrelling down to Quebec,” he says on his cell phone. “It’s a stunning evening.”

 

Workman has been living up to his last name ever since he launched his career with 1999’s For Him and the Girls. In his 11-year career he’s released about 140 songs over 13 records and a DVD, has penned tunes for Idol franchises in Canada, Sweden and Finland, written theme-show songs, produced numerous albums and hammered out countless tunes that wound up on the cutting-room floor.

 

When I caught up with him, he was in the midst of a two-month cross-Canada tour, which came after a jaunt around Europe. It’s anyone’s guess how Workman finds time to sleep. “I’ve always taken a blue-collar approach to what I’m doing,” he says as an explanation of why he’s constantly on the go. “I’ve never kidded myself into believing that if I sit with my feet up, inspiration will come knocking at the door.”

 

He’s also well aware of the struggles artists have these days, and if he doesn’t keep playing and recording, he could wind up without a job. “As the record business spirals into its final moments of life, I have to believe that I have to continue to work if I’m going to pay the bills and remain vital to myself,” he says. That drive has forced Workman not only to write music whenever he can but also to try new things on every album. He’s gone from quirky indie sounds on his debut to more mainstream rock on 2008’s Los Manlicious to electro-pop on 2010’s Milk, an Internet-only release and the companion record to the more rock-oriented Meat.

 

Workman chalks up the different musical styles to his “drummer’s brain” — he played the skins before the guitar. “I have a broad rhythmic palette I draw from because my formative years were focused on becoming a great drummer,” says the singer. It also helps that he’s not afraid to collaborate. On Meat, Workman wrote the songs and hashed them out with a standard four-piece band. With Milk, he spent time working with a producer in Sweden. He had been trying to write music for Kylie Minogue and another European Idol artist but ended up making an infectious synth-pop album of his own.

 

In fact, he’ll tackle any genre. Workman points out that prior to his Sweden trip, he was in New York writing with Esthero producer Doc McKinney, and playing with Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest. “That had an urban or hip-hop feel,” he says. But despite all the sounds the artist has delved into, there is one unifying theme in his songs: it’s all pop music. “These are just catchy songs,” he says. “They rarely exceed four minutes, it’s almost always chorus, verse, chorus, they almost never break any rules. The melodies may be on the brave side occasionally, but they tend towards being more catchy.”

 

Workman says he doesn’t have just one approach to writing. One day he’ll grab a guitar, the next he’ll sit in front of a piano, and when he’s working with rappers, as he did in New York, he’ll create a song as if he were a hip-hop musician, letting a producer build a track while he throws on the melody and lyrics. If he’s in the studio by himself, he’ll record a drum track and bass line and write over top of that. “Each approach produces different results,” he says. One thing he hasn’t done lately is sit at a kitchen table and write with his acoustic guitar. “That will be my next record.”

 

What really keeps Workman going, though, is what he describes as his relationship with songwriting. “It’s like a marriage,” he says. “In most marriages there comes a time when you have to renegotiate your passion for each other.” When he was 23 and writing For You and the Girls, he was just beginning to discover what it meant to make music. When he looks back on that record, he hears a “lusty kid discovering what would one day become his conventions and habits.” While those habits have been fine-tuned over the years, making him a more thoughtful songwriter with each album, his relationship with his craft has always stayed strong. “I’m as obsessed with songwriting today as I was when I started,” he says. “And obsessions don’t go away.”



Translations prior to Fall 2010 are currently unavailable. 

Surtout connu jusqu’ici comme interprète dans le band de Susie Arioli, Jordan Officer estime qu’il est essentiel dans ce rôle d’être fidèle à un compositeur auquel on veut rendre hommage, tout en y ajoutant sa personnalité, son propre langage. De bien intégrer chaque pièce jusqu’à ce qu’elle fasse partie de soi. Avec créativité et respect. « C’est surtout de raconter des histoires. C’est vraiment ça l’important. D’être un peu un story teller par l’entremise de la musique. C’est ça que je vise toujours à n’importe quel moment, dans n’importe quelle performance ou enregistrement. »

 

Le voilà qui se fait connaître sous un tout autre jour. Lui qui excelle dans la reprise de pièces jazz, blues et country de compositeurs qu’il admire, il a cru nécessaire, pour son premier album, de se tourner vers la composition de pièces originales. Question d’y exprimer ses multiples influences en toute liberté, tout en assurant une certaine unité à l’ensemble. Il s’agit d’un défi que le guitariste et arrangeur montréalais prend plaisir à relever et que l’on pourra pleinement apprécier sur scène dans quelques mois, alors qu’il amorcera une tournée de spectacles toute personnelle.

 

« J’avais hâte que les gens écoutent le disque. » On peut aisément comprendre l’impatience du compositeur à propos de son premier album solo homonyme (chez Spectra Musique), alors que, lancé à la mi-avril, il était fin prêt dès août 2009. « J’avais hâte de voir la réaction. C’est sûr que les gens qui connaissent Susie Arioli risquent d’être intéressés. Mais, en même temps, c’est bien différent. Je n’ai pas d’attentes. Je suis vraiment curieux de voir où ça va aller, qui ça va aller chercher. »

 

Bien que le maître du swing et de l’improvisation ait présenté, à quelques reprises, des pièces de son nouveau matériel sur scène, dont au Verre Bouteille (« une belle petite place pour faire des shows ») et lors du Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, en solo ou accompagné de son grand ami Stephen Barry et du batteur Anthony Albino, il n’entreprendra sa tournée officielle qu’en septembre prochain.

 

« Je trouve ça vraiment super comme trio ; la chimie est magnifique. » Mais comme le percussionniste est retenu à Montréal pour l’émission Belle et Bum et qu’il préfère rester près de sa famille que partir en tournée, Jordan Officer était, au moment d’écrire ces lignes, à la recherche d’un autre batteur pour la série de spectacles qu’il amorcera cet automne.

 

À l’exception de quelques autres prestations toutes personnelles, le guitariste virtuose effectuera, au cours de la période estivale, une importante tournée européenne avec son âme sœur, Susie Arioli, dont la rencontre fut si électrisante lors d’un mémorable jam session, en 1998. Une aventure envoûtante qu’il tient absolument à poursuivre, tout en laissant la porte ouverte à d’autres projets personnels.

 

« On commence à avoir le genre de tournées qu’on a toujours souhaitées. Je trouve qu’on a un bon tourneur, on a un bon label. Tout est en place pour bien faire les choses. On a l’avantage d’être avec une boîte comme Spectra ; c’est une grosse compagnie, mais c’est quand même des gens qui tripent. Mais on a aussi notre gérant, Bruno Robitaille (Nuland), qui est vraiment là pour nous. Ça fait un beau mélange, ça fait une belle équipe. »

 

Autant ce gentleman humble et introverti aime la scène et le contact avec le public, autant ce musicien perfectionniste apprécie la solitude de la création et le temps passé en studio à peaufiner les arrangements. « Parce que toutes les choses que tu fais en studio pour aller chercher ce qui résonne le mieux, ça finit par sortir dans ton jeu live, après. Tout ça, ça fait une vie vraiment agréable. D’avoir le mix des deux, d’avoir mon projet et celui de Susie. Toutes ces choses-là sont vraiment tripantes. »

 

Il y a, croit Jordan Officer, quelque chose de spirituellement important dans le travail. Le temps que consacre un musicien à son art a plus d’importance que son talent. C’est ce qui fait la différence dans la qualité du jeu. Il en est convaincu. « Quand tu as mis le nombre d’heures nécessaires, quand des gens te voient, ils ne sont pas en train de penser à ta technique, ils ne te voient pas en train de travailler ta technique, ils voient quelqu’un qui est libre. »