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Rising singer/songwriter ZZ Ward talks to us about performing on Conan, making the move to L.A., and getting a puppy

In Interview, Music, Q&A on March 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm
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Photo credit: ZZ Ward

From late night talk shows to mentions in Rolling Stone magazine, ZZ Ward is taking the music world by storm. And really, it’s no surprise—the girl is talented, has collaborated with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, and has a song that was remixed by Passion Pit. Her debut album Til the Casket Drops is a unique blend of blues, hip-hop, soul, and pop, and includes the hits “Put the Gun Down” and “Criminal.” Currently on tour with Delta Rae, we spoke to ZZ before her show at The Mod Club (which is tonight!).

SDTC: You performed on Conan recently. What was that experience like?
ZZ Ward: It was the second late night TV appearance that I’ve done, and I had a ton of fun on it. I wasn’t really expecting to go talk to Conan and Andy on the couch at the end and that was pretty exciting!

SDTC: What’s your earliest music-related memory?
ZZ Ward:
When I was a little kid, my dad would always try to get me and my cousins to sing for him. We actually have it on video. I think we were around five years old. My cousin would be too shy to sing but I was a total camera hog.

SDTC: Your album Til the Casket Drops has a unique blend of soul, blues, and hip-hop. Who do you draw inspiration from?
ZZ Ward:
I draw inspiration from a lot of old blues like Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Tina Turner, and then hip-hop like Outkast, Nas, and Jay-Z.

SDTC: You’ve collaborated with Kendrick Lamar and Fitz of Fitz and the Tantrums—is there anyone else you’d love to work with?
ZZ Ward:
Yes. I would love to work with Salaam Remi, Azealia Banks, or Gary Clark Jr.!

SDTC: What was it like making the move from Roseburg, Oregon to L.A. to pursue a career in music?
ZZ Ward:
It was terrifying. I really didn’t know where to start—I just knew that I wanted to do music professionally. I felt really lost when I first came down; I didn’t know anyone or have any friends. I just started booking my own shows and going from there.

SDTC: What 5 musicians/bands are you really into right now?
ZZ Ward:
Lately I’ve been listening to Azealia Banks, Lianne La Havas, Gary Clark Jr., Frank Ocean, and Alt-J.

SDTC: What’s it been like touring with Delta Rae?
ZZ Ward:
It’s been really fun. They are all really great people and that’s always really important when you’re touring with someone. We have similar styles of music, so it’s kind of a party on the road every night. Every time fans come up to us afterwards they’re usually really into both bands.

SDTC: Besides touring, what else does 2013 hold for you?
ZZ Ward:
I’m getting a Border Terrier on March 17! I’m super excited and obsessed with my new puppy. I just keep looking at photos of Border Terriers. Her name is Muddy Waters and she’s going to be a road dog and be out with me on tour.

* Published on February 28, 2013 at She Does the City

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A Q&A with Jess Beaulieu and Laura Bailey, founders of the all-female comedy show Chicka Boom

In Arts, Q&A on March 24, 2012 at 8:16 am
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Photo credit: Dan Epstein

Female comedy is alive and well in Toronto. Proof? Chicka Boom, the all-female comedy show that happens on the last Sunday of each month at Free Times Café. Organized by comedians Jess Beaulieu and Laura Bailey, the show includes everything from comedy to dance to musical theatre, all performed by hilarious ladies. Read on as Jess and Laura tell us what you can expect from this Sunday’s show, explain the “too many boners”/ “not enough boners” problem female comedians face, and reminisce about their first show in Toronto.

SDTC: First off, what is Chicka Boom and where did the idea come from?

Jess Beaulieu: Chicka Boom is an all female comedy and variety cabaret night hosted by us. It features comedy, music, dance, clown, poetry, theatre, and anything else we can find. I’m trying really hard to book a female magician and mime right now. I love a good mime. Laura and I had been talking about wanting to start a new comedy show that WE would want to attend, and then we realized that the funniest people we know are women, so why not show the rest of Toronto how funny they are? Laura wanted to make it a variety show, and I’m so happy that we did. The night typically runs two hours, which some people may consider lengthy, but audiences are always captivated the entire time because it’s consistently surprising.

Laura Bailey: What she said. Also, we make a point of looking ridiculous-sexy every time, and tell a lot of mom jokes. Nine out of ten church ladies hate it.

SDTC: What has feedback of your show been like?

JB: Amazing. People really seem to love it. And what’s not to love? It’s pay what you can, in an awesome venue, that serves LATKES, and features the most hilarious ladies in the city. You know, I used to have a recurring dream where I was swimming across the Atlantic Ocean, except instead of water it was made of latkes, blintzes, and estrogen. I never thought it would come true. But here I am, years later, living the dream.

LB: Um… just to give you some background here, the Free Times Café is a paragon of Jewish cuisine in Toronto. And it’s really delicious, so that definitely helps our cause. She’s right about the rest of it though. One girl told me she totally got pregnant from a mozza ball! Anyway, a lot of people have come up to me saying they’re glad we’re doing this.

SDTC: How did you two meet?

JB: We took some improv classes together at the Impatient Theatre Company four years ago. I remember thinking when I first saw her perform “Who is this tiny little spitfire who willingly chooses to play a gross mobster, a gremlin, and Derek Jeter in her first three scenes?” It was so refreshing to see another lady wanting to be as ugly on stage as I wanted to be, yet she still managed to be powerful and gorgeous. Am I secretly in love with Laura? No. It’s not a secret… I am proud.

LB: Yes, we did take an improv class together. Months later I auditioned for Jess for the Fringe play she was directing, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, for which I was late and horrible. I had memorized my first monologue for it, the angry vagina monologue, which it turned out they didn’t need to see. I left knowing I was too good for them anyway. The production went on to win Best of the Fest, with Jess the Success at the helm. I have sought revenge ever since. I mean, Jess is incredibly talented and smart as a whip, and I’ve always wanted to team up with her on something. I couldn’t ask for a better partner, and when you work with Jess you’re betting on a winning pony.

SDTC: As a female comedian, what obstacles do you face that male comedians don’t necessarily have to deal with?

JB: “And the next comedian up is a good old fashioned woman, that’s right boys, a lady stand-up, and she’s got a pretty nice ass, so let’s all have a look.” That’s a few horrible intros I’ve received mixed together. I’m relatively new to stand-up and most comedians I’ve met couldn’t care less if you’re a man, woman, donkey, or broom. If you’re funny, you’re funny. But I have come across hosts and audiences that make me feel like a piece of processed meat, which isn’t a great atmosphere for new female comedians to get started in. But I would never let comments like that stop me from doing what I love. The best retaliation is not quitting, fighting through it, and being as funny as I can be, or burning them in public about their small dicks also works.

LB: As a female comedian, you will face one of two challenges: the “too many boners” problem, or alternatively the “not enough boners” problem. Of course, if you want to make it as a lady joker, you should probably be causing a lot of boners. So get out there and pick up the latest Cosmo! Give your décolletage a healthy shine with a spritz of Windex, and rub your toothbrush on his balls! But don’t cause too many boners, or else no one will take you seriously. After all, laughter kills boners. Which is not as bad as causing no boners, because then no one will take you seriously. Or book you. I mean, who wants to laugh when they could be having a boner? Just be sure to give a good number of boners to the right boners. Bonering yet?

SDTC: Who are some of your favorite female comedians?

JB: Internationally, I am officially obsessed with Maria Bamford and Amy Sedaris. They also kind of look like each other which is fun. I adore Chelsea Peretti and Victoria Wood as well. Locally Kathleen Phillips and Sandra Shamas can’t be beat.

LB: Tiny Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig are pretty much my TV/film/sketch idols. I am in love with female comedians who are fearless in performance and razor-sharp writers. I also look up to stand-ups like Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, and Maria Bamford for being funny as the world has never seen before. In improv, I am totally in awe of Susan Messing, Jill Bernhard, and Jess Grant.

SDTC: Do you remember your first show/sketch in Toronto? What was it like?

JB: My first improv show was four years ago at what used to be the Savannah Room on College Street. I remember being so scared that as soon as the audience even slightly chuckled at a daredevil grandma character that I was playing, I made the decision to commit to that character for the entire show and never did anything else. All I have to say is, thank god for that grandma character.

My first stand-up show was about 9 months ago at the Comedy Bar. It was the Comedy Girl Class recital. I was taught stand-up by the brilliant Dawn Whitwell. The host mentioned that I was the third girl wearing cowboy boots on the show. I walked out, literally shaking in my boots, and opened with “I am so angry that I am the third person to wear cowboy boots up here. I was trying so hard to be unique and vintage. What happened?” it was my first stand-up laugh and the biggest sigh of relief I’ve ever had.

LB: Oh man! My first improv show was many years ago at the Bad Dog Theatre. It was some sort of all-female improv show where newbs got to perform with pros, and I remember playing God yelling at Ashley Botting as she tried to get a tan. I also remember the musical number at the end where each of us had to introduce ourselves as a different kind of grape, and I didn’t know any kinds of grapes, so I said, “I’m the eyeball grape. They use me for eyeballs at Hallowe’en.” It was nice to find that I didn’t need to know anything and it was ok to be a complete weirdo.

SDTC: When you’re not performing, where can we find you hanging out in the city?

JB: Having breakfast at Saving Grace (907 Dundas St. W) , buying jewelry from Red Pegasus, drinking a pot of tea at The Green Grind, or drinking a bucket of beer at No One Writes to the Colonel (460 College St.) (which is also the venue for an amazing monthly show called Indie Comedy Hour. Check it out!) Do I sound cool enough? I can sound cooler if you need me to.

LB: I work out hardcore at the Academy of Lions a few times a week, so don’t mess with this. My favourite restaurant is hands down the New York Café diner (757 Broadview Ave.) at Broadview & Danforth—a place where friendly Greek ladies make amazing food for former wrestlers, and everything is $7. I have maxed out many a credit card on the shoes at Balisi, which has lead me to develop a love for the cheap and empty theatres of the Rainbow Market Square Cinema (80 Front St. E.).

SDTC: What can people expect from this Sunday’s show?

JB: The best night of their lives! Incredible improv, music, stand-up, clown, and freaking fan dancing! Also, free money, free love, free watermelon, and no refunds. Yeah!

LB: We’ll probably make some jokes about our moms.

* Published on March 21, 2012 at She Does the City

Space Ibiza Festival Preview: Q&A with Berlin DJ duo and childhood friends M.A.N.D.Y.

In Interview, Music, Q&A on May 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm
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Photo credit: Ragnar Schmuck

Berlin’s M.A.N.D.Y. consists of childhood friends Philipp Jung and Patrick Bodmer, who prefer to keep an air of mystery around the true meaning behind their acronym; toying with various possibilities such as Me AND You. When it comes to their music, the duo is dedicated to making bodies move; pushing the boundaries of dance music with their “electro kissing house while caressing disco and flirting with techno.” The boys have also created a revolutionary touring show that involves infrared technology and a new mapping technique to project inverted video effects onto their physical form as they perform. Whatever this means, we’re very intrigued.

Heading Space Ibiza Toronto this Saturday, the duo tells us about how their relationship with dance music began, their favourite cities to party in and how they handle creative differences.

SDTC: When and where did you relationship with dance music begin?
In a small town in the South West of Germany right at the French Boarder. It’s called Saarbrücken and that where we met in 85. The first Acid House parties took place in ’89 in our area. So we got hooked around that time.

In your opinion, what makes a good remix?
Ideally you would keep the song structure to some extend and just do your own interpretation of it. I think you should be able to recognize the original song; that is most important and the biggest challenge sometimes.

How would you describe the M.A.N.D.Y. experience in one sentence?
Learnt everything, then forgot it all.

What are some of your favourite cities to party in?
It’s still exciting to come to places where you have never been and get a guided tour from somebody who knows the good spots – doesn’t get boring luckily! Otherwise we love to play in cities where we have lots of friends who we can hang out with and spend some quality time.

Being a duo, how do you handle creative differences?
That is just like in any other long term relationship. Lots of talking, step back a little when you are thinking you are right as you are maybe not, listening and sometimes fighting for your point of view.

What can we expect from your show at Space Ibiza?
Space is always special and always different. We sit down before those shows, but we leave it a bit open. As people change every week on the island you have to be prepared that what was working last time may not work this time.

Check out M.A.N.D.Y.’s Myspace for tracks, tour information and more.

* Published on May 26, 2011 at She Does the City

Folk tales, road trips to Winnipeg and transforming the lives of hipsters with Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers

In Interview, Music, Q&A on April 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm
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Photo credit: Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers

Any band that performs music about “the sexual misadventures of heavy machinery, the nighttime journeys of little boys and lions born of a human womb,” let alone has a name like Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers, is well worth a listen. The sextet of classically-trained musicians from Winnipeg released their premier full-length album, Hans my Lion, in March of this year and have since been touring across Canada to promote it. After you check it out, be sure to take a listen to their original rock opera concept album The Wild Things, inspired, yes, by the iconic children’s story Where the Wild Things Are.

SDTC: Your band name is incredibly cool! What’s the story behind it?           

The ancestry of the name is as follows:
MothaFunkers (2 shows)
MothaFolkers (1 show)
The Dwarf Hamster Big Band (1 show)
Dorian Funk’s Blues (1 show)
Rudolph and the Scarlet Harlots (1 Christmas show)
Flying Fox and the Scarlet Harlots (1 hypothetical show)
Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers (probably at least 2000 shows)

What are some of your favourite folk tales?
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. Maybe not folk tales as such, but a wonderful read.

How would you sum up your new album in one sentence?
Hans (lion + boy) => Mother => sexual education(machines + feelings) => Melodrama (lust + regret) => Epic Orchestral Denouement => Nudity on Cover.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
We try to keep it pretty broad, but if forced to, on this day I would boil it down to J.S. Bach, Tom Waits, Jim Henson, and David Attenborough.

If we were planning a summer road trip to Winnipeg, what are the top 5 places we would have to visit?
The Statue of Louis Riel at the Legislative building.
The Weird Naked Statue of Louis Riel hidden behind a church in St. Boniface.
The Mini-Donut shop at the Forks.
The unfinished Museum of Human Rights.
The Manitoba Museum to see the Nonsuch (it’s a big ship inside an even bigger building, neatest thing in Winnipeg).

What band or musician, past or present, would you love to collaborate with?
I would love to learn from Gregory Kozak, instrument inventor and composer from Vancouver.  I wish someday to do something like what he does.

What can we expect from your live show?
Hopefully improbably large puppet heads, sweat, and a sonic experience that will make even the plaidest indie hipster gain new appreciation for musical theatre.

What does the rest of 2011 have in store for you guys?
1/3 of the band are getting married this year, so there’s that. We’re also hoping that a Best Operatic Indie Jazz Album category will be added to the Junos, for which we expect to be a shoe in.

Check out Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers’ Myspace for tour dates and music.

* Published on April 26, 2011 at She Does the City

Discussing manhood and music with Adam Cohen

In Interview, Music, Q&A on April 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

After quitting the music biz five years ago, Adam Cohen is back with Like A Man – an album that is not only representative of him giving music a second chance, but a tribute to his last name. Yes, Adam is the son of Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen and after years of trying to be anything but his father, he decided it was time to embrace his roots; his latest album a collection of 10 songs that are both reminiscent of Leonard’s classic recordings and representative of Adam’s intimate songwriting and musical talent.

You’ve said Like A Man is you finally embracing your family name. What made you decide to take this approach with the album? It was just time to be great, or at least try to be; “Great men undertake great things because they are great, and fools because they think them easy.” I was closer to a being a fool my whole life in music, more interested in being successful than good. More preoccupied with participating in the feast and glamour of the music business then working hard to show myself in true colors and carving out a place for myself among (or near) the greats that inspired me. I just wasn’t that great, so I never even attempted to be so.

How would you compare the musician you were when you began your career to the musician you are now? I’m lucky to have been given a new lease on music in my life; a chance to correct the impression some may have come to regarding what I did, who I was. I’m not embarrassed by my past, but I’m more eager than ever to show my present, and more hopeful about my future.

What was the moment when you decided you were going to make a career out of music? It feels like music chose me, or perhaps I just wasn’t chosen by anything else. I went the only place I felt it was natural, the only place I felt called. It was less of a decision than a response to a calling, a loud, clear calling from a voice within and without, that I’ve heard since very, very little, no doubt because of the family I grew up in.

What and who inspires you? The greats inspire me—the greats of music, of film, of novels, of poetry, of sports. Even a good commercial can inspire me. What I do with that inspiration is a different story, sometimes all too little, sometimes (if I’m lucky) I’ll get a good tune out of it.

Favorites of the past: Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Randy Newman, Marvin Gaye, J.S. Bach, Prince.

Favorites of the present: Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, Ryan Adams, James Blake, Damian Rice, Jay-Z.

This album has a very romantic feel to it – what is romance to you? A demonstration of affection for a loved one, big or small, successful or not.

What are some of your favourite cities to perform in? I don’t have a favorite place to perform, only good circumstances make for a good show, and that’s all I want, good people, well attended venues, and being on stage with talent the likes of which I’m lucky to have had, many times.

When it comes to songwriting, do lyrics tend to just come to you or is it more consciously done? Or both? I work hard and long to get the lyric right. It’s not easy for me, whilst the music comes quickly.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given? Work harder than you want to, much harder, when you want to give up; that’s where the real work begins.

For more on Adam Cohen, check out his website.

* Published on April 12, 2011 at She Does the City

Meet Michael Rault, the Swoonworthy Rocker We Can’t Stop Listening To

In Interview, Music, Q&A on November 24, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Photo credit: Ryan Fujiki

Take one look at Michael Rault and the first thought that comes to mind is total rock n’ roll dude. Listen to his music, and you realize he’s a total rock n’  roll dude with loads of talent. At 21, Rault (son of musician Lionel Rault) has already released four albums, been a part of several bands including his most recent, Michael Rault and the Mixed Signals, and managed to capture the musical vibes of the 50’s and 60’s magnificently as a solo artist and multi-instrumentalist. Currently touring across Canada with Bedoin Soundclash and Charlie Winston, the Edmonton native filled us in on life on the road, what it’s like to have a musician as a dad, and why you’ll love his latest album.

Rault plays the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver on November 30. Free download of “Lay Right Down & Die” here.

How would you describe your musical style?
I generally just say rock and roll. There are a lot of influences, and they are becoming increasingly vast and varied as I move along from project to project. This album is definitely coming out of a lot of 50’s and 60’s pop, soul and R&B, with some punkier elements, some garage, some lo-fi… I guess that’s a bit of a description.

What are the differences in dynamicsri between being part of a band and doing the solo thing?
You get to do what you want when you are playing solo, or when you are the definitive band leader. Collaboration is great when you find the exact right people who all think alike, but all of the democratic bands that I’ve been in were pulled in too many different directions a the same time. Eventually I decided to go solo, just to try doing my ideas the way I thought they should be done, just to see if it would work, and I’ve pretty much been playing solo, or in my own projects ever since, except for a few brief stints in other bands.

You’re currently touring across Canada so do you have any good stories from being on the road?
Oh man, this is a hard one. I’m on the bus with Charlie Winston and his band and crew, and my sister is here, too.  A lot of funny stuff has happened, but I have a feeling that if I tried to explain any of the stories they would just come off sounding really juvenile. Right now, we’re a day into the epic journey from Toronto to Winnipeg, and we’re stopped in a town called Cochran, Ontario for the next 12 hours. And we only have two more days on the bus until our next show. We plan on passing the time here in Cochran by bowling, hanging out in a hot tub at the hotel…and…I don’t know what else.

If you could jam with three musical icons, past or present, who would they be?
Oh, I just got this question recently in a different interview, but I was only allowed two musical icons… last time I said John Lennon and Fela Kuti, but I don’t know if I’m happy with that choice right now. Okay, for now I’m going to say I’ll stick with John and Fela, but I’ll throw Allen Toussaint into the mix.  I think he might smooth things out. He’d probably provide some arrangements for what would otherwise just be a crazy jam session. Plus he might lively things up a bit, because he’s he only one who isn’t dead.

What kind of influence has your father had on your musical career?
He taught me everything I know on guitar, or at least all the stuff I couldn’t learn on my own. He showed me a lot of cool music, and between the stuff I heard through him, and the stuff that I tracked down on my own, I got to know about a lot of obscure music at a pretty young age. He has also reinforced my perspective on music in general throughout the years.  He’s maintained a pretty youthful, rebellious outlook on life. When you talk to veteran musicians a lot of them are kind of broken by the music industry a lot of the time. It’s nice to know at least one old person who still has a fairly rock and roll perspective on what’s going on.

What are your favourite spots in Edmonton?
I haven’t been hanging out there a lot lately, but…The end of the world is awesome. It’s an abandoned sidewalk and road that collapsed into the river valley. All that’s left is a sidewalk that hangs out over a forty foot drop. It looks like the cover of Shel Silverstein’s “Where The Sidewalk Ends”. Also, there’s an abandoned wooden stairway that makes its way down an almost sheer cliff where the university campus descends down into the river valley. It’s pretty treacherous and you’re technically not supposed to go down there, but on a warm summer night, you can sit on the bottom platform and look through the trees down to the river and you can see the lights from downtown on the horizon. Both of those spots are great for hanging out in the summer. Otherwise it’s best to hang out at whatever venue is the current spot that cool bands play at. It seems to change every month or so.

Your shows seem very intimate and personal – is this something you’re conscious of?
Intimate sounds too touchy feely. I enjoy energetic shows, and I like to feel that the crowd is into it, so for that reason I find that smaller club shows are preferable. I like to actually feel what I’m doing, rather than just act the part of how I was feeling back when I wrote these songs. I think I’m looking for immediacy as much or more than intimacy.

For those who haven’t heard your latest album (Ma-Me-O) yet, what can they expect?
Fun songs about heartbreak and being lonely. A lot of reverb, echoes, yelling, pleading etc. Listen to it, you’ll get the picture.

* Published on November 24, 2010 at She Does the City