Interview: Blues singer/songwriter & actor Carolyn Fe

Carolyn Fe, Sugat Ko cover. Photo by litratista.com

 

Carolyn Fe is a multi-talented, award-winning actress, blues singer/songwriter and host of the online syndicated radio show Unsung and On the Side. I had the pleasure of getting to know her while she was in Toronto, performing in the Nightwood Theatre/Sulong Theatre co-production of the world premiere of Audrey Dwyer’s Calpurnia, presented at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre back in January/February. Fe won the 2018 Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress for her compelling, poignant and funny portrayal of the family’s housekeeper Precy.

Between 2009 and 2014, she released three award-winning self-produced blues CDs: 100%, Original Sin and Bad Taboo. After taking a hiatus from her music career, she’s back with a deeply personal recording of original songs in Sugat Ko (My Wound in Tagalog)—to be launched on August 1, 2018 on CD Baby. Sugat Ko features the music talents of the Collective: Ivan Garzon (guitar), Brandon Goodwin (drums, percussion, vocals), Jean-Francois Hamel (guitar) and Oisin Little (bass). Guest musicians include Frank Gallant (bass), Sam Robinson (bass) and Gabriel Tremblay (drums).

Full of passion, anger, compassion and candid observations, Sugat Ko is an authentic, moving, evocative collection of original songs—delivered with rich, smooth vocals that shift from mysterious to powerful to tender. I asked Carolyn Fe about the record—and the road that led her to create it.

Hi Carolyn. Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk about Sugat Ko. This album is a major milestone for you: It marks your return to music after a four-year hiatus following the sudden loss of your friend and manager Barry Mell just before the release of Bad Taboo. You spoke about how things fell apart during that time, and how there was a significant shift within the band—and things were adrift for a while. Tell us about what brought you back. What was your inspiration to carry on and keep making music?

In all my endeavours, my approach is “do or die”. Making art; whether it be music, theatre, acting, writing, etc. equates to me breathing and feeling alive. There were times when I really wanted to throw in the towel, but I knew I had to keep going. The lyrics I had written meant a lot to me. I was hurting. I needed to keep writing; I needed to keep making music. I was feeling quite lost and alone. All those feelings of loss, pain and struggle kept me writing. Even though I was depressed, I was feeling alive (if you know what I mean). Words kept pouring out of me.

I met a lot of great musicians, but the connection/synergy wasn’t there until I found the ones who are with me right now: Jean-Francois Hamel (guitar), Ivan Garzon (guitar), Brandon Goodwin (drums & percussion), Oisin Little (bass, my muse who has been with me for 3 albums’ worth – Original Sin, Bad Taboo and now, Sugat Ko). When the five of us finally got together, my gut instincts told me that I can breathe with these gentlemen. They created a safe place for me to allow me to say and sing what I needed to say and sing. I also have Angie Arsenault who stuck by me through the tough times, she is a producer (prog rock and metal) – but first and foremost, she’s a friend who endured my whining through the tough times. She played all the instruments on “Prayer”.

This record is also a deeply personal reflection of your life and Philippine roots—a music offering that is profoundly soul-searching and revealing at the same time. And the songs on this record cover a broad emotional range, from pain, to passion, to playful and even prayerful. “Howzat” sounds like a wry Devil’s Advocate response to “Summertime”—a big contrast to the melancholy “Prayer”, the final track. What was the process of writing and recording like for you on this project?

For the longest time, since the creation of the debut EP 100% in 2008-2009, I was looking for a particular sound and it wasn’t a mainstream 12-bar blues sound. But I was also looking at my entrance to the music world from a business point of view. I needed to be careful in “instructing” the audience about what I was going to build (and also maybe I was chicken, insecure and afraid to assert myself, caring too much what “they” may think). So what I did was to “come in” with a standard blues-rock sound to get the auditors’ attention. You can hear the gradual evolution of where I wanted to be in a few songs as the new albums came out. The words/lyrics were true (you’ll note that there are religious connotations in most of my lyrics), but I was still reserved. It took life’s changes to finally find my footing and Sugat Ko is the result. Deep, deep lyrics from my heart, soul and essence of my being – all that, with no holds barred.

“Howzat” was the cacophony that was going on in my head during the four years that I had to keep a good face and smile at the world. I was dying on the inside; it was as if everything I touched went wrong. So yeah, this song talks about murdering and burying that mess, “she runs out into the garden with her Jimmy Choo’s sinking into the grass, cement, that’s all she can think of…cement, what a ride…oh baby hush now, don’t you cry, hush, hush baby, just give it a sigh”. Once buried, I moved on.

“Prayer” was me at my most desperate moments. It’s all about choice. We have choices and although on the surface it sounds like a call for help, it’s actually the complete opposite of asking for help. Prayer is a cry to die. It is also a song that is dedicated to a friend who passed away from cancer. She was in pain and there were moments when she wanted to end it. When I wrote this song, I wasn’t “intimate” enough with my new musicians, at least not yet. My friend, Angie Arsenault, and I were talking a lot of the difficult times. She had padded shoulders that I could lean on when I needed. Then it occurred to me to ask her to collaborate on the song as she knew exactly where my mindset was. She played all the instruments on “Prayer”.

Writing a song in an intimate process for me. There are times when I will already have the lyrics and will sit with only one of my musicians, who I call my Stage Husbands (because of the intimate process of writing). Other times, I would write the lyrics on the spot while they play along and understand the vibe of the tune. But for me, it is always a one on one process to create a song.

Sugat Ko draws on gospel and rock in a beautiful, moving fusion with the blues that complement the lyrics and take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Did you map out these arrangements ahead of time, on a song-by-song basis—or was it more of an organic process as you and the band worked together in the studio?

Actually, no. I treated each song as their own entity and let my gut instinct own the process, as well as organize it. Once the basic skeleton of the song is done after the one-on-one writing sessions with a stage hubby, then we would all get together and make the arrangement of the song. That’s the part where they all get technical while I listen to my gut feelings to make sure the vibe and soundscape is right.

You’ve been working on a 5th album, Cover My Bass, a collection of cover songs. What can you tell us about that record?

A while back, I saw Dalannah Gail Bowen and her bassist, Owen Owen Owen (nope, that’s not a repetitive keystroke error, that is his name) perform. They’re from British Columbia. I was so inspired!!! Here’s a woman pushing towards her 70s with this younger man on bass. It was an odd pair, but just her voice and his bass was music to my ears. Whenever we hear of duos, it’s mostly voice/guitar or voice/piano. I have never heard of voice and bass. I was hooked and inspired. It took me a long time to find a bass player who could jive with me. Frank Gallant was introduced to me by my drummer, Brandon Goodwin. Frank and I hit it off. He understood what I wanted to do.

I am not fond of doing cover songs. There are so many artists out there doing it, so I will leave it to them. BUT this 5th album (an EP actually) is already complete. TADA! I am just waiting for Sugat Ko to mature and establish itself before I take out Cover My Bass, which is a collection of old, old songs unfamiliar songs and we do it as a duet: voice and bass.

Anything else you want to shout out?

I want to talk about how special my stage husbands are. Aside from Oisin Little (bass), we’ve been together for about two and a half years now. I am so grateful for having them with me. They are instrumental in bringing my confidence back. I never considered myself a musician. Yeah, I write the lyrics and I sing the lyrics. When other players would just say, “Let her sing, we’ll do the music part”, these gentlemen, my stage hubbies, brought me to a place where I never knew I belonged. They stopped and asked what my lyrics were about, they played and played until they understood the soundscapes that I was looking for; and once we found it, they pushed it further. They created a safe space for me to explore. This is why Sugat Ko is so important for me because every song on that album is me in the raw. They created the space so I can allow me to be myself. Also, I want to give a shout out to my stage hubbies’ life partners who quietly stood by their side, at times rescheduling vacations and special occasions, so that we can create.

Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word?

Yes

What’s your least favourite word?

Can’t

What turns you on?

Heart-full people that I resonate with. Pushing my envelope. Thinking, creating and doing things – not out of the box but – without a box. Challenges that make me feel alive. Doing. Pastries and sea food.

What turns you off?

Routine. Folks who don’t get out of their comfort zone and then whine about their regrets (HEY! It’s not too late, you can still do it). Folks who say, “It’s always been done that way”. Racism and discrimination really burns my butt.

What sound or noise do you love?

The inhale/exhale of satisfaction from a job well done.

What sound or noise do you hate?

It’s almost like a cartoon; the sound of screeching brakes in my head when fear overcomes me.

What is your favourite curse word?

I have too many, but the F-bomb usually starts it off, followed by other choice words (e.g., F’ing Toe Crud, F’ing butt cheese, etc.).

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?

I’ve had and have many professions. In no particular order: Ballerina, Contemporary Dancer, Choreographer, Technical Recruiter & Human Resources Generalist, Marketing Specialist, Hair Stylist (which I still do and love – I went to school for it), Singer/Songwriter, Actor, Radio Host, Business owner, Corporate Consultant, Caregiver, etc.

What profession would you not like to do?

I tried, but I am not a good housekeeper.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Ha! The question doesn’t say “…finally arrive at the Pearly Gates”. So I think, this is what God would ask me: “Are you done yet or do you wanna go back again?”

Thanks, Carolyn!

Thank you – and the hugs I am saving in my back pocket for you are gathering compounded interest again.

 

Toronto theatre audiences fell in love with Carolyn Fe and her performance in Calpurnia—and the feeling is mutual. Fe and her husband are looking to move from Montreal to Toronto in the near future, where we’ll have even more chances to see her perform live.

You can keep up with Carolyn Fe on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Keep your eyes and ears out for Sugat Ko on CD Baby on August 1.

 

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Live & Alive with Angela Saini’s uplifting, sweet sweet sounds @ The Cameron House

 

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Angela Saini

Angela Saini threw a big party at The Cameron House on Thursday night—and everyone was invited! Saini launched her Live and Alive CD to a standing room only crowd in the back room of the Toronto music venue; the album went global on Friday.

Singer songwriter Paul Lamarche opened, treating the packed house to an acoustic set of his mellow, country-infused sounds. With notes of romance and melancholy, Lamarche took us from the wistful, nostalgia of “Ferris Wheel” to the more funkified “Make It Good” and a fun cover of Toto’s “Africa,” which included some audience participation. Closing with “All the Way” at the piano, Lamarche showcased his remarkable vocal range, especially in the upper register. Keep an eye out for Lamarche.

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Paul Lamarche

Live and Alive happened part by chance, part by design. Saini joined forces with Eric Stecki, who recorded her gigs at The Mod Club and The Drake Hotel; tracks were subsequently mixed by Ian Bodzasi and mastered by Harry Hess. Saini’s band includes Francois Martin (guitar/background vocals), Jeff Scale (bass) and David Sufrin (drums), who joined her onstage on Thursday night at the launch.

An engaging, sometimes cheeky, and always inclusive performer, Saini performed a mix of songs from the record, along with some brand spankin’ new tunes, giving us a sneak peek at what’s to come along with the fan favourites, in a combo acoustic/full band set (reflecting the recordings on the CD).

Saini’s pop sound is a soulful mix of of fierce and fragile. The lyrics are reflective and positive, even when calling out bad behaviour (“Sweet Sweet Mouth”) and, above all, tell us that it’s never too late to turn things around and make a new start (“U Turn,” “Here I Go Again” and “Living on the Bright Side”). Live and Alive also includes poignant, tender songs of love and connection, including connection to oneself (“Stay Here with Me,” “Something Like I’m Beautiful” and “Dear Diary”).

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Jeff Scale, David Sufrin, Angela Saini & Francois Martin

“U Turn” is one of my personal faves; turns out, it’s a fave of Lamarche’s too. And the whole audience was invited to sing along—and did, with great delight—on “Living on the Bright Side.” Saini’s encore, new song “Black Sheep,” shouts out not giving any effs about what other people think.

Awesome and uplifting, sweet sweet sounds at Angela Saini’s Live and Alive CD launch. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Angela Saini.

In the meantime, check out Saini’s video for “Here I Go Again”:

 

Melanie Peterson’s Anywhere From Here a heartfelt, beautiful mix of playful, introspective & melancholy

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Melanie Peterson – photo by Bri-anne Swan

Saskatoon-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter/actress Melanie Peterson celebrated the launch of her new CD Anywhere From Here at The Piston last night, with guest artist Bri-Anne Swan opening the festivities. And what a celebration it was!

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Bri-anne Swan

Swan opened with a short solo acoustic set of mostly original songs, opening with a gorgeous interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Featuring crystal clear vocals, with a subtle haunting, wistful quality, Swan’s lyrical storytelling includes hints of folk – her latest CD Letters Home also includes a Lightfoot cover of “Now and Then” – and country (opening track “Have You Seen My Ghost”). Her sounds conjure up images of windswept, lonesome plains, big skies and misty, strange forests. Give her a listen/look-see on her YouTube channel. Bri-anne Swan is also the cover designer/photographer for Anywhere From Here.

Then, the main event. I first met Melanie Peterson about two years ago, when she was performing in a line-up of amazing, talented women at ovarian cancer fundraiser She’s Listening II, and I interviewed her last year. Peterson has been described as Mary Poppins with a broken heart. The songwriting is genuine and self-aware, and there is a positive tone even in the heartbreak. In fact, the progression of the songs on Anywhere From Here – which Peterson and her band played from top to bottom – reads like the life of a romantic relationship. From the initial magic sparks in “Truth Talking” and “Fallback Plan,” to words of warning “Where There’s Smoke (Lust Ain’t Love),” to the devil may care of “Just the Right Amount of Wrong,” and into the stall in “Holding Pattern” and when it’s over in “I Miss You Already” – she’s got all the feels. There are also lovely expressions of gratitude here (“A Path Laid Out Like Gold,” featuring backing vocals by Kasandra Sharpe) and love that’s so good (“A Gift” – the CD’s title comes from these lyrics).

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Melanie Peterson

Peterson’s sounds feature folk, pop (including a kicky Beatles-inspired riff in “Fallback Plan”) and country, with some reggae flavour (“Truth Talking”) – delivered with lovely, lilting vocals and sweet harmonies. Joining Peterson (guitar, lead vocals) last night – and also playing on Anywhere From Here: Mitch Girio (guitar, backing vocals and producer – he also produced Swan’s Letters Home), Pete Lambert (drums, violin, backing vocals) and Peter Collins (bass, backing vocals). By the time they got up to play their set, the room was packed with enthusiastic friends, family and fans – so much so that the crowd coaxed three encore songs, including “Cinema Girl” (my request – thanks again, guys!) and “Unbreakable,” from Peterson’s Unbreakable CD.

Melanie Peterson’s Anywhere From Here is a heartfelt, beautiful mix of playful, introspective and melancholy. Wrap your ears around it soon.

You can keep up with Peterson on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Soundcloud, among other platforms – see her website for all the platforms.

Here’s the poppy, fun the video for “Fallback Plan”:

Department of corrections: The song “Just the Right Amount of Wrong” was originally written as “Just the Right Side of Wrong” – that has been corrected and the link to the video has also been added.

 

 

Heart, soul & raw passion in Shikha’s meditative, rhythmic Coconut Mantra EP

DSCN2067 smIt was a celebration of music with friends, family and fellow musicians at C’est What? on Friday night, with the launch party of Shikha’s EP Coconut Mantra.

Opening act Custom Tease (Celebration Army frontman Oliver Pigott and Danka Scepanovic) brought some soul-infused, bluesy, rootsy goodness featuring originals with poetic, evocative – at times fierce – lyrics. And they threw in a sultry cover of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” for good measure. Sounds include hints of Motown and Kate Bush, executed with sharp harmonies.

Shikha, the main event of the evening, featured Shikha Sehgal on vocals and banjulele (a four-stringed banjo/ukulele hybrid instrument), accompanied by Hugh Wilson (of Big Name Actors) on bass and Troy Larabie (of Celebration Army) on drum box. A passionate performer, Shikha brings it with heart and soul, and genuine feels. The vocals are delivered raw, with heart-on-sleeve intensity – and the lyrics are soulful, meditative and rhythmic (“Sing Baby Sing”), with hints of reggae (“Can I Hold You?”), blues and pop. The result is a seductive sound that features an earnest, sometimes melancholy, and powerful (“I Am Woman”) resonance.Check out the official video for “Sing Baby Sing,” one of the first songs Shikha ever wrote:

You can keep up with Shikha on Twitter, Facebook and on her YouTube channel.
In the meantime, check out some pix I took of the evening’s music festivities:

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Rockin’ out with Supertash & guest Kat Leonard @ Breakdown EP launch party

unnamedIt was a super fantastic night of music, friends and celebration at 3030 Dundas West last night, with two reasons to party: Supertash launching her Breakdown EP and Kat Leonard’s birthday (with Leonard performing as the opening act)!

Leonard treated us to a sneak peek of her new solo show in progress My Selfie, a comedic, frank and thought-provoking piece on positive self/body image. More than just an ode to body parts, this is a singing, dancing, storytelling trip in and around the external self – and we are all so much more than the sum of those parts. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for future performances of My Selfie.

Supertash (aka Natasha Jolly) and band rocked our world with tunes from Breakdown, as well as some selections from her last record Before the World Ends. Featuring kick-ass vocals, outstanding musicianship and passionate lyrics – especially on the title track and “Serial Killer” (Supertash’s ode to Dexter) – as well as some soulful, keyboard-driven pop (“Control Freak,” which brings to mind the sounds of Sade), Breakdown is full of heart and edge. Joining Supertash onstage last night were: Frank Bartoletti (lead guitar), Dave Carreiro (bass), Rick Carreiro (drums) and Toad (keys/guitar/back-up vox).

You can check out Supertash’s music on Soundcloud and iTunes, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Here’s a little taste of Breakdown – “Serial Killer”:

And here are some pix from last night’s music/birthday bash extravaganza:

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Dance all night to Mip Power Trio sophomore album Half Pint Full Heart

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Mip Power Trio – photo by Paul Taborovsky

Had the great pleasure of wrapping my ears around a preview stream of Mip Power Trio’s sophomore album Half Pint Full Heart this past week – in advance of their CD launch party this Friday, February 27 at the Bovine Sex Club.

Mip Power Trio is: Mip (songwriting/lead vocals/guitar), Greg Kowalczyk (bass/back-up vocals) and Shane MacPherson (drums/back-up vocals). Following up on their debut record Haggard and Bedraggled (2012), the band joined forces with producer/engineer Ian McGettigan to create 11 tracks of rootsy rockin’ goodness on Half Pint Full Heart.

“Breakthrough” kicks of the record, with rockin’ beats, the chorus bringing a kicky retro vibe with a kick-ass plea “my knuckles are getting sore knocking against your invisible door” –  Mip’s gutsy vocals reminiscent of Gwen Stefani in No Doubt’s “Sunday Morning.”

You can get yourself all toasty and warm as you bop along with “Winter Scene” – and then with the roots guitar riff and alt country/rockabilly-infused storytelling in “Potential.” And Mip nails it when she describes the celebratory “Take Me Back” as “skaspel” – it’s a groovin’, movin’ blend of ska and gospel. The lyrics bring cool pop culture references (Springstein and artist/modern architecture pioneer Le Corbusier), and the arrangements offer some sweet surprises, like the circus-like beats on tracks like “Grown-up Games” and “Whiskey Ain’t Cheap,” and the haunting, atmospheric intro to the final track “Northern Lights.”

With tight musicianship, strong lead vocals and sweet harmonies driving the music, coupled with the band’s fun, casual party vibe, I dare you to not move your feet as you listen to Mip Power Trio’s Half Pint Full Heart. Like the Northern Lights, you can dance all night.

You can catch Mip Power Trio at their CD launch party for Half Pint Full Heart this Friday, February 27 at the Bovine Sex Club, where they’ll be joined by local bands Little Foot Long Foot, and Freeman Dre and the Kitchen Party. Check here for all the launch dates/locations around Southern Ontario and Quebec.

You can connect with Mip Power Trio on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and the band’s YouTube channel.

And if you’re like me and can’t make it out to the Half Pint Full Heart launch, check out this playlist of some of their vids, including “Northern Lights” and “Take Me Back” (both from Half Pint Full Heart) – and stay tuned to Mip Power Trio’s website/social media platforms for the opportunity to stream and download the record:

Sultry, soulful & rockin’ out – Jessica Speziale brings it all with Shine CD launch

20141122_204227An amazing night at The Duke Live last night for Jessica Speziale’s launch of her new CD Shine – produced by MC2 Records – and what a night! Red carpet, photo ops and a packed house – this event was a happenin’ place.

Opening band Andreas kicked off the night’s festivities with a bluesy, kick-ass rock set, perfectly priming the crowd for the main event and impressing big time.

From the opening chords, stepping out into the light and stage mist, Speziale had us. Pulling out all the stops, the band included a three-piece string section near the beginning of the set and a three-piece horn section towards the end. Sultry, soulful and rocking out with her band, Speziale is a commanding, yet playful, presence onstage. Well before her final song – the title track from the CD – and the encore (“Brace Yourself”), Speziale had folks up on their feet dancing.

Here are some snaps I took at last night’s launch:

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You can also follow Jessica Speziale on Facebook and Twitter – and check out her YouTube channel. In the meantime, check out the music vid for the CD’s title track “Shine”: