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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High Heels Lo Fi rawks it good & hard in All Sass No Class Kick Ass EP

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Front: Spacker Dave Vestaloyne & Cynthia Gould. Back: Jackie Moore & Doug Lea – photo by J. Roorda Photography

Garage glitz raunch rock band High Heels Lo Fi is revving up to launch their new EP All Sass No Class Kick Ass on February 23 at Cherry Cola’s – and my ears got a sneak preview of the record.

High Heels Lo Fi is: Cynthia Gould (vocals), Doug Lea (drums), Spacker Dave Vestaloyne (bass) and Jackie Moore (guitar); check out their bios. The sound is total kickass punk goodness – and these guys are a blast to watch live. I last saw them at Cherry Cola’s last week, and they were all wayward Catholic school girl with their plaid skirts and dirty mouths, rockin’ hard and reckless. And it was awesome!

The EP’s title All Sass No Class Kick Ass pretty much says it all. Gould’s vocals are cocky, sly and sexy – going from a deep growl to a ‘who’s your rough mamma’ come hither; and the instrumentals are loud, driving and tight. The EP playlist goes something like this:

“Get Me Some” – A rawkin’ and unapologetic punk seduction.
“Unfuckable” – Lust from afar turned to revulsion.
“Eff the Day Job” – A big fun drinking anthem featuring cowbell! (by Lucy)
“How Small is It?” – Calls out all the obnoxious ways certain men try to show what a big man they are – and how they give themselves away.
“Can’t Lose with Booze” – Full of cock and cocktails, a 2+ minute rawk out dance party to the band’s philosophy as a drinking problem with a punk band.

The EP launch on Tuesday will also feature guests King Beez and Blind Cats. I can’t make it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Keep up with High Heels Lo Fi’s shenanigans here.

 

Burn Apollo & guest Perivale rock the house @ packed Junction City Music Hall all-ages event

DSCN1896The Junction City Music Hall was rockin’ a packed house last night with an all-ages event featuring two local young bands: Burn Apollo, with opening guests Perivale.

Perivale brought some high-energy rock infused with hints of pop and blues, as well as some 80s/90s-influenced sounds like U2. If Sting and Chris Tait (from Chalk Circle) had a baby, it would be front man Jacob Bihun (songwriter/vocals/guitar). Solid musicianship from the entire band, which includes Nick Corcoran (lead guitar), David MacLean (bass/engineer) and Jordan Dias (drums). Keep an eye out for their upcoming CD Protagonist and go give them a follow on Twitter.

Punk meets rock with a touch of introspective melancholy in headliner Burn Apollo. Mixing up the set list with some covers from the likes of The Clash and Sum 41, and original tunes, the band got the crowd moving – and even inspired some interpretive slam dancing with songs like “First Date.” I was only able to stay for their first set, but was very impressed by the band’s talent. Headed up by the deep, edgy vocals of Finn Scott (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), rounding out the band are Tyler Twigger (drums), Jackson Seaward (lead guitar), Michael O’Meara (bass/back-up vocals) and Vivien Shepherd (back-up vocals/soloist). From the cheeky, poppy “She Lied to the FBI” and the stray cat strut sounds of “Hitchin’ a Ride” to a poignant acoustic ballad about growing old together, a well-rounded selection of songs brought out all the feels. Burn Apollo brought a blend of stellar musicianship, sweet harmonies and easy-going presence that made you feel like you were hanging out in their basement. You can keep up with Burn Apollo on Twitter and Instagram. Here are some of Perivale and Burn Apollo from the show last night:

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Big eclectic, quirky fun with music that moves and grooves – The Fairest & Best @ Horseshoe Tavern

Was out on a school night at the Horseshoe Tavern last night to see The Fairest and Best. I’d met front man Robert Graham a couple of years ago at a Red Sandcastle Theatre fundraiser – and had a chance to sample some of his solo work Storm in a Teacup, but this was my first time hearing him with the band.

The band played a short, early set – an eclectic mix of pop, 80s-inspired rock and Latin stylings on a variety of themes, from sweet love songs (“Do You Believe in Love?”) to rockin’ anthems of social commentary/consciousness (“Refugee”). Quirky, fun and engaging, the band got the crowd movin’ and groovin’.

The Fairest and Best features some outstanding musicianship and tight vocals with excellent harmonies. Band members are: Robert Graham (lead vocals and keyboard), Tony Nesbitt-Larking (drums), Darryl Wood (bass guitar and vocals), Gerry Williams (guitar and vocals), Jimmy Reilly (guitar and vocals) and Caitlin Holland (vocals).

Keep an eye out for these guys; check out their upcoming show dates here. You can follow The Fairest and Best on Facebook and Twitter – and stay tuned for their upcoming EP release later this year.

Here are some pix from last night’s 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:

Laura L’Rock turns the dial up to 11 in new music vid Rock’s Not Dead

Hey kids!

Take a moment to rock out to Laura L’Rock’s latest music vid “Rock’s Not Dead” – featuring band members Don (owner and driver of the vintage hearse Bleeding Betty) and Dennis Colautti, Nelson Sobral (Melting Pot, Songwriters Circle of Jerks and Red Falcon White Lightning), High Heels Lo Fi, the late Nik Beat and yours truly, among other friends and supporters – a Klangfarbenmelodie Video Production, produced/directed/edited/colourist by David Hustler.

There’s a lovely dedication to Nik Beat at the end. The day of the video shoot was the last time many of us saw him.