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Interview with Sue Newberry of Sue Newberry & The Law (Wk 6 – 3 of 4)

I first met Sue Newberry a couple of years ago when we played a show together at the Spill in Peterborough Ontario (back then she was going by the moniker “Sioux Newberry”.) We spent a bunch of time together last summer – and dare I say we even became friends – when we were both participants in a four-day songwriting workshop at Island Mountain Arts in Wells, British Columbia. Dave Bidini led the workshop, and I forgot to ask but I bet Sue would agree with me that it was an awesome and fruitful experience. (An aside: Dave Bidini is facilitating it again this summer. For all you inspiring/aspiring songwriters, I highly recommend that you check out the IMA 2012 Songwriting Workshop.)

To describe Sue Newberry’s music, I love this quote that her brother David Newberry – a kick ass singer-songwriter himself – writes:

“I want to say that you sing pretty and powerfully, have a killer pop band that can rock, and are smart and poetic. I think thats a good set of messages to try and get across. Is ‘funrock’ a word? I hope so. It’s literate funrock. That’s what you do. Well.”

Photo of Sue Newberry Holding A Delicious Pie

K: Let’s talk about your name for a second here. What’s the story behind ‘Sioux’?

S: It was a nickname from a schoolmate many (15?) years ago. She spelled my name “Sioux” on letters we passed back and forth during class. It just stuck, and pretty soon my peers and teachers were using the spelling. When I was pursuing my university degree in theatre I found that the spelling of the name helped distinguish me in auditions, etc. After so many years I became really attached to the spelling and identifying myself with the pattern and the shape of the letters. It just made sense.

K: I see you are shifting over to Sue Newberry. How’s that going?

S: It’s such a small thing, but a big shift to make. I’m still transitioning all my online sites. I’ve never loved “______ and the ______” band names, but here we are. It seems to make sense for now.

K: Canada seems to have two distinct indie modes of music. Solo verses Band projects. Where do you sit in that dichotomy?

S: I sit in both seats! In the past I’ve played mostly solo, duets, in small projects. The last 3 years or so I’ve been fronting larger bands – our current band has 6 members. It’s super, and so interesting to me right now. I don’t write songs anymore for myself and my guitar, and instead start to conceive and write songs with a 6-person rock band in mind. Playing with a full band for the first time was like grasping the edges of my song and pulling it open, making room for so many sounds. For me, the band enables the expression of the idea and emotion of the song in ways that can’t exist when I’m playing solo. Lots of new challenges, but I’m loving the results.

K: What’s it been like working with a band? Have they been part of the writing process too?

S: We don’t have any set rules about how songs come about. Most often I approach a member of the band, or the band as a whole with a song I have written beginning to end, and we play it out, making changes as suggestions arise. We have tried writing or re-writing together as a group, but find it not as effective. I’m looking forward to continued experimentation.

K: We’re doing this social media blogging challenge together: a challenge that asks musicians to pull out their bullhorns and spend some (a lot?) of time digging into the marketing side of music. How do you keep yourself creatively engaged with your music while at the same time promoting it?

S: Deadlines! I find it essential that my creative time be structured in a way that has actual results in mind. Most of my songs come from a strong lyrical or melodic idea, and those will often come out of unstructured thinking or playing times, but the idea will wither out if I don’t eventually lock myself in a room and put the hard and frustrating work in of finishing the song. Deadlines are essential motivators for me, and for my creative engagement. That might sound backwards, but putting up structures helps me to immerse myself fully in a creative work time – or else the day-to-day will take over.

For example, I’m currently in-studio recording the last few songs of an EP that I started a while back. At the same time I’m working with a publicist, graphic designer, booking gigs, updating social media sites… it’s a very exciting but overwhelming time. I can honestly say that without set deadlines (such as a planned CD release) I would not have put in as much time as I have on my own and with the band over the last month doing the really important work at this time: getting the tunes together for this weekend’s studio session! (P.S. – I’m writing this after day one of recording — bed tracks are sounding great!)

Photo of Sue Newberry Playing Live

K: Can’t wait to hear it, Sue! So, you are smack in the middle of recording your album… that’s no light feat. Long days / nights that absorb most if not all of a person’s creative energy and care. And here you are doing this blog interview! Do you think self-promotion is a necessary evil of being an independent musician these days?

S: *laughs* I think it’s important for the artist have a handle on social media, and be up to date with how social media is connected to exposure, publicity, sales, ‘buzz’, etc — regardless of if the artist  is at the helm of promotion or not. An unexpected result that I started to find about halfway through this challenge is this: I’ve been spending so much time with the ‘other side’ of the music, which is the product that is being marketed (as opposed to the creative process). Somewhere amidst all the thoughts, research and action regarding self-promotion that has been dominating the last 6 weeks I’ve discovered and started to truly believe that the ‘product’ I have is actually something that is worth promoting. So in that way, it’s not an ‘evil’ at all – it’s a pretty great motivator. 

K: If you could delegate away one job as a musician, what would it be?

S: It can be really hard to let go of the reins when it comes to your own craft, and self-promoting that craft! I’ve been working at it, though, and seeing the benefits. Things like mailing out CDs and press kits is an extremely time-consuming job that is better left to someone who has more professional contacts anyway, to yield the best results!

K: You mentioned you were in the studio this past weekend… you’ve got a new project on the horizon! Your album is coming out! Tell me a little more about it. What’s it called? Where and with whom are you recording it? How do we get our hands on it?

S: I independently released a solo CD in 2008, as well as a duet CD with my brother David Newberry (2008). Both albums were toured from Ontario to PEI a few times. You can get a copy of the duets CD here:

www.cdbaby.com/cd/newberryvsnewberry

My upcoming 6-song EP is my first full-band project. It’s under the band name “Sue Newberry & The Law” and is a far step away from the folk/country/roots sound of my first two albums. It’s taken me a long time of playing, writing and touring to start to hone in on my specific strengths as a songwriter and performer. This new turn toward an more indie-rock-pop sound is feeling good with my writing style and voice. I’m really excited to be a part of a team project and we’re really looking forward to the release and tour. CDs will be available online this spring. Our website is currently under re-design and will be launched shortly before the CD release. “Like” our bandpage and you’ll be sure to hear about how to get your hands on a new CD!

www.facebook.com/siouxnewberryandthelaw

K: You’re doing some tour dates around Ontario this spring with your brother who’s also a musician. Sibling rivalry or revelry?

S: Revelry, in accordance with the specific definition:
rev·el/ˈrevəl/ [verb] Engage in lively and noisy festivities, esp. those that involve drinking and dancing.

(Here’s a list of their upcoming tour dates in Ontario.)

K: Awesome ~ a dictionary definition! You’re a gal after my own heart, Sue. And now a few random questions: what’s your favourite mode of travel? (Bus, train, car, plane, boat, bicycle, skateboard, luck dragon?)

S: I’ve been taking the MegaBus lately from Toronto to Kingston for TEN DOLLARS. Double decker! That’s been pretty sweet. I do enjoy (non hwy 401) driving. But all that is behind me now, since I’ve switched to travelling via Luck Dragon. It’s kinda like, our band’s “thing”.

Photo of Sue Newberry and The Law standing in an alley.

K: What are two lines from the cheesiest song you have ever written?

S: This question is awesome.

this glass won’t see me turn to stone
this face i see just can not be my own
this world around me can’t revolve
until all my problems have been soooolllllllllvvvveeedd
(courtney love growl-out ending)

K: Yeah!! What are two lines from the song you are most proud of?

S: Our song “The Law” on our new EP is a mysterious story about a hero running from the law… but why is she running? Lyrics are pithy and fun to sing. It starts:

If you believe what you read than I’m a
Sharp Shooter
but don’t be deceived, believe me,
I’m just going through some hard times
and don’t we all go through
hard times ?

K: Nice! You’re awesome, Sue. Thanks so much for talking with me. Good luck with finishing up and launching your EP!



LISTEN to the song: The Law
From Sue Newberry & The Law’s upcoming album.

Find Sue Newberry & The Law on the Web:
www.facebook.com/siouxnewberryandthelaw
www.twitter.com/siouxberrynew

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Filed under Interviews, MSi9W3, Music, Writing

Interview with Tom Shea from Trio Arjento (Wk 6 – 2 of 4)

Tom Shea is one-third of the musical entity known as Trio Arjento: “a smooth, complex, and heady blend of musical styles and influences; scotch whiskey for the ears. Their soulful, fragile, exploratory sound mixes jazz, blues, and singer-songwriter traditions to create musical tapestries where every note tells a story. Marcy Hull’s warm, wise, and sultry voice is complemented by the intuitive counterpoint and improvisational chemistry of Jennifer Lockman’s piano and Tom Shea’s guitars.”

I met Tom online through the Music Success in Nine Weeks blogging challenge that I’ve been engaged in as my New Year’s Resolution to get a better handle on social media. This week I thought it would be fun to sit down with Tom and interview him about his music, his take on social media and his call to think locally with his Hundred-Mile Microphone Project.

Photo of the Hamilton band, Trio Arjento

K: Tom, I met you through this blogging challenge, and you keep popping up everywhere. And then there’s your group…

T: Trio Arjento

K: I’m glad you said it.

T: Yeah, it’s a funny name. Actually, it’s an anagram… the AR is from Marcy, JEN from Jennifer and TO from Tom. And it sounds like the Spanish word for silver. But it doesn’t mean anything. If you were Spanish, you’d spell it with a “G” not a “J”. We were going to call ourselves The Balvenie Scotch Trio after our favourite brand of Scotch, because it’s wonderful. But there were some people at our first show who thought that was an irresponsible way to name a band. People started scribbling on napkins…

K: How did you end up doing that first show together?

T: I’ve known Marcy the singer since I was five and she was four. She was in my younger sister’s pre-school class. She used to come around the house for play dates. I don’t really remember this, but Marcy claims I used to grab her pigtails like motorcycle handlebars and drive her around the house.

K: That’s beautiful.

T: She auditioned to sing in my first rock band in high school, when I was in grade 11 and she was in grade 9. We did all out rocking blues stuff, and she was totally unsuited for it. We did early U2 “Pride: In The Name Of Love” and the “Hippy-Hippy Shake”, which was on Cocktail… remember that? With Tom Cruise. [Tom S. picks up his guitar and sings a couple of bars]. We ended up with a guy with massive hair. But somehow Marcy stuck around. After highschool we formed a duo for six years, her voice and my guitar. The focus was on Ani Difranco, edgy aggressive folk. But I grew up on heavy metal.

K: Really?

T: Yeah. My background was all Black Sabbath, Anthrax and Slayer. And she kept saying “you know, there’s so much more to music than this.” She kept conking me on the head, and eventually I caught on that Joni Mitchell was pretty awesome too.

K: Though I have to say that one of the things about heavy metal is that guitar players are… like…good! Some of the finest guitar players come from heavy metal bands.

T: Yeah. But I’m at a point now in my life that I’m not impressed by the speed anymore. *smile*

K: So how did Jen come to be part of your band?

T: I took a break from our duo, while I lived in Kuwait for a while. Then in 2006 Marcy phoned me out of the blue one day. She said, “I know this guy who plays guitar and sounds a lot like you, would you like to come jam with us sometime?” The three of us jammed, then we posted up on Bandmate. We found a bassist, a drummer and a keyboardist… that was Jenny. That band lasted for 2 1/2 years. It was an amicable thing, but in the end that band called it quits over differences in the direction. Marcy, Jenny and I formed the trio.

K: How long ago was that?

T: Two years in October.

K: And so is it all original? You do covers too, right?

T: It’s probably about 70% originals at any show. The covers we throw in for amusement. For example, our Michael Jackson cover of “Human Nature”. We try to do things that are either extremely beautiful or things that are just comical. We’ve done “November Rain” by Guns and Roses. Joni Mitchell “Both Sides Now.” And Ani Difranco, because Ani is part of my DNA now. But the focus is on original material.

Photograph of the Hamilton band, Trio Arjento

K: You’re in Hamilton, right? Do you guys tour across Canada?

T: No, we haven’t. Last summer we were working on an album, and things were coming together nicely. Then Marcy had a baby. We’re kind of in a holding pattern right now, writing new material, putting the finishing touches on the album. We’re not playing out much right now because she’s tired and needs a nap! That’s one of the reasons I joined the Songwriter’s Association of Canada –I thought I could get my songs out there.

K: Do you ever play solo?

T: Not really, no. I’m not much of a singer. It terrifies me. In the past 12 months, I’ve made it a goal that I’m going to sing in public. And I do now. I’m getting better, but you couldn’t give me an hour and a half in front of the microphone.

K: And you’re a dad too. I’m thinking about the touring thing. I’m not sure how many kids you have…

T: I have two boys, they’re seven and ten. So they’re old enough if I go away for a few days. We played at the Orillia Jazz and Blues Festival in October, and I was gone for three days then. And that was fine. But the idea of doing a three-week tour is not really feasible. It might happen this summer, but we don’t have any serious ambitions to tour in the next year.

K: That brings me to something you’ve been talking about, your Hundred-Mile Microphone project. Tell me about that.

T: It started because I bumped into an old friend on the web, a guy name Glenn Marshall, who runs a recording studio here in Hamilton. He’s worked with a ton of people, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno at the top of the list. He used to be in a band in the 80s. I was just coming into the scene, and he was at the top of the scene. And I remember hanging out with him, and I was really impressed that these people were making music their lives. Then he just kind of vanished for a while. I don’t know what happened. Well, in his blog he says that he developed stage fright. Suddenly he couldn’t go up on stage anymore. He went into the studio, became a great producer.

This got me thinking about my place in the local music scene. And I realized that in a lot of ways I don’t know what’s around me. Because we’re all – you… me… everybody is so distracted by music that’s piped in from outside. I found Glenn’s song on the same day that Whitney Houston died. Everybody was posting “Whitney Houston is dead. What a tragedy, and what a great voice.” And I was sad, I mean I liked Whitney as a singer. But then Glenn’s song came in, and it had a much more powerful impact on me because it was somebody I knew. I’d shaken his hand, I’d eaten dinner at his house. So I got to thinking that maybe I should spend more time exploring my local musical environment.

Since I’ve posted up the blog and the Facebook site that partners with it, I’ve been getting me the names of bands that I’ve never heard of that literally live right around the corner from me. Music is everywhere. If I go for a walk on a summer night, I’m going to hear somebody playing guitar out of their basement or attic window. Right now, a five-minute car ride and I could be at ten different clubs where somebody is playing music. What this project is is the chance to redevelop personal connections with the music scene. To say thank you to Glenn. To say thank you to my buddy Dave, who’s playing a gig tonight. By the way, Dave’s band was the first band that my wife ever saw when she was fourteen. Not only that, but his sixteen year old son is in my English class right now. Everything just goes in these little circles. It’s awesome when you realize it. You don’t need any music from anywhere else, because there is so much good stuff right here. Wherever here is.

Photo of the Hamilton band, Trio Arjento

K: You’re doing the nine week blogging challenge with me, which is all about social media. Why did you decide to do that?

T: The initial attraction was because the band is not playing out that much right now. I thought let’s see if I can use this little shiny box *points to computer* to grow the fan base and explore other avenues for getting the music out there. Initially I found a couple of things a little frustrating: The transparency of all this software: I could set up a blog, but then it wouldn’t talk to my twitter which wouldn’t talk to my Facebook. There was all this trying to massage the pieces together so that they cooperated.

The other thing is that I often feel like I’m dropping pebbles down a well and listening to the echos. As consumers of web content we all see the big, popular stuff; when something goes viral everybody gets it. And I think this gives me and probably some other people a false sense that when you put something on the internet you will find an audience. Which is demonstratively not true.

Having said that, there *is* a cool thing coming out of Hamilton right now. There’s a guy named Drew Smith, who is a wonderful singer-songwriter… he sounds like Radiohead or Coldplay, atmospheric poppy stuff. He did a neat thing to make his last video. He had $2000, so he outsourced it. He got a dance school in India to make a Bollywood style video. In the last two weeks he’s gotten about 185,000 hits. And today it’s going to go through the roof, because it’s on the front page of the Arts & Entertainment section of the Wall Street Journal. It’s an article about outsourcing, really.

K: You’re bringing up the elusive question about why things go viral. (a) They have to be really good but also (b) everybody’s always looking for the new story.

T: Just being a good singer singing a good song is not going to get you a million hits.

K: Right.

T: A whole different part of your brain gets engaged in how to get your idea out. But I don’t watch videos. I just don’t like them. I like to listen to music, not look at it. So the idea that I can make a picture that goes with my music kind of blew the doors off of my brain for a week and a half there.

K: It’s a whole other art form, in a sense. How many hats *do* we wear as musicians? We’re already doing (a) the music (b) the writing (c) the performing…

T: …and then there’s maintaining a blog, doing my twitter feed, and now I’m going to direct my own videos? And I’ve got a day job! I’m a high school English teacher. The idea that I’m going to come home after work, spend quality time with my wife and my kids and maybe do a little cleaning in the kitchen, and then start shooting a video at 11 o’clock at night?

K: Oh yah man, come on! Maybe you should outsource to your students.

T: That’s funny, because yesterday… I’ve got these two really wonderful visual artists who are in my writer’s craft class… I gave them a copy of my CD. I said “I can’t pay you for this, or give you bonus marks in English class for it. But you have my eternal gratitude, and I’ll give you credits in the liner notes.” So they’re going to do a series of illustrations…

[We talk for a bit about making videos out of fridge magnets and lite brights, etc.]

T: You know that I maintain three blogs?

K: Yes. I love the poetry one.

T: The poetry blog never gets any hits! Every time I publish a poem, I post it up on Facebook and the same 20 – 25 people read the poem. Occasionally somebody responds, and that’s just fine. I don’t write because I want to get rich and famous. That’s clearly never going to happen for anybody ever again! But as soon as I posted my first Hundred-Mile Microphone, I got 200 hits within 24 hours. Apparently there’s an audience for this, an appetite for the exploration of local music and culture. I’m excited to discover that I’ve stumbled upon something that other people are excited about too.

K: Cool! Okay, just a couple more questions. Sweet or Savoury, and why?

T: Savoury, I don’t know why. Because I’m already sweet enough?

K: Adorable! One more. What would your secret nickname be for yourself?

T: Like if I were a superhero?

K: Sure.

T: If I were a superhero I would want the ability to breath under water. So what would my nickname be? I think I would probably call myself… *thinks* No… not “The Amphibian”. That’s a terrible name for a superhero! I can’t tell you my secret name. That would be giving it away, right?

K: Right. *smile* I really appreciate you taking time to talk with me, thanks Tom!



Promotional photo for the Hamilton band, Trio Arjento.LISTEN to Love Lets Go, the title track from Trio Arjento’s upcoming CD.

VISIT www.trioarjento.com

LIKE Trio Arjento on Facebook

CHECK OUT the Hundred-Mile Microphone Project.

WATCH Trio Arjento’s version of Human Nature by Michael Jackson on youtube. (Yes, a video!)

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I’ve Looked At Blogs From Both Sides Now (Wk 6 – 1 of 4)

It’s week six of the blogging challenge. And since this week’s task is to look at the blogosphere itself… research and connect with interesting music bloggers and start getting word out about my music that way, I thought it would be fun to turn the task on its head and become a music blog for the week! I’m curious what it’s like from a blogger’s perspective to do music interviews and reviews. What are the questions they have for an artist? What makes a story, you know, *sparkly*. I also thought it would be cool to send a little love out by interviewing a couple of my fellow blogging challengees!

Photo of me working on my laptop

So earlier this week, I spoke with Tom Shea of Trio Arjento, Sue Newberry of Sue Newberry & The Laws and Kimi Lyn Smith to find out what’s going on their worlds.

Initially I thought I would post all three interviews today… a cornucopia of music and ideas for you, my faithful blog readers, to peruse through. But after chatting with each of these wonderful people and hearing their responses, I realizes that they each deserve their own day in the glow of the blog-sun. I will be posting Sue and Kim’s interviews separately over the next couple of days.

Today, may I present to you…
An interview with Tom Shea of Trio Arjento!


Next week: “Your Newsletter”.
Look for my next blog update Monday February 27th.

For more about the blogging challenge I have embarked on for my 2012 New Year’s resolution, see my earlier posts:
Warm up: Does Anybody Ever Win These Things
Week 1: What The Mayans Can Teach Us About Setting Goals, Or…
Week 2: Hold the door, this elevator is going up!
Week 3: Home Sweet Homepage
Week 4: Social Media and the Theory of Everything
Week 5: Music Videos Are Not Dead! They’ve Just Gone North For The Winter.

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Filed under Interviews, MSi9W3, Music, Writing