Mike O’Brien

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I know Mike O’Brien through the guys in the Key-Lites, they’ve been friends for many years. Mike is a fantastic guitarist, and an even more fantastic guy. I first heard him playing with Katie Moore a couple years ago at the Outremont Theatre in Montreal. Every note he played was tasteful and musical. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to play with him a few times (including in an exciting, upcoming country band featuring many of Montreal’s best musicians – stay tuned!), and get to know him a bit. He happens to really know his beer – whenever I’m at Vices & Versa and he’s working, I basically just ask him what I should drink, and it’s always great.

I knew Mike’s voice-over skills from the Key-Lites pitch video, and I was very excited when he agreed to lend his voice for mine, too. I believe he is a huge factor in the success of my Indiegogo campaign to date. So we decided to put together a short film about Mike that was thematically in line with the pitch video. Thanks Mike!

A little Indiegogo update

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to and shared my Indiegogo campaign! There is just under two weeks left, and I still need to raise about $2,000. If you haven’t already, I urge you to contribute, you won’t regret it! If you’ve already contributed, please share the campaign with others.

As an additional incentive, I’ve decided to pad some of the perks. The Book of Sheet Music will now include all the compositions from my first album, Joel Kerr Quintet, as well as my two pieces from Live in Silence. This means there will be eighteen pieces included in the book! This perk is available on its own, or included in others. Order it now!

Yoko Ono

So the theme of my ongoing Indiegogo campaign is My Influences. Today I’d like to write about one of my main influences for this project, Yoko Ono.

Most people only know Yoko Ono as the person who “broke up” the Beatles. If they know a little bit more about her, they will know of the experimental music she made with John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. Or they might know about the famous Bed-In at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969.

What most people don’t know about Yoko is her work as a conceptual artist (or her work as a peace activist, but I won’t get into that now).

In 2002 I took a road trip to San Francisco with my roommate, Blair Fornwald, and her boyfriend at the time, Adam Budd. This was when I had briefly moved back to Regina, after having dropped out of the Artist Diploma program at the Glenn Gould School of Music. Blair, Adam and I drove straight for 30 hours in my family’s trusty Toyota Previa, to spend only three days in San Francisco. The reason we visited the city was that I had a good friend living there, Erik Franden, a fellow Glenn Gould School dropout; Blair and Adam came along for the adventure. Erik, in addition to being a great friend, was responsible for introducing me to an incredible amount of new music, such as Astor Piazzolla, Marc Ribot, and Ali Akbar Khan.

The trip was super fun – we went to the beach, we ate great Mexican food, we went to lots of record stores, and we went to lots of museums. To be honest, I’ve forgotten a lot of the trip, I just have vague images left. But the one thing that is still vivid is our visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where there was a Yoko Ono retrospective. I, like most people, didn’t know the first thing about her. But the exhibit totally blew me away. Her work was powerful in its simplicity, humour, and positivity.

One example is the same piece that caused John Lennon to want to meet Yoko. Imagine this: There is what appears to be a blank white canvas in a simple frame hanging on the ceiling, with a ladder below it, and a magnifying glass attached to the frame. You climb the ladder, and inspect the canvas using the magnifying glass. After a few minutes (or more) of searching, you find a single microscopic word printed on the canvas, which simply reads Yes.

The Japanese influence in her work was apparent not necessarily in the content, but in the aesthetic. Much of her work is abstract, a lot is minimalist, and all of it is understated. Sometimes it’s surreal, sometimes disturbing, sometimes absurd, sometimes child-like in its straightforward honesty. It speaks of strength and perseverance, no matter what the hardship.

At the exhibition, there was a video of her performance of Cut Piece, where she sat motionless on a stage with a pair of scissors, and audience members were invited to come up on stage and cut off parts of her clothing. Watch it here, and see how you feel while this is happening.

Yoko’s work has haunted me ever since I saw this exhibition. I bought her book of instructions, entitled Grapefruit (Simon & Schuster, 2000), at the SFMOMA gift shop, and have read it countless times, always finding inspiration within its pages. A few years ago I decided to write a suite of pieces based on poems in this book, two movements of which appear on my upcoming album. This is one of the poems:

water talk

you are water
I’m water
we’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together

but even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the containers
and say, “that’s me there, that one.”
we’re container minders

Dominic Gobeil

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Greetings from Atlanta, GA!! I’m here playing with Jump Babylon at the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival! We played a school show this morning, and tonight we are playing the festival opening night concert at a very cool venue called Steve’s Live Music. It’s a little tough to keep up with work for my ongoing Indiegogo campaign while I’m on the road, so I’m happy I managed to get a few hours to work on this post.

I met Dominic Gobeil at McGill, we did our Master’s degrees at the same time. I had just moved to Montreal from Vancouver, and Dom had just moved from Quebec City. About a month into school, I got a gig from the booking office for a trio with sax, guitar and bass. I didn’t really know anyone outside the program yet, so of course I asked Dom to play the gig, along with Patrick Lampron on tenor sax (whose website seems to be out-of-date: here’s his CD Baby page instead). At the time my French was very rusty and Dom’s English was very weak, so conversations were a challenge, but we made it work.

Ever since then, we played together quite a lot, collaborating on many projects. Dom played on my first album, the Joel Kerr Quintet, along with Jared Greeve on trumpet, Patrick Lampron on tenor sax, and Eric Thibodeau on drums. I played on Dom’s first album, DG4, which was the same band minus Jared (and is part of my Joel Kerr Complete Works Indiegogo perk!). And we both played on Patrick’s album.

A large number of our class at McGill got together and formed a composers ensemble, called the M-Theory Collective. The band went through a few members, but in addition to Dom and me, it included Mireille Boily on vocals (who is also singing on my upcoming album!), Jared and Bryson Barnes on trumpet, Jason Stillman on alto sax, Patrick on tenor, Alex Côté and then Philippe Côté on bari sax (no relation – that I know of), Etienne Lebel on trombone, Marie-Claire Durand on piano, and Kevin Warren and then Dan Garmon on drums. It was a great group, very creative. I miss that band – it’s still a dream project for me to somehow record all the stuff I wrote for that ensemble.

In the summer of 2012, Dom, Patrick, Eric and I, along with Craig Pedersen, put together a week-long tour of Quebec and Ontario, culminating in a magical performance along the St-Lawrence River in Les Escoumins. There is a festival called On Jazz sous le lune, the concerts are in the Saguenay-St-Lawrence Marine Park, and the stage is right on the river – so while we played, the moon was setting over the river, and beluga whales were swimming around behind us. We recorded ourselves live the next day back in Montreal with Paul Johnston engineering, and the result is the album Live in Silence (which is part of the Joel Kerr Discography Indiegogo perk).

As you might imagine, when you work on composition and original material for this amount of time with someone, you can’t help but be influenced by them in some way. Dom and I both are influenced a lot by classical music and various modern compositional techniques, and knowing how much output he had was always good motivation for me to compose more.

After a long stretch of not playing together, I played with Dom and Eric on Coco Jazz (CKVL 100.1 FM in Montreal), and it felt great – hopefully it will happen more!

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Ian Kelly

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Ian Kelly might just well be the most generous person I know. Let me give you an example: when the Key-Lites played at L’Ange Vagabond back in August, there was a power outage. Ian was also the one who introduced us to this fantastic venue in St-Adolphe-d’Howard. We’ve played there a few times now, and it’s always really fun. Anyways, on this particular night, the whole grid was offline, with no signs of it coming back online, and a lot of the people who had come for the show decided to go home. While we were talking with the owners about what to do, Ian showed up to see us play (he lives nearby – FYI, our singer/guitarist, Josh Toal, has been playing in Ian’s band for the past year or so). When he saw what was going on, he called his father, who also lives nearby, and who happened to have a gas-powered generator. When Ian’s father got to the venue. we all set up the generator in the dark, wired all our amps to the generator, as well as some lighting for the stage, and then played the show!! There weren’t that many people who had stuck around this long, and the only lights in the audience were candles on the tables, but this made for a super special, super intimate night of music. It was amazing! And if it wasn’t for Ian, we probably would have ended up just packing up and going home, which would have been super lame.

When it came to my Indiegogo campaign, Ian was very supportive, making this awesome endorsement video, as well as donating copies of both his Diamonds & Plastic and All These Lines albums as perks. Thanks, Ian!!

I met Ian when I was playing with Sarah Slean in 2013. We were doing a cross-Canada tour, and Ian opened for us every night. He would always play a couple tunes with us at the end of the show, which was a delight. I actually met Sarah through Mark Nelson, the drummer in my quartet, who used to play in Ian’s band, and Sarah had opened for Ian’s cross-Canada tour the year previously. The tour was six weeks long, with 11 of us in very close quarters the entire time, so we got to know each other pretty well – it was actually amazing how well we all got along! Anyways – when in groups, people always tend towards certain roles within the group dynamic. Ian was the one who could, with a sentence, lighten the mood, lift everybody’s spirits, and bring everyone closer together – while always being genuine, down-to-earth, and honest. Ian also enjoys good coffee and good food, so we got along really well!

Ryan Purchase

Ryan Purchase

I met Ryan Purchase in grade 9 (we were 15), at Campbell Collegiate, in Regina. We hit it off immediately because we were both really into the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as the Lord of the Rings. I remember going over to his house and playing the HHGTTG text-based video game (which you can now play online – for free!! But be warned – it’s INFURIATING!!!), and listening to a lot of music – I’m pretty sure Ryan was the one who introduced me to Dread Zeppelin (oh yeah, we were both big Led Zeppelin fans).  Basically, we liked all the same stuff – the only area we ever differed was Dr Who, which I never got into. We acted very silly in class, not exactly tormenting the teachers, but probably annoying and confusing them a lot. Mr Ransom, our French teacher, in particular. For example, a class exercise involving the phrase “j’aime le rosbif” spawned a whole four years of roast-beef-centered conversations, as well as roast beef sandwiches left on his desk as gifts.

We also both played in the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra (Ryan plays the trombone), we both went to the University of Regina for our B.Mus. degrees, we both played in the Regina Symphony Orchestra, and we lived in Toronto at the same time (Ryan for the two years of his M.Mus. at University of Toronto, me only for one year for the first year of an Artist Diploma at the Glenn Gould School of Music). We haven’t lived in the same city since, though – Ryan lived in Edmonton for many years, and eventually moved to Ottawa, while I travelled all over the place working on cruise ships for a few years, lived in Krakow for a year, then Vancouver for two years, and eventually settled in Montreal.

In 2004, we spent most of the month of May backpacking in Iceland. This was a life-changing experience for both of us. It’s imprinted so strongly on my psyche that it still feels like it just happened, even though it was more than a decade ago. We backpacked throughout the southern part of the country, where it was usually quite easy to find rides and places to stay, although we ended up several times at the hostel in Vik (the town at the southernmost point of the country, famous for it’s huge cliff overlooking a black sand beach and the rock figures in the water, which legend tells us are three trolls who were caught in the morning light after struggling to pull a captured ship to shore). We met tons of amazing people, both locals and travellers. There were two Scandinavian women around our age driving the circumference of Iceland who we bumped into several times and in several places throughout our trip!

When we wanted to go to the more remote areas in the north of the country, we rented a car for a week, a Volkswagon Golf which we named after the young woman who worked at the Vik hostel, Aesa. Unfortunately, the car rental used up our accommodations budget, so we slept in the car the whole time (except for one night in Siglufjordur, where we went to a hotel and had the whole place to ourselves). As uncomfortable as it was for the two of us to sleep in such a small car when it was still below freezing at night, we awoke in some pretty amazing places. Although once we woke up to discover we had slept in a school parking lot, that was more funny than amazing.

As you can probably imagine, Ryan and I have musically collaborated many times over the years. We’ve both attended KlezKanada many times, which is where I met a lot of musicians I play with regularly. We’re both into improvised music, and even though we’ve explored it in different ways, we have performed many times together, often through the IMOO series in Ottawa. Ryan recently released an album, Morphology of a Lover, which is pretty amazing, as was the entire process. He assembled a bunch of great improvisers (me, Mike Essoudry, Amy Horvey, Megan Jerome, Christian Dawid, and Ryan), and recorded us individually but in sequence, having either just an idea in our minds to explore, or sometimes a recording of only the previous person, which we reacted to. He then took all these separate improvised elements, and edited them together to create an incredibly cohesive and musical album.

Morphology of a Lover is one of the albums included in my “Complete Works of Joel Kerr” Indiegogo perk. Thanks Ryan!

Dave Cooper

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I mentioned Dave Cooper in my post about Craig Pedersen; he illustrated the cover of our duo album, It’s A Free Country. He recently took some time out of his incredibly hectic schedule working on the upcoming Nickelodeon show Pig Goat Banana Cricket (see the promo video for the show here) to send me a quick endorsement video for my Indiegogo camapign (music by yours truly).

I met Dave through Craig, at an IMOO concert in Ottawa a couple of years ago. I had known of him previously, partly through Craig, partly because of my interest in certain types of counter-culture illustration and animation (not an interest I’ve pursued deeply, but an interest nonetheless). I won’t attempt to describe his style, I won’t do it justice, but I highly suggest you check out his work! Anyways, in addition to being an incredibly talented artist, he’s a strong supporter of the Ottawa experimental music scene, AND he’s a super nice guy: the first time I met him, I mentioned I was going back to Montreal that night, and he offered me a ride! And I’m pretty sure he would have actually done it, if I had accepted.

Thanks for the support, Dave!!

Siach Hasadeh

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Siach Hasadeh is the most spiritually rejuvenating group I play in. We take ancient Chassidic hymns and give them a modern interpretation, using various arranging techniques and a lot of improvisation. It’s very meditative and introspective music, but because of the element of improvisation, very expressive at the same time. Often, everyday life can be exhausting and spiritually draining. One of the reasons I play music is that a great musical experience will refresh me and uplift me. But some music does this more than others, and more consistently.  Any time Siach Hasadeh performs, I feel revitalized – about music, life, and humanity in general.

The group is, at its core, a duo of myself on double bass and Yoni Kaston on clarinet.  But we frequently collaborate with other musicians – and our collaboration with violinist Daniel Fuchs and cellist Gaël Huard has turned into another full-fledged iteration of the band, one where we have been working a lot with different improvisation exercises and techniques, searching for a larger vocabulary with which to interpret the melodies of the material we perform. We have also worked a lot with harmonica virtuoso Jason Rosenblatt and Turkish Oud player and maker Ismail Fencioglu, both on stage and in the studio.  In the past we have also worked with Oud player Nicolas Royer-Artuso, cellist Jackie Fay, and percussionist Francois Landry.

I first met Yoni at KlezKanada, an annual Jewish culture and music retreat/camp in the Laurentian mountains just north of Montreal. We played a tune together at an open mic at about 4am, and the musical connection was immediately apparent.  We discovered we both lived in Montreal, and the project developed from there.

This year we released our second album, Song of the Grasses.  It was recorded, mixed and mastered by Adam Tiller, who was in the McGill sound recording program while I was doing my masters degree, so we worked together a lot then.  He did an incredible job with the sound of this album, I’m very happy with it.  Adam is now working as a sound designer at Ubisoft.

In March 2014, we did a small tour of the North-East US, playing in New York, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut. Because of that tour, we were recently included in some “Best of 2014” lists on the New York Music Daily blog. Our show at the Stephen Wise Synagogue on the Upper West Side was among the Best New York Concerts of 2014, Our album Song of the Grasses was among the 50 Best Albums of 2014, and the song Kumi Roni from the same album was among the 100 Best Songs of 2014.

I, for one, am excited to see where this group goes!!

Please visit my Indiegogo campaign page.