Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Interview: Doug Koyama


If you caught Doug Koyama performing live, you might think the BC musician was singing in a language, 
or languages, you don’t understand. You’d be wrong, and right. It’s not glossolalia, but just like speaking in tongues, Doug is inventing a language that can never be used more than once (at least, I don’t think it can – as he says at the beginning of this clip, “I’m gonna perform some songs that have never been heard before, nor will they be heard again. They’re just for you”), creating words out of sounds and syllables that you likely won’t find in any dictionary (though he does sing in English from time to time, as well). 
Yet somehow, you understand the meaning completely.

As a musician, I do the same thing sometimes, when I’m recording a home demo of a song I haven’t written lyrics to as yet, and slur the unwritten words just so I can hear the melody. But you don’t want to listen to my home demos. For starters, they sound like they were recorded on an answering machine. You want to hear Doug Koyama. Doug has created an artform that seems uniquely his own. I don’t know if there are other artists doing something similar. I’m sure there are people who are doing things that can be considered “along similar lines.” But when you hear Koyama improvising songs from scratch, building them up hauntingly with a loop pedal using his own voice for melody, harmony and percussion, you’d swear he was hitting upon some unseen truth. Maybe that truth is simply the universal power of music, where you don’t need to understand the words or be familiar with the performer’s approach to creating it to be moved on a basic human level.

Checkout this great clip of Doug performing live at Milkcrate Records in Kelowana, BC, to get a sense of what his music sounds like and how he goes about creating it (you see him with the loop pedal on a table recording his own voice as percussion at the beginning to be used throughout the performance, then singing over it and building it up that way). Pretty impressive for one man (though he gets some help at the end of this clip) armed mostly with just talent, a unique approach and a bit of technology.

Or better yet, catch Doug Koyama live next chance you get.

Tinderbox had some questions for Doug, and he took the time to answer them.

How would you describe your music?

My music can be described as improvised A Capella with a looper. 
It's more than that, it's the music of my heart. 
It is my unique expression of the love I feel.

How much of your music is improvised?

I have a few songs that I sing that are not improvised. Boy for Sale from Oliver has been my shower song since 1973, I usually sing it and Cod Fisher, a Joanna Chapman Smith song from her time in Lily Come Down.

What languages do you perform in other than the improvised "invented language"?

I speak English only. I had a quarter of French in grade eight but carried little of that into adulthood. The language that comes out in the songs is all invented. I try sometimes to make it sound like Russian or French or whatever but generally I let it just be whatever it is.
How did you come upon the idea of using a loop pedal? 

I had heard about loopers around the same time I took a four day improv singing workshop near my hometown, Quesnel, BC. The workshop introduced me to ideas and singing exercises that changed my trajectory significantly. Around that time I was shown DubFX singing Love Someone in the street. I'm still blown away by his mastery of his equipment. I knew right away that it was for me.

Why did you choose to use the Boss RC-50 Loop Station? 

I started with a Digitech JamMan. It was a good pedal but I realized right away that it was not enough. From then I worked towards the RC-50. When the RC-300 came out I upgraded right away. The effects on the RC-300 are a great addition to my toolbox.

What other gear do you use? 

I have a Digitech Vocal 300 and a little Peavey 8 channel board that has been the base rig since the start. Recently I added an Ipad running a bunch of interesting music apps and a Boss VE-20.

How challenging it is to build up a song using the loop pedal and your own voice as the instruments? 

I find no challenge in it. I start making sound and loop it, then layer on it and then add interlocking sounds and then sing on top. My only challenge is remembering to break it up a bit. Although with that said I like the idea of a continuous set. 

In what ways is recording your music in the studio different from performing it live? 

I have not recorded in a studio yet, everything I have released has been either recorded with a mic on an amp or out through the USB on the RC-300. I am working out a couple of songs and plan to record them somewhere in the coming months.
Why did you decide to take your music in the direction you’ve taken it? 

I'm not sure I have decided the direction. 
A few years ago I learned that when I say yes things happen, when I say no things specifically stop. 
I took the initial step to start saying yes more a few years ago, 
I honestly believe that the universe has taken control of the direction.  

What are some of the most rewarding shows you’ve played? 

Each show has been a gift with many moments to treasure. 
I think the most rewarding are at the Helen Dixon Centre in Quesnel 
where my friend Sarah Wemyss runs a program for youth with developmental impairments. 
I go there about once a year and sing for an hour or more. 
The kids didn't sing along much in the start but have been more inclined to as time goes on. 
I ask them for song names and they give me each others names 
and then giggle at the funny words I make up describing their friends. 
They squeal with glee sometimes, it's really fun. 
I also find a lot of reward in small random connections with people. 
A cluster of friends at 3 am in the green room of a festival with their heads down making long tones . . . . .  It is magical and healing.

What are some things that inspire you, musically and artistically? 

I am inspired by moments when I feel a connection with a person or a group of people through music.
 I sometimes lead people at campfire jams in looping interlocking patterns, 
have three people sing one note: Do, Do, Do, Do 
and another group sing Whoaaaa over top 
then add a solo with invented verse and chorus. 
If you can get folks to engage in it for long enough 
they will start to add their own inflections to their parts and it changes.

Artistically speaking I am more inspired by the passionate expression of art than the art itself. I have recently been exposed to the live painting process at music festivals where my friend Crystal Charlotte Easton painted a canvas over three days. The act of creating that art was very cool.

Who are some artists that you share an aesthetic or philosophical kinship with? 

I can identify with Ray Charles, Bobby McFerrin and Reggie Watts for sure.

What other instruments do you play? 

I've never learned any instruments.

What other artistic endeavors, musical or otherwise, have you pursued in the past? 

I performed in six years of musical theatre in Kersley, a community south of Quesnel. 
I also did HMS Pinafore in Prince George with Judy Russell's company.

What do you think people can learn from the music you create? 

That anything is possible. I know it because I live it, 
I manifest into my world the exact things I ask for all the time. 
I tell people about it through the intention that I put in the music.

How can people stay in touch with what you’re doing? 

My web site is at: All the links to my social media are there.

What are your plans for your music in the future?

Music will soon be my sole means of support. I intend to continue to make music indefinitely. I am planning a collaboration with Samantha Scott from the Dawson Creek area. We're going to get together and see what comes out of a week at Avalon, a studio/sanctuary in Victoria, BC. Beyond that I cannot see yet. 
 Thank you. Big Love

Ambarish Maharaj for the Tinderbox

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE Runs now till Sept 15th!

The first half of this play is the painful one.
Adrian Yearwood's portrayal of Burgess' faithful narrator 
is a harsh, unflinching demonstration of
youthful masculinity in all of its terrible power.
Better still is his tone and posture of bewildered suffering
as the protagonist's trials take him in and out
of jail, and leave him suffering at the hands of 
strangers and friends alike.

Directed by Victoria Fuller ,
Echo Production's presentation of A clockwork Orange 
is the script written by author Anthony Burgess 
in order to redress the shortcomings of Stanley Kubrick's 
1971 movie adaptation. The gloss and glamour
of that film, in Burgess' mind, tend to obscure the book's
theme of misguided youth. In the play, 
Alex retains even more centrality 
than he does as the film's narrator,
and Yearwood shows his range
through the character's journey from 
lion to lamb.

The cast of about a dozen work together 
to create a plausible balance of characters, many of whom 
would sooner crack each other's skulls than peaceably co-exist.
Standouts include an hilariously creepy rendition of Mr Deltoid,
Alex's parole officer, portrayed by Tyler Hagemann,
Jake Fisher's dreamy sense of heartache and loss in his role as a widowed writer, 
and the Minister of the interior, falsely grinned to perfection by Anthony Fushell.

Some liberties were taken which allowed the play to feel quite contemporary.
Camp and comedy are employed throughout as an (un)comfortable counterpart to the depravity and violence of the story.
A definate strength of this production, 
and a highlight of the experience, is Erin Brookhouse's 
highly effective choreography for the play's numerous fight scenes, which 
incorporate dance, movement, music and lighting into bravura
feats of ensemble work that are both visceral and beautiful.

Burgess' tale has been brought to the Tarragon theatre stage
in a way that exposes both its relevance and age. 
While the violent delinquent type continues to be 
both glorified and miscontrued in our culture,
the similarities between the media's 
monopolisation of our attention
and the painful 'treatments' to which Alex is subjected
remain a subtext beyond the scope of this script.
Watching the few female members of the cast limited to 
portraying mothers, nurses, and objects of sexual desire/violence,
I wonder if only half the story of childhood's end is being told.
Or maybe, as Burgess thought all along,
this is a story about boys,
and about one lost little boy named Alex.

T Babinsky for the Tinderbox

Monday, 26 August 2013

Interview: Jessica Stuart of the Jessica Stuart Few

In a city full of talented musicians and musical acts, Toronto's Jessica Stuart Few stands out. 
Toronto is also a city full of eclectic musicians, and the Few's use of the koto, 
a 13-stringed traditional Japanese instrument that looks like it weighs as much as some musicians, 
would certainly seem to put them in that category.

Yet the Few's use of the koto, as played by the band's singer and songwriter Jessica Stuart, 
is stunningly natural once you hear and see them play. Stuart is also a talented guitarist, 
and switches back and forth from the koto and electric guitar so effortlessly that after a few songs, 
you stop paying attention to what instrument she's playing, 
(although the koto does give an ethereal touch)
and just listen to the music.

And what does the Few’s music sound like? Well, let's talk about the rest of the band first. 
We’ve already established that Stuart is the singer and guitarist/ koto player. 
The band is rounded out by Dan Fortin plucking away on double bass 
(another instrument that, like the koto, holds its own in the size department) 
and Tony Nesbitt-Larkin on drums and occasional backup vocals. 
Together, the three-piece creates some pretty memorable, somewhat poppy, somewhat jazzy indie folk. 
The word "breezy" comes to mind, in a good way. Some of that might be Jessica’s high, clear voice. 
The rest is the music itself, which is catchy, well-written and seems to come from a positive place.

The Few released their second album Two Sides to Every Story in March 2013, 
and lead single "Don't Ya" made CBC Radio One's "Song of the Week" 
upon its pre-release earlier in the year. 
You can check out the video on the Few's official YouTube page
along with clips for the album's second single "Winter Warm", 
and a pretty impressive koto-driven rendition of the Eurythmics' 
"Here Comes the Rain" (also on the record).

Tinderbox had some questions for the Few’s Jessica Stuart, and she had some answers.

Why did you decide to get into music? 

My mother is a wonderful musician and multi-instrumentalist, 
and my father always played the piano too, so i was just born into it.  
I wanted to be a musician by profession since i picked up the guitar as a teenager, 
but I took an indirect route there with lots of detours!

How long have you been doing this? 

I've been doing music full-time for 5 years, but have been performing since I was quite small.

How many of your goals have you accomplished thus far in your music career?  

You know what? I set very modest goals for myself - record my original tunes, 
have my music played on the radio, collaborate with people in a variety of projects, 
and get to travel with music.  All of things are regular parts of my life now, 
so I couldn't be happier.  Now I'm setting new goals - 
basically expanding the team to take some of the workload off of me, 
and to try and reach as broad an audience as possible without ever compromising my art.

Who are some of your influences? 

I've always been attracted to music with a strong sense of groove 
from 'Court & Spark' era Joni Mitchell to soul music like Stevie Wonder, 
or heavier stuff like Led Zeppelin or Alice In Chains. 
But I also love some electronic stuff, modern jazz or whatever. 
Basically, I have the most respect for musicians who really have their own distinctive sound.

Who are some contemporary acts that you feel a musical or artistic kinship with? 

In some way, Deerhoof, Dirty Projectors, Haitus Kaiyote, Hanne Hukkelberg.

How did growing up in Japan influence your music?  

Mostly it just informed my choice of the 'koto' since I studied it there for a year, 
and now use it in The Jessica Stuart Few.  
Living in Japan had a huge part in 
the way I see life and the world... 
which certainly affects my musical approach and choices.

What do you think your music offers that sets it apart from what anyone else is doing? 

Well, aside from the instrumentation (koto/guitar, double bass, drums, vocals), 
which isn't typical, I think the thing that makes us stand out is the adventurous songwriting.  
There's lots of atypical stuff going on in the songs, 
but people still seem to be able to relate to it even thought the time signatures, 
chord progressions and rhythms might often be unusual.

How did you come to collaborate with Takashi Iwasaki

I found his art through 'Le Gallery' on Dundas at Ossington when I was looking for original stuff for the sleeve design of our first album, Kid Dream.  We've been collaborating more and more now for over 3 years, and can't wait to continue! Funny thing, we've actually never met..

How do your music and his art compliment each other?  

I think both of our work has a quirky abandon to it, but with some real substance.  
It seems that reviews of his work and mine share some of the same descriptive words, 
so I guess we're not the only ones to think so!

How did you come up with the idea to incorporate the koto into Western music? 

It was more that I wanted to reconnect to the koto after several years hiatus from the instrument, and had already formed the shell of The Jessica Stuart Few, 
so wrote with the koto in place of the guitar on some material along with the double bass and drums.  I liked the match of sounds between the koto and the double bass, and went from there.

How challenging was it to master the koto compared to say, the guitar or piano? 

You're very kind to suggest that I have mastered the koto 
- I definitely wouldn't call myself a master yet!  
I think to learn koto is easier than guitar or piano, since it is tuned to a scale, 
unlike the guitar where you need to learn the fretboard well to be able to play fluently.  
It did take a while to feel totally comfortable playing koto while singing since that is not the regular way it's done, and something I had no experience with till 4 or 5 years ago.

What are some of your interests apart from music? 

I love nature - hiking, swimming, 
adventuring and some sporty stuff 
hackey sack, bike riding, playfighting.  
I love travel and learning about cultures around the world, 
and speaking other languages.  
I love meeting people and anything creative : )

What are your plans for the future? 

We have our first international tour coming in October to Japan
and several more international stints over the next year.  
I've written most of the material for the next album as well, 
and am really excited to record it.

What are your ultimate goals for your music career?  

Ultimately, I want to write, record and perform as much as possible, 
and to continue to play in lots of different great groups of different styles.  
I want everything associated with The Jessica Stuart Few, 
from music videos to album art to the songs to stand on it's own as an art piece, 
and keep the integrity of the project.

photo by Pe Dro

Jessica Stuart spoke to Ambarish Maharaj for the Tinderbox

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Muckabouts this Monday at the Horseshoe Tavern!!

Twenty Questions with the Muckabouts:

who are the Muckabouts?
(L to R) Darien Spencer guitar/vox, Giles Botelmo bass, 
Damon Shannan-Lovell vox/guitar, and James Miller, drums

how long has the band been together?
We've been together since early 2012.

last gig next gig?
We last played Izakaya sushi House August 3rd, 
playing next at the Horseshoe Monday August 12

best gig to date?
El Mocambo.

website , online video info

musical influences
Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, Tame Impala, 
Queens of the Stone Age, Nirvana, Rolling Stones

philosophical influences

Rock and roll!

poetic influences
Leonard Cohen, Hawksley Workman, Albert Camus

bad influences?
Corn liquor.

best neighbourhood in TO?
Parkdale and Roncesvalles through and through.

best bar in said neighbourhood?

The Ace

fave toronto bands?

Mother Science, Big Name Actors, Hands and Teeth, The Heartbroken, 
Nature Move Faster, Animal Parts, We Are French

whats on your ipod?
Led Zeppelin, Old Crow Medicine Show, 
Tame Impala, MGMT, Bob Marley

best waste of time
Eating honey.

The sun!

most angry
Rob Ford

best in show
We're all quite veritable.

biggest waste of time
The search for tone.

show offs
Don't care for 'em.

Everyone we know is a lover.

Fellow bands like Big Name Actors and producer Jeff Elliot. 
Thanks for helping us out.

live pix by Tyson Dang

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Martin Mcdonagh a Behanding in Spokane @ Unit 102 Theatre



"a tricky play to pull off. 
very dense 
a black comedy...
full of subtly interconnecting stories, 
shifting motivations, 
and the playwright’s characteristic wordplay
–obscene, philosophical, absurd–
...needs a team of talented actors with good direction and set design
Happily for Torontonians, 
has done just this"

The initial tableau establishes the dynamic tone which will continue
with some modulations, for the next hour or so.
It is a tension built of violence, fatigue, and desperation.

A dingy American hotel room: 
(designed by Adam Belanger) 
 stained walls,
 iron radiators with exposed pipes, 
, while outside the window are the cold stones brick wall

It starts  just before midnight in a single decrepit motel room rented by the 
forty-something Carmichael (Luis Fernandes), 

“Do you know what it feels like to be waved goodbye from a distance with your own hand?”)

Sick, shocking, mean, raw and uproariously funny,
Carmichael is holding any available scum to account 
for his own torment and disfiguration,
a sysiphean task from the world of mamet or tarantino 
like memento only bloodier

we have been basking in the psychopathic glory of 
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's scribblings.
for the last couple decades.

this piece was borne of the marriage of
Mcdonagh's sensibilities
and those of american actors Christopher Walken 
and Sam Rockwell.
This production tends to lean away from 
channeling  Walken-ness, or Rockwell-ness
and Carmine Lucarelli's direction seems genuinely interested
in getting everry laugh and lurch out of the script,
rather than allowing one comic tone
to dominate the performance
through Walkenesque kitch or camp

Toby (Ronnie Rowe), local weed dealer, 
handcuffed to a radiator alongside his partner in life and in weed dealing 
(and hand dealing), Marilyn (Sam Coyle)

Toby and Marylin, the latest small-time thugs to be 
sucked into Carmichael's world of pain and madness,
play for us the only human relationship within the piece.
They are each by turns conniving, back-stabbing, and accusatory
they cry. they fear their imminent death.
they swear. (wouldn't you?)
Ultimately the pulpiest of all the play's characters,
these two while more real are given less depth
(read: monologues)
than Carmichael and Mervyn

David Lafontaine, always a good foil to Fernandes' oft-manic energy,
as Mervyn the Reception Guy (or the Boxer Shorts guy)
tackles the task of being the only sympathetic character through 
much of the action. we must do our best to relate to his
burnt out, yet still hungry portrayal of an american outcast.

When the action comes to its climax,
it is up to Lafontaine and Fernandes to tenderly 
depict our last few moments with
"these two sad guys" 
as the lights of the police cruisers flash in the distance

  • A Behanding in Spokane 
  • at Unit 102 Theatre, 376 Dufferin Street

  •  Thursday June 20 through to Saturday June 22
  • Monday June 24 through to Saturday June 29

  • performances begin at 8 PM.
  • Tickets are $20. Performance on June 25th is PWYC.
  • For tickets, information and directions, email