Song of the day (No. 134): Fair Warning (Oliver Remix) – Penguin Prison

Kick off the long weekend with an upbeat number from Penguin Prison, remixed by Oliver. Cottage-bound. Electric sound.

xx

Fair Warning (Oliver Remix) – Penguin Prison (right-click to download)

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Interview with Aloe Blacc

Aloe Blacc @ Wrongbar // Photo credit: Jen Morden

Sunday night, wrongbar, Toronto. After an incredible performance by Aloe Blacc and The Grand Scheme, I had the great pleasure to chat with Aloe about his incredible rise to fame, the greats of soul music, and using music as a vessel to spread positive messages. 

Torontette: First off, amazing show tonight! I’ve never seen this venue [wrongbar] with such energy. You totally rocked the place. So you were here in Toronto in the fall? How was this show different?

Aloe Blacc: Since we performed here the first time, The Grand Scheme and I have done maybe 50-60 shows around the world and we’ve kind of streamlined the show. Pretty much just performing the songs from the album without all the extra cover songs and things that we do to have fun. Just to see how it feels and then we’ll slowly let the show grow again back to the 2 hours that we used to do.

T: Is there anything that you notice in particular about the Toronto audience that may be different from other audiences?

AB: It depends on which Toronto audience, I mean different promoters have different people come out. I’ve been to Toronto a lot – maybe not a lot but enough times to see different kinds of crowds and I think generally speaking, if someone is coming to my show, they’re ready to have a good time. So there’s not much a difference between Toronto, and let’s say Paris because you’ve got folks who are real music lovers. If you like soul music in this day in age, then you’re probably really interested and want to be engaged when you come to a show.

T: So when you came on stage you mentioned a bunch of old souls. Nina Simone, James Brown and so on. Do you think people are more fans of yours because they are fans of theirs or are they new fans who are there because you have exploded internationally?

AB: I hope they are fans of the greats that I mentioned, and I look at what I do as a continuation of a tradition. The folks who basically taught me how to do what I do. I listen to their music, I study what they do and I try to incorporate the best of the best in my show. And I think people like what I do because soul music has been afforded this kind of timelessness and respect from the greats of the past.

Aloe Blacc performing at Wrongbar // Photo Credit: Jen Morden

“I look at what I do as a continuation of a tradition.”

T: Is there one in particular that stands out for you?

AB: Stevie Wonder is one of the best I think because of his musicianship – he plays pretty much every instrument, his singing and his lyricism, and his song writing. He hits I think, every aspect of being an entertainer. An artist, and he does it well.

T: And speaking of great lyricists, you’re quite one yourself. You have some really powerful lyrics that really push social issues and are really meaningful. How do you think this is different than a lot of music out there these days?

AB: Well I hope that my music can be part of the social fabric, the way that let’s say a Bob Marley who is singing ‘One Love’ and to have that kind of mantra in someone’s mind is really important. You figure when you’re a teenager and you’re hearing Bob Marley sing about peace and love and unity, these are the kinds of ideas that I think help shape us. And if I can do something like that with my music – at least for adults – maybe addressing the issues that are relevant to us in politics, in economics, in ecology and social and interpersonal relationships, that it helps creates the dialogue that we often miss in popular media.

T: I read an article recently in The Telegraph and there was some dialogue around 50 Cent and his ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ attitude and how that can be such a negative message to send. Do you think that you’re leading the way for more positive messaging in music?

AB: I don’t know if I’m leading the way but I just hope that I can be part of something positive in art and in music. I get messages from people on Facebook and in my e-mail about their children listening to my music and loving my music, and I feel responsible for what these kids listening to are ultimately singing. I don’t want them singing anything bad, so I won’t put it in my lyrics.

T: Do you transfer your writing talents into any other spaces – poetry or novels, anything like that?

AB: Not yet, the goal ultimately is to tell stories and I want to tell stories in many different ways. Probably next for me would be acting, and then maybe after acting, directing.

T: That’s amazing. You recently did a project the MADE project. Tell me a little bit about that.

AB: MADE is a artistic conglomerate in Berlin. They put together events in a special space that was basically funded by a private investor who wants to foster artistic works. The coordinator at MADE invited me to sing with a string quintet and I sang songs from my album to an audience of about 200 people and it was a really, nice intimate event that was special and I’d like to try and do that in other places.

Me & Aloe Blacc in the Wrongbar kitchen // Photo Credit: Jen Morden

“Remember, love and happiness.”

T: Do you have other influences besides the greats? Maybe intangible things, or things that have come into your life that really influence and shape your music?

AB: Good movies are always nice to watch and they can be inspiring. Sometimes, it’s even just the cinematography. A nice scene can be inspiring for me. And the only place that I really get to watch movies is on the airplanes so I find myself writing a lot of songs on the airplane. And I’m inspired by my family, my nieces and nephews – the little ones. A lot of things that they think and that they do, and they say, kind of are ironic in their youth and I think that from an adult’s perspective it can be very enlightening.

T: Because kids are so honest.

AB: They’re very honest. But other than the soul greats I enjoy Brazilian music too. There is also classic rock too, and singer-songwriter and folk singers.

T: So was there a moment for you when you realized, ‘holy shit’. This is it. 

AB: I think the moment was – after I did the MADE event, there was a gentleman who invited me to sing at a charity event in Cannes at the Film Festival and that then led to me being invited to sing at Sean Penn’s charity event in Cannes. When I got on stage and started singing, Leonardio DiCaprio yells out, “Aloe Blacc!” and he’s singing my lyrics the whole time. So yeah that’s one of those moments – a pinch-myself moment, where I’m thinking you know, people are recognizing what I’m doing and it’s not just my fans. There are influential folks who are recognizing what I’m doing and are fans as well.

T: Do you remember what you were listening to when you were a kid?

AB: Listening to probably New Jack Swing, I love a lot of that. Teddy Riley was very important I think. Who else was out there, Bobby Brown. You know the fun, happy, hip-hoppin’ formed R&B music. It was fun and happy.

T: Shouldn’t all music be like that?

AB: I think yes, why not?

T: Well come back soon. We love you here. Any final thoughts for my readers?

AB: Remember love and happiness.

More Photos:

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A video on the MADE Project with Aloe Blacc

THE FILM | MOMENTS WITH ALOE BLACC, MIHALJ “MIKI” KEKENJ & JAYBO from MADE Blog on Vimeo.

Must-see shows at NXNE: FRIDAY

Night #2, here we go! I’ll be running around town like a music-frenzied vagabond. Send me a message if you’re doing the same: @torontette

Cults // Lee’s Palace // 12am 

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Superhumanoids // Lee’s Palace // 1am 

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Freedom or Death // Rivoli // 11pm

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Kidstreet // Supermarket // 12am

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The Makeover (Jeremy Glenn + Rod Skimmins) // Supermarket // 2am 

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Diamond Rings // Yonge & Dundas Square // 7:30pm 

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Jacques Greene // The Garrison // 3am 

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Stars // Yonge & Dundas Square // 9:30pm

Ode to Montreal…je t’aime..

Must-see shows at NXNE: THURSDAY

With the best talent at NXNE that I’ve seen in years, it was not easy to pick just a few that stand out on the stage. Here are Torontette’s must-see shows for Thursday June 16!

Washington // Lee’s Palace // 10pm

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Brothertiger // El Mocambo (main floor) // 9pm

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Gauntlet Hair // The Phoenix // 8pm   &   El Mocambo (main floor ) // 1am

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Imaginary Cities // Rivoli // 11pm

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Bravestation // The Boat // 1am

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The Dodos // The Phoenix // 9pm

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Tanika Charles & The Wonderfuls // Wrongbar // 10pm

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And because I love The Safety Dance…

Men Without Hats // The Great Hall // 12am

Song of the day (No. 133): Re: Stacks (Tomas Barfod remix) – Bon Iver

Waiting in the Montreal-Trudeau airport yesterday evening, I picked up the latest issue of Rolling Stone to pass the time, and distract me from the curse words my body was shouting after a fun-filled weekend in Montreal for F1. In it was a a beautiful review of Bon Iver’s self-titled latest album that made me remember two things. Number One, why I love writing about music, although it’s humbling at times in the presence of greats and Number Two, how truly moment-changing Justin Vernon’s music is.

As much as I love the original, this Tomas Barfod remix is peppered with heavier beats, and rolling synths – just what I need to help me come down easy the morning after a 72 hr party.

Re: Stacks (Tomas Barfod Remix) – Bon Iver (right-click to download)

Review: Robyn at Toronto’s new Echo Beach

Robyn at Coachella, photo courtesy of It's Too Sunny Out There

Dancing is contagious. As much as I have figuratively slapped the wrists of Toronto concert go-ers for not shaking their tail feathers at many a danceable show, after last night’s hip shaking, my faith has returned that we are not all completely immovable.

Most credit however has to go to the lady of the night – Miss Robyn. I’ve seen some pretty fabulous on-stage dancers as of late – Cut Copy‘s Dan Whitford, Lykke Li, The Temper Trap‘s Dougy Mandagi – but our girl Robyn could kick all their butts combined, at a dance-off. With 5-inch platform Timberland’s as her dancing shoes, there wasn’t one bit of the stage she didn’t stomp, slide, pirouette, jump or moon walk on. And the crowd, mostly made up of well-coiffed gay men, hard-and-fast beat lovers and the occasional young couple, ate up every groove, pump and spin like it was their last meal. Maybe it was the warm summer eve, the enthusiasm for Toronto’s new concert venue or a little TGIF enthusiasm but the energy of the crowd was palpable.

She opened with ‘Fembot’ – a personal favourite girl-power track. Other favourites included ‘Dancing On My Own’, ‘Cobrastyle’, ‘Indestructible’, and ‘Call Your Girlfriend’. Chants of RO-BYN! filled the spaces between two encores and her 90s sensation ‘Show Me Love’ ended the night with a little nostalgia and a good old sing-along.

Through the technicolour light show, extensive stage set-up, and oversized windmill toys – as mesmerizing as all these things were, there was something intangible that impressed me even more. This was Robyn’s unbridled and tenacious adoration for what she was doing, and who she was doing it for. Her performance was honest from start to finish, made so by candid smiles and appreciation when the audience sang along with gusto in unison. And she gave some big love to Toronto – which I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t –  but her love came across as not obligatory or rehearsed but ever so genuine.

And now on to Toronto’s newest outdoor music venue, Echo Beach. 

I had no preconceived thoughts on what to expect at Echo Beach, not necessarily optional (as I tend to be a research nut) but rather because I couldn’t find much written up on it. Located just east of Molson Amphitheatre, Echo Beach claims the footprint of Ontario Place’s beach volleyball courts. It was much more intimate than I expected and no matter where you stood, there were always good sightlines to the stage. And the acoustics were surprisingly solid, especially for an open-air venue.

A couple complaints.. 

The bathroom situation was sub par – so bad in fact that I chose to drink wine instead of beer, given the fear of breaking the seal and standing uncomfortably in a lengthy line up.

Drinks were pricey – $10 for a tall boy, $8 for a glass of wine. I guess I had just gotten too accustomed to a $5 can of Red Stripe at Wrongbar.

And praises…

Great sightlines, stunning view of Toronto skyline, carefree and laid-back ‘tude

And key learnings…

Wear sandals or flip-flops – most of the venue is in the sand. I had to more than once, empty out my flats

Do like your mother would say, and go to the bathroom before you leave home

Shows are rain or shine, scorching or chilly, so dress accordingly

I can’t wait to see what other summer performances will happen at Echo Beach. Robyn was a trial run apparently, and if you ask me, this pilot is definitely getting picked up.

Song of the day (No. 132): Paris (Aeroplane remix) ft. Au Revoir Simone – Friendly Fires

After the announcement came through that Monday’s Friendly Fires show was cancelled due to their drummer being rushed to a Toronto ER, some serious sulking consumed this girl. I had been looking forward to this show for weeks – months even, and in less than 140 characters, my hope went up in a puff of smoke.

So a (not) close second I have discovered, is listening to as much FF as I can fit into waking hours. I think back to the early days of Torontette, when a Friendly Fires video made the cut as one of my first-ever posts. They have been with me since the beginning, and likely will be with me until the end…as long as they quit canceling shows, and dancing those sweet, sweet moves.

Paris (Aeroplane Remix) ft. Au Revoir Simone – Friendly Fires (right-click to download)