KARIN STRÖM

Photo by Anna Sofia Mörck

*How has music inspired you? 

The way in which music can inspire me is so strong it almost scares me. Sometimes I feel I can’t contain what music creates in me, especially music that makes me happy, like I’m going to implode of my love for life. That kind of music should not be listened to in my iPod, I’ve got to sing along and dance and interact with other people to that kind of music.  

Sad music is almost even scarier. I almost try to avoid it. It affects me too much. And it’s not scary because it makes me sad, it’s scary because I identify with it to a point where I don’t really know where the song stop and I begin. It’s too big. It’s dwindling.

I am not inspired by music in my own music making. My music consumption and my music making is two completely separate things. I have no singers or songwriters or bands I’m trying to sound like. I don’t believe in making music about music, important music is always about life
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As an artist I am often asked what my music sounds like, but I would rather be asked what my songs are actually about. I write about falling in love with the wrong person, feeling things you think you should not feel, thinking of the past when you should be moving on, missing the people you should try to forget. My music is about all these seemingly stupid feelings and pointless actions which do not have a place in the smart, rational me. The only place where I can let this out is in front of the piano. When nothing else helps, when strategies and rational arguments fail, I turn to writing songs.

I was born in 1977, and grew up in small town in the south of Sweden. I always wrote songs, just sitting in the backseat of the car singing to myself, and by the time I was thirteen, I was accompanying myself on the piano. I continued to write songs for years, but I never admitted to anyone that I wanted to be a singer. I felt like I sounded so affected and stupid, and I considered my songs horribly banal and embarrassing. Despite this, I just couldn't stop writing them.

 I was nineteen years old I moved to Stockholm, and also experienced a major emotional trauma. Songs flooded out of me like never before and for the first time, I felt I had to actually do something with my music, or else I would explode.

Around that time, I became part of the local house and drum'n'bass movement, so I asked a DJ friend to do a remix of one of my songs. I figured the beats would compensate for the banality of the words and the melody, but this guy really liked my songs and eventually told me he liked them better on their own. His encouragement helped me to finally admit that I really wanted to pursue my music career in earnest.

In 1997, I moved to London, where I made my first home-made demos and sent them to record companies in England and Sweden. In February of 2001 the Canadian Label Network offered me a deal. That summer my EP was recorded in the small town of Lidköping, Sweden, and was produced by Michael Blair, Sebastian Forslund and myself.

I write songs to rid myself of feelings that I do not want to have. When I transform them into songs, I sing them out of my body. But I am not freed fully until my songs are taken in and understood by someone else. So now my great hope is that you will do your part of the work by translating these songs back to feelings again.

As well as writing songs, Karin has written two novels, Bensin ("Gasoline") which was published in 1997, and Feber ("Fever") which was published in 2000, both by the Swedish publishing house LeanderMalmsten. In 2002, she received a BSc in Neuroscience from University College London. Since 1997, Karin has made her living as a freelance journalist in the fields of fashion, design, music and lifestyle, writing for Swedish publications from London, Stockholm and Los Angeles. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
www.karinstrom.com
Karin's books
Nettwerk's Karin Ström page

PAMELA POLLAND

* Your musical inspirations?

Whew. Where does one begin? As a kid, I was moved by everything from Broadway show material to Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson. For singing, I was a huge fan of the Everly Bros. Then came Dylan.  Bob Dylan was a MAJOR influence on my early songwriting. He proved one could be topical and still musically original and current with the times. The Beatles, of course..I'm going to mish-mash decades here, but Springsteen was a big influence for both singing and song writing,  Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, Billy Holiday, Otis Redding, Marc Cohen, Paul Carrack. The Spinners. It's endless.

* Any CD's or songs which are meaningful to you?

Way too many to mention.

* How has music inspired you?

Music is the thread that glues my life together. Music has enhanced and brought into focus every experience, every meaningful moment. It literally has taught me how to "be" in this world. But to be fair, I have to say that *songs* have done that, because music is inspiring on its own, but lyrics with music (songs) have inspired me to think and feel past where I might have naturally gone without their rich influence.  I've been writing songs since I was 9 years old. It's literally a way of life for me.

* Has music helped you thru a difficult or traumatic time in your life?

Music has helped me through EVERY difficult time in my life. When your heart is broken, and you hear the song of someone else whose heart has been broken, you know you are not alone, and that is the greatest healing gift. To know to you are not alone in your broken state of being. But writing my own songs during times of crisis has been the greatest healer of all. It's a way to process pain from the deepest roots. I could easily say that music, and particularly song writing, has saved my life.

*Discuss the creative or songwriting process--

I don't think there's such a thing as "the" songwriting process, even though I have a process that I teach to my students who want to learn more about songwriting. I think it's more about "my" process, and "his" process, and "her" process, etc.....in other words, I imagine each songwriter has their own thing that springs from the way their personal "muse" works. Like, I know one guy who really works best under pressure.....when it's time to record an album, and he hasn't written all year, and he's up against a deadline, and it's getting scary and intense, THEN, then he writes. And well!!  I know another guy who takes a year to cull and refine and develop and perfect just one song.  My process is more like digesting and spitting something out.   I get an idea, from an experience, or a thought that just pops up, and I sit with the idea.  I let it roll around my head and guts until it *wants* to come out.  I used to eat these caramels....they were bite size and very chewy. I'd give one to a dear friend of mine, and she pop that thing in, bite down on it, chew, chew, chew, and in a minute it would be gone. I ate those things WAY more slowly. I'd pop one in and *suck* on it. I'd enjoy the juices as my saliva mixed with the slowly dripping caramel....I could keep one of those things going in my mouth for 10 minutes!  That's what I do with a song idea.... I "steep" it, I roll it around, I savor the flavor. When it's time to actually "work" on the idea....it's usually so fully formed within me, that I can write the song in an hour or less.  Melodies come very easily to me, so that's usually the last thing I do. I won't have a full set of lyrics before I sit down at the piano, but I'll have enough lines that once I do sit down at the piano and let a melody come through, the lyrics almost complete themselves.

I was MUCH faster at all this when I was younger, because in those days, I was performing and recording all the time. Pumping out "product" was a way of life, and I needed and wanted new material, so I was "in the flow" of writing. I literally wrote *hundreds* of songs in my  teens, 20's and 30's. Not all were good, of course, but I was simply prolific, and writing songs was literally a way of life for me. Now, I don't record, I rarely perform - I guess we could say I'm "retired", so there's no real impetus to write unless some occasion comes up to do so.  Like, I sang at a wedding a couple of years ago and i wrote a really nice song as a gift to the bride and groom.  And, I still get ideas occasionally, so I roll them around like a delicious caramel, savoring the idea and letting lyrical lines pile up until I feel like sitting down at the piano and tying it all together with a melody.

I also collaborate a lot with my students. They bring me lyrics which i set to music - that's something I can do in usually half an hour.  I just put my hands on the piano as if it were a Ouiji Board, and I sit there until the musical idea comes - and it always does. My musical muse rarely fails me in that regard.  I once heard Jackson Browne say something like this about his writing process - that it was as if there was a song playing on a radio outside his window, and his process was to open the window so he could hear it.
I'm not sure if I've quoted that accurately, but that's how I remember it - and I would say my process is very much like that.  It's as if the song is already there, and I'm just grabbing it out of space because it happened to fly by my window.

*It sounds as if your new CD "Heart of the World" is very healing and inspirational. Can you tell us more about it?

It has been for many people, and I'm grateful for that, because that was the deliberate plan.

I hadn't recorded in many years, but I had lots and lots of songs. All kinds of songs. Blues songs, pop songs, country songs....and a whole body of material that was about the personal transformation process.....in other words, the process of deliberately making something better of oneself and one's life.  And I had a lot of friends wanting access to that material. So, I finally decided to make an album of just that material.  I guess you say all the songs are about love, but they're not all about romantic love. The title song is a love song to this planet. It's about the personal responsibility that it's going to take from each one of us to come back from the road to extinction we've been on for the last 100 years - taking a very greedy kind of advantage of our resources and pulling father and father apart from the one glue that can ultimately save us, and that is the community recognition that we NEED each other to survive.  So, in that regard, it's topical and even political, but it's all held in the framework of loving this earth in something like a tribal chant.

My favorite song on the album is a duet I did with my producer Gary Malkin called "Intimacy". I originally had hoped that would be the duet I did with Kenny Loggins, but he wasn't interested in singing that song with me, so we wound up doing one of his previously unrecorded originals. My producer wanted to just scrap "Intimacy" when Kenny turned it down, but I nudged him (Gary) into singing, and I love the result. I also feel it's a key song because it literally lays out the path to what it takes to have true intimacy in one's life. It's a love song, it's got a very subtle R&B flare to it, but ultimately, it's a real blueprint. It suggests three key steps - knowing oneself and knowing the other, trusting oneself and trusting the other, loving oneself and loving the other. You have that, and you're THERE. You're inside the room of rich and successful relationship.

I think the most "used" song on the album is "Letting Go".  I get messages from people all over the country who use that song in the context of workshops, therapy, even massage....it's a song about releasing the ways we so tightly hold on to ideas, experiences, memories, feelings - in a way that prevents us from really relaxing or even moving forward in our lives. The song is very gentle, but it has such a powerful message that it's been a healing salve to hundreds of people, and I'm grateful for that.   Coming back to the songwriting process for a moment - that song is a beautiful example of something that was written for a *purpose*. A friend of mine was in a deep spiritual struggle with herself.....a quandry of not knowing how to really find freedom, how to "know God." She felt like there was aspect of herself that was holding her back, a place deep inside where she believed she had to give up this life in order to truly be free. And another place where she felt if she could just "let go" and LIVE FULLY, that might actually be "the path" - but she was torn and struggling. I sat with her and literally wrote down snippits of things she was saying about this struggle, and some days later, I put it together as song to support her process. That song became the entire impetus for the album, because so many people were using the song (from a simple demo I made) in the context of their healing and release work.

The album sports a couple of wonderful collaborations with gifted author and therapist Gay Hendricks, and of course the wonderfully uplifting duet with Kenny Loggins.  His song, when we first got together on it, was only one verse and a chorus he had written for the christening of one of his children. Because I liked it so much and wanted that to be the duet (once he turned down "Intimacy!"), he wrote a second verse for the christening of his youngest child, and pulled together the dreamy bridge section as well.  Kenny likes to write complex and many layered and textured songs, and I have great admiration for him. Actually, I think he's a genius - akin to Stevie Wonder in his overall brilliance as singer, writer, player and producer.  Anyway, his song, The Welcoming, is used as a greeting song in many churches throughout the nation, and it's a cornerstone of joy on my album.

Another highlight for me is having Bonnie Raitt singing Chimayo with me..... a song I created from a short poem I found written on the wall in this famous southwestern sanctuary.  The poem was from a blind man who had come to Chimayo to be healed - and although he did not regain his eye-signt, he did regain his will to live and his ZEST for life.  When Bonnie agreed to do something on the album with me, I gave her some choices, and she chose Chimayo. I LOVE how she blended with me - almost to the point you can't tell it's her! Until one brief moment where she peeks out with her unmistakable style.  I think Chimayo is the song that has gotten the most airplay, and was also included in a movie a few years ago.

Well, there are several more songs, of course - 11 in all, and some lovely artwork as well.

Heart Of The World can be purchased from my website, and it's also in the ITunes store, I'm delighted to say.

Pamela Polland is an award winning singer/songwriter with three albums on Columbia and Epic to her credit. Her ever increasing list of musical credentials reads like a veritable Who's Who of stars from all points of the music spectrum. Over the course of her 30 years in the business, this seasoned industry professional has both performed and recorded with such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, John Denver, Taj Mahal, Manhattan Transfer and a host of others. In 1970, Pamela joined the famed Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour with Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, appearing on the resulting album as well as in the movie. Her songs have been recorded by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Helen Reddy, The Byrds, Vicki Carr, Nancy Ames and Bobby Bare. She has also won numerous awards, including an ASCAP award and a coveted gold record. Her recent AWOL release, "Heart Of The World", features special guests Bonnie Raitt and Kenny Loggins and is receiving wide acclaim in both the USA and Asia.

Pamela has performed on extensive national tours as well as throughout Northern California accompanied by everything from a single piano to a sixteen piece big band orchestra. The venues she has appeared in range from concert arenas the magnitude of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the Oakland Paramount Theater to intimate rooms such as the One Up atop Hyatt Union Square. Phil Elwood (Music Critic/S.F. Examiner) called her "...the Bay Area's finest jazz vocalist".

In the late 70's Pamela performed extensively on Maui from the Pioneer Inn to the large conventions in Wailea and Kaanapali. She was the first live music to play Longhi's heading a jazz quartet there three nights a week for a year and a half. Since 1980 she has enjoyed success as one of the most sought after vocal and performance coaches in both the Bay Area and on Maui.

Pamela currently resides on Maui performing and teaching.
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Pamela's musical career started as a teenager in the mid-1960's playing folk music mixed with her original material in the folk clubs of Southern California. In this context, she met the young, budding guitar player Ry Cooder, and they worked as a duo with Ry accompanying Pamela singing authentic blues material for two years. Pamela was 17 and Ry was 15 when they first met and began playing music together. Sadly, the only only known recording made during this era has been lost.

After forming the Gentle Soul in 1967, Pamela went on to tour and record as a solo singer/songwriter into the early 70's. In the mid-70's, Pamela decided to return to her blues roots, but in a decidedly different way. She created a fictional character named Melba Rounds (got the idea from a cracker box), and formed an entire revue of music from the 20's, 30's and 40's eras, complete with costuming and tap dancing. The Melba Rounds Show took San Francisco by storm for several years in the mid-to-late 70's and won Pamela rave reviews and a large fan base. Researching music for the Melba Rounds Show led Pamela to the larger world of jazz, and in the late 1970's she joined the Golden Age Jazz Band as principle vocalist. Pamela performed regularly with the Golden Age Jazz Band (among other jazz bands) for the next 10 years, but never lost her love for writing songs. So, much to the joy of her fan base, in 1995 Pamela released Heart Of The World, a compilation of original material with Pamela's unique outlook on life. Stay tuned for her next incarnation as Hawaiian singer, ukulele player and hula dancer!
www.pamelapolland.com
Heart of the World
Pamela Polland CD's

ANA GUIGUI

* Your musical inspirations?

Aretha Franklin is my goddess. Chaka Khan is untouchable. I grew up listening to Carole King, Brenda Russell, Ricki Lee Jones and Bonnie Raitt. All female singer/songwriters and performers who write and sing from the heart.

* Any CD's or songs which are meaningful to you?

"Amazing Grace" is hands down the most moving song I sing. I keep discovering nuances in the lyrics and the music every time I sing it. And it can be sung so many different ways. A timeless piece of music that is real and in touch with the human spirit.

* How has music inspired you?

My parents are musicians, so I was destined to pursue music since it is such an integral part of my life, family and career. Music always makes me feel free and reconfirms my sense of self every day. It is where I feel safest, most free and at my best.

* Has music helped you thru a difficult or traumatic time in your life?

My father has had cancer for the past three years. He is a "retired" conductor of classical symphony orchestras, but is still quite active in his conducting career. Music is a part of our day to day existence as a family. It keeps us all connected to one another and to the outside world. Music has kept my father inspired, motivated and is the prime reason he gets up every morning. It is the divine, golden thread that transcends all aspects of life and death. My father has passed on his passion for music to his immediate family and has touched the lives of numerous audiences. It comforts me to know he resonates so fully in life every day because of music. He tells me every day in Spanish, "La vida es hermosa." ("Life is beautiful.")

Ana Guigui is a transplanted New Yorker presently living in Los Angeles. ("I love L.A.!"). She was classically trained in piano, flute, and viola before maturing into an accomplished singer, songwriter, keyboardist and actress. Ana has recorded and/or sung live with Ben Folds, Chip Taylor, Jon Secada, and Deborah Gibson, and performed as a keyboardist/vocalist with
Christopher Cross and Stephen Bishop!

Ana is an independent artist and her soon-to-be-released single, "Forever" (
CDBABY.COM to order CD's-see link below) will also be included in the soundtrack to "My Ex-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception", an upcoming independent feature film release starring Dom DeLuise and Deborah Gibson. Ana's music publishing is administered by Espy Music, based in Los Angeles.

Recent film and television acting credits include a featured bridesmaid in "My Ex-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception", as well as a bridesmaid on HBO's "The Sopranos" (always a bridesmaid, never a bride!), a co-starring role on Lifetime's "Strong Medicine", and a recurring role on "General Hospital". Ana has upcoming featured roles in two independent feature films, "Changing Hearts" (starring Faye Dunaway and Tom Skerritt) and "Swing" (starring Jacqueline Bissett, Jonathan Winters and Tom Skerritt), with theatrical release dates to be announced.

Recent theatrical credits include the U.S. National Tour of "The Buddy Holly Story" and the latest Los Angeles incarnation of "Tony 'n Tina's Wedding" where she reprised her Off-Broadway role.

Ana was born in New York City to Argentinean parents, hence a native bilingual in Spanish and English. She hails from a family of music professionals - her father, Efrain Guigui is an accomplished symphony conductor, her mother a former operatic soprano, and her brother, Martin, a music producer, screenwriter and director also living here in Los Angeles.
www.anaguigui.com
www.cdbaby.com/cd/anaguigui2

LILLIX

* Your musical inspirations?

The Beatles are my main musical inspiration. They're music is reassuring and reminds me of why I love doing what I do- songwriting and playing music and having fun, thats all that really matters in this business. The Velvet Underground are another one of my inspirations because they were so innovative- a guitar string on a violin? Thats fucking cool. They're albums are very raw and you hear the true songwriting. No gimmicks, no ear candy, just genuine songwriting. The Clash for the same reason are one of my favorites- and also because they write songs with a message that are just so damn catchy. Spanish Bombs is one of my favorite songs of all time! The Cure saved my bass playing life- Simon Gallup plays with meaning- like a lead instrument, I love that! Then there are the poets- Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan- no explanation needed here! Radiohead, Travelling Wilburys, Silverchair, New Order, I could go on for days...
Louise

* Any CD's or songs which are meaningful to you?

I have quite a few albums which are very meaningful to me. Id have to say that at a very young age The Beatles "Abbey Road"  definitely influenced my musical taste. That album set the standard of what music was to me, and it has influenced the music that i choose to listen to today. Not only did it set a standard for me but, everytime i listen to that album it takes me back to when i was a kid.  Listening to Abbey Road opens doors of memories that i have forgotten about my childhood. It gives me a sense of familiarity and comfort, it makes me happy.

As I reached my teenage years, i discovered the music of Weezer. Their second album "Pinkerton" got me through many situations that teenagers go through. That album speaks about relationships and confusion. They were subjects i could relate to, and i thought that finally someone got it right, someone is finally saying what i am thinking. I also found that album very intriguing. The songs on the albums were all written like stories. The lyrics are written so bluntly, and i found that interesting and different. This album got me through a very confusing and frustrating time in my life, and has influenced my songwriting immensely.

Today, Ive been listening to a lot of Pink Floyds "Dark Side Of The Moon". That album is truly amazing. Every song is mesmerizing and it takes you to a place out of this world.  Im on the road a lot, and i find the lyrics very relatable. To me, the album speaks of wanting to be home and the insanity of the road... This album calms me when i feel out of control. "Dark Side of the Moon" keeps me sane, its a necessity.

* How has music inspired you?

Music has inspired me in so many ways. I find that no matter what mood i am in there is always music to take that mood to another level. Music clears my head, it calms me down, it makes me hyper, it makes me sad. Music makes my emotions poor which inspires the music  I write and the way I perform. Music gives me clarity and it inspires me to do good, whether it is to make my self feel good or to make others feel good. In general, i think it just makes me a better person, and that is inspiring.
Lacey-Lee
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"People are so used to the stereotype of girls being manufactured," says bassist-vocalist Louise Burns, one-third of the vocal firepower behind Canadian female foursome Lillix. "The public is now starting to become more aware that girls do musical things like play guitars and write songs. Girls do rock."

Spoken like true rock veterans, there's no doubt that the girls of Lillix are set to put their music where their mouths are. With a lead vocal triple threat made up of guitarist Tasha-Ray Evin (17), older sister and keyboardist Lacey-Lee Evin (19), and bassist Louise Burns (17), as well as an accomplished drummer in recent addition Kim Urhahn (23), the band has a well-cultivated musical vision.

In the Evin household, located in the heavily wooded rural town of Cranbrook, British Columbia (surrounded by the Purcell Mountains to the West and the Canadian Rockies to the North,) music has been calling since the girls were old enough support the weight of a guitar. Six years since picking up instruments for the first time, Lillix is set to strike North American audiences with their rambunctious, pop-infused rock and roll on Falling Uphill, the band's Maverick Records debut.

Falling Uphill is the culmination of years of successfully fighting boredom in Cranbrook, a town of 18,000 inhabitants. "There is nothing to do in Cranbrook," says Burns. "That is the reason we started the band. It’s a huge hockey town, not a big music town. A typical Friday night involves going to bush parties where everyone hangs around a bonfire drinking beer."

But the girls refused to be limited by the surroundings. Without a nearby hipster culture to influence their choices, they had increased freedom to craft a style all their own. Armed with influences running the gamut from Queen to Weezer and the Beatles to Radiohead, Lillix set up shop in the Evins' basement while still in the 7th grade, and started belting out rock-edged pop tunes written and played by their own hands and own instruments. "When we started out, we were 11-year-old girls," says Burns. "The music was pop but we played our instruments so it wasn't bubblegum stuff. Now we have matured and taken influences from different bands and different genres and put them into one. You can't really define our sound. It's so eclectic."

Lillix hooked up with an impressive list of producers to shape the sound of Falling Uphill, including the Matrix (Avril Lavigne), Philip Steir (No Doubt), former 4-Non Blonde Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera), John Shanks (The Corrs, Michelle Branch) and the omnipotent Glen Ballard on "24/7. "Glen was so awesome," says Burns. "He has this presence around him that just makes you feel safe and warm."

Additionally, with both Lacey-Lee and Tasha-Ray as well as Burns trading off lead vocalist and songwriting duties throughout the record, Uphill weaves several contrasting vocal textures into a coherent pop-rock tapestry that quickly leaves an indelible mark on the eardrums.

First single "It's About Time" shows off the quartet's long-simmering talents, with soaring harmonies and an infectious chorus, while songs like "Tomorrow" and "Quicksand" showcase Lillix's spunkier, anthemic rock side. Toss in a cover of the Romantics' classic "What I Like About You," which served as the theme to the WB comedy of the same name, and Falling Uphill serves as a rowdy antidote to the teenage pop doldrums -- a potent sonic cocktail that is anything but paint-by-numbers.

"Our music comes from the heart," adds guitarist-vocalist Tasha-Ray Evin. "Everything that we write, we believe in. That's what propels this band.
"
www.lillix.net
www.lillix.com

HOWIE BECK

music is the best.

hb
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Howie Beck is likely the last person who’ll ever sing his own praises, so let’s let someone else do it for him.

Good music will always find an audience – not automatically, mind you, and not without surmounting a few hurdles along the way – and Howie Beck is living proof.

If you weren’t part of the small, but ardent cult that developed a few years ago around the unassuming Toronto singer/songwriter’s brilliant second album, 1999’s Hollow – the follow-up to 1997’s Pop And Crash, a princely pop debut Beck nonetheless now regards with baby’s-first-album humility – it wasn’t for lack of its admirers’ trying. A modest, home-recorded labour of love quietly released on Beck’s own 13 Clouds label that quickly found an audience of enthusiastic and supportive critics, musicians and indie-rock aficionados in his hometown, Hollow managed to amass a small army of devotees on at least a couple of continents over the next two years.

The start-up U.K. label Easy!Tiger came calling, lured by the record’s unnaturally accomplished bedsit songcraft and lavish domestic praise that had proclaimed the disc, among other things, “a staggeringly good pop album…a fragile, forlorn mini-masterpiece.” Tellingly, upon its belated European release two years later, the Hollow phenomenon proved itself not restricted by the Canadian borders. Publications such as Mojo, Time Out and The Face raved, while the magazines Uncut and Record Collector went so far as to include it on their year-end best-of lists, respectively dubbing the album “a brilliantly evocative portrait of emotional loss and mental comedown” and “a classic debut.”

Beck’s live dates overseas that summer were greeted warmly, tunes from Hollow began turning up in A-list T.V. shows like Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Felicity and Queer As Folk and invitations for opening gigs with artists as diverse as Ed Harcourt, the Stereophonics, Interpol, Aimee Mann, Josh Rouse, Shelby Lynne and the Wallflowers poured in.

Then unfolded what Beck himself euphemistically describes as “a weird time.” While on tour in the U.K. during the summer of 2001, Beck found his travel plans abruptly disrupted by the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States. Mere days later, one of Easy!Tiger’s founders tragically took his own life. Hollow suddenly, and necessarily, took a distant back seat to pressing human concerns even beyond its own, adroitly sensitive reach.

“There I am, singing these songs about my little life,” Beck now recalls, “and the world is just collapsing around me. What do you do?”

Beck thus retreated to Toronto to deal with the situation as he’s always done: By writing and recording, and obsessively re-writing and re-recording, the intimate pop-life vignettes that are his stock in trade.

Friends would hear occasional reports of progress on a new album, but Beck’s solitary modus operandi – which has seen him shouldering all instrumental, production and even promotional duties on Pop And Crash and Hollow – meant he has more or less disappeared ever since. The odd gig here and there and appearances on albums by such chums as Sarah Harmer and Hayden let the Beck faithful know he was still keeping musically active. Nevertheless, it took five apartments intermittently rendered unlivable by string sections, drumkits and entire refridgerator-loads of groceries sacrificed to the recording process (Beck has a tendency to ignore his own “FRIDGE IS OFF” signs) and a comparable number of irate landlords to birth the 13 immaculately arranged songs that make up his first full album of new material in five years, the laconically titled Howie Beck.

The results, as the saying goes, speak for themselves. Howie Beck introduces a new spaciousness and a remarkably surefooted, classic-pop polish to the music, but not at the expense of the whispered, 4 a.m. intimacy and naked honesty that led so many to hold Hollow so close to their damaged hearts. It’s a bedroom record that has graduated beyond the typical sonic trappings of the bedroom, proving that one can write and sing – as Beck self-deprecatingly puts it – “songs about loneliness, love, death and betrayal” (and girls; Howie loves his girls) from a vivid, up-close-and-personal point of view while still aspiring to the pristine, three-dimensional audio environments that encourage listeners to sink into the material with new ears again and again. Guest appearances by chums like Broken Social Scene’s Leslie Feist (“I Need Light”) and Ed Harcourt (“Don’t Be Afraid”) and artistically adventurous forays into bossanova, waltz-time folk and gleaming New Wave pop likewise haven’t compromised the disc’s pronounced sense of self nor its authentic, right-here-right-now urgency.

On Howie Beck, one still unmistakably hears the articulate, unaffected voice of Howie Beck. It’s just a more confident, nuanced and disciplined instrument, and one well placed to finally carry Beck’s work to the wider audience it sorely deserves.

One would, in fact, be tempted to call Howie Beck its author’s masterpiece were it not so clear from the evidence at hand that there’s so much more left to come.
www.howiebeck.com

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