By Nicole Kobie
The Canadian music scene may not always be exciting, but Toronto’s j. englishman is excited to be part of it. Currently touring with Edwin as part of the Screaming Kings Tour, englishman’s first CD, Poor Li’l Rock Star, was released nation wide this week.
"I think I’m going to go to HMV and stand by the racks saying ‘Look, look, it’s me!’" Englishman says enthusiastically.
While the music he performed on Tuesday night’s Calgary show ranged from sultry pop pieces to edgier rock numbers, Englishman describes his songs as "vomit inducing techno folk." If anyone at the Back Alley show lost their lunch, it was surely not because of Englishman’s energetic set.
The title of the CD itself has also caused a stir. According to Englishman, his nickname in high school was "rock star," sometimes used favourably, other times, not so. When he chose the title Poor Li’l Rock Star, Englishman spent the day in meetings with lawyers, accountants and managers — something he hates to do. His friends offered little support.
"They were like, ‘Oh, poor little rock star. You get no sympathy,’" explains Englishman, who actually agrees with his friends. "I have no right to complain now."
While Englishman has been described as a newcomer to the music scene, the 28-year-old began playing guitar when he was 14 and performing in bars at 15. For that, he needed a note from mom.
Since then, Englishman has generated music ranging from folk to punk and metal to country. To Englishman, keeping things different and fresh is important. He constantly feels the need to do whatever he’s not doing now.
"I’m musically schizophrenic," he says. "I’m also self-indulgent. I try not to worry about keeping up with the Jones’. The more you become ‘of the moment’ the quicker you become of the past."
One stunt he’d like to pull in the future is to release metal and country albums simultaneously, just to confuse record companies and the media. He feels they try to pigeon-hole music, to constrain it within boundaries, when music should be about personal freedom.
He also takes case with the idea of rock music as art. To him, it’s all about entertainment, and having fun, but too many people, inside and outside the industry, take music too seriously.
"You don’t see people sitting around debating whether or not Gilligan’s Island is art or not," he says. "If [music] does become art, it’s usually accidental. Those are the best moments."
While Englishman does not consider his own songwriting skills as an art form, he does consider it euphoric and cathartic. He says he feels like he’s hearing a radio inside his head and, every now and then, a song just falls out, demanding to be written.
"It doesn’t matter whether the song is good or bad," he explains. "[Songwriting] is better than sex, it’s better than chocolate… it’s better than everything."
His career highlight so far, is his current tour, with Edwin (of I Mother Earth fame). The fact that Edwin can fill a room of people, giving Englishman a chance to win them over, is something he feels he could not do on his own. He also enjoys the type of audience Edwin draws.
"Ed’s buff, he’s drop-dead. So… he draws a lot of young girls," Englishman says. "It’s… nice to have young pretty girls in front of your stage."
He does not worry about getting bad reviews and takes comments about his name (all lowercase) and CD title in stride. In fact, when Toronto rock magazine Quoth Now described him as wrongly thinking he’s a "prince" of the music scene, he called up their offices offering a hug to the writer, who he felt obviously needed it. He never did get a response to the voicemail message.
"I’m just a bit of a shit disturber. ‘Impish,’ I’ve been described as," he explains jokingly. "This is rock and roll, it’s supposed to be fun."
With a sense of humour to keep the critics at bay, a fantastic live show and solid music, j. Englishman just might offer some necessary spice to the Canadian music scene.