Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
BROCK ZEMAN’S SHOW-DON’T-TELL APPROACH
Brock Zeman likes his Lanark County locals nice and yokelish. Those are the people in the neighbourhood that the roots-rocking songwriter is most drawn to when looking for character sketches.
He sees a certain hardscrabble depth that’s absent with urban folk and their pretenses. Or maybe it’s the spotty cell service in Hopetown, where Zeman lives. People have time to speak to one another instead of dorking around on their smartphones.
Zeman has been working his way through the population of characters from around Carleton Place over eight albums in as many years. Album number nine, called Me Then You, continues along that terrain in tunes like “Light in the Attic” or the companion tracks that close the album: “Rain on the Roof #1″ and “Rain on the Roof #2″, both lengthy slow builders with a sly swagger to them.
“Those songs are kind of like my ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’,” Zeman says. “I wanted four short stories that were only related by a rainy day. There’s a widow, a bum, a little kid, and a heartbroken dude.” With each story, Zeman says he’s trying to be less in-your-face obvious than with previous albums.
“In the past, I took a real hard narrative stance. It was like, ‘This is my song, this is my story, and this is what happened.’ It was kind of rude in a way. Now I leave it to the imagination — I show somebody something rather than tell them. I think it’s better for the listener because you’re a part of the song. You can form how this plays out, rather than me telling you how it plays out. You can get a lot more out of a song that way.”
While he’s writing with more imagination these days, he’s streamlining parts of the recording process. Zeman has a hoarse holler to his voice that makes the song. Trouble was, every recording sounded too tame and polished. So this time, rather than filtering his vocals through expensive microphones and hefty gear while boxed in a booth, he ran off to a far corner of his basement studio. “Turns out to be the approach that works,” Zeman says. “Stand further away from the mic and scream your ass off.”
It’s an approach that might also work for a side project Zeman has been toying with for a while. Turns out he’s a big Misfits fan and wants to record acoustic versions of some of their two-minute punk blasts. Zeman also has two zombie tunes in his back catalogue to contrast against all that stuff about the human condition. The constellation of concepts goes to show that Zeman, yokel-love aside, isn’t a one-town tunesmith.
CD release shows: Saturday, Jan. 7, 7:30 p.m. With Kyle Spinks (of Brothers Through the Hill) and Sunday, Jan. 8, 4 p.m. With Charles de Lint. Black Sheep Inn, 753 Riverside Dr., Wakefield, $10 cover.
P.S. Read about Brock Zeman’s collaboration with Charles de Lint (along with a songwriting partnership between Tim Wynne-Jones and JW-Jones) in a column from the Ottawa Magazine print edition here.
A coterie of top-shelf Ottawa musicians who have been stalwarts of the scene for ages gather under the banner Abstract. The acoustic music collective promises a January-blahs-toasting mash of “loss, longing, redemption, and love” — plus “timeless acid folk” for good measure. The group comprises Philip Hogarth (vocals, guitar), Dave Bignell (guitar, vocals), Mike Rivoche (bass), Peter Von Althen (drums), Fred Guignion (dobro) and Don Cummings (Wurlitzer). Irene’s Pub, 885 Bank St., Friday, Jan. 6. 9 p.m. With Amanda Bon. $10.