Sound Seekers

SOUND SEEKERS: Claude Munson faces his fears — and finds his voice

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

Claude Munson. Photo by Igor Cedeno Garcia

UP CLOSE WITH MUNSON AT DAILY GRIND CAFE

Two singers come immediately to mind while listening to Claude Munson. The Ottawa folkie’s falsetto interludes recall Jeff Buckley, while the white reggae vibes churn up thoughts of that dude from Bedouin Soundclash.

Those word-of-mouth references are a nice boost for a new-to-the-scene songwriter, and his shows are often packed as a result. From here, the challenge for 24-year-old Munson will be to carve out a name from underneath the weighty influence of two superstar sound-alikes. No one wants to sound wholly derivative.

That actualizing happens right on stage and through songs like Out the Door, where Munson talks about performing. While he played previously in French folk band Marabou, he’s new to singing.

“This project lets me present my voice,” he says. “I was a shy child and very afraid. A lot of the songs are about coming to terms with some sort of inner fear.  “In the songs, I am able to see myself in the light I want to see myself,” he says. “I think that’s what I’m trying to do — be at peace with what’s happening around me.”

Munson is in the swirl of trying to make it as a musician. That means booking gigs, while holding down a cooking job at an Ottawa hostel and recording with his band The Storm Outside. The band expands upon the acoustic guitar base with violin, trumpet, and electric guitar. It comes together nicely on a tune called When Your Gods Are Dead, which deals with letdown in a muse-artist relationship.

“That falls apart so easily,” Munson says, wistfully. “You have to check your expectations.”

The tune will be on the as-yet-untitled record, set for release later this summer. It’s being helmed by producer/engineer Jason Jaknunas, and Phil Lafreniere who runs Ottawa folk-funk label Up and Up Music.

It’s the first album for Munson, whose interest in music piqued while hearing his Franco Jeunesse grade school teacher sing old folk songs in class. Munson furthered his interest while hanging out with the bongo-playing artsy kids at De La Salle high school, and then started a philosophy degree at the University of Ottawa. He dropped out after two years, when he received an Ontario Arts Council grant for $7,000 to record an album.

“I asked myself, ‘What’s my thing? What’s the path I gotta walk down?’ I got an ability, I got a voice and so I wanted to focus on that.”

He says dropping out didn’t go over too well with mom, Ginette, a consultant, though his pop, Sen. Jim Munson, took it a bit better.

“I take inspiration from how my dad lives,” Claude Munson says. “He was a bit of a rebel his whole life and a cowboy journalist when he was younger,” he says, referencing the incident in the ‘70s when Jim Munson was a radio reporter and had a shoving match with then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. They became lifelong friends after the scrap.

Later, the family lived in London, Beijing, and Halifax — wherever dad was posted as reporter for CTV News. (Claude’s brother James, 27, followed dad’s path. He reports for iPolitics.ca.)

Claude Munson is working on his writing too, trying to helm his lyrics in the style of his heroes, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, and Devendra Banhart, though he puts his energies in the tune, for the most part.

“It’s the melodies I’m looking for to express the feelings that I feel about letting go,” Munson says. “Words are arbitrary.”

Claude Munson plays Indie Night at the Daily Grind Café (601 Somerset St. W.). With Brad Morden and The Salton Sea. Friday, March 23. 8 p.m. $5.

ELSEWHERE OUT THERE
Brock Zeman wishes himself a Happy Birthday with a roots-rocking bash Friday, March 23 at Irene’s Pub, 885 Bank St., 9 p.m., $10.

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