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Patrick Brealey Interview
How better to start a weekend than listening to the sweet tenor sounds of Patrick Brealey at the Cameron House? In the past he’s performed his unique blend of country, folk, jazz and blues in front of thousands at the Mariposa and Eaglewood Folk Festivals, and sold-out shows across the country. So we’re a bit spoiled to have him every Friday at 8pm, no? We sat down with him (OK we emailed him) to discuss Ron Sexsmith, Roy Orbison, and maxillofacial resemblances.
Paradise Blog: Ron Sexsmith is like the Elvis of the Cameron House. Can you describe the time you shared a stage with him?
Patrick Brealey: One evening I was sitting in on piano with The Beauties during their Sunday residency at the Dakota Tavern and Ron hopped up on stage to play a song with the band. I was pretty awestruck since I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I think it goes without saying that he is an underrated songwriter, but he’s also an incredible guitar player and great singer. I had only recently moved from Vancouver to Toronto at the time, so it was an otherworldly experience – I remember thinking, “Seriously?! Does this happen all the time in Toronto? One of the country’s best songwriters just jumps on stage at the local bar?” Turns out it does happen; sometimes I even see him at the local swimming pool!
Paradise Blog: Many reviews mention the humour of your songwriting. Is it a conscious choice to inject a little mirth into songs, or is it just how they turn out naturally?
Patrick Brealey: I appreciate a song that can bring out several emotions in the matter of 3 ½ minutes. I can’t say I purposefully write with humour in mind but it definitely finds its way in sometimes. That being said, I certainly don’t want to be known as the writer of joke songs, but I also don’t mind getting a chuckle out of an audience with a turn of phrase
Paradise Blog: In 2009, you told BLOGTO, “I think [Toronto] is just a better place for me. In Vancouver, there’s a lot of music too, but people just tend to stick to their little groups and there’s not a lot of cross-over. It’s just a different community here.” Recent buzz has indicated that Toronto is one of the finest music cities in the world. As someone who’s played in New York City and many of the best towns, could you share your opinion on that?
Patrick Brealey: I’ve been in Toronto for four years now and I’d say it is definitely going through a good moment in the city’s musical history, a renaissance even. There is so much going on here. As for one of the finest music cities in the world, I’m not sure. I find it strange when cities try to make claims like that. There is good music everywhere in the world. I was just in New York City and saw a street guy playing drums on empty buckets and hunks of scrap metal – he was mind-blowing. That being said, I did move to Toronto because of the music scene!
Paradise Blog: You’ve been closing your set with Roy Orbison’s Crying. That’s a pretty daunting challenge, but you manage it with aplomb. When you first started doing that song, was it unnerving to cover something so canonical and beloved?
Patrick Brealey: I recently picked up a copy of Orbison’s final album, Mystery Girl. I remember listening to it endlessly when it first came out in the late 80s and I was reminded how much I love his voice. It’s a true original. I decided I wanted to try and sing one of his songs and after attempting several others I always ended up back at Crying. Obviously it’s a song that everyone knows and it lives in the fabric of pop music history so I was a little bit hesitant to sing it at first. But after performing it once I realized it is such a powerful piece of music, one that is basically a crescendo from start to finish, so audiences really react to it. I sometimes play his song Leah as well. How often do you get to sing about a love story in which a pearl-diving outing goes wrong?!
Paradise Blog: You are frequently compared to Lyle Lovett, which is obviously quite flattering. Do you consider this an accurate appraisal or does it come as a surprise to you at all?
Patrick Brealey: Lyle Lovett is definitely an inspiration of mine and I love his music so I always take it as a compliment. I often wonder what makes people make the comparison – sometimes I hope it’s because Lyle doesn’t really fit into one genre. He’s always pegged as a country musician, but if you listen to his albums, in particular Joshua Judges Ruth and I Love Everybody, you will quickly see that he is just as influenced by gospel, blues and even pop music (listen to Fat Babies or Penguins). I feel the same in that I don’t really see myself as solely a country musician – I’m hoping to write an album in the style of a 70s piano record a la John Lennon or Elton John. Let’s see how many of my country fans I can ostracize!
Paradise Blog: A jazz clarinet player and well-dressed businessman who was watching your most recent Cameron House show kept exclaiming at how perfect your dobro player was, never overdoing it but always right on the money. Can you discuss Rob Fenton’s contribution to your performances?
Patrick Brealey: Yeah, that’s Rob Fenton alright. He is an incredible musician. His brain works on a different level than most everyone I know. I started playing with Rob about three years ago and we not only bonded over music but a sense of humour. We have gone on several tours together as a duo and play in a couple of bands together: a bluegrass outfit called The Sudden Valley Boys; and a screwball country band called Leon Knight & the Neon Lights. Rob is a very sensitive player and I’ve learned a lot from him. He is definitely my go-to guy when it comes to playing acoustic shows. Would you believe that he played violin and saxophone professionally before even picking up the dobro? Rob gets a badge for virtuosity for sure. And he’s a great singer!
Paradise Blog: Your online presence is pretty impressive, with many high-quality YouTube clips and a high-end website that is updated regularly. Whatadvice would you give to artists who neglect these important promotional elements?
Patrick Brealey: That’s good to hear you feel that way – I never think my online presence is very good! That said, I think it’s just a matter of doing something in that world, whether it be Twitter or Facebook or posting something on YouTube. There is a fine line, however, between regular online updates and spamming the crap out of people. I tend to start tuning people out if I hear from them everyday. There must be some mystery left!
Paradise Blog: In this poster there’s kind of a William Burroughs vibe with the hat, glasses, and shape of face. Was this an intentional nod, or are you just blessed with the silhouette of William Seward Burroughs?
Patrick Brealey: I hadn’t thought of that before! The poster was designed by the lovely Pearl Rachinsky (www.pearlrachinsky.com) so I guess we would have to ask her where her inspiration came from. I had nothing to do with it. Other than the hat, glasses and face shape.
Paradise Blog: While we’re on that topic, your songs have a definite literary sensibility. Which authors have most inspired you?
Patrick Brealey: Ooh, that’s a tough question. I tend to like writing that is fairly stark, which leads to writers like Cormac McCarthy and Hemingway, but I don’t know that their inspiration would be seen in my songs. In terms of my own writing, I am trying to get away from my wordiness, which can sometimes be labeled as ‘literary’, and write songs that are simpler. There. I said it. I want to write pop songs. Ba ba baaaaah!