When I was 17, the idea of getting paid to write about music was absolutely absurd. I don’t even know if I knew that was a potential career choice as I struggled to figure out what I wanted to go to university for. I liked music, that was clear, but everyone likes music, no?
As I began to think about post-secondary school options, I started thinking about writing and journalism. I created a music magazine in high school for an English course, I attempted to make zines, I wrote for the school newspaper and I eventually started up a dinky little blog to gush over my favourite new discoveries like Feist, Woodhands, and Final Fantasy. The common thread with my writing became apparent: I wanted to write about music.
The Singing Lamb, and its previous blog incarnations, was a place for me to dump all of my enthusiastic feelings about music, both local and beyond. I didn’t think I was the best writer, but I didn’t care. I just wanted you to pay attention to these artists I loved and back in the day, there was definitely nothing eloquent about the way I wrote. Posts read like diary entries to an invisible music fan friend I had. No one ever commented on my posts, but I kept writing, talking to the vast, empty world of the internet.
Someone saw potential in my writing and growing music knowledge, though, and he decided to help me create a bigger and better blog. Graham Robertson was not only an important part of building The Singing Lamb, but he was (and still is) a very important person in my life. His faith and website-building skills helped launch this site. But still, it remained a fansite of sorts, hosting my nerdy feelings towards my favourite acts. Thanks to sites like Chromewaves, The Music Slut and You Ain’t No Picasso, I began to formulate a blog structure, though; ways to divide up my writing and become more informative and critical as opposed to just flat out fangirling. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be a blogger.
When we re-launched the website, I suddenly had a handful of friends willing to write for me and help me produce content. It was endearing to see people begin to notice and care about the blog. It began to form a voice beyond my own and I was excited at its potential to grow into a collective, showcasing other people’s works and their interests. This was becoming something and as an 18-year-old student, this was terrifying and amazing.
I didn’t know how to be a proper editor or writer at the time. I had no clue what I was doing and had to learn very quickly when I suddenly got bands and publicists approaching me with music. I no longer had to dig; I was being presented with music. What the fuck? I remember saying yes to everything because I was so flattered to be approached by anyone who had heard of my blog. I was an unknown in high school – just ask anyone I went to school with, not even teachers remember me – so the sudden attention to me and my blog was overwhelming (not to mention the attention I finally got from a boy who cared about me enough to make me a blog, that’s gotta be the modern day equivalent of, like, ten dozen roses).
But with school, it was becoming too much. I didn’t know how to handle it all and less than a year after the launch of the site, Graham and I were no longer speaking to each other. Although I had my friends to support me, I felt abandoned and alone with my site and a pile of promo CDs.
Somewhere in the site’s second year, I received an offer to freelance for Chartattack and AUX TV. Chart Magazine was a favourite of mine growing up and the opportunity to write for them – and get paid! – was a dream come true. And naturally, paid work took priority over unpaid work. I lost money keeping up my blog with the domain costs and events I invested time and money into. It was all worth it, but come on, people wanted to pay me for once! I wasn’t going to say no! And to work in an environment and with people who respected my writing and enforced deadlines – having friends write for me was great, but attempting to enforce rules with them was nearly impossible; again, unpaid work doesn’t motivate timeliness – I began growing and finally improving as a writer.
With Graham gone, I gave off responsibilities for the site to a number of generous people willing to help. Two years ago, I even gave complete ownership to Aviva Cohen and Wini Lo to run editorial and photo content and they’ve done nothing but try their hardest to continue producing great things for The Singing Lamb. I chose to pursue and focus on freelance writing and in turn, I gave up on this blog. This site was never going to sustain me financially the way freelance writing did (though, let’s be real, freelancing alone doesn’t support me either, but at least I was making and not losing money). I could’ve spent a lot more time and effort into making this site a financially viable thing. It’s not like I haven’t had countless meetings and thoughts about putting in advertisements, working on campaign deals and eventually paying contributors. For the love of God, I would pay every single one of my contributors if I could, but I couldn’t even afford lunch for myself some days. The idea of pulling in revenue was always there, but my heart followed freelancing instead and building a name for myself outside of the site. I will never forget the opportunities this site had given me, and how it helped me get my first freelancing gigs ever, but I wanted to move on and stop hiding behind my Lamb pseudonym. I wanted to be Melody Lau, music journalist.
But, as a friend pointed out, this site is still tied to my name and its recent lack of content and other factors (not getting posts up on time, etc. etc. – again, this isn’t anyone’s full-time gig, no one’s getting paid to do this and I’m not going to force this upon them) have contributed to a bit of a negative image. I don’t want this site to be a running joke. I don’t want people to think of The Singing Lamb negatively. It truly is my child and I am very protective over the Lamb and its reputation.
And, long story short – 1000 words later – I’ve decided to end all production on The Singing Lamb. This has nothing to do with its current contributors because they are all very important and extremely talented people, but I want people to remember this site for its heart and effort. If I could gain an extra 24 hours in each day, I’d commit all that time to this site, but alas, I can no longer support it.
This site will forever and always mean the world to me and is five years of my life that I will never forget. I don’t have a comprehensive list of people who have contributed, but each and every one of them are incredible human beings who believed in me enough to help pitch in whether with photos, writing or tech support. To that, I do want to specifically thank Graham Robertson, Matthew Braga, Jeff Jewiss, Genny Lui, Tom Lowery, Aviva Cohen and Wini Lo for their extra support and help on everything throughout the years. If any of you ever want a drink, you can totally have one or five on me. (Graham and I have since reconnected and have been great friends for over a year now and you best believe we will never start a site together again. It’s totally for the best!) I also want to thank all the bands, publicists, readers and friends who have been involved in any form. You continue to help support me and I am grateful every day for knowing every one of you.
The Singing Lamb will continue to be up in its present state, but will discontinue all content indefinitely.
For more from me (wow, shameless promotion time), you can follow me at @melodylamb on Twitter and read my work at a number of places including Exclaim! Magazine, MUCH, Nylon Magazine, MySpace and Huffington Post Canada.
Please give Aviva (@suckingalemon) and Wini (@winiw) a follow, too!
Happy listening and always your Lamb,
“God bless you, Cuff the Duke!” someone in the audience yelled gleefully, as Cuff the Duke took the stage for their third full set at the Dakota Tavern last night.
It was one of two multi-set shows that the band is doing at the Dakota this month (the second show is next Tuesday – July 30). The audience seemed to be in full attendance of serious Cuff fans (as opposed to casual ones), as well as Hayden fans. The band had announced earlier in the day via social media that their good pal Hayden would join them for a few songs that night.
Opening the show with older songs “Blackheart” and “Hobo Night Stalker,” I definitely felt nostalgic up at the front of the stage – I’ve known the band since their early days, as an Oshawa native myself.
Frontman Wayne Petti thanked the audience for coming and said, “We’ll be playing Cuff the Duke songs all night.” An audience member yelled, “That’s what we’re here for!” to which Petti quipped, “Well, if that’s not what you’re here for, then you’re fucked.”
And the band delivered, playing three – count ‘em – three full-length sets consisting of songs from their six studio albums. Each set featured a cover song – CCR’s “Looking Out My Back Door,” Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and The Beatles’ “Get Back.”
As a live band, Cuff the Duke has pretty much mastered all the tricks of the trade – amusing stage banter with audience interaction, call-and-answer songs (“If I Live or If I Die”), singalongs (“Follow Me,” “Take My Money and Run” and oh yeah – having awesome secret guests join them on stage. Hayden joined the band for two songs during the first set. Having toured together as the supporting act and Hayden’s backing band as The Elk-Lake Serenaders in 2004 (they played Lee’s Palace in November, for trivia’s sake), Cuff proved that their synergy with Hayden is still strong. Playing “Dynamite Walls” (off Skyscraper National Park) and a fantastic rendition of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” it just felt like a rare and special moment to witness them all on the small stage together.
By the third set, it seemed that fatigue was setting in, but the band soldiered on. The crowd had considerably thinned out from its earlier attendance, but those who remained didn’t lack enthusiasm. When the band finished close to 2am (that’s nearly four hours of music!) to hoots, hollers and cheers, what can you really say, aside from “God bless you, Cuff the Duke.”
On a hot humid Tuesday night, at an outdoor sand-filled venue that calls itself a “beach,” I saw Björk for the first time ever, after being a fan since teenagehood. At this point in her career, it’s nearly impossible to read any kind of article about Björk without invoking words like “magic,” alluding to her otherworldly pixie-like qualities or her unmistakably adorable Icelandic accent.
But it’s also nearly impossible not to think of these things when it comes to Björk. Emerging from the shadows in a massive frizzy ginger wig (as featured on her 2011 album, Biophilia), in a glittery blue dress, Björk looked positively magical and otherworldly. The bouncy ginger wig also reminded me of the Disney-Pixar heroine, Merida from Brave, which adds to all the more cartoony magic that Björk seems to ooze from her very pores.
Accompanied by Icelandic female choir, Graduale Nobili (also wearing glittery dresses to complement Björk’s), an amazing multi-tasking percussionist and DJ/programmer/gadgets guy – and a whole ton of special effects (a massive Tesla coil which pulsed electricity in time with selected songs, a wall of sparklers and flames, and strobe lights) – Björk was always the focus of the show. On her records, it has always been a wonderment to hear the range and elasticity of Björk’s powerful voice – sometimes fierce, with a slight growl, or other times, cooing and girlish. To hear it in person was awe-inspiring and somewhat life-affirming (okay, maybe an exaggeration… I guess).
The bulk of the set list consisted of songs from Biophilia – opener “Cosmogony,” “Moon” (which featured projected animations of the phases of the moon on a large screen), “Thunderbolt” and “Crystalline.” The crowd went wild for “Hunter” and “Hidden Place” early on in the set and later, even wilder for a triple punch of older songs (and my personal favourites, how did she know?!): “Jóga,” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” The repeated refrain of “She loves him” from Graduale Nobili at the end of “Pagan Poetry” was truly breathtaking.
In a one-song encore, Björk and co. performed the jubilant and defiant “Declare Independence,” dedicating it to Trayvon Martin. Then, with one last “Thank you!” the Toronto audience wandered back into the hot summer night, shaking sand out of their shoes.
TURF Day 4: Belle & Sebastian, Xavier Rudd, Cat Empire, Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, Wooden Sky @ Fort York – July 7, 2013
The inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) is the city’s latest attempt to make a mark on the country’s competitive festival scene. With a promising 4-day lineup including She & Him, Hold Steady, Belle and Sebastian, and an amazing crowd response, it wouldn’t be surprising if TURF joins the circle of major summer festivals alongside Montreal’s Osheaga and Ottawa’s Bluesfest.
First band, Toronto locals Wooden Sky, began the day with a calm and nostalgic set. The voice of the singer, Gavin Gardiner, had a soulful and smoky trait that paired well with the long and drawn out Telecaster solos. The songs began to pick up in tempo and the sound started to swell as they were paired gospel-like back-up vocals.
Kurt Vile and the Violators played later in the afternoon as the crowd tripled in size since the start of the day. Violators guitarist Steve Gunn was like a modern mash-up of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The band delivered a playful and effortless set with a huge sound, including atmospheric guitar sounds, crazy drum solos, and strong bass lines. Songs including “Ghost Town,” “Baby’s Arms,” and “He’s Alright,” were evenly chosen between their two albums Wakin on a Pretty Daze and Smoke Ring for My Halo.
After that set, crowds rushed to the west stage for indie rock royalty, Yo La Tengo. It began as a quiet, almost ghostly unplugged set. Eventually, the air was filled with distortion and feedback and the band shifted from their rather stiff stage presence to crazy and eccentric head-banging. The memorable moment during their performance was when the singer, Ira Kaplan, toned down the sound and invited the crowd to, “come into our living room,” as they launched into the crowd favourite sing-along song “Autumn Sweater.”
Cat Empire played the next set on the west stage and was the first band to hold the achievement of getting the entire crowd to completely let loose and swing like drunken sailors. The fusion band’s party music included anthemic choruses, fast percussion solos, afro beats, salsa, funk, and ska sounds. Best yet was trumpet player/singer Harry Angus’ scat solo in “Wild Animals.”
When Xavier Rudd took the east stage, the first thing that came into my mind was, “Sweet Moses, this guy is amazing.” The next few minutes then blew my mind. Rudd launched into a tribal-dubby song with intricate instrumental layers of the didgerdoo, stompbox, bass drum pedal, and all sorts of percussion. No loops. Just himself and a few recorded bird calls and animal noises. His socially-conscious themes and earthy-natural feel connected with the audience on an emotional and spiritual level. The crowd seemed to know all the words and it was nearly impossible to look around and not break into a smile as people swayed and danced to his acoustic reggae beats.
The crowd for the day’s headliner, Belle and Sebastian, was already waiting an hour before the actual set time, sacrificing Neko Case’s performance on the west stage. Finally, after the second torrential downpour of the day, the 7-piece band came onto the stage and delivered an amazing performance for their legion of die-hard fans. The band started with “Judy is a Dick Slap;” its catchy synth beginning got the crowd dancing and splashing mud everywhere. Frontman Stuart Murdoch was a brilliant performer, whose charming personality, dry humor, and self-deprecating dancing helped bring the stage alive. His stage tricks included playing scrabble with a fan on the stage mid-performance, asking a fan to apply on mascara as he sung “Lord Anthony,” and inviting several people on stage to dance to “The Boy with the Arab Strap.” The band ended the set with an encore song “Get Me Away from here, I’m Dying,” leaving the audience euphoric, muddy, wet, and fulfilled.
TURF Day 1: She & Him, Joel Plaskett, Camera Obscura, and The Barr Brothers @ Fort York — July 4, 2013
The kickoff of the inaugural four-day TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Festival) took place on the Thursday night, featuring She & Him, Joel Plaskett, Camera Obscura, and The Barr Brothers.
There was a buzz in the air under the pressed tin ceiling of the intimate yet spacious Danforth Music Hall, which, on this particular summer evening, gradually filled with a very handsome and diverse array of people to see if all the hype around 26-year old Solange has some ground.
Donning long braids and a funky skirt-suit kinda thing, Solange sauntered on stage to deliver a sly version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” which for me, unveiled her tremendous and tasteful vocal ability, as well as the subtle honey soul of her band.
Once she broke into her originals, I was glad to notice that the majority of the audience knew her tracks, considering the obvious tourist contingent amongst the audience. The funk soul vibe of her precision band was delicious, and though Solange’s vocal timbre sometimes throws Erykah Badu, I found it hard to pull comparisons.
Her arrangements throw back to the 80s without being twee or forced, and the entire set was well-crafted between slow soul numbers and relaxed funk. I am forced to say that she is very unique, especially in the current indie pop climate.
Solange truly pulls off an excellent balance between performance and musicianship, confirming for me that she is a true artist and a complete joy to watch. The entire band is sexy as hell too. It’s always such a pleasure to see performers so comfortable in their own skin. The crowd went nuts every time Solange made the slightest well-placed, perfectly rationed dance move. Sexy and comfortable – Solange is a huge presence. I look forward to her being around for a very long time.