Interview : Jason Collett

9 Mar

Since the mid-1990s, indie folk artist Jason Collett has become an icon of the Canadian music scene, earning accolades from audiences, critics and peers for his talent, sincerity and honest approach to music and song writing.  This week, the artist celebrates the release of Rat A Tat Tat, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2008’s Here’s To Being Here, and in support of his latest offering, Collett is set to embark on the Bonfire Ball – a proper revue featuring friends and label mates Zeus and Bahamas.

“We all have history [of] playing together,” Collett explained. “So we kind of designed this and talked about it for years, and finally have the opportunity to do it and we’re really looking forward to it.”

A collaborative effort, the bands will play together throughout the night and pause only for a brief intermission – so it’s important to be aware that the show doesn’t simply consist of three different bands playing three different sets.  However, while Zeus and Bahamas are only recently gathering momentum on their own accord, Collett has been a fixture on the Canadian musical landscape for some time, having witnessed substantial changes to the industry and to Canada’s musical reputation.

“When I was younger, there a sense of embarrassment [about] Canadian music – or what it was regarded as outside of Canada – because we were really known for Celine Dion and Bryan Adams, [and] that was kind of the extent of it,” he began.  “But cut to 15 years later, 20 years later, and it’s a completely different scene.  So there’s this whole new generation growing up with a healthy sense of entitlement that we can stand shoulder to shoulder with any band from any country in the world.  And part of that is that the whole nature of the record industry has changed dramatically because of the Internet. It cut out the middleman and it cut out the A&R guys [and] now it’s far more democratic.”

Since the industry’s shift at the turn of the century, Canada has undoubtedly cemented itself as a vital musical presence, but while Canadian music may seem unique, to pinpoint a distinctive sound is an arduous task.

“You try to figure [Canada’s sound] out, and you’re not going to be able to put it to words – much like defining the Canadian character all together,” stated Collett.  “It’s a little elusive, and I’m quite comfortable with that.  I think the one common trait that I recognize in Canadian art in general – whether it’s film, art, literature or music – is that we’ve got a great legacy of good writing and maybe that’s part of our character: we’re really good at observing.”

(Photo Cred : The City Sonic. Jason Collett in front of Paul’s Boutique in Toronto)

While Collett’s solo career has undoubtedly contributed to the nation’s musical achievements, his involvement in Broken Social Scene has also worked to transform the face of Canadian music.  However, regardless of acclaim, he maintains that the group’s evolution was by no means complex.

“I don’t think any of us have done anything that special,” he shared.  “But having said that, we did something very simple and there was a spirit of camaraderie to it and a spirit of celebration and joy to it, and that resonated in a very big, important way because there was so much bullshit at that time.  So that’s what sort of caught on – but I don’t think that’s a very special thing.  It’s a very simple thing.  None of us are saints, we all have big egos and we all want success at what we do because we work very hard at what we do – but we want success on our own terms.”

Having carved a distinct path, Collett has been praised for his writing in which he perfects the art of lyrical storytelling with descriptive and poetic words that serve to conjure up images of a beloved homeland, evoking emotions equated with the freedom of summer days and the solace of peaceful evenings.

“I’m enamoured not just by the physical beauty [of Canada], but the language and the names,” he revealed.  “Because we’ve grown up with them, we take them for granted, but names like Saskatchewan and Thunder Bay and Penetanguishene are very exotic.  And one thing I’ve learned in dropping Canadian references on my record is that people that aren’t from Canada are quite intrigued by it and whatever kind of mythology it conjures in their own imaginations when they listen to it.”

“And that was a good lesson for me to learn because typically one might tend to think you’re being non-inclusive to people outside of Canada if you’re referencing specific Canadian places.  But I’ve found quite the opposite.”

Posted by : Anne T Donahue

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