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Most of your songs are in the key of melancholy. Why so sad?My first record-Postcards and Daydreaming-was morose, downtrodden music. Getting ready to make Nice, Nice, Very Nice, I was listening to old Wilco records and I realized that it’s easier to make sad music that’s affecting than to make upbeat music that’s affecting. So I wanted this last record to be a little more of a party. I actually thought it was fairly upbeat.
A song like “Pine for Cedars” has a real Pacific Northwest mood.You can feel Vancouver. Everyone who comes here mentions how the dark grey sky gets them down. I grew up here, so I get a strange comfort from it. “Pine for Cedars” is a love song but a melancholy one. Straight-up adoration is something I’m not really capable of. I guess in the same way I don’t see the gloom in the sky I don’t hear it on my records.
Many of your songs have an almost novelistic storytelling quality. I pay attention to the nuances of daily life. I steal lines from conversations, and phrases from awnings and street signs. The line in “Some People” about drinking not enough to be drunk but just enough to make you tired comes from something my girlfriend said one night.
Where does that two-pack-a-day growl come from?I’ve always sounded this way. I’d be scared what I’d sound like if I did smoke. Tom Waits territory!
You’ve had a lot of success this year: a $25,000 Verge Prize from XM Satellite Radio, Bucky Awards from CBC. Now you’ve been signed to the Arts&Crafts label. Does it feel like, at 27, you’ve made it? What success I’ve had comes from my willingness to treat music as a day job. I didn’t have any money so I learned how to build a website myself. I set up PayPal and started mailing out CDs. There are musicians out there who don’t want to worry about the business side. They’ll never be able to quit the day job.
Which for you was serving at the Granville Island Keg. I spent six-and-a-half years there, and they were great to me. I’d tour for months at a time and come back to steady employment.
You’ve been touring a lot, in North America and Australia. Will you stay in Vancouver? When I’m not here, I’m always thinking about here. This city lacks for all kinds of things, but it’s unquestionably the most aesthetically pleasing urban setting I’ve ever come across. I plan on seeing the rest of the world, living other places for a short time. But I can’t imagine settling down anywhere else. VM