Applying some symmetry to the last set he played at the Jimmy Jazz, a concert that saw him end the show in the men’s washroom, BA Johnston kicked off his Kazoo! Fest set by emerging from the same lavatory with a couple of sparklers held high above his head. At some times playing a keyboard with just one finger and at others simply plugging a Discman into the sound system and walking into the crowd to pick on audience members for their facial hair, fire snot rockets haphazardly at the ground (or the walls, or audience), climb atop tables, or to forego singing just to do the worm, BA Johnston’s act falls somewhere between a twisted kind of anti-music and one of the most engaging concert experiences you’ll ever witness. Seriously, but not seriously.
Pulling into the Jimmy Jazz without the multiple performance stations and makeshift instruments (suitcase bass drum, megaphone, etc.) he had in tow at the eBar last September, Shotgun Jimmie’s Kazoo! Fest set rode into Guelph on the virtue of making a conscious effort to avoid repeating the past. On tour promoting his new album, Everything, Everything, Kilpatrick performed a set mostly consisting of new material (songs that usually clock in under two minutes), predominantly handling bass and snare drums with his feet while simultaneously singing and playing the guitar, but sometimes even smashing a ride cymbal with a shaker while hitting guitar chords with his other hand.
It’s an act that does rely on novelty, but never too heavily. It also helps that it’s a novelty that fails to wear off. Even if Kilpatrick fumbles a note while juggling upwards of four instruments, as a performance that champions underdogs and average-ness, the goofs don’t really stick out but instead find a place in a Shotgun Jimmie show.
Following the small but mighty Baby Eagle is sort of like watching an amorphous shadow of a band. Except when performing as the formally recognized Baby Eagle and the Proud Mothers, the only real Baby Eagle consistency is the man to which that shadow belongs, former Constantines member Steve Lambke. In that tradition, Lambke kicked things off on April 6 by diving into his Jimmy Jazz opening slot alone, then calling You’ve Changed Records labelmates Daniel Romano (Attack in Black) and Jim Kilpatrick (Shotgun Jimmie) to the stage to join on lead guitar and drums (respectively). That presence eventually swelled to include Legato Vipers members Mike Brooks on a third guitar and Tyler Belluz on bass. Exhibiting impressive coherence for an act lending itself to such a diverse lineup, it was an act in collaboration that suggesting although Baby Eagle has no concrete performance to tour around with, he doesn’t need his Proud Mothers to carry him along the way.
Jim Kilpatrick on (approximately) everything about his new album, Skype dates, and experimental instruments
Just hours before playing a Pinball Sessions co-presented Kazoo! Fest set at Jimmy Jazz, Shotgun Jimmie (a.k.a. singer-songwriter Jim Kilpatrick) agreed to meet up with me at one of his favourite restaurants for relaxing before a show, The Cornerstone. We talked about (approximately) everything you need to know about his new record, Everything, Everything, Skype dates, what suitcases you shouldn’t use as bass drums, and his connection to Ray Mitchell, the owner of Guelph’s singular antique shop, Dis-a-Ray.
(interview begins after photo)
Tom Beedham: Hey Jimmie. Welcome back to Guelph. We’re at the Cornerstone. Did you want anything?
Shotgun Jimmie: From The Cornerstone?
SJ: Umm… I just had an incredible espresso. I shouldn’t have another one. That’s already got me wired.
TB: Well, everything’s pretty good.
SJ: I know. This is one of my favourite places to eat before the show.
TB: Are you a vegetarian?
SJ: Yes… are you?
TB: I’m not, but I eat here all the time. I dunno, I like bacon too much or something.
SJ: There you go.
TB: But yeah, everything here’s pretty good, and speaking of everything, your new album’s called Everything, Everything, and tonight you’re celebrating the release of that here in Guelph. At the risk of ruining the rest of the questions I’ve prepared, tell me everything people need to know about that in a couple of sentences.
SJ: Everything, Everything in a few sentences. That’s a pretty tall order. I ended up calling the album Everything, Everything because the last song on the album is called Everything, Everything, and it sort of works with the aesthetic of the record. The cover of the album is a collage – well, it’s an installation that I guess is like a physical collage of sorts – and when I was recording the album I also was thinking about collage and I ended up using different mediums – recording mediums; four-tracking, computer, and that type of thing – and blending them together – not just having some songs that are one format and other songs that are a different format, but actually patching them all together a little bit in different parts and really trying to put together and assemble the record in that same style. It just felt like Everything, Everything was the right mantra or idea for the record and for that song. It just all ended up tying in nicely.
TB: So far I’ve only heard “Skype Date,” but I guess the track listing can lead people to figure that everything involves California (and, more specifically Big Sur), garden growth, and standing in lines. Would you call that an accurate collage of the essence of everything?
SJ: Yeeeah. I mean the themes that are on the record are definitely sunny in disposition and also just like the everyday everything – like standing in a line – and yeah, I think a lot of the themes on the record are sort of normal on first examination, and then after, with further examination, you see some of the subtleties, and then they become more interesting.
TB: You had this contest for a Skype date. Are you still waiting on your Skype date?
SJ: I have finished the Skype date contest. It was a huge success.
TB: How was your date?
SJ: I ended up having six dates.
SJ: They were all fantastic. The highlights for me… well it was geographically spread out quite nicely. My favourite was in Ottawa, Ont. I did a Skyped concert for a bunch of children. This mother won the contest and her whole family are fans of my last album, Transistor Sister, and all the neighbourhood children came over to the house and they made posters, “We love Jimmie” posters, and they were all gathered in the living room and I played a children’s concert for them. That was really great.
I also played a concert in Paris, France for some really sophisticated French hipsters. They were really quite friendly and for them it was evening and they were just getting ready to go out on the town but they had cheese and baguette and they were drinking red wine, and it seemed very sophisticated and I enjoyed having that inserted into my day. I also did a concert in Adelaide, Aus., in Vancouver, BC, and in Fogo, N.L. It’s really fun to be playing concerts all over the world from the comfort of my living room. I found it was really rewarding.
Most people invited friends over, so they weren’t very intimate dates – they were very relaxed in nature. So it ended up being a Skype concert contest rather than Skype dates, but I have the song on the record called “Skype Date” so we thought it would be a fun little contest to have. I loved it. It was so much fun. I would love to do that again.
TB: Saves you money on tour expenses as well.
SJ: Exactly, exactly. I think initially the idea was that it was a publicity campaign or something like that. But it ended up being so much more rewarding than that, really. It was really interesting and bares further examination. I would like to try and figure out some other way to further that and do some more Skype concerts with the right people in the right place at the right time.
TB: It’s a great idea. You were talking about the cover art and how it’s a collage and there’s a pretty wide assortment of things featured on the cover art. Do you want to talk about some of those things and why some of them made it on the cover? Do some of the items have stories?
SJ: I think there are. The art is done by these two artists in Sackville, New Brunswick – Paul Henderson and John Claytor – the masterminds behind SappyFest that also have this design company, Redesign Sackville. I recognize a lot of those artifacts from when I used to live in New Brunswick; some of them have appeared in my various apartments or offices or just everyday places. My accordion is there and some of the items are mine, but I was not responsible for assembling that at all and had no say in the artwork. I just hired these really talented friends and then stepped back and let them take over. But they had a copy of the record so I’m sure that they were considering that. They wanted to make a connection between the music and the actual artwork and I think they did a great job.
TB: It looks awesome. How about the rubber boot? That’s got its own special connotations here in Guelph and especially with Kazoo! Fest.
SJ: Yes it does, the rubber boot. I do not know the origin of the boot, but it did make me think of Wellington Brewery when I first saw it.
TB: Yeah. The cover’s got a lot going on. It kind of reminds me of the place right next door – Dis-a-Ray. And I understand you’ve got a connection to the owner, Ray Mitchell. Can you talk about that?
SJ: Yeah, I know Ray. I’ve known him for many years. I played at The Family Thrift Store [a shop Mitchell owned prior to Dis-a-Ray] – I think maybe one of my first shows as Shotgun Jimmie in Guelph was at The Family Thrift Store, and I played there when I was in the band Shotgun and Jaybird as well.
TB: Did you get to pay the shop a visit today or did you just get into town?
SJ: I just got here basically. I went to a friend’s house for dinner and then came straight here to meet you. But last time I was here Ray offered his shop up for a rehearsal space because I was meeting with the band and we needed to go over some tunes.
TB: That’s awesome.
SJ: He’s a good man.
TB: And a great connection to have, apparently. I guess it’s not such a surprise you’ve written an album associated with everything. I mean you’re pretty resourceful. You’ve turned things like suitcases and cookie sheets into instruments. Have you had any failed experiments making instruments?
SJ: Oh. Asking about my failures – interesting interview technique. I really enjoy experimenting with that stuff. Some things end up working better than others. I don’t know that… nothing jumps into mind. Like if I’m unhappy with something I guess that ends up not… I had one suitcase I used to use as a bass drum that for some reason had this overtone that wasn’t really audible to the human ear, but whenever someone tried to mic it at a big rock club it had this terrible feedback problem.
TB: A suitcase had a feedback problem?
SJ: I wouldn’t have suspected that a suitcase would have a feedback problem because you think of guitar amps and PAs and stuff like that feeding back and not really a suitcase. But yeah, this thing was terrible. But I like to experiment with different things and I’m not afraid of failure, but it does come up from time to time.
TB: Can you recall what brand or style the suitcase was so other people can avoid using them for bass drums?
SJ: I’d say it was a late ’80s, early ’90s Samsonite. Not the kind that is made out of Fiberglass, but the hard plastic version. They’re pretty rare actually. Generally speaking Samsonites make wonderful kick drums, but this hard plastic one – probably because of the shape of it or something, it was a rather large suitcase – I would recommend staying away from the large royal blue Samsonites.
TB: Are there any new instruments people can hear tonight?
SJ: No, on this one I decided to use real instruments. I had been doing a lot of experimenting with different things on previous tours, but for the Everything, Everything tour, I decided to pull all the stops and bring out real guitar amp and real drums and… Yeah. No bric-a-brac on this one at all.
TB: I hear there is a special backdrop you’ve set up for the tour, though.
SJ: There is a fancy backdrop that I’m on tour right now. And it’s also reminiscent of the sort of collage type of thing I guess in some respect. It’s like found objects. It’s one of my first forays into visual art. I’m excited to see how people feel about it.
TB: Wrapping things up, what’s next after tonight’s show?
SJ: After tonight, I play one more show in Southern Ontario, and then I’m heading to the East Coast of Canada to play some shows out there as far as Newfoundland. And then I’m going to head out west, do a western tour, and then play some festivals this summer. Business as usual.