Next year's model: Kathleen Edwards
In what could be the defining irony of her young career, Ottawa singer Kathleen Edwards' best bet at success in the music business may a song about how much the music business sucks.
"One More Song," a track from Edwards' upcoming debut long-player, "Failer," rails against "Johnny Little-Rocket-Star," a music-industry figure who dispenses advice about the keys to success.
"Write a hit so I can talk you up/Nobody likes a girl who won't sober up," Edwards sings in a winningly-weary voice, surrounded by elegantly chiming and twanging guitars.
He says he's got a strategy
I'm a test of his sanity ...
You can't even make up my mind
Just one more song the radio won't like
Speaking via telephone from her home in rural Quebec, north of Ottawa, Edwards, 23, admits the song was inspired by conversations with her manager Patrick Sambrook, who also handles Sarah Harmer's career.
"I think he loves the fact that there is a song about him. The song just kind of makes me feel better, having written it," Edwards chuckles.
"I wrote the song after we had had a few conversations, and I felt like kicking him in the ass ... It stems from a conversation of 'There's nothing on this record that is going to make the radio.'
"In my mind, I went: Who f--king cares? The record is the record. You have a few more songs in you? No, the record is done."
Edwards' self-assurance isn't idle boasting. "Failer" (which is to be distributed by MapleMusic.com) is a collection of superlative songwriting that's all the more amazing considering Edwards hasn't been at this singer-songwriter thing for very long.
A child of a diplomat's family, Edwards studied classical violin for 12 years while living in Korea and Switzerland, before moving back to Canada as a teen in 1997.
"I played in (a school) band, but I never played in a band that wasn't part of my musical upbringing, until I started playing guitar at summer-camp. I started playing more and more and wouldn't study for exams, and just play down in my room. It started to take priority over doing well in school," she says.
"When I was in high school, from moving away all the time, I found I became a bit of a recluse and smoked way too much pot when I came back to Canada. I hadn't had a chance to do that overseas.
"I guess I was just a bored, angsty teenager who started to write stuff, which was pretty f--king bad, honestly. I have some of that stuff on tape, and it is awful."
The turning point for Edwards came after she met up with fellow Ottawa singer-songwriter Jim Bryson. Their friendship helped Edwards shift her songwriting to a higher gear.
"He has been a huge kind of person in my last few years of songwriting, as far as influences and songwriting," she says of Bryson.
"Playing with him, I found the songs came together early on, with him there. He was also someone whose opinion I valued. He gave me a lot more confidence than I had on my own. His feedback has been great to have."
In 2000, she recorded an EP, "Building 55," and one of the songs on that release, "Starling," inspired one of "Failer's" stronger numbers, "Hockey Skates."
The first song was inspired by the rapid rise and hype that surrounded the Ottawa-bred band Starling (who have since relocated to Toronto). Edwards admits the song was "pretty mean" and it upset some members of the band.
"(Starling) were the kind of band that was really slick and the girls went goo-ga over. They would play (the Ottawa club) Barrymore's and everybody was nuts about it. I went (to see them play) for the first time and said: What is so special about that? Meanwhile, if I had gone with a more open mind, I would have really liked it. And I ended up really liking it," she concedes.
Subsequently, there were attempts to talk Edwards out of including "Starling" on her album, and it's those conversations that inspired the bruised feelings expressed in "Hockey Skates," which concludes with: "Do you think your boys' club will crumble just because of a loud-mouthed girl?"
"I was one of those kids who couldn't get a coffeehouse gig, so I was bitter. A bitter little kid," she concludes, "but sometimes seeing things pretty clearly, too."
She cut the 10 tracks on "Failer" in Ottawa, with Dave Draves (of the Ottawa band Fishtales) handling production. The resulting sound -- particularly the deep-blue "Mercury," the dramatic "12 Bellevue" and the cheeky kiss-off song "Westby" -- could find a niche in the burgeoning alt-country underground, but any attempt to fence Edwards into a category will be a mistake.
Although she lives on five isolated acres of land near Lac Bernard, Edwards is venturing to Toronto's Rivoli on Tuesday (Feb. 5) to play a showcase gig. Advance copies of "Failer" have generated some major-label interest, and she's hopeful she'll be in a position to hit the road soon with her band.
During a recent meeting at a Canadian label, an exec told Edwards he liked "Failer" -- he just wasn't sure if, after enduring the parade of modern-rock and pop acts that currently infatuate the record biz, his assessment of her commercial prospects weren't clouded by his affection for her talent. In other words, she's so good, she might not be so good for business.
"It came over to me as a total compliment," says Edwards.
"I don't want the instant-milk career. I think sometimes lately that has been the specialty: instant milk. It's on special, and everyone is buying it.
"I listen to my record, and I think this is an album, not a record with two singles on it. That is the one thing about my record that makes me really happy. It is actually a record."