Caroline Brooks ... 1/3rd of the Good Lovelies

I don't even remember when I met the Good LoveliesCaroline Brooks, Kerri Ough, and Sue Passmore.  It was definitely when I was living and making music in Canada, but where exactly in that great north country did I meet them?  Was it in the Royal City of Guelph?  Was it that circus-like February weekend in Montreal at Folk Alliance (when I also met Lori Cullen, Duane Andrews, Kurt Swinghammer, and Pat Boyle)?  Was it at the always-killer Hillside Festival?  The mist of time is thick and I am disoriented, pleasantly so.

No matter.  Allow me to introduce you to the sweet sound of the Good Lovelies (one of Canada's premier folk bands) and to one third of that power trio, Caroline Brooks.  (Don't worry ... I fully intend to introduce you to the other two Lovelies -- Kerri and Sue -- in future Tenacity posts.)

There's always been a spark between Caroline and me, a kind of open knowing-ness, a lovely curious, eager reach toward friendship.  Though we've only spent small spans of time together -- in a bar before a show, on a street corner, in a poutine shop -- I've always felt happy for our moments of connection and wondered why we didn't make more of them happen.  (In fact, I've wondered this about the Good Lovelies in general.  I've often fantasized about writing a whole record of tunes for them to sing.  Their voices are somehow both ethereal and elemental, primal and pretty -- a combo I absolutely love.)  

Such is the life of musicians on the run: chasing the next lyric, the next song, the next gig.  Imagine how great it was for me, then, when Caroline agreed to take part in the Tenacity interview.  Another point of connection for us.  Wonder where it will lead ...

(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

1.Tell me a story about / describe to me your lowest musical moment, were you were at rock bottom, the most frustrated, the most discouraged.
I lost my voice about a year ago. It was terrifying; my high range was almost completely gone, and even my speaking voice was husky and rough. It may sound sexy, but it was not. I was used to a very clear, bell-like tone from my voice, and this was not my voice.

It was threatening my career as a musician and my mental health, not to mention the financial well-being of my bandmates. It was very very scary.

2. What change or changes did you make?  How did you get out of that place?  What made a difference?
I made some big lifestyle changes, and started to think of my voice in a different way. I started to see a vocal coach for the first time. This may seem insane to others - my being in a vocal harmony group - I had never, before that time, treated my voice like an instrument.

I play guitar and mandolin, and practice those regularly, but before last year, had never practiced singing daily. I just sang while I was writing, rehearsing, and performing (which is a lot of the time), but I had developed some bad habits.

In addition to seeing the top ENT in Toronto (I was very lucky), I cut dairy, all alcohol, caffeine, and other acidic foods, to reduce reflux.

A huge part of my healing process was seeing my vocal coach. Amanda helped me get out of a very bad place emotionally. Because of her help and guidance, I am a better singer than I was just a year ago.

3.  Tell me about your most meaningful or your biggest musical triumph?  It can be very personal or very public.  How did it come to happen?
When we released our last full-length original album, “Let the Rain Fall”, I had to learn some key electric guitar parts from the album for our live performance. I really didn’t think I could do it, but after some diligent rehearsing, I was able to play the parts.

The first show I played them at was in Guelph, ON in December 2011. That was a very fulfilling moment, watching my fingers fly in a way that I never thought I’d be able to.

4.  Tell me how being a musician has made you a better person?
I think that music keeps me joyful, and allows me to see things positively, even in dark moments. Travelling with my band is extremely fun, and having this job as a career means spending a lot of time with my best buds/band mates. For me there is no greater payoff than stepping onstage with my two best friends and singing in harmony – I can’t recreate that feeling anywhere else in my life.

5.  To whom would you like to ask question #4 to -- living or dead?  Why would you want to ask them?  What do you think their answer to question #4 would be (as succinctly as you can state it)?
I would ask Paul Simon how making music has made him a better person. He is probably my favourite songwriter in the universe, and Graceland is a perfect piece of musical genius.

I suspect that he would say that being a musician allows him to see the world through music. Not just through travelling the world as a touring musician, but making music locally, with people from all over the world. It makes for a beautiful worldview!

6. Do you have a musical challenge you'd like to issue to my readers?  Some small / do-able practice they could try for 1, 7, 14, 21 days?  Something that you worked on that made a difference to you as a musician, songwriter, person?
If you haven’t already, make a date to write with someone else. I have found that co-writing has made me a better songwriter. Do it weekly, for a month, with different people and try to look at the tunes objectively to find out if your writing is evolving. It’s changed my life!

My 3 Things - May Twenty Fifteen

My 3 Things FAQ here.

1. Listening: "Obiero" by Ayub Ogada

Wait until it is dusk or even the dark of night.  Then, light a candle or turn the lights down low.  Press play and do nothing.  Just listen.  You will hear the mystery, the awe, the radiance.  

2. MAKING: Shallot and lemon confit

I had a surfeit of shallots.  What to do?  Searching through a 2005 Food and Wine cookbook I found this recipe: Shallot and Lemon Confit by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  I had four lemons on hand.  Game on.  He's a superchef.  I'm not.  I didn't have fresh thyme or fresh parsley, so I left those out.  I also spilled WAY more than 12 coriander seeds (!) into the pan when I was measuring.  Sweet.  The whole thing turned out amazing.  I served it with sauteed greens and scooped it on top of asian sloppy joes.  Superchef who?


2a. My Cooking playlist on SpotifY: Touch

I call this playlist "Touch" because the music is breathtaking in its touch and feel.  Each of these musicians is a master at shade, shadow, suggestion. This music is subtle.  It's about the sleight of hand, the ghost note, the grace note, the space between. You'll hear the guitarist Antonio Forcione, the bassist Charlie Haden, the saxophonist Ben Webster, and more.


3.  REREADING: "Middlemarch" by George Eliot 

This will be the third year in a row I have read Middlemarch.  I first picked it up about a decade ago.  (And, yes I am aware of Rebecca Mead's book about reading and rereading Middlemarch.)  Why so many re-reads?  To know George Eliot better.  To marvel at her language and masterful turns-of-phrase.  To study her descriptions of people and moods and feelings and to imprint those descriptions on my soul, to maybe have them appear in a song someday.  In short, to return to this incredible novel as a way of returning to myself, learning myself.


What are you listing to, making, and/or rereading these days?

The "My 3 Things" FAQ

My 3 Things is my monthly jam about ... you guessed it ... 3 things that I am up to.  It's a collection of songs, ideas, books, etc., that totally light me up.

Usually the 3 things include (but are not limited to): 

  • Something I'm listening to
  • Something that's rocking my world 
  • Something I'm thinking about 

They could also be:

  • Something I'm reading
  • Something I saw
  • Someplace I went

It's ever changing -- My 3 Things.  That's why it behooves you to be on the My 3 Things list.  Sign up below by scrolling to the very bottom of the page.

Pretty simple.  Pretty sweet.

3 Things - April Twenty Fifteen

1: Listening:  “We Belong Together” by Rickie Lee Jones

Lie on your floor and crank this song real loud.  That’s what I did.  I lost my self and soul for a few minutes.  Been years since I’d heard those iconic piano chords that open the song, and that incredible first line, "Say this was no game of chicken you were aiming your best friend. That you wear like a switchblade on a chain around your neck I think you picked this up in Mexico from your dad.”  Quintessential Rickie — the mood, the strange lyrics, the drama.   When the song finished, I got up, walked over to my guitar, picked it up, hit the re-play button on YouTube, and played along to this song, over and over. 

Gregory Pepper

It is a very tricky thing to introduce you to Gregory Pepper.  In fact, it was so intimidating that for awhile I put it off.  Finally, I stopped being such a baby and decided to ship this interview with Pepper because by now he's probably thinking: "WTF, Schutt?!  What ever happened to that interview you asked me to do??" 

Here goes ...

Who is Gregory Pepper?  

He is a man of many nicknames: Peps, Pep Pep, Pepper, GP.   

He is a man of many bands and band names: Gregory Pepper and His Problems, Common Grackle, Big Huge Truck (to name only a few). 

He comes from the Royal City of Guelph, Ontario.  Guelph (pronounced "gwelf") is the best little gem of an Ontario town.  I lived there for seven years.  I call it the "Austin, Texas of Canada."  

One question to rule them all

I just finished a re-read of the book  The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

This book dares you to define your #1 priority (in one area of life) and then do that “ONE Thing” for as much of the day as you possibly can.  

How do you define your #1 priority?  By asking yourself “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”  

As a musician, I struggle with this question every day, all day long.  What IS my one thing? There are so many of them.  What’s my ONE thing for today? (Do I practice scales? Learn a new piece?  Review something I already know?  Do I transcribe something?  Will any of this really make a difference in the long run?)  


What does it mean to you? For most musicians, solitude is an old friend. We spend hours and hours "in the shed" practicing, alone with our selves, our instruments, our dreams, and our limits.

To me, solitude means uninterrupted stretches of time (long or short) to read, write, compose, play guitar, meditate, think, draw, or work on a project that might or might not have a deadline or point.

In an increasingly noisy world, solitude is rare and valuable. Accordingly, the "things" that come from spending time in solitude can be rare and valuable too - a flash of insight, a distillation of thought, a connection of ideas, an acceptance of what is. 

I've been reading the literature of solitude over the past few months. Here are two of my favorite books on the subject. 

"A Woman in the Polar Night" by Christiane Ritter 

"How To Be Alone" by Sara Maitland 

How do you experience solitude? Do you deliberately create time for it? When you have it, do you luxuriate in it or does it make you uneasy? Where is your favorite place to "practice" solitude? Outdoors? A certain room in your house? 

House concerts and radical vulnerability

I hosted a house concert on January 29th. Maybe you saw it on my tour page?  You were invited … Did you come?  Were you there?  Were you the one that brought the director from Spain with you?  Were you the one who came from a meeting with an NFL-er?  Or were you the one who brought your saxophone and absolutely killed us with your snakey, gorgeous, breathy lines?  Maybe you were the one sitting in a chair basking in the glow of the candles and the surprise puppet show?

Yeah … that’s it.  That was you!  You!  You get it!  

You came because you’re starting to figure out how I operate, something I like to call “radical vulnerability.”  That’s the thing I am working on.  Thank you, Sonya, for getting radically vulnerable with me -- both at the Redstack show in December and at the house concert last week.  Thank you for getting radically vulnerable with your writing and reviewing the house concert. I’ll see you at the next one -- from the stage, singing, winging-it, shoulder to shoulder.  Hell yes!

Write 2 songs a month?

Hell Yes!

how awesome is this awesome?

how awesome is this awesome?

This year ... that's my plan, that's my jam. 
2015 -- The year of consistent awesomeness.

I'll be posting new tunes here and on my Soundcloud (where there is already a lot of goodness going on).

This means I am writing ...

No Matter What. 

Through thick, through thin: foot surgery, travel, Mom's cancer stirs up trouble, RedStack blows up and becomes the hottest new band in NYC, lots of other things I cannot even fathom right now, etc.

Gulp!  Here we go ...

What are you saying HELL YES to?  Let me know, down below.

(Awesome image courtesy of the Bringing Awesome Back blog.)







Questions of questions

Another image from my journal.  Read the journal FAQ here.

I like this description of music as a series of questions of questions of questions ... It somehow seemed right to me when I read it.  The quotation came from the book The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. 

What are you reading?  Do capture any thoughts, lines, words when you read them?  If so, how?  What's your way of keeping these shards of words and phrases?  Tell me.  Tell me more.

Want to sing with me Thursday night?

'cause I want you to sing with me ... at the REDSTACK gig, Thursday, December 11 at 9:30pm sharp! at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 3.

I've got a little song in mind I want to arrange for two or three or fifty voices.  But I am only one little person and Jules doesn't know the song (yet) and still that would only be two little people.

So if you are coming to the gig and you want to sing with me, send me an email

And if you're not coming to the gig and you want to sing with me, send me an email.

And if you want to come to the gig and sing with me but you forgot to get a ticket or didn't have the internet or 10$ to get a ticket and it's now sold out, send me an email. 

How sweet it is to be loved by you.  It's true.

A little hand-made, collaged, show poster goodness, by yours truly