Apostle of Hustle
Masters of the Realm
Andrew Whiteman is a lazy man. At least, he seems to think so. His resumé, which spans a 24-year career, begs to differ. He's been in two successful and influential bands - Broken Social Scene and Bourbon Tabernacle Choir - from completely different genres and different chapters of Canadian music history. He's written a Top Ten hit (Big Sugar's "The Scene"). His primary project, Apostle of Hustle, has three eclectic full-lengths to their name, as well as two EPs: one is a collection of hip-hop remixes, the other is a collaboration with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
"I do feel like I haven't done enough," he insists, with wide-eyed sincerity. "I don't know how much I believe in Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence, but when you walk around with Rimbaud on your shoulder, you're comparing yourself to your immediate peers or your dead peers. I'm very restless." And there it is: the understatement of the year, as anyone who has ever known Andrew Whiteman will tell you. On "The Perfect Fit," from the new Apostle of Hustle album Eats Darkness, Whiteman weaves a chorus out of a line from poet David Antin: "Think about the perfect fit / Between the life you lead and the death you get." Though he's older than many of his current collaborators, Whiteman is too young to be thinking about death. Which he isn't, really. It's just that he wants to squeeze everything out of life - and not squeeze the life out of everything in the process.
He recalls reading about Crazy Horse as a kid (the Lakota warrior, not Neil Young's band). Before going into battle, the Lakota "would have to make peace with [their] personal spirits and say, 'It's a good day to die. I'll be happy if I go out there and die today,'" Whiteman explains. "'The Perfect Fit' is my version of that. It's a technique for living harder, more fully, knowing that death is on your shoulder."
That theme can be traced right back to the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir's first single, which had a carpe diem chorus: "Some day there's going to be worms crawling through your skull." Since then Whiteman has been a multitasking musical hustler par excellence, willing to try anything and everything.
The oft-told tale about Apostle of Hustle is that it was born after Whiteman and then-girlfriend Leslie Feist went on a Cuban vacation, where he was inspired to come back and explore Latin rhythms. But that's become cheap shorthand for a band with an insatiable musical appetite from every corner of the world consciousness, never mind Whiteman's own long and storied career.
He left the Bourbons, a nine-piece R&B band, in 1993, after extensive touring and competing personalities. He quickly kickstarted the prog-rock power trio Gunwalebob with drummer Andrew Henry (Venus Cures All) and bassist Julian Brown (Guh). There was a short time in garage rock band the Strap, who backed up Chicago R&B singer Andre Williams before the Sadies got the gig. A spoken word album, Fear of Zen, spawned the band ĦQue Vida! Along the way, he helped play small parts in midwifing the early careers of Feist and the New Deal. And after scoring the Big Sugar hit, he tried unsuccessfully to land a publishing deal. "I came up with a couple of great boy band songs I could still use," he deadpans.
And those are just his musical passions. These days he walks around his new home of Montreal listening to poetry and audio art he finds on the website Ubuweb ("all avant-garde, all the time"). Says the "lazy" Whiteman: "I wish I was a graduate student under [avant-garde poetry critic] Marjorie Perloff at USC in California. I did a cabaret in September, and I wish I could jump into that. I could do better. I wish getting high and watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force wasn't so funny, know what I mean?"
One of the sound collages that weave through Eats Darkness features the voice of William S. Burroughs, repeating the phrase "immeasurably old and ravenously young." At the age of 42, Andrew Whiteman is undoubtedly both.
The greatest challenge of Andrew Whiteman's career has been to whittle down and focus his myriad ideas. Ironically, it may have been the rambling mess that is Broken Social Scene that taught him how to do that. He came to the band with the most conventional background, and one has to wonder if he helped to impose some order on that band's early tendencies to drone for ten minutes at a time.
"It's not a coincidence that Broken Social Scene became more melodic when Andrew came into the band," says writer Stuart Berman, who just published an authorized biography of the group, This Book is Broken. "He brings an undeniable level of skill and expertise. Most of [that band] come from indie rock backgrounds, where technical skill is not necessarily a valued attribute. He's the closest thing they have to an in-house guitar god, in terms of a suave, smooth guitar player who has undeniable chops. There's a reason why he takes the guitar solos. Andrew is a crooner and a balladeer and a pop songwriter, but [in Apostle of Hustle] he wraps it up in textural dressing and rhythmic experimentation."
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