Exclaim! Hits the Juno Noms Party with Howie Beck, Jacksoul, Stereos, Michael Kaeshammer

Exclaim! Hits the Juno Noms Party with Howie Beck, Jacksoul, Stereos, Michael Kaeshammer
If an earthquake had levelled Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel this morning (March 3), a hefty chunk of the Canadian record industry would have gone down with it. The hotel's historic Imperial Room hosted the press conference to announce the nominations for the upcoming 2010 Juno Awards, set for St. John's, Newfoundland, on April 18.

Major and independent record label executives, media, artists and other assorted industry types (plus Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman) congregated to check out the nominations and generally schmooze, and Exclaim! was in the house.

First up was a predictably loud and hype-filled introductory video clip and comments from CTV personality Seamus O'Regan (thankfully Ben Mulroney was elsewhere). A St. John's native, O'Regan pledged that "we know how to party there. It [Juno weekend] will be unpredictable and memorable." He pointed out that the city was the first stop on the Juno roadshow in 2002, back when the awards moved away from their previous Toronto and Hamilton base.

In her short speech, Melanie Berry, president and CEO of Juno organizers CARAS, termed the event "a spectacular celebration of Canadian music," and termed the Junos "the Olympics of Canadian music."

Performers confirmed to appear on the awards show were then announced, followed by the announcements of the nominees in all 39 categories. Some of these were read out by Stereos, Divine Brown, and the Arkells, all nominees themselves.

We then managed to grab a cross-section of nominated artists for their post-announcement reactions. First up was acclaimed Cuban-Canadian piano virtuoso Hilario Durán , nominated in the Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year category for Motion. This is no novelty for Durán. "I believe this is my sixth nomination, and I have won two Juno Awards," he says. "The important thing is to get my music to the people, and that is why I'm happy about this." He intends to attend the show, adding "if there's a jam session, I'll play."

Also no stranger to the process is Jacksoul keyboardist Ron Lopata. "We've taken home a couple of Junos before, for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, in 2000 and 2007, as I recall." Jacksoul are nominated in that same category, for Lonesome Highway. This nomination has real poignancy, given the recent death of Jacksoul front-man Haydain Neale.

"It is nice that this will bring Haydain back into people's consciousness and celebrate his legacy," says Lopata. "He always loved making music, not only because it was his love and passion but for the people. This is icing on the cake and he is looking down proud that he is sharing this with us. He was one of the most wonderful of people, and he is sorely missed. We are trying to continue his legacy and his good spirit."

Lopata also produced and co-wrote for Michael Kaeshammer's recent album, Lovelight. It also earned a Juno nomination this year, for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. "It's my fourth nomination, and we're going to win. Believe it!" Kaeshammer tells us with mock bravado. He's booking his flight to St. John's, noting, "I'd have gone anyway because it is there and the party will be unbelievable! Everyone else will be there so I get to hang out with musician friends. Those kind of situations are great for collaborations with other people. It's such an easygoing atmosphere." Kaeshammer adds that he has already started writing for a new record. " I just want to keep going and going," he says.

One of his rivals in the vocal jazz category is acclaimed Toronto songbird Emilie-Claire Barlow, nominated for her album Haven't We Met. It is her third nomination, and she tells us, "It's nice to be invited to the party and this means another round of publicity. I'm up against Diana Krall though," she laughs.

Barlow will attend the festivities "if I can get away for the weekend. I am in the midst of working on a new project right now. I was in Newfoundland in 2002 when I was nominated, and it was dangerously fun!"

However, she's a little coy about discussing her next album. "It is a jazz record but it's a little different, in terms of repertoire. I can't give away more than that right now." Reflecting on her current album, she explains that "it came out a year ago. I played a lot of dates in Canada, U.S. and Japan, and I'm pleased that people have received it so well."

Toronto-based pop rockers Stereos get their first taste of Juno action with two nominations, for New Group of the Year and Pop Album of the Year (for their certified gold debut CD Stereos). Bassist Daniel Johnson calls the news "crazy, very exciting. I want to win them all, but I don't think we qualify for the female jazz category. We'll be on tour the day before and after, but we'll definitely be there."

Also eagerly anticipating their first visit to Newfoundland and Labrador are roots duo Digging Roots, nominated for Aboriginal Album of the Year for We Are. "It's our second nomination," says singer Shoshana. "It is exciting. There is no point in being blasé about it, this is fun! We'll go definitely and maybe play a show."

Our final chat is with maverick Toronto singer-songwriter/producer Howie Beck, who grabs his first Juno nomination in the Adult Alternative Album of the Year category, for How to Fall Down in Public. Clearly the most surprised nominee there, Beck confides that "when I heard this might happen, I was kind of concerned I was invited to be a seat-filler. I say this without any irony, I swear. I'd never been to something like this. I really do operate on the margins of the industry so this is pretty surprising, in a very nice way."

This may blow Beck's reputation as one of the most underrated songsmiths around, but he has already veered away from the singer-songwriter career path. "Since my album came out I basically had a nervous breakdown after a couple of months. I stopped the entire thing and, frankly, I am not really working on my own stuff anymore."

Beck is now in increasing demand as a producer. His resume includes Hayden, Jason Collett and Matthew Barber's new album, True Believer. "That is more suited to my personality," he says of production. "I'm about to produce Dan Griffin's solo record, which I think will be incredible. He's in the Arkells and is a really talented guy. I'm going home from this event to finish mixing the last song on Nathan Lawr's new album."

For a full list of all the 2010 Juno nominees, click here.