Published Sep 17, 2007Rockets Red Glare – Sea Snakes – Nathan Lawr and the Minotaurs - Hylozoists – Feuermusik Few musicians possess a body of work as intriguingly diverse as Toronto's Jeremy Strachan. Cutting his teeth on hardcore punk in the influential, Mississauga-bred Rockets Red Glare, Strachan's talent as a multi-instrumentalist makes him a key figure in indie rock and improvised music. A student of classical guitar but self-taught on woodwinds and string arrangement, Strachan had been an in-demand session musician before his avant-pop duo Feuermusik released their 2006 album, Goodbye, Lucille, a singular amalgam of bucket percussion and saxophone. Soon after, he left Ontario to begin a master's degree in ethnomusicology at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland, where his studies resume this January. Strachan recently released a solo woodwinds response to visual artist Katie Bond Pretti's installation, The Heart of the Matter. A genuine scholar and a social, open-minded player, Strachan's stamp on this country's music community is unique.
At 12 years old, Strachan first observed a friend's guitar technique and got his own electric guitar the following year. "Like most 13 year olds — and I can verify this because I've been teaching them for the last four years — I just wanted to play classic rock and heavy metal," he recalls. "I was about 15 when a flyer came in the mail for the Mississauga School of Music, offering lessons in classical guitar. I'll say this without any embarrassment; the night before, I saw Liona Boyd on TV and thought it was the coolest thing. I thought she was doing so much more with the classical guitar than I was, just chugging out riffs."
Strachan began weekly lessons and struck up relationships with lifelong friends. After a few high school cover band experiences, Strachan, Evan Clarke, and Shaw-Han Liem formed Blue Light Blockade, Strachan's introduction to punk.
Completing a degree in classical guitar at the University of Toronto, Strachan became disenchanted with school. "I had to audition in front of a panel at U of T, which was absolutely fucking mortifying and I did master classes with all of these really famous [people]. After two years, I lost interest in pursuing guitar and I dropped out of university for two years." Strachan's decision also stemmed from the rising profile of Rockets Red Glare, his new hardcore band with Clarke and drummer Gus Weinkauf. Strachan played bass in Rockets and the role left its mark. "It's hugely influential on the way that I play any of my instruments now," he says. "If I hadn't played bass in that band, I would not have the understanding — at least I think I have — of the way people play together. It also taught me about the value of silence, restraint, and laying out for a long time." Touring the continent hard, Rockets disintegrated but Strachan and Liem re-emerged in the brilliant, short-lived Sea Snakes. At select shows, Strachan brandished a horn along with his bass. "I bought a tenor saxophone when I was 19 and that was my entry point into the nebulous black art of woodwind playing," Strachan laughs. "I didn't do much with it for a couple of years, but I'd been listening to a lot of jazz and couldn't understand how people were making music without picking up a guitar. It's just this other dimension of producing sounds using your body and breath that I was interested in." After happily appearing in a horn section on the Constantines' Shine a Light, Strachan met fledgling producer Paul Aucoin, who promptly got him playing guitar or horns or arranging string sections for mutual friends and random customers. While appreciative of the gig, Strachan knew something wasn't right. "I think living the life of a session musician in Canada would probably be as hard as making a living any other way, except that you're making music you don't really care about, which is not appealing to me in any way, shape, or form."
Before Strachan returned to school, he and Weinkauf started the fulfilling sax and buckets project Feuermusik, writing artful tunes inspired by musical chemistry rooted in jazz and hardcore that the duo explored previously. "Gus and I now know that it's okay to trust each other when what the other person is doing doesn't conform to what you think they should be doing," Strachan explains. "I've also learned that it's okay to fuck up a lot when you're playing, to let the form dissolve for a while, and let the music happen naturally before you reign it back in. That's why I spend a lot of time playing in free improvising ensembles, because you have no reference points other than what you think people are going to do and reacting to musical gestures.
"My philosophy is that music is essentially something you do with other people," he concludes. "Even with my solo record, I was making music with this imaginary thing that I was constantly keeping in mind and playing with."