Published Oct 22, 2013Countless nationwide tours and nine records into his musical career, Winnipeg singer-songwriter Greg MacPherson has proven himself again and again to the Canadian music fans who have crossed his path. But on his new album, a Fireball, he's finally proving himself to, well, himself.
As we previously told you, the 10-song album is out October 29 on MacPherson's own label, Disintegration Records, and right now you can also stream the record here on Exclaim.ca. As MacPherson tells us, he believes with album nine he's finally in a place where he's truly a fan of his own music.
"It took me awhile to learn all of the things about recording and songwriting and production, and even just playing guitar," says MacPherson, who uses a baritone guitar and a looping station to create his eclectic rock songs. "When I was a kid, there was no internet, so I just listened to shitty music until I was in my late 20s. I was always gravitating towards something with more edge and energy and power, but I wasn't necessarily able to get there with my guitar playing until the last four or five years. I've come a long way and worked hard at it, and I feel like this is the first record I've made where it offers the same qualities of the records that I like listening to."
In fact, it was the Nova Scotia-born songwriter's brother who helped inspire him to branch out the tone and content of his songs. Previously, MacPherson was known for songs that tackled political topics or social justice. But on Fireball he says he didn't shy away from deeply personal lyrics and a wide range of themes and topics.
"My brother told me something after a show he saw of mine in Montreal," remembers MacPherson. "He said, 'That was great show, but you're just angry the whole time!' And I said, 'Well, yeah... I guess.' And he said, 'But you're not an angry man; I mean, you're not only angry. Couldn't you write songs that are all over the map?' And so since then I really took that to heart and I've been writing from a number of different angles. This record has a good flow to it where it's not just one thing, and it has lots of different elements with an aesthetic unity."
One standout track on the album, entitled "Tourists," features the haunting vocals of young singer Hailey Primrose, who MacPherson met at one of the songwriting workshops that he holds at Winnipeg's inner city schools.
"It was one of those happy accidents," he explains. "I had asked Hailey to come in and just double my vocals. I had a sound in my head that I thought would be really cool, so I got her to do it. Then at one point we were just listening through her take without my vocals, just to check her pitch and stuff, and it sounded so good that I decided just to scrap my vocals and just let her sing."
MacPherson's new batch of songs is shorter and more direct and upbeat than some of his previous albums, which often were heavy on ballads and pensive numbers. Fireball also has a live feel, courtesy of producer and longtime friend Cam Loeppky (best known for his mixing an engineering work with the Weakerthans). The album features MacPherson and drummer Rob Gardiner, who's been playing with him since his previous album, 2011's Disintegration Blues ("Rob's basically my band these days," says MacPherson).
MacPherson first worked with producer Loeppky on 2010's Mr. Invitation and since then the two Winnipegers have started a record label together (Disintegration) and grown closer in the recording studio.
"He's one of those guys that makes me laugh like nobody else can. He's got a great sense of humour," says MacPherson of his music business partner. "But he's a very, very smart man. He absorbs everything and he's got this ability to learn technical processes like no one else I've ever met. His knowledge and skill set has just gotten bigger and better over the years."
According to MacPherson, Disintegration has big plans over the next couple of years. In addition to the impending release of Fireball, the Winnipeg-based label has plans to release albums by rapper and Peanuts and Corn Collective member Pip Skid, as well as folky duo Cannon Bros. The label's roster also features MacPherson side-projects Nova and Slow Dancers, among others.
"I'm really proud of this label and a lot of stuff is coming out in the next year that I'm very excited about," says MacPherson. "I mean, running a record label as a business in this day and age is kind of stupid, but this is more the idea of it as a collective. We have expectations from the artists that everyone contributes to their own projects as much as they can. As a collective, the body of work that we create over the next couple of years will be recognizable and have quality and continuity."
And with another cross-Canada tour during October and November (see dates below), MacPherson is ready to spread the word about not only the rich music scene in Winnipeg but his newfound songwriting confidence, tackling topics that aren't always pretty, but are sometimes necessary.
"There's a lot of convention in our society about the way we relate to one another; a lot of preconceived ideas about the way people are. My brother is a psychiatrist and we talk about this a lot. He once said to me, 'You know, everyone has an element of bad in them, or evil, or violence.' And I think there's something to be said for songs that indulge in all aspects of our personalities.
"As a performer, I'd like to go places that take risks, maybe even for my well-being sometimes. I like to push myself to a place where I'm seeing things a little differently and this album helped me go to those places. I'm indulging in the idea that there are a lot of good people out there with mean streaks. And rock'n'roll music, at its essence, is supposed to be sexy and dangerous and take some chances; it shouldn't be boring. Too much of what I see is safe and pretentious and frustrating."
Listen to all of Fireball over here.
10/10 Guelph, ON – The Ebar
10/11 Toronto, ON – Magpie Taproom
10/12 Montreal, QC – Casa del Popolo
10/15 Trois-Rivieres, QC – Gambrinus
10/17 Sydney, NS – Elks Lodge
10/18 Halifax, NS – Gus' Pub
10/19 St. John, NF – Harvesting the Arts Festival
10/20 Chicoutimi, QC – Le Sous-Bois
10/21 Quebec City, QC – TBA (solo)
10/23 Kingston, ON – The Mansion House
10/25 London, ON – The Grad Lounge
11/14 Saskatoon, SK – Village Guitar & Amp
11/15 Calgary, AB – Palomino
11/16 Edmonton, AB – ARTery
11/17 Lethbridge, AB – Slice
11/18 Kelowna, BC – Habit
11/19 Vancouver, BC – The Biltmore
11/20 Powell River, BC – The Hub 101
11/21 Kelowna, BC – TBA
11/22 Nelson, BC – Kootenay Co-op Radio
11/24 Revelstoke, BC – Big Eddy's
11/25 Canmore, AB – TBA