October 9, 2012
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Collett gets political on latest album
By Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency


Jason Collett

When you’re trying to mix politics with pop, you could always listen to your gut. But it might be better to listen to The Clash.
That’s what singer-songwriter Jason Collett discovered when he was writing his half-dozenth solo album Reckon, a disc that tackles the current economic crisis and its fallout.
“At one point I became aware the songs had this overwhelming undercurrent and I actually started to panic, because the last thing I wanted was shrill rhetoric,” the 45-year-old Collett explains from his Toronto home. “That does nobody any good when you’re trying to write pop songs, essentially. But one day I was coming back from a show somewhere, and I put on London Calling. I hadn’t listened to it in a while. And it’s a fantastic record because it has all these moments of full-on fun between these charged political messages.”
So, the sometime Broken Social Scenester did what any smart songwriter would do: He took a tip from Joe Strummer and co., counterbalancing heavier songs like When the War Came Home and Where Things Go Wrong with lighthearted fare like I Wanna Rob a Bank and a musical menu that offers everything from reggae and funk to roots-pop and southern soul. The result is one of his sharpest, strongest and most satisfying works to date.
With Collett’s day of reckoning finally arriving and a solo Canadian tour in the offing, he called up to discuss playing politics, shooting himself in the foot and going it alone.

Did you set out to make a political disc?

No. I’m just the kind of guy that reads the paper every day. And if you read it enough, you start reading between the lines and you get a sense of things. We’ve all been around watching the unravelling of our whole theory of economics. And it’s been devastating, not just to poor folks but the entire middle class — older people that have lost their savings, people that have lost their homes. These things can get under anybody’s skin if you’re interested at all in current affairs. And it became an undercurrent in the writing of these songs. Not on purpose. It’s just what happens. I started recording this record just as Occupy started. There was something weirdly poetic about it. I really felt that on a very emotional level, this record is a part of a groundswell of other things.

Making political music seems a thankless task these days. In the ’60s, Blowin’ in the Wind was an anthem. Today, it would be an iPad jingle.

I know. Things have shifted dramatically. But Dylan turned his back on the movement when it used him in an ideological way. Because he was shrewd enough to realize art needs to remain on the outside of ideologies. Of course, it’s natural for any movement to want a leader. But that’s what’s fascinating about the Occupy movement. It’s gained the wisdom to say, ‘We don’t want any more leaders.’ And as for iPad jingles, this economic globalization has affected everybody, including the music industry. It’s begun to seep into the way people write music. They’re not going to sell CDs, so they’re hoping for licensing. I’m one of those artists. It’s become the biggest part of my bread and butter. And now I’ve gone and shot myself in the foot. Believe me, that was in my mind when I was making it. It does pose a risk. If you’re not making your stuff malleable enough to be in a car commercial or a romance movie, you could be left out in the cold.

The album has a lot of very short songs. What’s the philosophy behind that?

I always think if you can say it and keep it short, great. There’s no need to repeat another chorus or another verse. Another, part of it is that I made my last record Rat a Tat Tat with the band Zeus and wrote with them in mind, which was really fun to do. But we knew before this record that they would no longer be my touring band. So it changed the way I was writing and made it simpler. When I write, I don’t leave spaces for instrumental breaks or intros and outros. I’m not thinking about that. So it really did make everything that much leaner.

Musically, there’s a lot of variety on the album. Are you just letting each song decide what it needs?

Yeah. But if you look back on my records, they’re all kind of similar in that. I flit about between genres. That is also a frustrating question for a lot of artists: What genre do you belong in? I believe I’m just in that upstanding tradition of rock ’n’ roll. Much in the way The Rolling Stones are. I’m not comparing myself to them, but people think of them as a rock ’n’ roll band, even though there’s everything from gospel and jazz to country in what they do. I like the big tent that rock ’n’ roll music is. And I like the tradition.

After you’ve made an album with a band, is it frustrating to have to tour solo with just an acoustic guitar?

It can be. But I’ve always enjoyed going back and forth from both worlds. I like playing solo. I like the freedom of it. I also like keeping all the money. But it’s also how I write the songs. And I firmly believe songs are not static things. They’re living and breathing, and they change from night to night. I like stripping them right down to their essence. You can achieve a kind of intimacy when you play alone, because of the innate vulnerability of the fact that it’s just you in a very naked way without a band there. People sense that. You can’t get closer to an audience than that.

Jason Collett Canadian tour dates:

Oct. 2 | Toronto | Great Hall       
Oct. 3 | London | Music Club       
Oct. 4 | Hamilton | Casbah       
Oct. 6 | Wakefield | Blacksheep Inn       
Oct. 7 | Montreal | Lion d'Or       
Oct. 23 | Victoria | St. Ann's Academy
Oct. 24 | Vancouver | Rio Theatre
Oct. 26 | Calgary | Commonwealth
Oct. 27 | Edmonton | Royal Museum Theater
Oct. 28 | Saskatoon | Amigo's
Oct. 30 | Winnipeg | West End Cultural Centre

darryl.sterdan@sunmedia.ca
@darryl_sterdan
blogs.canoe.ca/turntable
facebook.com/darryl.sterdan
 





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