American producer and label owner Dallas Austin has taken a business interest in Toronto artist Colin Munroe. The man who has worked with everyone from TLC to Madonna and Gwen Stefani signed a joint-venture deal between his label and Munroe's manager's label.
The agreement between Austin's Rowdy Records and Andrew Kennedy's Marked Music is for the world, excluding Canada.
"In Canada, I hear the buzz going on his record, so we're just picking up the ball and running with it," says Austin in an exclusive interview for Lowdown. "We're going to do the U.S. release, but I want him to stay organic enough to where people can come out and see him. I want to put him on the road to really break him, so that's he's an artist that people really love to see and hear, then you have a solid fan base and it's not just based off of one song."
"This is what's cool about the situation," says Munroe. "We didn't want to do a straight production deal with Rowdy Records. We wanted to retain as much of our autonomy as possible, so we basically created a new company. That's what it looks like on paper. You might as well call it the Find Colin Munroe A Deal Company. And that's the purpose of the company. Both parties are in it to try and find the best situation and if we can, great."
According to Munroe's manager, a letter of intent has been signed outlining that upon execution of the distribution agreement, a joint company will be set up.
Munroe's album, "Don't Think Less Of Me," drops in Canada via Marked/Fontana North, in March 2008 (Jill Snell is the marketing director for the project). His stop motion video for "World Of Pain," made from 10,000 still photographs, has received 350,000 plays on YouTube, thanks to the efforts of Vancouver-based Frontside Promotions and the word-of-mouth that followed. The second single, "Your Braids," will be serviced in the new year.
But what's unique and impressive about Munroe, and actually makes you appreciate his album all the more, is that he is a one man band.
Onstage, he stands at the mic behind his keys, with the drums (kick, snare, two cymbals) just to the side, and plays both at the same time, while singing. Sometimes, he'll play guitar too, and add glockenspiel and tambourine that are within arms' reach. Ben Nudds accompanies him on acoustic guitar, so it's really a two-man-one-man band, as Kennedy likes to call it.
Austin hasn't seen Munroe perform live (in Canada, he's booked by S.L. Feldman & Associates), but did watch the rehearsal footage of six songs and see the video for "World Of Pain." "That's when I really thought, 'This kid's incredible," Austin marvels.
He first heard Munroe through his manager David Gates, his partner in Rowdy.
"I forgot exactly how he found him, but he came and played me his CD and just told me I had to listen to it," Austin recounts. "I took a couple of days to listen to it and I was like, 'Well who is this?' and he's like, 'This kid named Colin Munroe. He's writing and playing and singing and everything. He's very talented.' I was like, 'Well, when can we see him?'
"So Colin and Andrew flew down to Atlanta and I got a chance to meet him and hang out with him for a few days and I was like, 'Man, we should do something with him, do a deal with him and try to expose this kid. He's incredible.'"
Rowdy has a first-look distribution deal with Universal, but Austin's artist Novel will be distributed by Capitol. Austin tells Lowdown that Munroe's album will come out through Rowdy in the second quarter of 2008, but set up will start in January. The distributor is still up in the air.
Munroe, who began his music career by working behind the scenes, writing and producing for such Canadian R&B and hip hop artists as Glenn Lewis, Divine Brown, Saukrates, Ray Robinson and Brassmunk, is excited to work with Austin.
"What he has the unique ability to do is bring a certain amount of credible focus in a country, where I have no reputation. No one knows me," Munroe tells Lowdown. "I want to have a champion with that kind of respect and that kind of talent and that kind of credibility. I'll bet every artist wishes they could have someone in their corner like that.
"He has says that he will do everything within his power to find us the right situation and I think the right thing these days would mean finding the label that is most excited to work with you. It's becoming increasingly harder to find, as labels are more paranoid about spending money and they're more paranoid about new artists."
While Munroe has been working in the urban music community in Canada, his songs are pure pop. The self-produced "Don't Think Less Of Me," mixed by Mark Needham (The Killers, My Chemical Romance), ranges from the incongruously chirpy "World of Pain" to the whoa-oh groove of "Will I Stay" to the more wistful and melancholy "Divine" and pounding pop of "One Draw."
"As much as I do love urban music and hip hop was a big part of my musical discovery, I grew up with The Beatles and Van Morrison. That, at the end of the day, is where I feel my voice belongs," explains Munroe.
Growing up in the farming township of North Gower, just outside Ottawa, Munroe was home schooled for most of his life. Radio was his link to the outside world. At age 8, he started playing on a dormant drum kit belonging to his dad. Piano came a short while later. By 16, now in a public high school, he was exposed to a broad range of artists, including U2 and Jamiroquai. He soon added another instrument to his extracurricular activities -- guitar, but would only sing behind closed doors. "Maybe because of the home-schooling, I've always felt very much on my own," he says.
When Munroe graduated, he moved to Toronto. He enrolled at the University of Toronto in film and philosophy and his grandfather let him live in the attic bedroom, where he set up his recording gear. When he wasn't studying, he started writing and demoing, trying to learn the anatomy of a great song. "I wasn't thinking of a record deal at the time; I was thinking, 'I need to find something special that I'm supposed to say, then I will share it with people,'" Munroe says.
Partway through university, Munroe got involved in the local urban music industry and began working with Morgan, then Lewis, and Robinson, whose 2004 album, "What It Is," received a Juno nomination. "I feel great affection for the urban community because they were so accepting of raw talent and ability and they took me under their wing and saw something special and I ran with it," he says confidently. His three-year bachelor degree stretched over five.
After hooking up with management and a private investor, Colin rerecorded his demos at the state-of-the-art Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, ON, and then did some vocals at home and programming at another facility. "Don't Think Less Of Me" is all him -- lead vocals, harmonies, bass, drums, guitar, programmed drums and bass, even glockenspiel and the weird synthetic cricket noise at the beginning of the title track.
On that song, Colin says, lyrically, "I basically summed up a lot of themes on the album and it encompasses a headspace that I've been in for a while. I've grown frustrated with writing what seems riddled with cheesy metaphor and very pretentious poetry. I just wanted to be as transparent and as real as I possibly could. I found that a lot of that feeling ended up in songs like 'Don't Think Less Of Me.'"
Munroe says Austin feels "Will I Stay," which he wrote about being in a relationship with that ideal someone, would be a great first single in the U.S. "That's the one he's really excited about. I think he's attracted to its sitting in a couple of different musical genres, which is basically him, the feel of a more urban-leaning track with a bit more of a backbeat, but it has the jangly guitars and everything else that you might expect to find in a pop rock song. I think it fits in both worlds and I think that's what he likes most about it."
Munroe, meanwhile, just took it upon himself to remix Kanye West's "Flashing Lights," coincidentally the new single from West's album "Graduation."
"'Flashing Lights' is just a magical track," says Munroe. "He did a really great job with the rhymes as he always does, but I was curious to see if there could be a melodic element that takes it to the next level. I took snippets of the track where he's not rapping and I re-arranged it in a different form and rewrote melodies on top of that.
"This is something when I first heard the track and the way that it intro-ed, my ear was expecting to hear melodies and wanting to and when I didn't, I was like, 'Well maybe I should do something about this.'"
No one from West's camp has heard it, as far as Munroe knows. The remix is downloadable on MySpace and iLike. A street video for the song will be uploaded to YouTube shortly.
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