The Lyrical Lady
A lover of literature, lyrics, sounds, and words, Toronto-based Sarah Greene fuses her interests as she produces her own tunes (she’s working on a new album), writes about music for NOW Magazine, and edits “Wood Wires & Whiskey” at Exclaim! Just read a couple of her interviews and reviews and you’ll get a sense of Greene’s passion for the local creative scene. Who better to ask for a few fall concert recommendations?
How would you describe the music scene in Toronto?
Which one? On the one hand, it’s really small—music across Canada, never mind Toronto, can feel like a very small world, like “everyone knows each other”; but on the other hand, which “everyone”? It’s very diverse. In recent years I’ve felt almost like I’m traveling to another city if I simply go to a venue I’ve never been to or check out a show that’s outside of my usual folky scene. That can be refreshing.
There are a lot of music scenes in Toronto and unfortunately, they tend to be somewhat segregated. Every now and again there will be a big show that seems to bust all of that (The Roots performing for free at Nathan Phillips Square last year as part of PANAMANIA Live comes to mind) but I’d like to see more cross-pollination at an indie level. There was a great cover story in this week’s NOW Magazine about how the city can support its local music scene better (“Dreaming Of Music City”). I’ve always felt like we have a wealth of music venues and a long history of being home to excellent songwriters and interesting bands. But many musicians juggle multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet in a city where rents are skyrocketing. The truth is a lot of my artist friends are moving to Hamilton (or elsewhere) where living costs are more affordable.
What shows or events are you looking forward to in the city this fall and winter?
I’m excited to see Weyes Blood at the Baby G (October 29) as I recently fell in love with her music—Natalie Mering’s got the voice I wish I had, so strong and womanly and 70s, and I like what she does with electronics. Baby G is a new club opened by a longtime booker friend of mine blocks away from my apartment.
Cass McCombs, one of my favorite contemporary songwriters, is playing October 26 at the Horseshoe—lucky us. He always has a great band. On a more local note, John Southworth (who really blows me away with his clever songs and uncanny timelessness) is launching a new album at the Burdock October 28.
Another local album I’m looking forward to is EONS (Matt Cully of The Bruce Peninsula). That launch is also at the Burdock, on November 4, the same night that power pop trio TUNS (Mike O’Neill from the Inbreds, Chris Murphy from Sloan and Matt Murphy from The Fuper Friendz) play at Lee’s.
I’m also excited to see Martha Wainwright play songs from her new album Goodnight City at the Mod Club, Wednesday, November 23. I heard some of these at the Rivoli when she was playing as a duo with Lucy Wainwright Roche. She really moves me.
On a super local, community level, I’m also looking forward to my friend Michael Holt’s Festival of House Culture (November 20 – 27, in people’s homes); they are teaming up with SoFar Sounds for one of the events and it’s not just music. I watched people create a shadow puppet video for a song by my friend Sandra Taylor in a living room last year.
Where do you draw inspiration for your writing—both songwriting and reviews and articles? Anywhere or anything in the city in particular?
I’m an infrequent songwriter. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is. I’d say I draw inspiration often either by stuff I’m trying to work out—the song tends to appear as the aha! moment or moment of release for me–or musical ideas seem to stem from music that I’m into. For example, I have a song on the go that’s probably deeply indebted to Nap Eyes. Sorry guys!
Like all journalists, I am inundated with press releases every day. I keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry partly in that way. But my best ideas probably come from my community, which is largely centered at the Tranzac, a not for profit arts club tucked away behind Future’s Bakery in the Annex. I’ve been a part of that community for a decade now, and for the past few years I also worked there. It’s been an invaluable source of support and inspiration. The music scene in Canada at large really isn’t so big, so when I go to other places, I kind of find the “Tranzac” there if you know what I mean.
Toronto is a city of parks. If you want to find a place to think creatively, there are so many options. Some of the places that I like to bike and walk (sometimes this leads to ideas) are the Waterfront Trail, the Toronto Islands, the Leslie Street Spit, the West Toronto Railpath, and High Park. Anywhere you don’t have to worry about being hit by a car while you’re daydreaming, basically. But the very long streets that cut across the whole city also inspire me: Dundas, in particular. Dundas, Bloor, and Queen all cross over the Don Valley where you get a wide-open expanse and a large view.
How did you come to Toronto and music, and what keeps you invested in both?
Actually, I was born here. I grew up in Toronto, mainly in the Beaches. I’ve been gradually moving west in Toronto since then, minus a two-year hiatus in Halifax, which I loved (and will always love) for its close-knit sense of community, awesome DIYness, and proximity to the ocean/nature.
Music kind of stole me from poetry after I finished university. Literature has recently been fighting back. Though they aren’t the same thing, for me, in my reading/listening and writing/songwriting I find there isn’t really that much of a difference. (Upon hearing the news of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in literature, I felt vindicated.) I always wanted to be near where the music and poetry was, so here I am.
What keeps me invested? I get to discover some really great music and talk to songwriting heroes of mine over the course of my job, which is kind of incredible.
It’s a double-edged sword living in the city where you grew up, but I think I stay committed to the Toronto music scene because this is where many of my friends and most of my family are and because—this might sound cheesy—Toronto seems to love me back. It feels good when someone comes up to you and says, “thank you for that article.”