BRY WEBB with DOUG TIELLI at the Music Gallery (197 John), Saturday (February 4), 6 and 8:30 pm. $12. RT, SS. See listing.
Don't mistake Bry Webb for a man who's lost his edge. He's traded his road warrior lifestyle for domesticity and his gruff meat-and-potatoes rock and roll for glacial, acoustic folk, but the former Constantines frontman hasn't given up his punk rock ideals.
"The touring lifestyle tends to invite self-centredness, because you're kind of living in your own world in that situation," says the Guelph-based singer/songwriter over coffee in Toronto. "But when you have a kid, you can't do that at all. You start to pay more attention to the things around you that are going to influence his future."
The deep-voiced crooner's first solo album, Provider (Idée Fixe), is a mellow meditation on private moments, though the second-person address of Ex-Punks stands out for its didacticism.
"It's about growing up in punk rock and trying to figure out what those ideals mean to me now," explains Webb. "Punk rock, to me, is about being adaptive and economical with your energy and doing something interesting with it. It's important not to deny the things you value just because you're tired."
That's a hard-learned lesson for Webb. Many of the songs on Provider were recorded over five years with the Harbourcoats, a supergroup of sorts, but after overworking the tunes in the studio, he deemed them unfit for release. Then, when the Constantines went on indefinite hiatus in 2010, Webb moved from Montreal back to Guelph, accepted a job in community radio and briefly considered retiring as a musician.
"A friend of mine said to me, ‘It's more important that your kid see you happy and see that it's possible to do what you love than for you to simply provide all of his material goods,'" recounts Webb. "That was such a revelation. It made me realize that I really needed music to be happy, even if it's just writing songs for my son to hear."
An additional boost came from Leslie Feist, who invited Webb to duet on her new Metals album. When she later asked him to open for her on tour, he rushed to complete his album in time. That deadline compelled him to rediscover the value of back-to-basics recording and musical spontaneity.
"When you start to over-think everything, it can kill a song. The performance that happens in the moment, that's what a song is anyway. It's a well-articulated moment."