CLAIRE JENKINS AVEC BAND featuring DON KERR at the Supermarket (268 Augusta), Monday (September 10), two shows 7 and 10 pm. $12, advance $10. 416-840-0501. Rating: NNNNN
From the homemade paper pirate hat Claire Jenkins has been rocking on stage lately - she's also wearing it on the sleeve of her enchanting new Crow's Nest/Nid De Pie CD - it would seem that the Montreal-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter has either got a serious buccaneer fetish or she's never gotten over a childhood fascination with role-playing games.
Jenkins's delightfully dramatic delivery suggests the latter, but it's really her foley-inspired approach to setting the mood for each narrative that betrays the indie theatre experience conspicuously absent from the biographical material she's sending to the press.
Not that co-starring in Hannah Moscovitch's award-winning play Essay under the direction of Michael Rubenfeld - a critics' fave at SummerWorks in 2005 - is anything to be embarrassed about. But it's understandable that with a debut recording to launch, Jenkins is trying to downplay the whole thespian thing, at least when speaking to music journalists angling for an easy laugh.
And who wants to deal with questions like "Were you looking for a line of work that pays even less than acting?" or "Getting too big for the Rhubarb Festival?"
"This is actually my first-ever music interview," confides Jenkins with a laugh, "and right before we began I told myself the one thing I wasn't going to discuss was my work in theatre. Wouldn't you know it, that's exactly where you start - d'uh!
"It was about six years ago, right after graduating from George Brown College where I studied acting, that I began playing guitar and writing some songs. In theatre, you're restricted to expressing yourself through other people's words, so suddenly being able to say exactly what I wanted made music a very attractive proposition.
"And I've found there are aspects of my theatre experience that I can apply to a musical context. It all comes down to listening to the other players while working together in the moment to build something beautiful."
Although Jenkins is a novice when it comes to making records, she understands the value of seasoned support and assembled an excellent cast to help hammer Crow's Nest into ship shape, including Undesirables guitarist Sean Cotton, drummer Brad Hart, bassist Joe Phillips, keyboardist Tom Howell and Treasa Levasseur on accordion and marimba.
Overseeing the single-day recording blitz, during which all the album's 12 songs were recorded in sequence sans overdubs, was producer/mixer Don Kerr, who added his own uniquely twisted tweaks to create an intriguing audio vérité document of the "low-budget epic," a home recording in the truest sense of the term.
"We took over Don's entire place, putting the drums, electric guitar and bass in the living room, and the marimba, piano, cello and acoustic guitar in the dining room, with a plexiglass partition in between so we could see each other. We ran cables through the heating vent to the studio set-up in the basement.
"To make the sea sounds, we filled the laundry sink with water and stirred it with a paddle. Whatever outlandish idea I had, Don was eager to try it out. We got some bells, rang them and then recorded them being dropped in the water. We hit on something cool by slowing the track down an octave and playing it backwards, which we used on the song For The Neighbours.
"There were also wind sounds, creaking doors, feet walking - it was all done to create an atmosphere outside of what we were doing with the music.
"It was an unusal way to record - some people might say crazy - but we were able to take advantage of this amazing energy that came out of our extended conversation with instruments."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Claire Jenkins explains why she decided to cover Tom Waits' Strange Weather in French.
Producer Dale Mornningstar's microphone placement expertise proved to be an asset while recording in a home environment.