Emm Gryner's not one to hold a grudge.When the pride of Forest, Ontario, was rudely dropped from her major label in the wake of 1999's massive Polygram-Universal merger, did she sit around on her ass feeling sorry for herself and planning ways to take down the Man? Nope, she returned to her own indie Dead Daisy fold and released the lovely, stripped-down Science Fair, at the time the best album of her career.
And when a certain brassy Canadian chanteuse (OK, it was Jann Arden) crassly sniped in her diary (excerpts were published by Insomniac Press) that she'd like to feed Gryner a sandwich, the waifish singer-songwriter didn't take it to heart. In fact, rumour has it that Gryner's gonna contribute vocals to Arden's upcoming album.
"How'd you hear that rumour? Did I say that in my online journal? I'm such an ass!" laughs Gryner, huddled in the cavernous basement of the Masonic Temple before taping an episode of the Mike Bullard show. "Yeah, she invited me to sing on her next album after she came to one of my shows in L.A. I think she's great, fuckin' funny.
"We're gonna have a Celebrity Death Match in Calgary, later on the tour. It's planned. And there'll be free sandwiches for everyone. BBQ!"
Sandwiches aside, Gryner doesn't need anyone to take care of her. David Bowie is one of her biggest fans; after the major merger fiasco, he handpicked her to be one of his backup singers on tour, and she appears on two of his recent albums. Her label's doing well, she's started producing other artists, and she just released her sixth disc, Asianblue (Dead Daisy) to solid reviews.
Asianblue is Gryner's most ambitious album so far. You can still hear the same soaring melodies, intensely personal confessions and stream-of-consciousness lyrical musings, but she's dropped some of the morose moodiness that cast a shadow over her earlier work. The acoustic sway of Northern Holiday could be a Ron Sexsmith tune (Gryner even name-checks Sexsmith on the song), although he might not agree. She's also mastered the art of the catchy-but-not-irritating hook: lead single Beautiful Things is a perfect pop song, building toward a glorious adrenaline rush and a sing-along chorus.
Gryner's fleshed out her sweet, girly tunes into lush popscapes. Part of that is stellar production. She enlisted Wally Gagel, the man behind discs by the Stones and Folk Implosion, to help her out with half of Asianblue. Luckily, he agreed to do it on indie scale, accepting a cut of the profits from records sold instead of a massive upfront fee. Since they had to work around his schedule, Gryner ended up relocating to L.A., which wasn't entirely a positive experience.
"I think it's a great place for some people, but not for me. I love the seasons, and I love people whose word means something. In L.A. there are beautiful people, but they're miserable people -- I think I can safely make that generalization. I like a city where people's interests are really diverse, not just focused on entertainment.
"I go hiking every day in L.A., and everyone is looking at each other to see if there's someone famous nearby. After being there for a while, I went back to New York, and there was none of that. I was, like, "How come they're not looking at me? How come that person's not looking at that person?' People there were busy doing things! It seemed so novel."
EMM GRYNER with Andy Stochansky at the Palais Royale (1601 Lakeshore West), Saturday (October 19). $15. 416-870-8000.