VELOURA CAYWOOD with EDGAR BREAU and ANDREW HOUGHTON as part of a post-Jandek On Corwood party at Mitzi's Sister (1554 Queen West), Friday (February 4). Free. 416-532-2570. Rating: NNNNN
In all the hype about how affordable digital technology is making it possible for everyone and their pop star wannabe mother to produce pristine recordings on their snazzy iMac, nobody seems all that concerned about the carnage wreaked by the ProTools revolution.
I'm talking about the lo-fi pioneers, the DIY kids obsessed with their four-track basement tapes and devoted to the holy trinity of Lou Barlow, Will Oldham and Smog. As underground musicians increasingly become converts to the cult of binary tweakage that makes their home demos sound as slick as Steve Lillywhite's wet dreams, the indiesphere offers fewer and fewer instances of the kind of rough-hewn, sweetly ragged song-poems that made, say, Elliott Smith's earliest recordings so viscerally affecting.
Luckily, not everyone has traded in their four-tracks for USB ports. Although many of her low-tech peers may be as extinct as Dinosaur Jr., Veloura Caywood is deeply committed to the pure spontaneity of bare-bones recordings. Need proof? Just look at the "Lo-fi Forever" motto proudly emblazoned on the back of the Brantford-based, Michigan-bred singer/songwriter's self-titled debut.
"I hate the digital shit cuz it sounds so bad," scoffs Caywood, aka Cathy Illman, from a crash pad in Lansing, Michigan, where she's on a mini-tour with her other band, Brantford psych-garage crew the Flamingo-gos. "Lo-fi is way more uncontrived. I love coming home from work and just yelling into a mic, without caring if it distorts. I'll get a cheap dollar-store microphone and shove it into my guitar and not care if it scratches anything. It feels way more expressive to me, more true to myself.
"I feel the same way about life," she continues. "Take it as it comes, and if you make a mistake, keep the mistake and learn from it. I'm not a fancy person to look at - I'm plain-looking and don't like stupid frilly stuff, so lo-fi makes perfect sense."
That no-frills aesthetic is what makes Illman's songs so charming, whether she's chirping like a countrified Shangri-La over scratchy acoustic strumming on her ode to unrequited love, I'll Be Damned, I Like You, sighing oh so sexily on Automolove, a Mazzy Star-style ballad for a lost car, or wheezing into party-favour whistles and banging shit on the weird distorted nursery rhyme of I Produce The Fun.
Illman readily admits some of her shit isn't fit for public consumption, which is why she dubbed last year's follow-up album - the so-called "b-side" to her debut, out on Brantford's Wolfbeat Records - Unlistenable Mood Music From An Open Mood. But even at her most wacky - check out What's Up Your Butt, a Chipmunks-speedy rant written and recorded after a phone conversation with an anal-retentive frenemy - Illman's voice is lovely and her writing fresh and engaging.
Illman's dad was a professional trumpet player who outfitted her with all the instruments and recording equipment she could handle from the time she was a toddler. And although she's played in garage rock bands since she was a teenager, Illman estimates she has at least 50 Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette albums, along with hundreds more obscurities by the likes of Bev Marie, a hurtin' C&W singer from the Maritimes.
Although she grew up in the homogeneous college town of East Lansing, Illman rejected the hometown scene, which she describes as "a whole bunch of crappy Dave Matthews cover bands," in favour of the blue-collar crowd in nearby Lansing, where she claims the underground culture is way more diverse and supportive.
"Besides," she adds, "the East Lansing kids were all super-violent, and, well, I wasn't. The kids I hung out with from Lansing were all rock kids who just wanted to have fun."
Considering her strong ties to left-field artists and the fact that her gig at Mitzi's Sister on Friday is part of a post-screening celebration of the new Jandek On Corwood documentary, you'd assume Illman feels a huge kinship to Jandek, who's considered one of the most elusive outsiders in the history of 20th-century pop music, right?
"I'm actually not a big Jandek fan," she sheepishly confesses. "I do like the myth around him, the mysterious hermit-ness, and I can completely relate to the notion of not caring what anyone else thinks of your music."