GRAPH NOBEL with DJ ROLAND DESCHAMPS opening for IVANA SANTILLI at the Reverb (651 Queen West), Friday (April 12). $18. 416-504-0744. And at Holy Joe's (651 Queen West), Tuesday (April 16). $5. www.blackcorners.com
It's not often that you see the heads of at least three major labels, every A&R rep in town and the entire staff of one label out at a tiny club at 10:30 pm on a rainy Tuesday night.
Toronto singer Graph Nobel has packed Holy Joe's with all the biz bigwigs without releasing a single note of music, and yet the 4-foot-nothing sparkplug doesn't seem fazed.
While people stand on the bar to get a glimpse of the singer, Graph slides between Betty Davis-style bellowing and fluid rhyming, pausing only to silence the packed room with a raw story about men who can't satisfy their women. Those only familiar with the other projects of her producer, Doc (Esthero/Res), or expecting the hiphop-influenced pop of her demo recordings are shocked, but Nobel makes no excuses for changing styles on the fly.
"I've always been all over the map," she laughs from her studio. "I used to be in a rap group with someone who knew Q-Tip and Mos Def, so we decided to move to New York. We started doing the Rawkus open-mike nights out there, but after a while I decided I didn't want to be the female A Tribe Called Quest, which was what we were becoming. That shit gets real boring real quick.
"I was strictly an MC when I called Doc, and I think he thought he was going to be working on some alternative rap record. I got to the studio and suddenly decided that I didn't want to rap any more. Each day we're recording, it changes. One day we'll be doing punk rock, the next day it'll be hiphop, and then on some kind of Portishead vibe."
What makes Graph Nobel's uncommon collision of hiphop smarts and rock attitude work is a mix of the fact that she grew up in a city where the two styles share real estate and Graph's own supreme confidence in what she's doing.
"Toronto's a good ground for working out what you want to do without other people trying to pressure you into one direction or another. When you're really ready, you can go back to New York or Philly and compete."
People might have been blown away by her hard rock showcase Tuesday, but she's convinced that Friday's (April 12) acoustic slot opening for Ivana Santilli will hit just as hard. Graph's not telling what she's got lined up for her Holy Joe's set April 16.
"We're just figuring out what we're doing," she explains. "Doc and I recorded a bunch of things that turned out fine, but playing live has totally changed the songs again."