APOSTLE OF HUSTLE at Clinton's (693 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, September 23), 7:30 and 10:30 pm. $8-$10. 416-535-9541. Rating: NNNNN
The patron saints of indie rock have always had a knack for spinning bafflingly cryptic lyrics. I spent so many years trying to figure out the exact meaning of a "protein delta strip" that I could write a thesis on it.
Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman also fesses up to a penchant for Pavement (early on in his band's evolution, he tried to coax jazz-trained bassist Julian Brown and drummer Dean Stone to mimic the sloppiness of the 90s slacker outfit), but he insists the inspiration for writing some of the sweatily romantic vignettes on the Apostle's Folkloric Feel (Arts & Crafts) debut disc came from far more prosaic sources.
Such as the folks he encountered teaching ESL courses.
"Those students write some crazy shit," he laughs over Americanos on College Street. "Some of my students could probably out-Malkmus Malkmus, and believe me, that didn't go unnoticed."
You get the feeling Whiteman tried to teach his pupils by example, since the faded images on Folkloric Feel - kissing the wrong woman, druggy self-destruction, a hapless rejected lover bunking on the floor - have a graceful metaphorical quality, avoiding the self-indulgent crypticness that often comes off like wankery. It's evocative, and not always what it seems, but Whiteman writes a kind of concrete poetry that conjures vivid places populated by characters and ideas linked by a dreamy logic.
Add to that sweeping washes of guitar, arty sound collage fragments and subtle layers of Latin-juiced rhythms, along with Whiteman's whispery vocals (and some nice guest spots by a bunch of musician friends, including a fraction of Broken Social Scene) and it's like you're listening to a nomadic romantic relate stories about falling in love with people in the photographs from his travels.
"Teaching ESL made me realize that indie rock can be an experience of keeping your blinders on," explains Whiteman. "It's a really insulated vibe. I needed to keep thinking about my students, about music that they gave me, and to know that, if some terrible accident happened and I couldn't play guitar, if I went to a country and they cut my wrists off for whistling at someone, I could teach ESL. It keeps the world open."
As the guitar god in drama queen collective Broken Social Scene and the man most members point to as a grounding influence, the dude benefits from seeing the bigger picture. He started Apostle of Hustle almost half a decade ago after a trip to Havana, where he he says he spent most of his time playing dominoes and drinking rum after twisting his ankle on a broken sewer grate his second night there. He also learned how to play the tres, a Cuban guitar.
When he got back to Toronto, he called up his buddies Brown and Stone, wheedled his way into a residency at Bar Code, and started honing the loping bossa-inflected art rock (think a collective Mark Ribot vibe) that characterizes the Apostle. His Broken colleagues lent their support by getting drunk in the back of the bar and singing along every week. The songs evolved organically; in an interview earlier this year, pal Leslie Feist (who contributes ethereal vocals to a couple of Folkloric Feel tracks) claimed Whiteman's ability to let his music morph "with the seasons" was one of her greatest influences.
Although versions of the Apostle's debut have been floating around for years, Whiteman wouldn't sign off on a final product till he was good and ready. After a fanatic response to You Forgot It In People set the bar impossibly high for the collective's solo projects, he shelved the original version and headed to the studio to work with Dave Newfeld, the notorious mad scientist who's helped shape the sound of loads of local bands - including, of course, BSS.
"Dave's a certified insane genius," Whiteman grins. "We recorded in so many places - in open rooms in Hamilton, singing into a crappy mic in my bedroom - and I gave it all to Newf.
"Dave needs to be interested - it's like he has ADD. And he's got a real love of hits. A lot of people don't know that he has another gig as a fantastic wedding DJ, so he's used to really trying to make the crowd rock. My personal theory is that he's watching the wedding all the time, and he brings that to your songs. If he's bored, he's gonna tell you."