Jeremy Enigk at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Monday (August 7). $17.50. 416-870-8000, 416-777-1777. Rating: NNNNN
Where does a sensitive guy go after emo?
In the mid-90s, Jeremy Enigk was the frontman for Seattle-based emo-core outfit Sunny Day Real Estate. SDRE are often referred to as "pioneers" of the genre, which means you have Enigk to thank or blame for the glut of followers who ripped out their bleeding hearts for all to hear and print their poetry on liner notes.
Perhaps out of a sense of foreboding, a pre-emptive stab at doing penance for the likes of Saves the Day and Three Days Grace, Enigk found religion. He converted to Christianity and embarked on a quest for spiritual self-improvement. SDRE disbanded in 95, allowing the rhythm section to fight foo with Foo Fighters, while Enigk made a solo record, Return Of The Frog Queen (Sub Pop), with a 21-piece orchestra.
Enigk was determined to make a follow-up to Frog Queen, but got sidetracked by the reunion and subsequent dissolution of SDRE, then distracted himself with another band, the Fire Theft.
It took him nearly 10 years, but Enigk's finally completed World Waits, the title of which makes you wonder whether the erstwhile emo king imagined the world waiting for the album. He also started his own label, Lewis Hollow, to release the album.
"It just seemed like the inevitable thing to do," he says on the phone from Seattle while taking a break from pre-tour practice with his band. "I've been on three or four different labels and none have worked out permanently.
"It's a lot easier these days to start your own label and sell a good amount of records over the Internet. Now I can do anything I want. It's awesome. It's also difficult, cuz I don't have the financial support an established label can offer, but I believe it'll pay off."
Minus the full orchestra, World Waits is a less chamber and more pop offering than Frog Queen, drawing on Enigk's love of the Beatles and early U2. Of course, with his high-pitched vocals reminiscent of John Anderson and Dennis de Young, it's impossible not to hear shades of prog.
It's strange, this close-knit relationship between emo and prog rock (see Mars Volta). I wonder why he doesn't just make a full-on prog concept album, which is what it seems he was truly meant to do.
"A friend of mine was just trying to convince me to do something like that last night. Something like Yes, like 30-minute-long epic songs. I don't know if my brain can handle that, but maybe one day I'll figure it out," he laughs. "I think I'd do it more like the Who that Quadrophenia style of bringing in constant themes that repeat themselves throughout the record.
"That's not prog, but it's a concept album."
Enigk claims the Fire Theft was sort of an abridged version of that idea. He also likes the idea of making an epic movie to accompany a record, but says he doesn't think he has "the gift for writing a film."
Concept albums aside, Enigk insists he had no intentional themes going into World Waits. Well, other than your average existential questions that have challenged humanity for generations.
"I think in all my songs there's sort of a recurring spirit, a sort of searching for God, searching for meaning, longing, reaching and hoping.
"I want to be a good person," he says of his spiritual quest, "and I want to do the right thing."
So how does one go about growing spiritually?
"For me it's just life experience. I was a young man, a little kid, 10 years ago. The longer you live and the more you drop off all your excess baggage and dogmatic beliefs, the more you grow. Experience itself gave me a different perspective. I'm more open and relaxed.
"I wouldn't say I'm completely without anxiety," he adds. "I don't know if that'll ever happen."