Happy Kreter at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Monday (April 26). 416-870-8000, 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
The voice on the other end of the line belongs to pop-punk bassist-turned-folk-pop poster-boy Happy Kreter. And yes, that's his real name. Happy is standing in a truck stop phone booth somewhere in Antigonish County, a brief interruption in his trajectory toward tonight's gig in Sydney three hours away.
He doesn't sound even minutely stressed, and you're tempted to believe that he's one of those rare unfazeable characters. While there's definitely some truth to this, the reason for his Buddha-like calm is that there is no tour bus, no entourage, no band or even manager counting the minutes until Happy gets back on the road. Happy is completely alone.
"The first thing you learn is not to be ashamed to talk to yourself," quips Happy. "After that, it's just a matter of finding ways to keep your mind working, set little challenges for yourself."
This is Happy's second tour since he left the West Coast punk outfit Gob to pursue a more personal musical muse. Since then he's visited dozens of towns and cities.
"It gets easier as you go," he says. "On my last tour, I started by driving through western Canada, and there's lots of big drives from Vancouver to Calgary or Edmonton to Regina or Winnipeg and Thunder Bay and things like that. You start to crack up a little bit. Thank god for the East Coast, where the towns are a only a couple of hours apart."
As a songsmith, Happy comes off as a little young, still very much at the beginning of his game. The music is pure simplicity, unadorned string-plucking folk camp, with not much grit to give it weight. And whether due to a lack of poignant life experience or an as yet unseasoned language for expressing it, Happy's singsong insights hover in greeting-card immediacy. But that could change given his road experience.
"One of the most satisfying things about travelling alone is that it gives you plenty of time for reflection," he says. "And plenty of time to work on the songs.
"On this trip, I drove from Lowell, Massachusetts, to Moncton, New Brunswick, which is about 10 hours. I have a great imagination, so I use the time to be creative.
"I've tried playing the guitar, steering the car with my knees while playing. But the neck is kind of a problem. You have to slide it in next to the windshield with the butt over the handbrake," he laughs. "Reading's a lot easier."