GENTLEMAN REG with Pete Elkas at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Saturday (February 22). $7. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
You'd never know it from his gorgeously gentle wisps of lovelorn indie pop, but Gentleman Reg (aka Reg Vermue) wasn't always such a gentleman.During his army-brat pre-adolescence, Vermue lived the typical military life, changing homes more often than most kids change their underwear. It'd be enough to cause anyone angst -- even worse for a slightly sissified boy starting to struggle with his sexuality.
By the time he settled in Guelph at 13, the soft-spoken Vermue decided to piss off his folks by stirring up a bit of trouble.
"It was hard, especially going into high school in grade nine. I was definitely an outsider, and kind of a brat. I caused shit as a reaction to not having any friends."
He's closed-mouthed about the details of his shit-disturbing past, but you get the sense that it's lucky Vermue found salvation in music.
He first picked up a guitar at 16, inspired by Guelph's thriving indie scene. Prior to that, he admits, the only things that turned his crank were Madonna, Prince and Video Hits. In high school he discovered the diverse Hillside Festival and hooked up with friends who were in bands, and his perspective shifted.
"Someone would put out a tape that'd blow your mind, so you'd want to put out a better tape, and it just kept perpetuating itself," he recalls.
Judging from Vermue's recent Make Me Pretty disc, the unique indie community of his former city sparked a major artistic epiphany. There are no traces of the grindy funk-pop of His Purpleness or Madge's early bubblegum disco. What you hear are hushed, delicately constructed confessionals of awkward boyish love, held up by webs of finger-picked guitar and thoughtful details -- a clarinet solo here, a string break there.
Then there's that idiosyncratic falsetto. It's something coveted by a slew of local musicians from Bobby Wiseman to the Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb, both of whom have recruited the Gentleman as a backing vocalist.
Vermue says the Voice is rooted in genetics.
"My parents sing barbershop, so I grew up around that. It's a cappella, so it's all about vocals and harmonies. We'd sing as a family all the time, on car trips and anniversaries -- My Wild Irish Rose and things like that.
"There's four-part harmony in every song, so you've got four voices doing totally different things the whole way through. And most of the singers I'm really into have really interesting vocals, like Prince, where every song has about 10 vocal overdubs."
Aside from Prince and his parents, Vermue tags Liz Phair's scars-and-all honesty as a major lyrical and songwriting influence. Rufus Wainwright's onstage flamboyance inspires his live shows -- and his out-and-proud philosophical outlook.
"There are lots of effeminate men in the pop world. You can even go back to someone like Boy George, but it's not like he was out or actually talked about being gay. Rufus sets a precedent for someone like me, that you can do that and be successful. I don't think it's healthy to be ghettoized."firstname.lastname@example.org