Rose has her thorns KATHRYN ROSE CD release at the Mod Club (722 College), tonight (Thursday, July 7). $10. 416-588-4663.
Kathryn Rose is organizing her spice rack. At first glance, that detail may not seem all that significant - it's the perfect household activity for whiling away a lazy Saturday morning, right? But consider the fact that her brand spankin' new self-titled disc of dark, soaring pop is a loose-knit concept album based on the singer/songwriter's own trajectory from a giant breakup through aimlessly splashing in the dating pool to finally (and triumphantly) finding true love, and her small act of OCD-tinged domestic bliss makes even more sense.
"I'm playfully marketing this record as a breakup survival kit," giggles Rose. "I'm gonna raffle off these breakup survival kits at my CD release show: copies of that Bittergirl book, a T-shirt, some chocolate. Maybe even some toys," she smiles, "if we can find them. I tried to see if Come as You Are wanted to donate, but since my show's happening after Pride, they've kind of reached their quota.
"Oh, but we didn't set out to make a concept album," she adds, "when we started choosing the songs. Well, there it was - we just figured it made the most sense to arrange them chronologically."
The "we" in that equation isn't Rose's hubby (though, judging from her blog, he's a lovely self-sacrificing arty type who'd do anything for her except trek to Chinatown on a sweltering day to buy a giant citrus fruit). It's actually frequent collaborator Thomas Ryder Payne (ex-Joydrop), who produced, mixed, arranged, sang and played almost all the instruments on the album. The guy's like the Swiss Army Knife of musical compadres. As Rose puts it, he's who you'd want with you if you were marooned on a desert island in a real-life version of Lost.
Payne, an incredibly methodical fella who apparently drew up a giant Chart Of Album Completion in the studio and checked off every task as it was accomplished, also worked with Rose on her last disc, the slightly shadowier and more cabaret-tinged My Little Flame, which is one reason Rose sees "a real consistency" between the two records. With one person taking on so many responsibilities, you might worry that the smaller details would fall by the wayside, but one of the most striking things about Kathryn Rose (Kindling) - the album, not the singer - is how perfectly it's mixed.
To paraphrase a comment from Rose's (the singer, not the album) musician pal Arlene Bishop, Rose's purring, serpentine vocals sit in precisely the right place on every single track. That doesn't just apply to the more straightforward hooky alt-pop ditties like the radio-friendly Cliffhanger; even the creepily atmospheric horn-kicked triphop tune Low Flying Bird balances the singer's icy coo with dark arrangements and a miniature children's choir.
"There's nothing creepier than possessed children," Rose laughs. "When I was on tour and Tom sent me early mixes, I sent them back because I didn't feel the vocals were high enough. I want the words and the voice to be undeniably in the mix, not hidden. It's kind of like looking at pictures - if you can't see the person's face, you have a much harder time trying to figure out what they're thinking and feeling."
When I mention how nice it is to hear complex arrangements that aren't just being used to mask shoddy vocals and songwriting, Rose groans.
"Yeah, I've probably sung backup on a lot of those tracks. In the business, we call it polishing a turd."
Rose does have a reputation for being a backing-vocalist-slash-jingle-singer-for-hire (she's done time for Tim Hortons, used to help out Esthero and most recently went on tour with Sarah McLachlan), but she's sick and tired of being best known as a jobber.
"I only sing backup to bankroll my solo projects. I'm very proud that I make my money from music, but the end goal has always been to do my own work.
"At this point, I've worked with all sorts of singers - men, women, good, bad, idiosyncratic - and have learned so much about my voice. I'm glad I did it, and I'm very glad I'm done with it."