MIA SHEARD with Of January May at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Saturday (February 16). $7. 416-598-1908. Rating: NNNNN
breaking up is hard to do. it's even harder when your significant other is your artistic partner. That's why local singer-songwriter Mia Sheard is terrified. Her last album, 2000's critically lauded Reptilian, was produced by Michael Phillip Wojewoda, a fixture on the Canrock scene whose credits include the Barenaked Ladies' Gordon. Wojewoda was also her husband, but they split earlier this year.
Now Sheard's heading into the studio to record her next disc, and she's treading unfamiliar turf.
"It's a totally different experience," she says shakily. "Reptilian was done entirely with Michael. We're still on very good terms, but I didn't think working on the record with him was a very good idea.
"I'm afraid of the unknown, of not working with the familiar safety net this time. I still keep wondering if Reptilian was really all Michael, not me. I suppose I have a bit of a streak of self-deprecation."
Sheard shouldn't worry. Reptilian is a gorgeous, dark and watery dreamscape, shot through with twisted, almost gothic lyrics and glimmers of pure, sweet melody. Sure, it's polished, but (as one critic pointed out) polish don't mean a thing if the goods ain't already there.
Besides, she's teaming up with producer Howard Redekopp, who's worked with folks like 54:40. Redekopp's also the former bass player for West Coast rockers Veal, whose song Mexico Texaco Sheard covered beautifully on Reptilian.
Sheard spent a lot of time observing other people while writing Reptilian. She's feeling more introspective on the new record, which she dubs her cathartic "post-marriage-breakup album."
She'll preview the new tracks at her Saturday show. Audiences should be prepared for a harder sound at the Rivoli gig. The 37-year-old just bought an electric guitar, and wants to rock out sometime before she hits her 60s.
The upcoming album's a new experience in other ways, too. On the last album, Sheard recruited a bunch of talented musicians she hadn't played with before, including Kurt Swinghammer and Barenaked Lady Kevin Hearn. This time around she's bringing her whole band into the studio, which means there's more room for collaboration, and, as she says, "There's a lot more warmth.
"On Reptilian we literally built things from scratch," she laughs. "I'd go into the studio with a melody and words, and we'd stick together all the pieces and layers. With this, the songs have been morphing and changing all along. Last time, all the musicians would look to me for guidance and I'd freak out a bit 'cause it was hard to direct them. We had an ongoing joke. They'd ask me what I wanted them to change in a song, and I'd say something like, "Make it more orange!' Or blue. Or whatever."
Sheard explored the dark and slithery underbelly of human behaviour on Reptilian. I ask her if there's any animal imagery in her new work.
"I was thinking a lot about plant life," she muses. "Anemone comes up in one of the songs, and I really liked that image. Primitive life forms appeal to me -- maybe because I feel like one sometimes. I'm very much in touch with nature. I feel like we're moving down the food chain here -- we'll eventually get to, like, amoebas or bacteria or something. Bacteria will take over the world!"email@example.com