TAMARA WILLIAMSON and MADRID at Trinity-St. Paul's United Church (427 Bloor West), Saturday (September 27), 7:15 pm. All ages. $10. www.aporia-records.com Rating: NNNNN
Tamara Williamson's given up waiting for her big break. After nine albums and more than a decade in the music biz, the expat Brit is OK with the fact that she's never gonna be making kissy-face with Rick Campanelli on MuchOnDemand or posing for glossy spreads in big-name music mags.
That's probably cuz it's hard to call what she makes pop music. Challenging and abstract, with great washes of shimmery guitar orbiting dark, soupy beats and Williamson's frail soprano quaver, even the less epic songs on her consciously poppier new All Those Racing Horses (Aporia) disc require a couple of listens to fully absorb.
A fascination with more morbid themes - The News is about Rush-man Neil Peart's motorbike journey of mourning; Sikura tells the story of the racehorse-owning ex of Mike Harris's old flame, who exploded in his car under sketchy circumstances - doesn't help her mass appeal.
While her moody soundscapes might've jibed well with the bleak, shoe-gazey indie pop scene of the mid-90s, it's harder for Williamson to find a niche in today's hook-heavy climate of Avrils, Simple Plans and Nickelbacks.
"I feel like not very many people care about what I do, really," she chuckles matter-of-factly from a roadside phone booth out by her farm near Uxbridge, where she moved about a year ago. There's no bitterness in her voice, just a sense of stating the obvious.
Williamson's so much the realist, in fact, that she gave away her last album, 2001's The Arms Of Ed, for free, on her Web site. "I'm on a record label now, so I don't suppose I'd be allowed to do it, but as an independent artist it's so hard to get it out there. But even giving it away I think people go, 'Well, what's wrong with it?'"
While that might not have been the most savvy business move, Williamson's still pleased with her decision. Enough people were turned on to The Arms Of Ed's bleak, oblique lyrics and ethereal string arrangements to expand her touring fan base. Fellow musicians gave her glowing reviews on their own Web sites, and for her new record, she's signed with local indie label Aporia, where she fits comfortably into their stable alongside other atmospheric oddballs like Jonathan Seet, Mellonova and Madrid.
She's thrilled with Aporia's hands-on approach after riding out major-label nightmares with her old band, Mrs. Torrance.
"With a record label, you have a lawyer and a manager and all these other people surrounding you who are always pumping you and telling you you're great, but at the same time, when anything goes wrong they'll turn around and say, 'We totally never got it.' I never knew who to trust in that situation."
Besides production credits on albums by the likes of Rachel Smith, Nathan Lawr and Mia Sheard ("I did so little with Mia that she'd probably kill me for saying so," laughs Williamson), her angelic, heartbreaking warble is in high demand among her musician peers. Folks like the Rheostatics, King Cobb Steelie and Do Make Say Think have featured That Voice prominently on their records.
Then there's Microbunny, Williamson's side project with Steelie guitarist Al Okada. Their creepy, dreamy trip-hop tunes conjure up fascinating cinematic atmospheres, which hasn't escaped the notice of TV producers. A lot of TV producers.
So Microbunny gives a weirdo experimental artist like Williamson something her solo stuff really can't. "Money!" she laughs. "But it's Al's baby. He's a genius, and it's really fun listening to what he comes up with creatively, because he's such an amazing technical mind and such an amazing artist."