FOREST CITY LOVERS with PONY UP!and KNOCK KNOCK GINGER at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Monday (May 14). $8.50. 416-763-9139. Rating: NNNNN
Like most suburban kids, kat Burns was forced to come up with imaginative ways of amusing herself while growing up in the snoozy town of Whitby (population 130,000; music stores per capita, at least during Burns's youth, 0).
Somewhere in her awkward tween years, when the blush faded on family camping trips and feeding the horses that cavorted merrily on the farmland adjacent to the IGA across the street from her house, Burns picked up the guitar.
Sounds pretty standard for an archetypal seeds-of-future-indie-stardom story, right? Curiously, though, unlike many of her peers in the local scene, small-town Ontario kids-turned-rockers like the D'Urbervilles or the Constantines, the sinewy-voiced leader of art-folk ensemble Forest City Lovers didn't up and start a band in her parents' wood-panelled basement.
In fact, Burns says, she was a total guitar closet case.
"I was sort of reserved about it and didn't show anyone. I was so introverted about it, but I don't really know why. I guess," she sighs, swallowing a mouthful of bagel chips and guacamole at Tequila Bookworm, "I just wasn't very confident."
It's unfortunate that Burns was afflicted with the shakes, since she's got the kind of innate talent a lot of people would kill for. On her own, the singer/guitarist (who has no formal voice training) has a knack for almost jazz-inspired phrasing and cadences in her warm, nubbly-sweater vocal melodies that makes her songs feel like Nina Nastasia's more prickly work, or a less sugary-cute Mirah.
Burns's lack of confidence was a chronic case that didn't let up for years. It wasn't until after she'd backpacked (sans guitar) through Australia and New Zealand after high school that she found her bearings in Toronto.
Suddenly feeling compelled to perform, Burns tried her luck on the open mic circuit but quickly realized, "It's not the best route to go if you're thinking about playing actual shows. It's a weird culture."
Armed with a collection of sweet, awkwardly pretty indie folk songs, she tentatively sought out like-minded musicians to back her up. It was like indie rock dating for introverts.
"I always thought we had to be friends first," Burns laughs sheepishly.
The current (and solid) Forest City Lovers lineup consists of violinist/vocalist (and Burns's roommate) Mika Posen, bassist Kyle Donnelly (who's also a member of the D'Urbervilles, with whom FCL embarked on a frigid Maritime tour this spring) and drummer/vocalist Paul Weadick.
And though Burns's sparser material is very good, the band's more fleshed-out songs particularly the bass-anchored newer material written for their forthcoming follow-up to last year's lovely The Sun And The Wind disc (tentatively slated for a September release) drives home the fact that Forest City Lovers operate as a full, organic band, not just a singer/songwriter with backup.
"Playing songs is such a relationship. It's simultaneously awesome and scary. I've had situations where I knew for certain it wasn't gonna work out within the first show, but then you're like, "Oh god... how do I break it to them?' And when you click with people, you really, really click. I just love our band now."
Music Clips from Forest City Lovers
Don't Go Please