BUCK 65 with SLOAN, SAM ROBERTS, the STILLS, DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, the ARCADE FIRE, PILATE and the CONSTANTINES at Olympic Island, Saturday (August 7), noon. $35.50 (plus $5 ferry charge). 416-870-8000.
Buck 65 doesn't look the part of a conventional rapper. Speaking with a deliberate Atlantic Canada inflection, his every "R" rolled like a pirate's, he doesn't sound the part either.
He's proven himself a dope DJ, producer of static-encrusted beats, and a mineshaft-deep lyricist. But record stores still aren't sure what section to put him in, and customers don't know where to look.
He may have seemed too esoteric for the masses in the 90s, but lately Buck 65 and his shit-kicker poetics are starting to get big love from loads of people - important people like the folks over at Warner Records, who in 2002 decided to re-release his entire back catalogue, following it up in 2003 with the studio-shined Talkin' Honky Blues, an album that pays homage to old-time spoken narrative blues.
That album - full of scratching, the re-sampled riffing of his band the Savant Guard, and not one sung lyric - beat out the likes of the Constantines, Stars and the Weakerthans for alternative album of the year at the Junos this past April.
The result? Video support, international distribution, media attention and praise. After embarking on a relentless world tour, Buck 65's universe is suddenly shrinking.
"Distances that used to seem so long are beginning to seem shorter and shorter all the time," his voice crackles over the phone from his Montreal apartment - which, he jokes, is just down the street from Toronto.
"It's strange to think that a couple of years ago home was just a little area in Nova Scotia. Now, Canada, period, feels like home."
For the last two years, Paris has been Buck 65's home away from the road. He wants to live in an inspiring setting, emulating his heroes David Lynch and Tom Waits, Americans who've been able to develop cult followings while sustaining long careers on the strength of their successes in Europe, France in particular.
"I figured if it works for them then maybe it'll work for me, too," he says. "Let me go and find out. Lo and behold, my success took hold a lot quicker in France than anywhere else," he says. "And now I sell more records in France. I have no idea why, but it's a gamble that's paid off."
It's been paying off like a broken slot machine. He recently fell in love with a Sorbonne-educated Parisian girl while living in posh St. Germain des Prés.
"It's the most romanticized of all the neighbourhoods in Paris," he points out. "Even when you mention it to Parisians, it gets an 'Oo la la. '"
Inevitably, the magic of Buck 65's Paris experience will melt into the atmosphere of his next album - which he's crafting as you read this.
"The city's so sophisticated, so literate and intelligent, it's inspired me to refine myself. I've been working with strings in the studio. It's likely you'll hear a few things in French on the new record, and probably one cover.
"My personal sense of romance, nostalgia and beauty has changed. I've evolved as a person, and I'm sure that'll be reflected in the writing, even just the sounds. A sense of prettiness is gonna pervade them in a greater way."
Over seven albums, the soot-voiced folk-rapper, born Richard Tefry in the tiny forest town of Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia, has cobbled together instrumentals that sound hewn from obsolete computer parts and 45s rescued from the rubble of a burnt-down church. Over top, he summoned up the storytelling strengths of everyone from Charles Bukowski and Ernest Hemingway to Woody Guthrie, Slick Rick and members of his own family.
But he's spent 300 of the last 365 days on tour performing, for the most part, to non-English-speaking audiences. It forced Buck to add oomph to his notoriously too subdued live shows.
Studying the stage personas of Charlie Chaplin, Serge Gainsbourg and Belgian pop savant Jacques Brel, he added strokes of vaudeville to his act, while being careful never to over-emote.
"I thought, 'Most of the words are going to be lost completely.' How do I entertain these people? I've learned a lot and improved dramatically as a performer."
When he's not visiting Gainsbourg's grave at the Montparnasse Cemetery, crossing Ts and dotting Is on his first novel or spending quality time with his girlfriend (and future wife, he asserts), you might find him kickin' it with fellow expat Leslie Feist (Broken Social Scene), who also relocated to Paris and caught on big in Europe.
"We're real tight, and we hang out a lot," he says. "I consider her a good friend. As far as our careers go, we've had a similar plan of attack."
Last month, Feist opened for Buck 65 at the 100 Club in London, England. He can be seen dancing with her in the hilariously bad video for her disco-lite One Evening single, and they've discussed collaborating in the future.
Let's pray they've got more chemistry in the studio than in the discothèque. Hide this video from Bernie Mac before he finds fodder for hundreds more white-people-can't-dance jokes. At least they're dressed nice.
"She's considered a real style icon," he notes. "Which is amazing, cuz we're talking about the most famous fashion city in the world. She's a full-on fashion icon, the darling of fashion designers. You see images of her everywhere. It's friggin' cool."
From the look of the Mennonite-chic aesthetic he's cultivated, Buck 65 probably wouldn't mind being considered a style icon himself. But for now, he'll settle for just not looking like a rapper.
"Heaven forbid I look like a goddamn rapper," he growls. "What's the idea of grown men trying to look like adorable toddlers, with everything being extra-humongous? And all the bright colours? That whole street hiphop look either makes you look like a baby or a clown - and a clown at the circus, I'm talking.
"I don't ever want to look the part."
Introducing your Canrock Olympic squad
For a while there, it looked like Lollapalooza 2004 - skedded for the Thursday and Friday before Saturday's Olympic Island rock explosion - was going to steal Sloan's & Sam's Thor-like concert thunder. But then Perry Farrell's revived alt-rock tour was cancelled due to low ticket sales, and Broken Social Scene switched to the Sloan 'n' Sam bill. If it wasn't already, this indie rock blowout is now officially the greatest and best thing you will ever see. Like, hel-lo, have you seen the lineup?
Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy and Andrew Scott do not fuck around in concert. These Halifax-bred, T.O.-based Murderecords gurus and rock heavies will blow you outta your Birkenstocks and into the trees.
It's been Sam-mania since summer 2003, when Roberts played SARSstock, and now he can't step out without getting tackled by 13-year-olds. Look for his expectation-defying appearance on K-OS's forthcoming disc.
Small wonder they're called the Stills, because this Montreal four-piece is probably going to be around forever. If you like moody melodic brooders and bands like Interpol and the Organ, this gang will be sure to get a rise out of you, or at least your eyebrows.
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979
This Hogtown band was just called Death from Above till NYC's not-too-cool-to-sue DFA Records made a fuss about the rights to that name. Word is the post-punk killers still have pent-up anger to release. See feature, page 40.
THE ARCADE FIRE
Accordion, violin, keyboards, guitars, and bass configured to create something strange and beautiful. The Montrealers will show off stuff from their stunning new record, Funeral (Merge), out September 14.
Now that Coldplay's sold trillions of DVDs and Gwyneth Paltrow is in the mix Yoko-ing it up, you can't rely on them for a sincerely soul-trawling pop tune. Toronto's Pilate do that dystopic Brit thing with far more purity.
The pride and joy of Guelph bring the Fugazi-style punk with tight riffs blaring in a democracy of free sound. Their self-titled full-length debut drops stateside on Sub Pop on the 10th.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
The shape-shifting network of buddies that done brung people like Metric's Emily Haines and Parisian poster girl Feist to the fore returns. You have to see it to believe it - but you also have to believe in it to see it.