Kathryn Rose with REID JAMIESON at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Tuesday (January 15). $10. 416-598-1908.
molly johnson and lisa dalbello do it. So does Mary Margaret O'Hara if there's nobody watching (see sidebar). And young jazzer Emilie-Claire Barlow's been at it since she was six. Although they may be reluctant to talk about it, many of Toronto's top vocalists have for years been moonlighting as advertising jingle singers.
Few people who've seen Kathryn Rose performing with Esthero or King Cobb Steelie are likely aware that the in-demand backing vocalist -- who formerly fronted Wind May Do Damage -- also happens to be one of the city's most sought-after jingle specialists. When there's a jingle emergency, chances are it's Rose's special jingle pager that gets buzzed.
It's her sultry voice you hear cooing I've Got You Under My Skin in the milk commercials, reminding you that "you've always got time for Tim Hortons" and helping the cheese melt on Triscuit crackers with her seductive scatting.
Rose's first "ooohs" for the Triscuit ad were so hot, in fact, that the client gave the track an "X" rating and asked for a less steamy version. It's all in a day's work for the classically trained Rose, who gave up a promising acting career to sing for her supper.
Her lucrative sideline has not only supported her more artistic endeavours as a solo song stylist (she's just released the intoxicating My Little Flame album on her own Footlodgedindoor Music label) but it's also helped to stretch her vocal cords in unusual ways and allowed her to indulge her role-playing fantasies. If there's a credibility threat, Rose doesn't seem terribly concerned about it.
"Believe it or not," giggles Rose mischievously from her east-side home, "singing jingles is something I always wanted to try. I'd heard it was a difficult business to break into. You need to work very quickly, under pressure, and be able to manipulate your voice on cue. So I wanted to see if I was up for the challenge."
On a session for country artist Julian Austin she met Danny LeBlanc, who had his own production company (Mad Music Inc.) and worked for a larger company, Pirate Radio and Television, that did advertising spots.
"When I finally got to sing a jingle, I found I really liked it and immediately wanted to do more. So I kept taking more jobs and I've been doing it ever since. The money's great, and it really is a lot of fun. How can singing be bad?"
Spitting a 15-second snippet of a jazz standard or dropping a tag line from a Macy Gray song doesn't sound terribly taxing, but like acting in porno films, the job does require a certain facility that only a select few have. That's why the majority of jingles are voiced by a handful of busy professionals.
According to jingle top gun LeBlanc, who co-wrote the I Am Canadian bit and does the underscoring for Hockey Night In Canada, singing spots goes well beyond, er getting it up on command, so to speak. And when the money's on the line, Rose has proven she has those special skills that pay the bills.
"It's not as easy a job as many singers think," explains LeBlanc, "You have to do a lot of different things well and very fast, and Kathryn's brilliant at it. Besides having a tonal quality that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, she's smart, imaginative and stylistically very versatile.
"Most singers have a certain sound that they get called for again and again, but Kathryn's not a one-trick pony. We just did this cool pop record together under the name Blume that we're shopping in the U.S. right now. It doesn't sound anything like her new My Little Flame record. It's just another of Kathryn's many sides."
That chameleon-like knack for shifting styles that has served Rose so well in the jingle business isn't such an asset for a rising artist still trying to establish her own identity.
There's always a danger that a jingle singer adept at mimicking the traits of popular singers to suit advertising clients' needs can lose her own identity in the process. Rose knows it.
"I'm able to make the distinction between my own voice and my voice for hire, even though I sometimes use my own voice to sing jingles. I'm at a point where I'm comfortable singing my own songs or whatever I'm asked."
Rose was also confident enough in herself as an artist to release the elegantly arranged and beautifully realized My Little Flame album on her own terms. She didn't wait around for a major-label endorsement of her considerable talent.
"The first couple of years I was in bands, it was like waiting for permission to be an artist, like someone from a label would magically appear and say, "OK, Kathryn, you're ready now -- here's your record deal.' Then time passes, nothing happens and you wonder, "What am I waiting for? Why not just do it myself?' That's what I did.
"Right now I'm struggling to reconcile my need to make a personal statement with that whole clamouring-for-attention thing."
It's more than a bit strange to hear someone with such a flair for the dramatic talk about being reluctant to make a spectacle of herself. This is the same woman who tosses a bouquet of flowers into the crowd after singing I Married Myself and likes brandishing a blowtorch.
"Well, I guess there's still a little bug inside me that wants to put on a show. But I tend to forget about that; I need to force myself to get onstage. Once I'm out there, I know it's going to be a good time. Although I quit acting a long time ago, I still love to play dress-up."firstname.lastname@example.org