Week in Pop: Gary’s House, Keith More-Fire, Tee Vee

Sjimon Gompers

An exclusive interview & debut from Keith More-Fire, oka Brian Kennedy; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Gary’s House

Welcome to Gary’s House; photographed by Jeremy Nischuk.

Montreal artist Garrett Johnson has traded-in his former moniker of Brazilian Money for the new working title of Gary’s House who presents us with a following exclusive listen from his forthcoming new album Staircases of Wild Introspection available June 9. Following up the beloved release Fly Free Rock Angel from last year under the previous moniker, Johnson explained the name change in the following statement after learning about the current plight of the Brazilian people under an un-democratically elected government:

I decided to change the band name after a Brazilian person contacted me and talked about how it wasn’t cool for a North American person with no connection to the country to use references to an extremely tumultuous Brazilian economy that has led to a huge amount of personal struggle for a lot of people. I was claiming the name within the context of South American struggles being historically overlooked and ignored by North Americans.

On top of this right now is a particularly troubled time in Brazil as it’s going through one of it’s worst recessions in almost a century and is now being led by a non-democratically elected president after ousting the previously democratically elected president on corruption allegations many people are interpreting as veiled coup. I always imagined playing in Brazil and feeling totally unable to justify the naively named band which I hadn’t put too much thought into, but also thought I’d probably never play there. However, it’s still ignorant and insensitive, and accepted that fact after talking to this person.

From here Garrett Johnson recommits his DIY & eccentric vision as Gary’s House, inviting over all his friends to have a good time & contribute to the entertaining & jubilant cycle that is Staircase of Wild Introspection. Currently working on putting the finishing touches on Alex Calder’s upcoming album (available in October via Captured Tracks we are told), Garrett gives us a privy look & listen to his latest labors of love that have been years in the making. Utilizing sonic room-to-room style effects, “Intro” gets the entire adventure moving, to the most fun & catchy fist-fight o’ fun that you have ever heard on the humorous sing-along, “Punch Party”, to the time to move on, hey chorus of “The Past Does Not Confront Me” that offers up a testimonial to slipping old skin for a new lease & outlook on life. Truths & fallacies are tested in the shamble-core “The Stories Were All Lies”, to the anti-anxiety anecdote of “Don’t Panic” that revels in absurdity & powers of assuaging the pangs of unsettled feeling & emotions that forever bubble up in waves that we do not always understand. Energy is everywhere on this album to the cool cruising confidence of a “She’s a New Woman”, the ascetic ethic exhibition of “I Don’t Need Much”, to the anthem of autonomy & self “I Chose This Way”, to the autonomous sensory meridian response intimate sensations heard on “Long Distance ASMR Boyfriend”, closing out with an “Outro” that is straight out of the Sgt. Pepper’s/Satanic Majesties.

Which leads us to the world premiere for the single “The Truth Comes Out”, from Gary’s House that embodies the very spirit of inclusive solidarity that Garrett J. Johnson stands for. With backing vocals & contributions from friends Kate Howells, Kelsie Hjorleifson, René Wilson, Steff Schimeck, Jeremy Nischuk, Simone Blain, Matt Sharpe, Tara Desmond, Salina Ladha, Nathan Schmidt, & Oliver Barnes back Gary up in a “Give Peace a Chance“/”He’s Gonna Step on You Again” update for the millennials. In just two minutes flat, “The Truth Comes Out” is one of those let’s congregate around the guitar feel-good-jams that you want to play during all the good times. It’s like the sweet, serene lo-fi feel of a Sinderlyn single where the aura & feel of an enlightened & woke moment shines through with an unyielding clarity. “The Truth Comes Out” burns bright like a hundred amps blaring & blazing out in the noon-day sun where the shroud curtain-cloths of night feels far away.

And that same Gary’s House congenial & collaborative spirit carries over on “You’re My Buddy” where a song of timeless friendship sails out with a stripped down aesthetic in the key of Randy Newman’s “You Got a Friend In Me“. Garrett includes sound bites of squabbles & the like that offer up a very realistic rendition of what friendship is really all about. The campfire sing-along steez points to the importance of contributions & collaborations between talented pals that play out with strength through the thick & thin. The track takes cues from the bed-ins & protest pop of the past that is mixed with all kinds off fuzzy effects & reaffirmations of committed collaborated causes & the like that keep our closes companions bonded together. The entire dedicated song of shared alliances that stand together hand in hand with the testament of limitless friendship that sings forth in unison; “you’re my buddy & I love you, you’re my buddy, through & through…”

Garrett J. Jones of Gary’s House took the time to talk to us further about the reasons behind the new name, the making of the new album & some intriguing insights on future events:

What do you currently find inspiring & amazing right now about Montréal?

Montréal seems to continually evolve and new people keep popping up into my life and it keeps things fresh, so there’s always new friends and new bands and new ideas and outlooks on life that keep me from feeling stagnant. It’s a great place to be in right now for me approaching my 30s and feeling like I could get caught in a trap of being jaded or stuck in my ways. There’s also a huge world outside the music community that I feel like is more present here than other places, with a large immigrant population and a municipal government that doesn’t mind spending money on city events that can be cool. This weekend there’s some 30 foot puppets that a team of people marionette around the city. It’s also interesting feeling like an immigrant within my own country because I don’t speak french very well and kind of see how hard it can be to be in a place where the bureaucracy doesn’t cater to your specific needs.

Tell us more further about the evolution & story of how Brazilian Money would become Gary’s House.

It was basically changed because of a realization that the name was kind of a statement on my ignorance of the world, and that it touched on a subject that people from Brazil legitimately feel affected by. Somebody from Brazil sent me a message and kind of showed me how I was being ignorant and appropriating something I didn’t have a part in. Basically Brazil has been and continues to be affected by a lot of issues with currency and economic instability caused by a ruling class exploiting the economy and government. I just didn’t really think of the entirety of what it meant to call my band Brazilian Money and only really looked at one issue of inventing an alternative currency that I thought was cool without really thinking about the whole story and never really bothering to look into it. So, I changed the name! Here we are, and it’s kind of different music than before in execution and I feel like it’s a good new chapter for me.

Leaning back with Garrett Johnson, oka Gary’s House; photographed by Jeremy Nischuk.

Give us some exposition about the introspective items that informed Staircase of Wild Introspection & what sorts of stairs lead to the title & album’s inception?

I’ve always felt like a pretty introspective person, but I wrote most of these songs about three years ago when I had broken up with my partner and was trying to putting my life into perspective without being able to rely emotionally on another person and ignore myself and the ways I was interacting with the world. It was originally intended to be a concept breakup album and I wanted to dress up like a sad clown when I played, kind of an outlet to make fun of my shitty mental state. But it ended up evolving quite a bit since the period between writing the songs and starting to record them was like two years and my whole life had really changed and I got into the most meaningful relationship I’ve had in my life—which coincidentally ended recently and I feel like I’m back in the same situation—and moving to a new city etc.

The staircase is a metaphor for the continual and infinite struggle of self examination and an ascending but never arriving process of figuring out how to live – When I was conceiving the album as a whole I was imagining between every song you run up another flight of stairs and arrive in a room and then get back into the staircase and keep going. A friend pointed out to me that it was similar to this Bruce Lee movie called Game of Death where he keeps ascending stairs to new levels where he fights increasingly hard opponents. So it’s sorta like that, but the opponents never end. I kind of like to inhabit that bleak idea because I feel it’s true, and playing with it takes the levity off.

I also recorded the all the acoustic guitar and singing at the same time in a staircase just off my studio. So that’s where the word inspiration came from.

Playing the slots with Gary’s House; photographed by Kate Howells.

The album is all over the map, tell us about working with Kate Howells, Oliver Barnes, guest engineer Peter Sagar & so many more on this undertaking.

These are all of my close friends! I mainly work alone and pretty much played and recorded everything myself, but I had the feeling that throwing some uncertainty and mixing up a routine would make for a better album and much more enjoyable process. Kate was my partner at the time and it was kind of an intimate experience of me sharing this thing, music & recording, I’ve based my life around and expand our comfort zones and be vulnerable together.

Oliver is an old friend of mind who was bumming around the city and just came over to my place and I was working on this song, and I got him to operate the tape machine on Truth Comes Out for my guitar and vocals and then immediately after got him to do a few drum takes on it. He did two overlapping beats that work really well together and ended up inspiring a lot of the song. I wish I had more people play on the record in the end.

Peter became a guest engineer essentially as a casualty of a situation where I got a dozen friends to come over and got them drunk to sing on half the songs—Peter refused to sing, but was more than happy to be the person in the control seat, so essentially we all just hung out and we’d shout-sing these takes at a couple mics with the song playing in open air and I’d try to keep it as spontaneous as possible with maybe one practice take before each track. I really love how those turned out.

Privy photos of Garrett Johnson, oka Gary’s House penning the lyrics for the new album; photographed by Kate Howells.

Favorite memories from the making of this full-length?

100% the group singing, it was so fun to have a bunch of friends come over and work on something I care about with me and have it be such a light positive vibe. I liked getting them to “om” with me at the end of “I Chose This Way” because we usually don’t take much seriously, so would probably scoff at the idea, but it’s actually a really fun and trippy thing to do with people that gets you out of your comfort zone.

I also liked making the little spoken word interlude in “You’re My Buddy”, I have a bunch of takes that are completely different where I’m crying and talking about how life is too hard, or reading a letter to a friend who’s being piece of shit, or just like acting out some imaginary interactions of getting in a fight with a close friend.

I also liked working on the sort of sound design of mimicking the sounds and movement of walking up stairs and between rooms with different sound. It’s something I hadn’t done before. My staircase is also pretty beautiful with the sunlight shining in. It’s that 1950s light green and kind of a surreal environment to sit in.

What are you working on currently?

Currently I’m working on getting a live band together. I’m also mixing Alex Calder’s new record which I recorded over the past year and a half—should be coming out in October on Captured Tracks.

Current local & international artists that have caught your attention & fancy as of late?

Local—Mich Cota for the most beautiful, original songs and crazy dedication to work, Kristian North for committing to a band and incorporating so much improvisation on stage and having the best rock n roll persona, Sivani—though I’ve only seen them once was one of the most sonically interesting and unique shows I’ve been to all year and cut through the standard band vibe, Un Blonde as always for being such a conduit for raw emotion and musicality, and Little Fire for having a beautiful voice and being real while performing.

International—I haven’t really been listening to much new international music, other than maybe the new Kendrick Lamar album. On my phone right now is very little but we’ve got some some Lee Scratch produced Bob Marley, David Bowie’s Blackstar album, Joni Mitchell, and Ornette Coleman on there.

Summer post-release plans?

I’m going back home to western Canada to play a music festival in Calgary and visit family and then when I get back to Montréal I’ll start a new record in the late summer of a bunch of songs I wrote in the past year. I’ve also got a few recording projects lined up—Maggy France, Sweat, and a couple others. For the next album I’d like to play with a drum machine I recently bought, potentially the new album will be all drum machine, or if not I’d like to do it completely live with a band. I’d also like to do a short tour in September.

Staircase of Wild Introspection from Gary’s House will be available June 9.

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