After a Decade of Performing Around Toronto and Kingston, Dorothea Paas Releases Debut Album

Photo Credit: Miriam Paas

When she first wrote “Perfect Love,” Dorothea Paas and her friends jokingly referred to it as a Phil Collins song. “I could just imagine the song being arranged with the full Phil Collins treatment – chorus, guitar, big reverb tones,” the Toronto-based singer-songwriter says by phone. When Paas wrote the song, she was actually inspired by Celine Dion’s rendition of “The Power of Love” and imagined “a big Phil Collins drum fill on that second chorus.” 

The version that appears on her debut full-length, Anything Can’t Happen, sounds nothing like that though. Instead, it’s become a somber folk number that builds to a rich choral arrangement near its end – something more in line with the British folk group Fairport Convention, using an acoustic guitar with a “sparse and vaguely eerie arrangement.”

One of the challenges that Paas found with working on Anything Can’t Happen, released May 7 via Telephone Explosion Records, was that her songs could have been performed in various different ways. “Maybe that’s why I like the idea of redoing old songs,” she says, “because there’s just so many possibilities.”

Anything Can’t Happen might be Paas’ debut album, but she’s actually been performing, recording and releasing her music for about a decade. Her first recording was a MySpace-era CD that she burned in her living room. Afterward, she started releasing cassettes here and there, particularly when she was set to play on the road. “I love tapes because they’re affordable to make and affordable to buy,” she says. “I think they sound really good also, but, even if you don’t listen to them, they’re just a fun object to have.”

Paas isn’t the sort of artist who likes to debut her songs with the recorded version. She prefers to play them live for a while to grow comfortable playing them. Maybe too, she’ll decide on her favorite arrangement of the song through live performance, although, she adds, sometimes there’s “weird improvisatory magic” in the studio. 

Paas started playing shows while attending college in Kingston, Ontario. “Starting out in that scene, I really wanted to fit in, but also maybe blend my sound that into that,” she says. “And then, over the years, I’ve wanted to carve out a specific niche for myself in terms of owning the things that make me different.” For Paas, that means leaning into her voice and bringing elements of classical, folk and rock influences together in her work. 

Born and raised in Toronto, Paas gravitated to music as a child. In her youth, she was in a Christian worship band – that’s where she learned to play guitar and harmonize – and learned choral singing through Canadian Children’s Opera Company, where she met young singers who she would work with as an adult, like Robin Dann of the band Bernice, who lends her voice to “Closer to Mine” and “Perfect Love.” 

Plus, the choral background continues to be an influence on Paas’ songwriting. “I try to use it as inspiration if I’m feeling like I want to create or introduce some variety into my writing,” she says, “because I think my songwriting practice pretty much grew out of my time in Kingston playing in the post-punk scene.” 

In Kingston, she met a few of the musicians with whom she would continue to collaborate over the years, including Paul Saulnier from PS I Love You and Liam Cole from Little Kid, who played bass and drums respectively on Anything Can’t Happen. It’s also how she connected with artists from outside of the city. Paas and her pals were often local support for bands coming through Kingston. And, she notes, because the city is between Toronto and Montreal, they would get a lot of tours. “As a result, I made a lot of friends in the music scene,” she says. 

Paas, who has also collaborated with artists like Jennifer Castle, U.S. Girls and Badge Epoque Ensemble, began writing the material that would become Anything Can’t Happen back in 2016, and the most recent songs on the album are about two years old. She chose to organize the tracks in a loose chronological order to reflect how her influences and style have evolved during that course of time. “I like the idea of moving through that experience through the track list,” she says. 

There are no “true oldies” on her debut album, but she’s considering redoing one song she wrote more than five years ago on her second album. “I don’t want to put it to waste,” she says of some of her catalog material, “especially because my older songs have been heard by such a small audience.” 

This process also presents an interesting situation for an artist who has played a lot in her hometown, but hasn’t toured as extensively. “My friends have heard them and people that are really avid show-goers in the city, who go to a lot of independent shows, have heard them,” she says. “Most people have never heard them and, through having a label and being able to put stuff out in a way where it can be heard more, I have to remind myself that this is going to be new for a lot of people.” 

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Carlyn Bezic of Ice Cream Launches Solo Project As Jane Inc.

Photo Credit: Andrew McGill

Carlyn Bezic had a demo on her computer labeled Gem simply because she wrote the chord changes on a GEM keyboard. It had a disco vibe and Bezic, best known as one half of Canadian duo Ice Cream, is a fan of the genre anyhow, so she had a “vague idea” of what the song could be. Meanwhile, there was a lyric stuck in her head – “It’s coming on, baby, like sunlight through a gem.”

It all clicked. Bezic liked the image of light refracting through a gem. It reminded her of the how the self might translate through a camera. It was the camera, specifically, that she was thinking of when she sang “my friend, the lens” over a languid disco groove in “Gem,” the lead track off Number One, Bezic’s debut solo album, released March 19 via Telephone Explosion under the name Jane Inc. The camera, she says, can be “exciting and empowering.”

“Or,” she adds over a recent phone call from her home in Toronto, “it can be really scary and limiting and confusing and create this removal from what is real.” 

With “Gem,” she considered both sensations happening at the same time. Similarly, the thought of contradiction is in the music, where Bezic channels the vibe of “late night” disco, “when you’re at the after-hours and it’s not necessarily a good late night feeling,” she explains. But, at the same time, she says, “you also feel a sort of freedom.” 

Bezic uses tracks on Number One, like “Gem” and “Obliterated,” to dig into themes surrounding online life; she admits to be online a lot, although she isn’t necessarily posting. “I’m experimenting with trying to be on the internet more, which I think is not a good idea – but, anyway, I’m trying it,” Bezic says, describing her online habits as passive. “I’m just consuming, consuming, consuming. Consuming information. Consuming images.”

She continues, “I found that I can be completely overwhelmed by it and also feel like I’m losing some sort of sense of self just by this overload of information and overload of connection.” That leads to part of the freedom found in “Gem.” The song focuses on the person with the audience, as opposed to the audience, Bezic explains. 

Elsewhere on the album, Bezic considers the environment and climate change. “Dirt and Earth” is a reflection on a complicated mix of emotions, including anger and a desire to place the blame for climate change on a single person. “In reality, there’s many people and many events that have led us to this,” Bezic points out. At the same time, she’s wrestling with the notion of being complicit in the degradation of the planet, simply by living life. “I am creating garbage. I’m driving cars,” she says. “You’re a musician, you fly in planes.”

Meanwhile, “Bloom Becomes Me” is also about the environment, but the song’s muse is pottery that Bezic spotted in Mexico. She describes the pots as taking on the figure of a creature that was half-animal, half-human, and they were filled with flowers. “You have flowers and animals and humans all melding together,” she says. “There was something really moving about it to me, this attempt at having everything live inside you at once as it’s all dying.” 

Number One had been in the making for quite some time. Bezic tends to write on Ableton and had produced and mixed a set of songs on her own based around some samples, but didn’t feel they could work for Ice Cream. Despite that, she wanted to continue developing them; in the process, she built an album that was fairly complete. It was also one that she thought might be difficult for a label to handle on account of all the samples that would have needed to be cleared. “For practical reasons, I wanted to bring in a drummer to re-record the percussion,” she says. “Also, just for artistic reasons, it seems more exciting to have a bit more energy and reactivity in the drums.” 

About a year-and-a-half ago, Bezic went into the studio with Evan Cartwright (U.S. Girls), who played drums on the album. “Everything felt like entirely new songs,” she says. That led to mixing with Steve Chahley (Badge Epoque, U.S. Girls) and some additional work to add cohesiveness to the project. The mixing sessions were completed last year, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I had started playing in the U.S. Girls live band,” says Bezic, “so I was preparing for what I thought would be a couple years of pretty extensive touring and the album was coming along, but it didn’t feel pressing for that reason.” With the onset of the pandemic, she saw an opportunity to finish mixing; not only had live gigs been put on hold, but social distancing guidelines meant that Bezic wouldn’t be able to write or practice in person with Ice Cream bandmate Amanda Crist. 

As Jane Inc., Bezic has been able to explore multiple themes while making music that draws from an eclectic mix of styles, from vibey disco, to the bouncy ’80s-style synth-pop on “Steel,” to the electronic ambience of “Mine/His.” Number One is s a stellar debut and Bezic is excited about the release – though she’s already thinking about what she’ll be making next. “I’m always writing songs,” she says.

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Teenanger Have “Good Time” with Social Critique on Latest LP

Photo Credit: Jake Sherman

Sometimes, music prompts us to reflect on the hard truths about ourselves and the times we’re living in. Other times, it makes us want to bob our heads and shake off our worries. And, occasionally, it does both. Good Time, the latest release from Toronto-based post-punk band Teenanger is one of those rare albums that’s equal parts fun and thought-provoking. On it, bassist and vocalist Melissa Ball, singer and keyboardist Chris Swimmings, guitarist Jon Schouten, and drummer Steve Sidoli respond to political and social unrest with catchy vocal harmonies against groovy electronic guitar, creating music that is intellectual but unpretentious.

The topics addressed on the album range from dating to environmental issues, several of the songs specifically addressing mid-COVID life, making timely social commentary with playful but incisive lyrics. In “Touching Glass,” Ball sings about the disconnection that stems from always communicating through technology: “Scratch the surface/There’s a reflection/Mediocre means of a connection/Bloodshot bedroom eyes tethered and tired/Filtered fiction demands what is required.”

The most overly political track is “Trillium Song,” where Swimmings critiques the Ontario government’s failure to address COVID-induced economic losses: “Capped and traded, poisoned fertile crops/A buck a beer, closing all the tops/Manning the wheel, to drive us out of home/Dwindle the future, what have you done?”

The musical styles on the album vary to match the subject matter, which ranges from flirtatious to melancholy. “We were trying to be as open as possible and not pigeonhole ourselves with the sound,” says Ball, whose personal goal was to sing more and write more on the album than she had on past ones. On the fun, dance-rock-style “Pleassure,” Ball shouts about the “pressure for pleasure” people encounter in the dating scene, while “Beige” gives off ’90s grunge vibes, with Ball repeating in an airy, flat tone, “It’s the safest shade/Everything is beige.” On “Straight to Computer,” you can hear the influence of the Talking Heads as Swimmings half-sings, half-speaks about being immersed in “acronyms and useless chatterbots.”

Overall, the band wanted to make this album lighter and simpler than their past work, though the environment where it was written and recorded was perhaps not always conducive to lightheartedness. They had recently left a studio they shared with other bands so they could devote more time to the process, and their new studio was in a basement underneath a restaurant, where they were dealing with rats and flooding. “We were just in this little workshop in the basement, having all the time in the world, and we just naturally kind of adapted to that little basement and just had a summer full of writing,” Ball remembers.

Despite the suboptimal conditions, the new studio allowed the band the space and time to flow with their creative impulses. “We have so much more freedom,” says Ball. “We were like, try this, try that, bring different weird instruments, and I think that that freedom lifts us up a little bit, and it made a more spacious, poppier record. I think that environment has a lot to do with the writing process: If you feel pressure because you’re waiting for some band to come in or you only have a set amount of time to be creative, it’s hard because being forced into a creative setting feels rushed. The space is like another part of the record — there’s a spacial influence.”

In the playful spirit of the album, the band decided to make cover art out of their feline mascot of sorts, Roxy, who was originally Swimmings’ cat, but was later adopted by Ball and Schouten. “We just wanted to pay tribute to her because she’s the sweetest little thing,” says Ball. “We did a bunch of photos at high contrast, and we were originally going to go with the same photo, then we got a treatment on it and decided it would be that still of her with her tongue sticking out. It was more of like a dedication.”

Teenanger originated in the same kind of environment it ultimately ended up in: in a basement, where Ball would jam with Schouten and his former band. Now twelve years old, the band is releasing Good Time via Telephone Explosion as its seventh album, after 2017’s Teenager. Ball describes the band as more garage-rock in the beginning, but consistently lo-fi and DIY throughout its lifespan. “Every record seems like a new sound for us,” she says. “We’re just trying to do what come naturally right now. Not a lot is coming naturally in general in the world, but that’s all I got.”

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