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Saturday, November 1, 2014

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Musician records European-infused American folk music

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Stan Simon

Stan Simon is revisiting his younger self in the music on his first solo album, Escaping the Madhouse.

The 27-year-old Thornhill, Ont., native, who spent years performing with hard rock bands like Courtesy Blush, is recording his first solo album, which has him performing a different style: American folk sprinkled with the sounds of European folk.

“When I was in the other bands, I was always writing my own music,” he said. “I always had ideas, and all these songs coming out.”

Now, he’s taking those songs, many of which he wrote when he was 18, and revisiting them.

Many of the feelings he wrote about at that age still apply, although he had to update some of them. “I’m much older now and not as filled with angst,” he joked. “I made some revisions, but it’s refreshing, like having a whole new repertoire of music.”

Simon’s music features him on the vocals, guitar and harmonica, as well as other musicians playing the clarinet, upright bass and drums. He’s also working on a song that would incorporate an organ and a strings portion.

Hiring session musicians can get expensive, he said, so he improvised the drum sound on one track called the Firing Line by toe-tapping onto a guitar case with a microphone inside, while playing a shoebox with a drum-brush.

Once the album is done, he’ll be heading out to the East Coast for a two-week tour, during which he’ll also stop in Ottawa and Montreal. Simon described his past touring experience, including performing around Europe with Courtesy Blush, as a “whole bunch of guys in a hot van in the French Alps.” This time, it’s just him, his girlfriend, a guitar and a rental car.

“We’re going to see a bunch of sights, probably stop in the highway at any cool sights,” he said, “and I’m hoping to meet a lot of people.”

He’s already been networking with East Coast artists to find out the best venues for his type of music, although he said it’s been hard for him as a Toronto artist with no fan base in the areas he’s approaching.

But he’s planning to make it happen, since he has heard that the East Coast is a friendly area for folk artists.

“Folk music on the East Coast of Canada is a really big thing,” he said, adding that he’s not going for the sake of making money – in fact, he may not even break even. “It’s more to expose what I’m doing to people out there.”

He’s hoping he’ll come back from the tour not only with experience performing his new music outside of Toronto, but also with inspiration for new songs. He said in the past, travel has always sparked his creativity.

He recalled spending a month and a half alone in Europe, visiting places all over the continent, but especially focusing on finding his roots through staying in cities like Warsaw, where his parents were born.

His family has played a big role in developing his musical style. Growing up, he said klezmer music would regularly fill his home, and during the High Holidays, his cousins would often introduce him to different musicians, and that helped fuel his love of European folk music from a young age.

He described European folk music as more instrumental than the American kind. “But American folk music, like Bob Dylan, teaches me to put a story to the music,” he said, adding that his current sound focuses more on the American music, but some songs do have European influence.

Working as an independent artist, he’s learned that there’s a huge community of folk-music fans in Toronto, and using social media has also helped in promoting himself. He said the trick is to give consistent updates but not constant ones.

“If I have a show, I’ll promote it, but I won’t necessarily be doing it every day and making people feel like they’re forced to see it,” he said. “You’d be surprised how people react to that kind of thing.”

When the album is released in June, listeners can pick it up in either CD or vinyl. Simon said he hopes people who hear the music will understand what he means by the title Escaping the Madhouse.

It’s about finding something in your life you feel free doing and not always feeling trapped by expenses and work, he said. “If you have something that can free you from those things, even for a few moments, that’s true freedom.”

For more information about Simon, visit stansimonmusic.com

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