He calls it a “caper” and it has to be one of the more ingenious ones in a business that often portrays itself as sexy and glamorous but is increasingly oh so serious and weakened from years of financial malnutrition.
The caper is Corin Raymond’s recent Canadian Tire-money crowd-funding project to pay the freight on his just released Papere Nickels album. Actually, it’s a double album that weighs as much as a small coffee-table book, recorded live at Toronto’s Tranzac club a year ago this month.
Paper Nickels costs $30 to purchase, and so far is only available at the front of the house where he plays. It’s a hardbound 2-CD set that includes 20 original songs written by a folio of better than good Canadian songwriters who more often than not are playing to small audiences in clubs, legion halls and public spaces where there’s no need for Ticketmaster and payment for service is often nothing more than the generosity of a few dozen souls who drop coins and bank notes into a collection plate between sets and after the show. The collection plate often being a yellowed plastic beer pitcher, a tuque or, perhaps, a pork pie hat.
Raymond is a stocky lad. He’s neither a fashion plate or a mussed bespoke minstrel plying meaningless banter. He’s rough and tumble, obstinate, charismatic in a black Irish sort of way. He’s fast on his feet, remembers names and faces and, better still, remembers songs and stories. The kind that are worth remembering. He reminds me at times of a youthful Bob Seger. The toothy grin, mussed oily hair, his walk-as if he’s been riding bare back for half his life. And then there’s his unquenchable appetite for knowledge, arcane and profound. He’s a Treasure Island of Canadiana, doesn’t suffer fools lightly and hangs tough on stuff that matters and about what he believes in. Artifice and mediocrity have no part of him.
At the Tranzac Tuesday night the house was packed, small as it is-but the sound was as good as if it was Pink Floyd on stage, and in a fashion the band was its equal. The same trio he has behind him most times when he plays the Cameron House on Queen Street, just west of the ‘Shoe. He calls them the Sundowners: Treasa Levasseur playing a sweet honeyed accordion and upright piano, Brian Kobayakawa who has a way of making his upright bass dance and swirl, and the ever understated marksman Dave Baxter who has few equals when playing electric, acoustic guitar or mandolin. As a unit they are the untouchables.
In total Raymond has raised the magnificent sum of $6,107.75 in Canadian Tire money. The haul weighs in just over 60 pounds and, by his math, that’s about a million dollars in purchases at the iconic Canadian retailer.
Spin the number again and that’s the equivalent of 20 million nickels. Not bad for a year’s work.
The brilliance of this project – and it is quite brilliant in its own creative way – is that he’s done it not so much as a lark, which it is, but because it was something crazy that was possible and because it was so very, very Canadian. In fact, he marvels at the fact that Stompin’ Tom hadn’t thought of it first.
He’s got no truck with the music biz. I’ve taken him aside on several occasions to suggest some strategy or other that could help tuck him into the mainstream. His eyes just glaze over. His last album, There Will Always Be A Small Time, was titled after what many consider to be the definitive DIY anthem. It’s about being real, about making music, winning over an audience one night at a time-and not getting caught up in the game.
I mentioned Bob Seger earlier on. His breakaway song, “Night Moves”, almost didn’t make it on an album. He was recording at Nimbus 9 in Toronto, in the same studio where Peter Gabriel and Rough Trade made career records. Jack Richardson was producing. Seger came in one day and played “Night Moves” in the rough, almost absent mindedly. Jack heard it for what it was, pressed Seger to include it, dressed it up and Seger’s stock in trade soared.
Corin’s not about the money. He’s about the songs, about authenticity, making sure there’s enough left over at the end of the month to pay the rent, shoot some pool and enough in reserve to hop a train or a bus to the next gig. It’s not that he lacks motivation or thinks small time. Hell, this project alone proves he’s got ambition and is self-motivated. An ad hoc team behind him volunteered, he backstopped it all the way. The details were stupefying, the attention to detail draining, the result-rewarding.
For him it’s all about about being true to himself, not falling into the trap of playing someone else’s game. Cliqued as it may sound, it’s stuff that’s in his DNA.
He’s an anomaly, even in the DIY camp. The mantra today in the biz is about social engagement, but the reality is that more than many are pushing hard to get out their message, trying too hard to engage and win over fans. The outcome is it stifles latent desire. Corin’s attitude seems to be quite the reverse. He’s just being Corin and what he does, where he plays, what he has to offer is, in its own quiet way, winning over fans in growing numbers.
We’re not talking stadiums, even small concert halls. But that will come over time. The question is will he be prepared to cross that line. I’m not sure but my guess is that Corin Raymond’s true calling hasn’t yet been realized. One can get a sense of it leafing through the 144-page bound booklet that comes with Paper Nickels. He’s an engaging writer. His style isn’t highbrow, and it’s not lowbrow either. He writes as he talks. Kinda like Elmore Leonard, or James Lee Burke-two novelists with an ear for conversational prose and, in Burke’s case, a fascination with geography and place.
His passions, and yes, he is a passionate young man, run wide and deep. He’s a master craftsman. He’s thoughtful about what he does, and when he commits he commits all the way. It’s obvious in the songs he chooses, the musicians he has playing with him-and he has a deep affinity for others, like himself, who have chosen to walk the road less travelled. Doing it his way all the way.
It extends to how he projects himself, particularly evident on his album releases. They are like kin to him. He’s proud like a new father when they hatch. The last album, ...Small Times, is beautifully packaged. There’s thought put into the design and the typography, and they come filled with rich content describing the genesis of the songs and exhaustively giving credit to the players, writers and technicians that brought the project to fruition. As I’m typing I’m staring at a recent Rolling Stones 3CD compilation |(GRRR!). There’s nothing special about it beyond the songs. It comes with a flimsy 12-page black and white insert that includes a couple of pages of cheesy photographs with lame captions in some horrible typeface, and the credits only extend to the song titles, the songwriters and the copyright owners. No session credits, no descriptions offered on what albums the songs are taken from, whether they are mono or stereo mixes, British or American versions. In their day the band cared. Remember the original Andy Warhol design with the working zipper on the Sticky Fingers album?
Details, but necessary-and if it costs a bit more, so be it. Corin Raymond ups the ante each time he releases one of his babies. The packaging costs are huge. He’s not aligned with a record company, he doesn’t have deep pockets. But he cares. He cares about what he does. He cares about his audience. In turn, his fans care about him. They respect him. He builds loyalties, friendships; with every new convert he’s extending his circle.
The Paper Nickels album is more about great songs by other Canadian songwriters. He promotes them, enthuses about them, tells stories about what led to their creation. It’s almost as if they are his own, and in a way they become a part of him. Think other songwriters aren’t going to return the favour? And not so much because it’s a favour in need of payback but because he’s passionate about words, and his own songs sparkle like a strand of jewels. He writes songs other songwriters want to perform, maybe even record.
You can find out more about Corin Raymond on his Facebook page, read Nick Krewen’s well researched Toronto Star feature about the making of the new album, follow him @CorinRaymond on Twitter- or on his “Don’t Spend It Honey” blog that also includes his itinerary. After all, if you don’t go to the show you can’t puchase the album.