Gentleman Reg Takes the Next Step

By: Jennifer Kentfield

Gentleman Reg Takes the Next Step
Photo: Filipe Zuzarte

Mar. 16, 2009 – Toronto, Canada

Starting over can be challenging for just about anyone. And when you're a musician who's already got three albums under your belt, it can be even more so. But for Toronto-based songwriter Gentleman Reg (a.k.a. Reg Vermue), starting over may have been the best thing to happen to him.

When his former label, Three Gut Records, collapsed in 2005, Vermue was sort of stuck in the middle of things. After his third album, Darby and Joan, was released in 2004, he'd been working on new material and was left looking for a new label. That's when when high-profile Canadian indie imprint Arts & Crafts came along and everything seemed to fall into place.

"With the old label, there were no contracts, no business at all. We just put out albums. At Arts & Crafts, there are offices and people are getting paid. It's great. It's a very different situation," says Vermue.

Not only is the label different, but the album release is too. Gentleman Reg's Arts & Crafts debut, Jet Black, will be his first release outside of his native Canada. It's also the first Gentleman Reg album to be available on vinyl.

"I'm in a little bit of shock that it's finally here, the day people finally get to hear the thing that has been worked on and worked on," writes Vermue on his blog. "It's like having a secret, and only a couple people got to know about it, got to hear bits of it. And now it's all out in the world."

Like Darby and Joan, Jet Black was recorded in the Ottawa, studio of producer Dave Graves. Vermue had heard other recordings from the studio, like Kathleen Edwards', and was impressed with the quality. Finding a recording studio and a producer can be difficult, but Vermue got lucky and found both in one.

One song from the album in particular – "To Some It Comes Easy" – stands out for Vermue. "The song ," he says, "is something that I'm really proud of. I had a vision that worked out and it was great." The lyrics, he says, and especially the chorus, are his favourite melodies to sing. Although, on the album he doesn't actually sing the chorus; instead he invited a few guests to be a part of it. In fact, Jet Black features guest appearances by Great Lake Swimmers drummer Greg Millson, Bryan Webb from The Constantines, Elizabeth Powell from Land of Talk and The Organ's Katie Sketch.

As his career advances, so does his music. His first record, The Theoretical Girl, was very much about figuring out how to make a record. It was his baby. Vermue's second album, Make Me Pretty, was a much more cohesive record. The third, in its own way, was more confident.

"The new album is a pretty big departure from the first two. It was just a few people, no band. It was more experimental and was playful with everything," says Vermue. "You learn from your mistakes. There are things I did early on that I wouldn't do now."

The choices of instruments and melodies for Jet Black seem to be all over the place. Vermue started with acoustic guitar, giving off a folksy pop sound. But when he gravitated to the electric guitar, it changed the direction of the album. The music became something else. There are heavy guitars and wifty voices. The track "We're In A Thunderstorm" is a dance-oriented song, which goes in a very different direction from Gentleman Reg's usual sound. It didn't start with a guitar, but came from a dance beat his friend gave him. And maybe that's why it's hard for Vermue to describe his music.

"There are different points of references. Some people call it indie pop and others call it pop music. It's easier to explain when I compare myself to others like Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright or Feist."

His music might be as diverse as it is because as a kid, Vermue was into a lot of different instruments. He's played the piano since the age of five and tried out everything from the saxophone to the accordion and the drums.

"I never committed to any of the instruments I played when I was younger, which was unfortunate. But music was always around. My parents were always encouraging it," says Vermue.

In fact, his parents were both singers themselves. It was only natural that songwriting would follow, and Vermue was writing in no time. It wasn't until he was 16 or 17 that he started to play guitar. He mostly wrote folk and a cappella songs, and now he's been at it for a good 20 years.

"The love of music was always there. I was in the church choir and I was really into musicals as a kid, like Fame, The Muppet Movie, Grease and The Sound of Music," he admits.

And now the stage is his. Gentleman Reg recently performed on MTV Live to promote the new record. The audience, which was full of teenage girls, wasn't Vermue's regular crowd – but it was still an experience. "It was exciting because you're playing in a nice venue. I saw Bob Dylan play on that stage. It was very fancy. And you get a lot of out those experiences, even if I wouldn't go hang out there."

Gentleman Reg also played at Soundscapes on College Street in Toronto on February 24, the day the album was released. He's had some appearances on CBC Radio's "Go!" and "Q", with more CBC appearances to come. And that's only the beginning. He just played Canadian Music Week and tour plans are underway with gigs in Toronto and Montreal schedule for March with Chad VanGaalen. He's also in talks for North By Northeast and is heading south this week to play at South By Southwest. And while the details aren't final, Vermue promises that there will be many more shows to come.

"I really want things to grow. We're really proud of the last record and people liked it, but didn't hear it because we didn't promote it or tour. With this one, I want that to change. People will hear this one; they'll hear about it. I think I'll be happy if it grows at all," Vermue says.

Here's hoping it does.

You can catch Gentleman Reg all week at SXSW: Wednesday at Headhunters, Thursday at the Radio Room, Friday at El Sol y La Luna and at the Beauty Bar on Saturday night.

Video: "You Make Me Tall" by Gentleman Reg from Darby and Joan

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