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20 Questions With Stan Simon

The Toronto troubadour talks musical influences, duck soup, Bobby the Kia & more.

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Stan Simon often finds himself in unusual settings. At least, that’s what I’m gleaning from the title of the Toronto troubadour’s latest album Songs From Strange Places. Well, he’s clearly come to the right spot. After sharing his latest single Rest Well in The Blue Night HERE a few weeks ago, Simon emerges to do battle with my oddball inquiries. Maybe he’ll write a song about it one day. Though probably not. Anyway, read all about him:

 


 

What is your musical origin story?
When I was a kid I wanted to be a drummer but I didn’t have the coordination or patience. My parents’ basement had a decent stereo system with a big vinyl collection and I started to dig into those records. I fell in love with Paul Simon’s solo record from 1972 and felt like I had discovered some sort of magic. Before I knew it my dad put an old classical guitar in my hands and I started learning to play songs like House of the Rising Sun to work on my finger picking and just stuck with it.

What do we need to know about your latest project?
It is an album that should never have existed but I’m certainly glad it does. After my second album I felt burnt out and decided that maybe it was better if I took a break or give up pursuing being a songwriter as a career. In that time songs started coming to me naturally. These were songs I approached open and honestly with no inhibition or ideas about branding but rather songs that were purely from me and about my life. It’s the best music I’ve made.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I don’t think anything sets me apart from other artists. We all share what we do out of a love or music and creation and a need to express the human condition to some degree. Once I was ready to start sharing my music after my time away I met so many songwriters and never realized how large the community was in Toronto. I was blown away by the songs and unique voices I heard and was grateful such a community existed.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
I hope my music comes across as honest and resonates with you. That connection is important to me and it’s what I love about the songwriters I listen to. You create a bond with albums that can last a lifetime and even span generations.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
I’m sure the first song I wrote was about a girl but I really don’t remember. I started to play around with different sounds and trashed so many ideas that it’s hard to tell what actually crossed the finish line. One of the first real gigs I had was playing music during the reception of the Vagina Monologues at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. My sister was involved in the play and she got me in. I was so nervous but no one paid attention to me.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
When I was 18 I sang in a hardcore band that toured in Europe. We had a gig at a laser tag venue in Poitiers, France. After the show was over we all got drunk with the owner and played after hours laser tag and I won. It was the last night of our tour and it was awesome.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
The best show I have ever seen was Converge at The Reverb in 2002 in Toronto. I have never witnessed such intensity in a performance. I remember a shirtless Jacob Bannon jumping off the stage and running through the crowd like a man possessed until he fell to his knees as steam was emitting off his body. It was a sight to behold and I really felt like I was witnessing rock and roll in all its glory.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
Touring, with many new albums written, and spending time with friends and family. My wife and I are expecting a baby boy in October, who by that time will be 10 years old and that’s kind of a mind trip. I’m also hoping to learn woodworking or basic carpentry.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
I think collaborating with Buffy Saint-Marie would be a dream come true. She is such a strong voice for the music community, politically and artistically, that it would be an honor.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love hardcore, thrash, metal, you name it! I’m drawn to bands like Power Trip, Converge and Bad Brains. As a musician it’s good to be into genres you don’t play and sometimes you can even pick up little tips here and there. Most of my songs are ballads and there’s nothing like putting on a heavy energetic album to get you going.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
I’ve been listening to lots of Junior Kimbrough, his early stuff right now, but I love anything he does. It’s got incredible groove and heart. There is nothing sweeter than an artist who knows how to make mistakes sound good and honest, and Junior is one of the best. Color Green by Sybille Baier is another album on rotation. I found her by accident and feel like I stumbled on some kind of musical treasure. It reminds me so much of why I love Leonard Cohen and it’s truly a fantastic album of beautifully crafted songs.

How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
I’m re-reading Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. I’m on a non-fiction kick right now and enjoy his framework of the history of humankind and how he later dives into natural and social sciences. A great read for anyone, I think. My wife and I are binge watching Breaking Bad at breakneck speed and we are loving every moment of it. And lately, I’ve found myself looking at the work of the cartoonist Robert Crumb.

Who would you be starstruck to meet?

I don’t think I get starstruck. I have this fear of meeting any of my heroes because I’m afraid they might not be who I thought they were or maybe I’ll make things awkward. But to answer your question I’d have to say Paul McCartney.

What’s your favourite joke?
I’m not sure I have just one but if you watch Duck Soup (1933) by the Marx Brothers you’ll find three or four of my favorites in there.

What do you drive and why?
I drive a Kia Forte named Bobby. He’s a new addition actually because we upgraded from our 2007 Chevy, Lucy, which had roll-up windows and manual locks and was stock red. We took her on many road trips and she treated us well but with a kid on the way it was important to upgrade to a car that was better suited for an infant seat and was just a little more modern overall.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I would have to say the ability to fly. I can’t think of a better way to experience the world. It also reminds me of a song I love by Blaze Foley called,  If I Could Only Fly. The lyrics in the chorus have always stuck with me, “If I could only fly, if I could only fly / I’d bid this place goodbye to come and be with you / But I can hardly stand and I got no where to run / Another sinking sun and one more lonely night.”

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I’m a bit of a martial arts nerd. I love the movies and I love the training, especially Muay Thai. When we moved to the east end of Toronto there was a martial arts gym five minutes from our house. I’ve always wanted to try it and had no excuse not to give it a go with the gym being so close. I started with Krav Maga and transitioned to boxing and Muay Thai. I definitely got the bug and have since set up a small gym in my basement with a heavy bag.

What do you collect?
I guess the eternal answer to this question for me would be records. I’ve been collecting music my entire life and can’t imagine how much money I’ve spent and different shops I’ve been to. I also like going into a record shop with no plan and seeing what I come out with. When I was younger I went to New York with my sister and we walked into a record shop in Greenwich. I was immediately obsessed with the Candi Staton album they had on. I never heard her before and they had no copies in the store so the owner sold me the one he was playing. That was pretty rad.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Maybe something like a vegan quinoa sweet potato salad, artichoke dip or a hearty chili. It would have to be something that a lot of people could dig into so whatever it would be I would be bringing a giant stock pot of it. I’m getting hungry.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
I don’t understand not wearing a mask during this global pandemic. We need to look out for our neighbours and communities. It’s the smallest duty we can hold ourselves to and can actually contribute to saving lives and slowing the spread. So, arguments made for not wearing masks I do not understand.

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
Our first pet was a 20-year-old cat named Molly who we adopted from an old friend. We fell hard for this cat and took care of her in her golden years. She passed just before she turned 23 and soon after we decided that we would adopt another senior cat, Nicky, and we love him too! Senior pets have all their love to give and although they may require more care, their love is worth its weight in gold.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
Ideally, I’d love to work with animals or a large non-profit making some difference. Alternatively, the older I get my interest in science has been growing so maybe something in the field of biology, studying natural history or the conservation of plants and animals.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?
I was once told that it is OK to embrace your mistakes. Most of the records we cherish have mistakes and it can build character in your music. There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence but you may find an undiscovered quality in bringing your guard down and accepting that nothing has to be perfect. Small things like this give way to magic.

Listen to Songs From Strange Places below, and keep up with Stan Simon via his website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.