Canadian blues-rock veterans Wide Mouth Mason need no introduction — especially not from the likes of me. So I won’t give them any. Though I will tell you two important facts: 1 | Singer-guitarist Shaun Verreault drummer Safwan Javed are releasing the 20th-anniversary edition of their classic album Stew later this fall; and 2 | Verreault was kind enough to dish up some answers to my idiotic questions. I’ll shut my mouth now and let him take over:
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
Shaun Verreault, singer/stringer for Wide Mouth Mason. Born and raised in Saskatoon, live now in Vancouver. I have a scar on my top lip that looks like a dagger. It wasn’t caused by a dagger. My grandfather worked for the Saskatchewan Navy. That’s right, Saskatchewan had a Navy for operating the ferries back and forth across the river. I have an unplayable guitar hanging in my living room that used to belong to my great Aunt, and she’d play it at Metis house parties back in the day. She leaned it next to a wood stove for storage, so it’d get molten hot and then freeze solid in the frigid prairie night. That’s the music business for guitars and their players. Molten and frozen, often within the same day.
What is your musical origin story?
Heard Prince, got a guitar, heard Hendrix, dove deeper. I spoke with a slight English accent from 15-20 on account of listening to so many Hendrix interviews.
What do we need to know about your latest project?
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of our record Stew, we’re releasing it and a til-now-unreleased track on vinyl. It’s us at our funkiest. We and producer Gordie Johnson set out to really explore our Stevie Wonder/Sly/Prince side and honed our rhythmic interplay while broadening the tones and instruments we’d recorded with up to that point. It was fun as hell to make and play live and it’s been fun to revisit. Stew is home to a couple of our best-known songs and its release in 2000 culminated in us touring most of North America opening for AC/DC, so we’re quite fond of it.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I’ve developed an unusual style of playing lap steel with three slides on my left hand, which nobody’s ever been fool enough to do, as far as I can google. I’m inspired by other unorthodox players like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Stanley Jordan and Charlie Hunter to rise above the novelty of my technique to wring all the music I can from it.
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Upon listening to the first song on our most recent record of new material, I Wanna Go With You, you will sense your breath freshening, you’ll have five great hair days in a row, when you’re driving somewhere in the rain your wipers will match up perfectly with whichever song you’re listening to, friends you haven’t spoken to in ages will think to call you, but then think better of it and then text. If you didn’t like cilantro before, you’ll begin to acquire a taste for it. The improvements are small but numerous.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
When we were playing a show on the aforementioned AC/DC tour, part of my guitar broke. Our tech was busy tending to something on the drums, so he didn’t see right away what was happening. In an instant, Malcolm Young’s guitar tech took it upon himself to run out, take my guitar and put another on me and run off. I looked down and to my shock, discovered I was wearing Malcolm’s iconic one pickup Gretsch guitar. Playing it for an arena full of people. I tried to remember the lyrics to sing but my brain was a loop of “don’tdropitholyshitholyshitIcan’tbelieveitdon’tdropitdon’tdropit”
Before the song was done, Mal’s tech came back out with my guitar, completely repaired, and swapped it back onto me. His kindness was representative of their entire crew and the band themselves. Then, every night, we got to watch them decimate arenas. I’ll never forget it.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
Living in Vancouver, touring bands (back when there were touring bands) are often pretty keen on trying the local herbal horticulture, and more than once I’ve watched it go comically sideways, as glassy eyes widen in horror as they discover they’re playing in different keys from each other, singing verses over the chorus or forgetting what to sing at all.
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
Releasing the 30-year anniversary Stew on commemorative cassette tape.
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Prince and Jimi and author Al Purdy.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love Western Swing. Where jazz, Hawaiian music and young punky country met for a minute.
What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Magic Sam’s Boogie, Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways, Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard, Run the Jewels, Blake Mills.
How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
Often when I’m writing I like to randomly channel-surf through books to get word-drunk and inspired. We made a record at the Tragically Hip’s studio and the main room has a wall of Gord’s books. They serve double duty as inspiration and acoustic reflection dampening. When writing lyrics for that record I’d select something at random and see where it took me. I’ve continued that practice.
Who would you be starstruck to meet?
I’ve seen and lived too much to be starstruck. I’d be more starstruck around an animal I’ve never encountered. A giraffe or a blue whale. For them I’d be proper gobsmacked.
What’s your favourite joke?
The one that ends, “ping pong balls?! I thought you said King Kong balls!”
What do you drive and why?
Getting to drive different rental vehicles when we (used to) do fly-in dates is one of the little joys of the gig.
What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Flight. Always flight. All my flying dreams would come true and I’d believe in dreams forever.
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
Learning music teaches you a lot about preparing and creating and organizing and arranging things. That mindset is transferable to anything. I particularly enjoy applying it to cooking. Learning to get good tone out of a tube amp is the same muscle as setting the heat on your stove. Mixing flavours is akin to composing with sweet major chords and sour minor chords and salty seventh chords. My dad was a chef for many years, but being a constantly touring, no-kitchen-hotel-staying musician for many years, I hadn’t learned. I’m way into it now.
What do you collect?
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
I’m afraid I’ll have to decline attendance on account of the covid. I appreciate the invite though.
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I’m fortunate to have another gig that’s on a separate but parallel track to making music: I work with a company that designs and produces the nuts and saddles and components on most of the world’s guitar brands. I get to go into the deep web of the guitar community which I love. While playing constantly.
What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
Backstage at a show we opened for the Stones, I was standing at a catering table uncomfortably, as drummer Charlie Watts told me with increasing intensity how much he liked the shirt I was wearing. Where did I get that shirt? How good the shirt would look on him. What does one do? Would he trade me for his shirt? Or would I find myself shirtless backstage like some kinda Red Hot Chili Peppers wannabe?I was only in that rarified atmosphere on account of his band asking us to play more shows with them. How could I say no? Would you give the shirt off your back to play stadiums and hang with the Stones? Just as I was about to acquiesce and start unbuttoning, over swaggered my saviour. Keith Richards positioned himself between Charlie and me, reached up and pinched my cheek like a great-aunt might, and said, “Smile, mate. You can still smile. Look at me,” while pointing at his own well-seasoned face. Good advice, that. It all goes by so fast. Find some joy. Also, that line was the inspiration for the song Smile on Stew.