In Conversation with Jeffrey Straker
When Jeffery Straker opened the stage ceremony at Hart House, University of Toronto, for the INSPIRE Awards a couple of years ago with his rendition of “Halleluiah”, everyone in the audience including myself melted.
I was a fan prior to that event. His “Vagabond” collection of songs is heavenly and very catchy, and so are the numbers on “Under the Soles of my Shoes”. Many of my friends in the community are big fans of Jeffrey, and how can anyone not be? He’s friendly, down to earth, easy on the eye, and his music videos are beautiful to watch. They are modern pop, yet full of soul and are kind of folksy.
So when news about his new album “North Star Falling” passed my desk and theBUZZ managed to line up time to chat with Jeffrey for an interview prior to the Toronto CD launch, naturally I was very excited and looking forward to it.
We arrive at the Hugh’s Room, where the Toronto official CD release launch party will be happening on April 22, to a special treat with Jeffrey sitting behind the piano playing “Nowhere Heart” from the new album. Jeffrey is looking energetic and smiling ear to ear.
theBUZZ: How is the new album doing?
JS: Amazing, you never know how an album will do, so I am very pleased by how well “North Star Falling” is doing.
theBUZZ: Let’s talk about the start of your love for singing and music, How did it all happen?
JS: My mom put me and my siblings in piano lessons, but I was the one who was more interested in this. I would practice how the teacher said, but I would always practice a little bit more. I really liked it, but I am also competitive, so I wanted to get really good at it. My mom played piano and my dad played the banjo so there was always music in our house, and they very supportive.
theBUZZ: Are they still supportive now that you went and done this professionally?
JS: They are. Well okay, when I first moved from a job at an office to doing this full time they were weary. You know how parents are – they want you to have a “job” job.
theBUZZ: Trust me I know. My mom is still waiting for the day I quit playing publisher and get a real job like a doctor or an engineer.
JS (laughs): I suppose parents want to see their kids have stability. So when I left the office job and gave myself a year to see how his would work, they were like you’re crazy. But hey glad it worked out, it’s now been my full time career for 7 years. I love it and it doesn’t feel like work.
theBUZZ: So let’s talk about your musical influences. Who influenced you?
JS: Well the stuff I studied was all classical.
theBUZZ: No surprise, I always felt a touch of the old days in your music!
JS: Indeed, and like with this record there is a throwback feel to the 70s, there is a warmth to the production I would say, some of the reviewers are getting a feel of Harry Chapin, like 1970’s singer songwriter vibe. Now I am getting influences from people like Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, and such, these classic songwriters.
theBUZZ: So yes let’s talk about the new album.
JS: It was a long time coming. I am not sure if you read anywhere, but last April I had a break in, and my laptop was one of the items stolen. It was horrible. The album was pretty much written, but everything was on my computer. I had some amazing fans actually put out a $7,000 reward, but still it was never recovered. So I had to start fresh, luckily I had the summer off, so I locked myself up for three months and wrote all new material, except the material that I co-wrote with other people.
theBUZZ: Did you manage to recall any of the work stolen?
JS: My writing process is as such, I write something, set it aside, and then I go back to it in a month or two to have a listen and see if I still like it. So I didn’t really have anything committed to memory. So no, all brand new stuff I had to write.
theBUZZ: How do you feel about the new album, how is it different, or maybe similar, to your other work, or do you like one more than the other?
JS: Obviously I like them both. Let me say how is it different first, I mean by virtue of the producer that I worked with, “Vagabond” was Danny Michel, this one is Dean Drouillard. Dean wanted to make sort of a classic songwriter record with a classic vibe, full production with string and horns and such. Danny was more like let’s make a folky organic record. I think they both do well and what they were intended to do. It’s like comparing your two children, like who do you like better, you can never say that.
So they are different by virtue of the production, but of course I hope that my song writing has improved with time, you have more experiences and more to draw upon, so your work evolves. Everything that I write is a piano vocal song at its core because I am singer pianist, so everything could be performed solo but the rest is how the producer makes it sound on the record. Just to elaborate, like I am going to throw a few names randomly. Say you take Elton John, Harry Chapin, and more on a modern note Lady Gaga, you take away the band, and the glitter, you get a real artist sitting behind their piano, the rest is dressing up the song.
theBUZZ: Do you have a favourite track on this album?
JS: Mmmmmm let me think, there is one that stands out for me, “Step into the Fire”, the reason it is really special is because it was inspired by a week I spent as the artist in residence at camp Fire Fly, which is a camp for LGBTQ kids in the prairies. First of all the camp is amazing, and these kids feel so special being around people who they can relate to, and you see them over the week literally become more empowered and getting stronger, and you know they are going to go home and do great work. The song is about that, it’s about taking a risk.
theBUZZ: Do you consider yourself a gay artist or an artist? Are you out in your performances?
JS: I am gay and I am an artist, and am usually shocked when someone in the audience doesn’t know. I have gotten hate emails, can’t say I haven’t. People with messages such as how dare you go on stage and push your agenda, but quite frankly I don’t care.
theBUZZ: You are touring, What do you like about touring and what not so much?
JS: I love the travel and being on the road and seeing the different cities. The one challenge I find is taking care of one’s self and staying healthy, eating well, and keeping up with your exercise routines. I am a runner so I take stuff with me to keep that up when I am travelling.
theBUZZ: What inspired Jeffery?
JS: People who take chances and genuine people, authentic people, I LOVE that.
theBUZZ: What would be something you would like to change in the world?
JS: Accepting differences.
theBUZZ: What are we to expect when attending your launch event next week?
JS: A full experience, conversations with the audience, and hopefully enjoying the “North Star Falling” experience.
A big warm hug wraps up our chat.
Hugh’s Room is a great space to experience. It’s intimate and has great sound. The CD launch is Wednesday April 22 at 8:30pm. 2261 Dundas St. W.
Call 416.531.6604 for tickets and reservations. $18 in advance and $20 at the door.
About the Author
Antoine Elhashem is the owner of Inspired Media Inc (www.inspiredmediainc.com)
Pink Pages Directory (www.thepinkpagesdirectory.com)
Local Biz (www.thelocalbizmagazine.ca)