Tell us about your 2 new single releases.
My new songs are “Diamonds and Stiletto Shoes” and “Lately It’s Cold”. As it turns out, this is THE winter to release the latter! I began to write it a few winters ago and completed it not long before heading into the studio to record it, just this past October. I wanted to write a great Canadian song about how we REALLY feel after a few weeks of winter. We love our snow throughout Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year, and some of us maybe even up until Valentine’s Day, but after that, unless we’re kids or winter athletes, we get TIRED of the bitter cold. And for those of us who can’t afford a winter escape to a tropical climate, we need to create an inner sense of relief from the deep freeze. You hear SO many sentimental and upbeat songs about the winter weather in the period of time leading up to Christmas – I wanted to write about the winter blues in an honest, refreshing way.
“Diamonds and Stiletto Shoes” is a break-up song, but not the kind of break-up song we’re used to hearing in pop music. I suspect that most listeners will think that the song is about the break-up of an intimate partner relationship, which is OK, but here’s the real story: ALL kinds of relationships break up: best friends, siblings, parents and adult children, to name a few. Sometimes there are just irreconcilable differences and the involved parties have to go their own ways. (Yes, that is a tip of the hat to Lindsey Buckingham/Fleetwood Mac’s tune.) The break-up of these types of relationships is no less hurtful or traumatic – in fact, it can be more so, because we don’t talk about these kinds of break-ups in our society or in pop music nearly as much. We feel betrayed, hurt, angry, the usual gamut of emotions, and we have to find a way to move on. “Diamonds…” is specifically about parents realizing that a child they have loved and cared for has not turned out to be a caring, loving adult. Our society generally opines that children are tabula rasas, that parents can mold them, and so it blames parents when kids grow up to be uncaring people. But the truth is that kids are not tabula rasas – EACH of us is born with an inherent personality, and sometimes all the love and caring in the world does not result in a child growing up to be an empathetic adult. It is a hard thing to accept as a parent. So, I wanted to explore that theme.
What’s different about these songs from others you've released?
“Diamonds…” is a co-write with my amazing spouse Georgia Wilder! She writes, mostly short stories and poetry up to this point, and she teaches writing at the University of Toronto, but this is her first foray into writing song lyrics. It came about this way: I had written the song and the first draft of the lyrics. When Georgia heard the song, she loved it but suggested some lyric changes. Since I did indeed have some inner reservations about the first set of lyrics and the initial song title in particular, I went with Georgia’s ideas, and before we knew it, we had co-written a whole new set of lyrics! Our producer Karen Kane heard them and suggested we go for another draft - that we hadn’t quite nailed it, and so we kept refining and rewriting until we had what all of us thought was strong. This was a brand new experience for me – I am usually a solo songwriter. The one other time I co-wrote with somebody (many years ago) was not a positive experience for me, but this was both challenging and fun.
Do you play on your own albums or bring in studio musicians?
I always play on my own recordings. I have traditionally also brought in studio musicians, but this time I was determined to also use some musicians with whom I perform live. I met my backup singer Karen Dinardo while recording “Glimmer In The Dark” in 2011, and we have been gigging together ever since, so she was of course back for the “Diamonds…” and “Lately…” sessions! I met my harmonica player Bryn Scott-Grimes at a Songwriters Unite show in 2012, and my guitarist/bassist Bob Cohen at a Suzanne Nuttall and Friends show I did early in 2013, and have been gigging with both guys ever since as well. Both laid down amazing tracks, Bob on both new tunes, and Bryn on “Lately…”. It sure was a fun and different experience recording with folks who share the stage with me regularly!
Tell us about the CD cover and what inspired the images.
My friend Sheryl Stevenson took the photo for the cover of “Diamonds…”. She really captured the darkness I was looking for, the sense of foreboding. Like we say in the song, “this is not a happy ending”.
My friend the late great Patricia Howard painted the cover image for “Lately It’s Cold”, although not expressly for the purpose of being an album cover. We loved this painting and purchased it from her a few years ago, and it seemed like a natural choice to depict both the beauty and the bleakness of the deep Canadian winter. She passed away last summer, and had no idea that her painting would later grace the cover of “Lately It’s Cold”. I think she would have been thrilled to see that happen, and I am glad to be able to pay tribute to her talents in this way.
Is there a genre of music that you secretly love and wouldn’t mind recording in someday?
Yes – dance! In fact, we will record a dance version of “Diamonds and Stiletto Shoes” later this year! The beats are already done. I am VERY excited about this. I can get into all genres of music, and I realized that “Diamonds…” could and indeed should have 2 different interpretations.
Have you always been openly OUT as a gay artist? If not, when and why did you make the decision to be out?
When I made my debut album “Anna Gutmanis”, I was not very out in the music world. This was way back in the late 80s-early 90s, before Melissa Etheridge, kd lang or any other famous musician had come out. I didn’t have the maturity and confidence to come out under those circumstances, especially as a young indie artist. Later on, after I had taken my hiatus from the music business to raise kids, return to school and do social work, I decided that I would record “I Am Who I Am”, my queer liberation song. It was a very conscious decision to return to the business as an out-and-proud musician. I had to come back completely honest or not come back at all. I have not looked back ever since!
What is your opinion on artists giving away their music for free?
Everyone loves music, but there is a new cultural shift toward not remunerating the folks who create it. As indie artists, we all want our music to be heard by as many people as possible, and so we give out a few freebies. It’s a necessary evil. That being said, when I see musicians giving away their services and recordings for free all the time, I get upset, because this just adds to the expectation that we all work for free all the time. This then becomes a class issue: if nobody gets paid, only the musicians who have means will be able to continue making music. That would be a devastating loss.
Tell us what makes you truly happy.
I love being at home with the cats creating music! I’m also enjoying performing more and more. And of course I love to spend time with my spouse Georgia.
Are you in a relationship? How long for? Do you live together? Married?
Georgia and I have been together for over 22 years, and married for 8 of those. She’s amazing, one of the most intelligent and compassionate people on the planet.
How do you feel the fight for human/equal rights is going?
We see a lot of gains and a lot of setbacks as LGBTQ people. For every state that legalizes same-sex marriage, a nation legalizes ill-treatment of its LGBTQ citizens. The Olympics in Russia have really focused attention on that. The other night at my release concert, I dedicated “Another Way Out” to LGBTQ folks in Russia, and asked audience members not to forget about them after the Olympics. There is SO much work to be done locally and globally, and it is a great time to be an out musician. The power of music to educate and influence people is huge, so let’s use it.
The song that changed my life was...
“Stoney End” by Laura Nyro! I remember falling asleep as a small kid with that song in my head, thinking that I wanted to do what Laura Nyro did – to write and perform songs that move people.