B.C.-based songwriter in good company
POSTED: OCTOBER 14TH, 2003
Championed by Billboard's Canadian editor Larry LeBlanc, Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Joel Kroeker has completed his debut for True North/Universal. Tentatively titled Melodrama, the album was produced by Danny Greenspoon (Great Big Sea) and is slated for release in the first quarter of 2004.
A single has yet to be chosen, but "The Wind" and "Goodbye Jane" have been mentioned as strong radio tracks. The album also features a guest appearance by
Randy Bachman on "With Me."
"Joel is the kind of artist that True North can take around the world. That's part of what I heard and part of what I liked," says True North president Bernie Finkelstein. "I think he's got one foot where Paul Simon is and one foot where Jack Johnson and John Mayer are."
LeBlanc, who now publishes Kroeker through Brycemoor Music, the company he operates with his wife, independent radio promoter and publicist Anya Wilson,
agrees. "The template for his career are people like Sting and Elvis Costello, and even (Bruce) Cockburn to some degree. This is gonna to be a worldwide
artist," says Leblanc.
Kroeker, 30, has been performing professionally since 1990, in his native Winnipeg, where he earned a bachelor of music from the University of Manitoba, and, later, in Edmonton, AB, where he completed a masters in ethnomusicology and popular music studies from the University of Alberta. He was on his way to finishing his PhD, when he landed his record deal with True North/Universal.
It all started when he sent Toronto-based trade reporter LeBlanc a copy of his CD, Naive Bohemian, in 2001, which he had released independently on his own Dancing Monk Productions two years earlier. Distributed by Edmonton-based Spirit River, the album earned Kroeker the award for best new recording artist of 1999 from the Alberta Recording Industry Association.
"He wanted an opinion on what it was like, and some guidance, and he was seeking someone to do music publishing with him. I was intrigued and I flew out to see him in Winnipeg," says LeBlanc, who caught several solo club shows, plus one in an empty HMV.
"I was quite impressed by his songs. Even at that stage, they were a cut above everybody else's I was hearing. He had a song called 'Bully' that was very political, essentially about America being a bully in the world, but he took it
down to a school level."
Wanting the self-managed Kroeker to learn more about the business, as well as meet other songwriters in order to collaborate, LeBlanc brought him to Toronto at the end of 2001.
His first meeting was with Finkelstein, whose True North Records is Canada's oldest independent record label, and home to such artists as Cockburn, Stephen Fearing, Randy Bachman, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, and Murray McLauchlan. He
also manages Cockburn.
"Bernie has the background in socially relevant music," says LeBlanc. "We liked True North's history and I knew Bernie wasn't in the signing mode, but I wanted Bernie to meet him. I knew they would get on."
While in Toronto, Kroeker also performed numerous showcase gigs, ranging from the Free Times Cafe to Reverb. Universal Music Canada's A&R team Allan Reid and Dave Porter took in a couple of the shows and tipped off label president Randy Lennox.
LeBlanc also arranged for Kroeker to co-write with numerous musicians, among them cabaret singer Patricia O'Callaghan, The Weekend's Andrea Wasse, plus Sony/ATV Publishing Canada writers Stephan Moccio (Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman, JC Chasez, Edwin), David Martin (b4-4, Melanie Doane, The Philosopher Kings), Ruben Huizenga (Edwin, Glueleg), and Thomas "Tawgs" Salter (Edwin, Kazzer, Dunk).
Huizenga (who is in the band Micro Maureen) and O'Callaghan have both included Kroeker songs on their respective albums. Kroeker has also written with Lee
Aaron, Liam Titcomb and Barry Canning.
"Him coming down here was really a pivotal part in his evolution because what it did was it opened his eyes up," says LeBlanc. "A lot of independent artists have an idea of what the business is or isn't, until they get to work alongside of it. All of a sudden, everyday, he's in Sony and he's working with these people and he realizes that this isn't the big bad record company. He went back (home) and his songwriting took a huge change in direction."
By the end of 2002, negotiations were underway for a joint-deal between True North and Universal Music Canada. "Bernie and I were both admiring the demos from Joel that Larry had sent," recalls Lennox. "We decided to do it together 50-50. Since we're Bernie's distributor, it made ultimate sense."
Agreeing to split all costs from production on through to marketing, Kroeker signed the deal in December, 2002.
Recorded at Canterbury Sound in Toronto, producer Greenspoon assembled some crack players for the album, including guitarist Kevin Breit (Norah Jones),
keyboardist Gary Breit (Bryan Adams), drummer Gary Craig (Bruce Cockburn), bassist George Koller, background vocalists Kathryn Rose and Susie Vinnick, and
While Kroeker may have collaborated with a great amount of artists, all the songs on the album were written by him alone.
"A lot of people saw this as a nice folk-style type of act, and Joel and I knew that that wasn't gonna be what it was" says LeBlanc. "He's made an absolutely stunning record."