Despite the extreme Montreal deep freeze, eager fans were gathered at the intimate bohemian bar, Casa del Popolo, last Saturday to see Canadian singer-songwriter Corin Raymond. He joked that it was “the hardest night to sell of the year” yet the mood was warm and cozy, and everyone was pleased to have made it out to see this gem of a musician and storyteller. Raymond’s latest release is the Juno-nominated album Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams (2016). He is notorious for funding his previous double album, Paper Nickels, entirely with Canadian Tire money – about $7,330 worth weighing in at 80 pounds – donated by fans from all over Canada. His new album Dirty Mansions is set to launch in September 2018.
Corin Raymond is an usually versatile artist. He has also written and performed the one-man shows Bookworm (2011) and The Great Canadian Tire Money Caper (2014), which toured extensively at Fringe and literary festivals. “I’m the storytelling kind of songwriter and these shows are an extension of that,” he explains.
Accompanied by one other acoustic guitar, Raymond opened his show last Saturday with the Johnny Cash-like ballad Hard on things from the album Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams. The song has delightfully dark lyrics and fun rhymes. "If you relate, that's your problem," he quips.
Hard on boots, hard on gloves, Hard on the ones I love. Hard on hearts, hard on flings, I’m hardest on the sweetest things, I’ve worn out two gold wedding rings, ‘Cause I’m hard on things.
We were treated to a rendition of Raymond’s song Don’t Spend it Honey, a trailer-park love song, which sparked the Canadian Tire money campaign. It wasn’t long before we were singing along: “Don’t spend it honey, not the Canadian Tire Money, we saved it so long, we saved it so long”. Raymond showed us a stack of the funny money given to him by fans at his show the night before. The size of a large brick totaled about $29. He says people will never stop giving it to him and they will lay it on his grave.
Half of Raymond’s shows are his stories, most of which are laugh-out-loud funny but others have a hint of sadness. Many of his stories are about the characters that inspired songs like Three Thousand Miles, which is about roommates he’s had living communally in “dirty mansions” of Toronto. I Only Drink a Little about a man called Pierre from Northern Alberta who drinks too much and has a laugh that sounds like a chainsaw. One night Pierre is pulled over for drunk driving and the first thing he tells the police officer is, “just give me the jail time”.
From his upcoming album Dirty Mansions, Raymond played the songs Crying for Two and The Bar Lowers You, the latter dedicated to a housemate that died of brain cancer at the age of 39 and who was also a hard drinker: “Some nights you lower the bar, some nights the bar lowers you.”
“Compared to my last record which was all about distances, travel, road songs and far away songs, this album Dirty Mansions is all interiors. It’s all close-ups: in the living rooms, bedrooms, porches and closets in those dirty mansions. When I say “dirty mansions” I mean those beautiful old hundred-year-old houses. When they were first built and moved into, they were probably quite stately and now they have seven different people living in them in split up apartments. As young creative people, these were the kind of places we lived in,” he explains.
Raymond spent two decades living in Toronto, which has had an immense influence on his songwriting: “Half of my inspiration comes from literature, books, comics, movies and conversations. The other half is from my peers. In Toronto, there’s great songwriters and musicians, and that’s the fabric of my music life,” he says.
The song Morning Glories is his love song to the bohemian Kensington Market neighbourhood, where he spent half of his time living in Toronto. He recounts the lives of the colourful neighbourhood characters Luther, Chuck and Dolores. Even though they’re "down and out”, there’s still so much joy to this song as they’re also “down and outgoing” on a spring day perfumed with lilacs, blooming roses and morning glories that only open in the evening.
Raymond chipped away at the song for four years until it was finally finished. “Because of how long it takes me to finish them, if I’m going to finish a song, the idea is going to be compelling enough to keep me interested for that long. I’m just going to keep hanging on,” he says.
Raymond paints a painstakingly beautiful picture with his lyrics, yet he says the lyrics take the most time in his songwriting process: “Lyrics are hard, they’re difficult. There’s no getting around it with lyrics. I have reservoirs of patience and I’m willing to be uncomfortable. Writing lyrics is extremely uncomfortable work,” he admits.
The audience at Casa del Popolo thoroughly enjoyed Raymond’s rendition of I’m a Fucking Genius, written by Raghu Lokanathan of Prince George, British Columbia. Although the song was written a decade ago, it was particularly fitting considering US President Donald Trump’s tweets this week affirming that he is “a very stable genius” amid questions of his mental state.
Everybody loves me, I can see why: I’m a fucking genius. The shit I said that night we got high: I’m a fucking genius. I can crush the infidel with my evil eye, Don’t feel bad if you’re just a regular guy.
Raymond closed his final set with There Will Always be a Small Time where he sings, “Folks here seem to like my sound, tell me that I’m big time bound. All I can say is it ain’t happen yet”.
I asked him about it after the show and he said, “This is all we need. This is it. It’s a rich kingdom. There’s a lot of musician-songwriters like myself, thousands of us, making full-time livings. People who are supporting families, owning homes, have rich careers and yet playing to 100 people a night, traveling around, playing folk festivals and concert series,” he says. The big time is “certainly not required to make a great living or be a great artist,” he adds.
He treated us to an encore and played the beautiful song that people seem to fall in love to: Blue Mermaid Dress. He recounted the story of a couple who fell in love with each other all over again after 40 years of marriage slow dancing to this song every night. Another couple got engaged to this song at a previous show.
After the show, I spoke to Raymond about his childhood, as I had read that his father would read him Greek myths on long drives across Northern Ontario and that he had grown up in unusually lonely and tragic circumstances. His mother was in coma months before he was even born. It was a miracle that he survived, but unfortunately his mother did not.
“There was a great kind of clean intense loneliness that I’m grateful for because it’s something that I can bring to this job. It’s a deep well and I feel grateful for that. I certainly wish that I had my mother but I don’t know if I would have the songs otherwise. She sings through me. There’s no question about that,” he confesses.
Casa del Popolo is now empty and everyone has gone home. Raymond recites the haunting lyrics to his new song on his upcoming album Dirty Mansions called Already Then:
I built a machine, It glows ghostly green and electric blue, Like we know from movies we’ve seen that time machines do. We never had the chance to meet, But we’ll meet again wherever you are. I’m already then.
I feed the machine, Movie scenes, mixed up memories and photographs that you’ve never seen, Of little me in the seventies. I’m older now than you ever were, Even way back when, wherever you are, I’m already then.
“Yeah, there is a bond that exists beyond the doorway,” he says.