Waterloo Region Record - - NIGHT LIFE - Coral An­drews

Brock Zeman read a lot as a kid. The Ot­tawa-based singer/song­writer/ gui­tarist says he learned to write by read­ing, lis­ten­ing, then “mark­ing it down.”

“I love (Jack) Ker­ouac, Harry Crews and lot of South­ern writ­ers. I like the un­der­state­ment,” he says. “That’s why I gel with Hem­ing­way a lit­tle more. I read a lot, but I take notes like crazy. Peo­ple say the great­est things that get skipped over a lot.”

Zeman also does a lot of driving, which helps with his writ­ing process.

“I get a lot of the painstak­ing thought process out in that. It eats up the time and you can re­ally bat around the ideas,” he says

“You have to think crazy first and then you get a lit­tle more reeled in. The sec­ond part, though not as cool, is more im­por­tant. You need that edit­ing piece as well. Or you can fall into the trap of not think­ing at all,” Zeman notes.

“I write ev­ery­thing down and when I’ve got it I go through it again to a fault, and do it a line at a time. I think about the line for 20 min­utes, then I think of a bet­ter way to say it.”

Zeman has the same gritty vo­cal essence as Tom Waits and David Jo­hansen, and a punk poet’s heart-smarts.

He be­gan as a punk singer and evolved into a Cana­di­ana/Amer­i­cana roots artist. But he has al­ways main­tained that raw deep-charged emo­tional punk bent through his work.

With 12 al­bums to his credit, he has shared stages through­out Canada and U.S. with many alt-coun­try root artists in­clud­ing Steve Earle, Blue Rodeo, Corb Lund, Toby Keith, Lynn Miles and Fred Ea­gle­smith.

Zeman says the band and song that “changed his deal” for good was “Wel­come to The Jun­gle” by Gun and Roses.

“That was the first cas­sette I ever got and the first song I ever lis­tened to — it was some­thing that I asked for,” he re­calls. “I put it in my tape deck, lis­tened to it and the first thing you hear be­sides the gui­tar is that blood-cur­dling scream. That ‘Wah­h­h­h­hhh’ and I lost my mind!”

“That was it. It was over. Then the next time I heard that sort of scream was lis­ten­ing to punk bands like Mis­fits, Sub­hu­mans, Crass, ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing punk had to of­fer,” he says.

“That is why punk was so help­ful. It could be seen as vi­o­lent, dan­ger­ous, lots of things. It is first and fore­most emo­tional. You do not have to be re­ally good. You just have to be will­ing to do your best,” says Zeman with a mis­chievous laugh like one of the many char­ac­ters from his lat­est self­pro­duced al­bum “The Carnival is Over.”

“Carnival” is a roller-coaster pas­sion play based on char­ac­ters in a trav­el­ling show. It ex­udes a dark, gothic, sen­sual al­lure. Each song is like a char­ac­ter it­self, and the mu­sic fits ev­ery track like a per­sona.

“Ev­ery song has a theme,” says Zeman. “Even the song ‘Lit­tle Mac’ — the one about the lit­tle fella — that sounds Celtic. Be­cause he is into the drink­ing. It is the lit­tle things like that I try to pay the most at­ten­tion to.”

Tracks in­clude Klezmer-in­fused “The Jug­gler,” and beats and squeeze­box tango “Blood­shot Sadie.” Sonic daz­zlers “Come One, Come All,” and “Freak Show” show­case Zeman’s cin­e­matic lens on life mixed with colour­ful carny lingo. “Percy Jones” takes its in­spi­ra­tion from his lit­er­ary hero Harry Crews.

Zeman met Mark Lo­gan of Kitch­ener’s Busted Flat records through old pal and former stage-mate, roots mu­sic vet­eran Dan Walsh.

“I was look­ing for a record to come out and Mark de­cided to take it on,” says Zeman. “We have been work­ing to­gether ever since. It has been a long relationship.”

In ad­di­tion to 10 years with Busted Flat Zeman also pro­duces artists through his own la­bel Mud Records and stu­dio The Big Muddy.

Zeman per­forms with long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Blair Ho­gan of the band Sil­ver Creek. He met Ho­gan through an ad when he was look­ing for a bass player.

“Blair just wanted to go out and be in as many places as he could pos­si­bly be,” notes Zeman. “That is the trip I am on. Let’s go out, fig­ure it out and play ev­ery sin­gle place we can. Where we are go­ing to go … where we are go­ing to fit … So he has done that with me for 10 years and we are still do­ing it!”


Brock Zeman per­forms Thurs­day, Dec. 14, at The Boathouse.

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