Stuff

THE Dress!!

I had to write a short follow-up to my JUNO blog about THE dress!

Today I found myself on various websites featuring people on the JUNO red carpet etc.

Here are a few…

CTV

Toronto Sun

loop

Now the irony of all this is as follows…

If I had won I would have worn a little black dress in case any photos of me were used. But because I had not won I figured no one would care what I wore or what I looked like so I threw caution to the wind, stepped out of my little black dress box and went for the multi-coloured number.

Also, I hammed it up a little in front of the press… again not really caring what they thought.

Between the dress and the jazz hands I seemed to have caught the attention of photo editors from quite a few on-line magazines including CTV (the main TV sponsors of the JUNOs) and am included in slideshows along with all the big names.

So hooray for funky little dresses and silliness. A demure little black dress and coy smile would have gone unnoticed. In case you are wondering the dress is by Karina Dresses in Brooklyn NY. Here’s one more… 🙂

Windsor Star

I also wrote a blog for the dress company Karina Dresses

Silly/Serious turns Serious

Well… I made it to 15 weeks of my songwriting challenge of 2 songs a week and then could be neither silly nor serious anymore. Also, during that time I put more silly songs onto Soundcloud than serious ones and there is a good reason for that.

Mid songwriting challenge I started sending my serious ones (well the ones that weren’t ridiculously jolly) over to Paul Otten to produce and co -write unaware that it would turn into anything. I met Paul at a Taxi Road Rally a couple of years back and we became facebook friends along with a whole bunch of other really supportive Taxi people. Musicians need this kind of support group to keep going… and cosmopolitans 😉

DSCN2828
Myself with the 2 Pauls – Paul Otten is on the right, the other is Paul Cufflin, another very talented singer/songwriter.

Paul had produced a commercial song called Colour It for me previously and I really liked what he did. But when I sent him my serious songs it turned out that we shared a common love of an indie/folk/rock sound and our voices sounded really good together.

After sending the first song to my publisher they LOVED it but wanted a rewrite of the lyrics and so I entered into my first collaboration for many years. I wasn’t a fan of songwriting collaboration (I know,I know… collaboration is essential to songwriting… blah blah blah) so I was a little cautious. But it was really cool. The beauty of it is that if you get stuck you can ask the other person, but egos must be left at the door. You can’t fall in love with an idea/line/melody if the other person isn’t into it. The power of veto. It works in my marriage and seems to work in collaboration. And Paul is very easy to work with. We put our first song up on soundcloud which you can still listen to here.

So we tried another song which, again, everyone at my publishers office were gushing over so we figured we were onto something. Watching my 15 year old teenage daughter break out into a weird dance every time I played it in the car was also a reassuring sign 🙂

Six songs later and we are going to be releasing an EP under the project name of Big Little Lions. The name came about because he is really tall and I am… well… a little on the short side!

If you want to know more info as I get it you can either sign up to my email list by sending me an email at helen@helenaustin.com or by following me on twitter and Facebook.

Search for the Unicorn

Part 1 – Finding the photo

One day I came across a photo being used by a friend as her Facebook profile pic and I knew I had to use it as an album cover. There was something about this cute little fella that I just couldn’t put my finger on, something about the snow and the colour, and I knew that no other unicorn would do. When I find what I like I can’t let it go.

I set about trying to find the owner of the picture so that I could ask permission to use it. I asked my friend where she got the photo but all she could remember was that it was from some site with ‘fuckyeahunicorn’ in the url. I lost many hours searching this and so many other variations of the unicorn and expletives. But nothing…. not even close.

I was starting to get obsessed and knew it was time for a different strategy. Someone must have made that unicorn so I started searching for knitted unicorns (oh how I LOVE the internet). I searched Etsy and bay and a whole load of home-made sites. But nothing. I started searching random unicorn images and scrolled through thousands of pictures of, mostly, unicorns… although there are some very suspect images under the heading ‘unicorn’… hmmm. Weird.

Finally I found a tiny image of a green unicorn that had very similar flowers which HAD to be made by the same person. The title under it was cozycoleman.com. I had found it it… woohooo. Feeling very excited (I lead a sheltered life) I clicked on the link and in the flash of a screen I got this

But Cozy Coleman HAD to exist. I had to find them. I revisited Etsy… the home of the knitted items and other home-made treasures. I typed the name into the search bar and… it gave me TWO Cozy Colemans. None sold knitted unicorns so I messaged the first and got a lovely message back telling me ‘sorry… I have never knitted unicorns… good luck’.

The second Cozy Coleman had to be the one or I knew that this was going to be the end of the line. So I emailed and crossed my fingers.

Part 2 – Finding the unicorn

Within minutes I got an email telling me that ‘YES’ she was indeed the Cozy Coleman that knitted the unicorns and we started a dialogue where I asked her if she knew who took the photo that I had found. She was great and asked all the people that she had sold the unicorns to. After a few days of possible leads the trail went cold.

Cozy Coleman turned out to be Sharon Coleman and I asked her if she still had any of the unicorns that she could sell me so I could try to re-create the photo (did I mention that I am obsessive?). She did but only in green and pink. Something was telling me that it had to be the blue.

Then she suggested that if I found a 100% pure wool sweater in the colour I wanted and sent it to her, she could felt the sweater and make one for me. Yay!!!

So I hit the thrift stores and found 2 sweaters that I thought would work and sent them to her. Did I mention that Sharon Coleman is the greatest? 🙂

A few weeks later I had 2 beautiful unicorns and just before all the snow on our local mountain had melted.

Part 3 – Shooting the unicorn

Karen McKinnon is a wonderful local photographer who is responsible for most of the photos you see of me so, over a social breakfast one morning, I asked if she would come up to the mountain and photograph my unicorn in the snow. Not her usual sort of job, but she is always up for some fun so we headed up one afternoon to shoot the unicorn…. which was the source of many many jokes… a little sad, I know.

We found a spot on the bunny slopes at Mount Washington where the snow was still good and the trees were far enough in the distance to blur out (or some other photographic technical term). I put the unicorn into position while Karen got comfortable lying in the snow and the shooting (tee hee) began. The unicorn was a little temperamental but we got the shot and headed back down to spruce him (or her, we’re not sure) up a bit.

Part 4 – The cover

Originally this was going to be for my LA album but that all changed when the album was finished and the image didn’t match the sound. But when I decided to release a kid’s album, the unicorn was the perfect photo for the cover.

Stacy from Psoma Design Group was the designer for my LA album (out next year) and she did such an amazing job that I asked her to turn my unicorn into a CD cover for this kid’s album. We had so much fun with all the iterations and I really like the finished product… especially all the extra sparkles 🙂

When it came down to naming the album I realized that I wanted a title with unicorn in it. It would seem odd not to. But I had no song with that in the title. So a week before sending the songs to be mastered I wrote and recorded a new song called ‘Always Be A Unicorn’, using the sentiment in those Facebook posts going around that say “Always be yourself, but if you can be a unicorn (substitute batmen etc), then always be a unicorn.” It seemed to really suit the cover and the feel of the album in general.

“Always Be A Unicorn” is out on October 24th, when I will a guest on CBC All Points West with Jo-Ann Roberts.

Click here for pre-order special.

Heading to LA

While packing for LA I was thinking about this new album… and figuring out how to pack for sunshine after months of rain and snow…

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here, about to head to LA to record with a great producer and other very talented musicians.

I spent years as a comedian travelling on my own, performing on my own and creating on my own. Then I spent some more years as a songwriter, doing it all on my own again. And I always liked it that way. My successes and failures were all my own. I had no one to answer to. But it could get lonely.

I can’t tell you how great it feels to have a publisher that truly believes in what I do. I was talking to another musician the other day and I told him to hold out for a manager/booking agent that *really* wants to represent him because it make for a great working relationship. And now I will be working with a respected producer, Bleu, who also believes in my work. I can’t wait to get fresh, talented ears on my music and see what direction it takes. It’s very exciting.

People keep asking me what is going to happen with this new direction/album and I say, like all previous ventures in my life, I am going to go in with an open mind, consider all opportunities and see where it takes me. When I decided to try and write for TV etc I had no idea that in 3 years I would be here… so I have no idea where I will be in another 3 and I think I like it that way.

Back to the packing…

Timing

Most things in life need good timing, whether it be love, investing or, in my case at this point, music.

And it was time to get back to saying yes to things… I recently said yes to my publisher, pigFactory when asked to work exclusively with them, said yes to working with a producer on my new album and then yes to making a more serious album and moving away from my jolly songs.

When my publisher suggested getting a producer on my new album it was a no brainer. I was already feeling like I had reached my limit (or at least a plateau) on my producing skills and was thinking of maybe finding a producer, so it was great timing.

We looked at several producers who were all very skilled but one stood out and when I spoke to him I knew that he would be able to produce what I heard in my head… and then some. His name is Bleu and has a huge body of work both as a singer/songwriter and a producer. (click for discography) Luckily he had time available to start recording with me in early 2012.

Then it was time to start looking at songs. Everyone knows I have a lot of upbeat, jolly songs, but I had just started writing more serious stuff as a bit of a backlash to writing about sunshine and loveliness. My timing couldn’t have been better and it is time for a more grown-up album.

So I started writing (I never really stopped, but you know what I mean) and it was really great to be writing about deeper things. I obviously have a dark side 🙂

With everything in place I am off to LA in Feb to start recording this new album. I am so excited and am really looking forward to handing over some of the creative reigns to Bleu. After being a one stop shop for so long it’s really nice to have the company of a great producer and a fantastic publisher.

This isn’t the end of happy songs… I will also be putting out a kid’s album that will have no end of jolliness 🙂

Highlights of 2011

2011 started with a broken collarbone and a new album and is ending with new exciting album on the horizon. There were many highlights throughout the year… here are a few.

Voices Three

It always gives me enormous pleasure to play music with quality people at a great venue while raising money for a very worthy cause. For me it’s the best win/win situation, so starting the year with that was very satisfying.

One Tree Hill

Having a new song placed on One Tree Hill was so exciting. I think it is the highest profile TV show I have been played on so far and I am very grateful to Crucial Music Publishing for getting me that placement.

Vancouver Island Music Awards

This was probably the biggest highlight for me. Not only did I get the award for Female Songwriter (which meant more than you can imagine), but I also took home the Artist of the Year which blew my mind!!! And even better, I had my family there to celebrate with me.

Vancouver Island Musicfest

This is always a highlight for me. Not only do I get to talk a lot of rubbish with the very funny Todd Butler, but I also get to introduce some really amazing musicians onto the main stage. Looking forward to it again next year!

Conferences

I love all the conferences I go to. I always get something out of each one but The OCFF stands out because I got to be a music licensing mentor and found that I really like imparting the knowledge I have, and the Taxi Road Rally, where I got to be on the Member success panel which was an honour.

Exclusive

I had a big decision to make this year. For a while my main publisher, pigFactory has been wanting to sign me exclusively but I was hesitant as it was a big step. Finally in November I decided to take the leap of faith and am now exclusively represented by them. It has certainly uncomplicated my musical life and they are wonderful!

New album

Through my new arrangement with my publisher, we are moving in a new direction and I will be recording a new album in the new year. In the past I have produced most of my music. This new album will have a fabulously cool producer working on it with me and I am so excited to get to work!

So those are my highlights on 2011. I still can’t believe that I get to do what I do. When I arrived in Canada I thought it would be cool to play some local venues. I never imagined any of this and I will always be grateful to everyone that helps to make it happen.

I hope 2012 will be a wonderful year for everyone 🙂

Taylor Horror!

A weeks ago I was travelling to California for the West Coast Songwriter’s Conference, which was a great conference by the way! But drama unfolded before I have even left Canada.

A terrible thing happened to my beloved Taylor guitar – a gift from all my friends on my 40th birthday a few years ago.

After checking in at the airport I took my guitar to the ‘special’ luggage area and was asked to place it on the conveyor belt. There was just a short section of belt before the guitar would disappear through a small archway.

While lifting the guitar (which was in a very sturdy case) onto the belt, the top caught on the archway while the bottom hit the belt and kept moving…. so fast that there was nothing I could do except shout “Nooooooooooo”. I think the whole airport heard me. The top section of the guitar bent right over. It was like watching a horror movie for stringed instruments.

When I opened the case this is what I found

I have to admit I cried.

Now everyone asks me “was it United?”…. and yes it was. But I put the guitar on the belt and it was just one of those freak things that I couldn’t have foreseen and it was not United’s fault, despite their terrible reputation. I can’t count the amount of people who have send me the ‘United Breaks Guitars‘ youtube link. 🙂 In fact the lady at United was trying so hard to be helpful and felt awful for what had happened.

As sad as it was, it is just a thing and nothing bad happened to my kids so it’s all good. I have insurance, who have been very helpful and so now have a new Taylor. My wonderful husband suggested I upgrade to a better guitar, so I have gone from the 314CE to the 814CE and it plays like a dream. Look how happy it makes me.

For everyone who keeps asking… when I took the old one to a Luthier for an autopsy, the words out of their mouth was ‘Ooh, that’s bad… it’s good for kindling’. So I shall be framing the head as a memory of the wonderful generosity of my friends.

Gonna write some new tunes now… 🙂