WARNING: This is a really long interview… But that’s okay. Ed is well spoken, and you will truly enjoy this interview. Also, Ed is from Canada, so when you see words like favorite spelled favourite, you can thank him for that. Enjoy!
Over the years I have done a lot of work with the MTS Management Group. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing guys like Xander Demos and Doug Briney, so when they introduced me to Ed Roman, I figured I would enjoy his music and would want to learn more. I did and immediately asked for the chance to interview him. Ed is originally from Shelburne, Ontario, has won several awards, and is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. It was a pleasure meeting him, and I am excited to introduce you to Ed Roman.
You are a singer/songwriter. There are so many good singer/songwriters out there. Who are some of your favorites?
Seeing as I live my life more like a feral child who was raised by Sasquatch deep in the Ontario wilderness, my love for singers and songwriters is more connected to the past as I feel there is more of a storytelling aspect to that era than there is today. There are so many people writing fantastic music of all kinds all over the world and it’s almost next to impossible in this day and age to keep up with the amount of information. I tend to focus on writing songs that are about my own experiences. With that said, I’m not trying to be egotistical or in any way uncomplimentary to your question, but it is difficult for me to pay too much attention to the machine and I tend to write best when I am not inundated with a multitude of other things.
Don’t get me wrong, I go through phases of listening to different artists for months on end but one of the most important things I found about being a songwriter is to try to pay close attention to my inner voice that is always dictating to me some wonderful conglomeration of ideas and words. There’s been so many times in the past where I myself, as well as other musicians have said things like “lost to the trade winds” because they weren’t captured in a moment. Songwriting to me is more like a religious experience, an epiphany that happens sometimes instantaneously and other times over a long period of time. The recognition of the information and how it unfolds to you is just as important as the information itself. This is what makes the songwriting experience beautiful and magical. The artists themselves realize that there’s something electro-cosmic manifesting in melody and word and we feel more humbled in the moment than most give us credit for.
You have won the Indie Music Channel award twice now. What does that award mean to you as a musician?
I have to say it’s a great honour [remember, Ed is from Canada!] to be acclaimed and at the same time actually win. It was indeed a pleasure and I thank the Indie Music Channel immensely for the recognition of my contribution to American culture. I will say this about awards, when it comes to the GRAMMY Awards, The JUNO Awards, Academy Awards and a multitude of other awards that are handed out year after year; awards are nice to have as an achievement and ego booster and they go along way to help your curriculum vitae but one of the most important things that people need to realize about any artisan and speaking of a musician in specific, is that we crave to practice our craft and in this day and age this is one of the hardest things that you can do as far as making a living.
Over the last year I’ve definitely spent more money than I’ve actually made; and as I used to think, this was just a phenomenon that was in accordance with the Western Hemisphere. This seems to be a situation that is worldwide as far as how people interact with their music and what their actual purchasing habits are. What becomes more of a challenge and I think that’s what these awards ceremonies are more about – especially the bigger ones, is the amount of money that the actual records have made. The listening audience must also realize that the artists themselves aren’t actually making a great deal of money and so much is put into promotions and publications that they almost imbalance themselves and it will be a great deal of time before that artist sees anything as far as material compensation for their efforts over a 10 or 15 year period. It then becomes even more difficult for an independent artist to maintain that same sensibility when it comes to business attitude in dealing with themselves and the industry as well as fighting against what the industry already is.
As a songwriter, where do you find inspiration for a new track?
Inspiration is everywhere if you look in the right place. Robert Hunter said, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” This statement is true to form in regards to a multitude of art forms and is happening continually everywhere.
The information age has filled our minds with a multitude of things that in most cases are greatly irrelevant and placate our general imagination but at the same time there is an incredible current of language and questions that are continually being asked by people everywhere including myself. It is very easy to find subject matter in regards to the day and age we live in. I mean, all you need to do is pick up a newspaper, scan for your social media, or turn on your television and you will be inundated with information about things that are going on all through our lives. The more difficult thing and this is the way the artist mind works is to sort through the proverbial bull shit that we are continually being placated with while greater things are afoot. Artisans tend to be far more open-minded when it comes to ideas and concepts and we are not afraid to ask the hard questions. This is one of the reasons why art has become a reflective format for centuries. Artisans have the ability to look at the things that are happening all around not only to themselves but to others. We define those moments in these encapsulated bits of artwork that help others understand their own moments and in this moment in time.
“The definition of an artist is one who has the ability to live their life with the rhythm of the times.” – Herbie Hancock
Tell me more about the RedGorilla Music Festival.
It was so awesome to be a part of the RedGorilla Music Festival. All those that are involved made the event a really special thing for a lot of the artists that were participating. Austin is a city of music and definitely is a wonderful place to hold this kind of event. It was coinciding with SXSW which is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. So great to be a part of this and the streets were filled with people and music abound. At the same time there were so many other things that were happening in Austin from a rodeo to Jimmy Kimmel shooting his show in town. The city was hopping.
You released Special Ed and The Musically Challenged in 2000. Please tell me that title was inspired by your name!
Yes, in fact, it was inspired by my name. As a kid I struggled with dyslexia. I spent a great deal of my grade school years in special class. From time to time when kids would get into it in the schoolyard I was teased; as time went on the name became an endearing factor in a part of my persona. It wasn’t till later in about 1999 when we were working on a project as old friends in a farmhouse in northern Ontario that it stuck. This grouping of friends was a childhood band that had gotten together for a reunion after 20 years of not playing music together. The name was passed around again and had lasting chuckles. When I put together with a completely different group of musicians and was aptly titled it Special Ed and The Musically Challenged. We recorded two records with that name and all the music is available on iTunes. The music itself was challenging to play and from song to song moved from genre to genre and even inside certain songs could do very much of the same. We challenged ourselves with the music in writing it and at the same time we challenged our listening audiences as we put them through our electric experiments during our live shows. We played for over 20 years. People have still not understood the magnitude of the project and I may be pushing up daisies before that reality comes into play.
Nickelback is from Canada! What is the live music scene like in Canada?
Sorry, I can’t help that Nickelback is from Canada. With that said, the Canadian music scene is almost like our winters. The summer festival scene is very short and lasts about three months. It can be very difficult to get these festivals and they pay little to no money or your travel expenses or hotel accommodations. Over the 70s and 80s there was an incredibly bustling music scene that was happening in Canada. Live music clubs were paramount and there were at least 10 to 15 inside of every city block not to mention far more festivals and things that would be happening on a regular basis. One of the things that has changed this over the last 30 years is the detachment from the music scene and the average participator in music culture. Technology has brought about an interesting phenomenon. It’s one of the most incredible things that has ever been wheeled into the public format and at the same time is destroying many of the cultural traits and things that we do on a tactical basis and how the public participates in it. For instance, 20 years ago many people got in their vehicles, drove to their local towns and your cities and spent an afternoon record shopping. One of the many gifts that you gave to people on their birthdays or at Christmas time were albums or CDs from their favourite artists or people that you really enjoyed listening to yourself. Nowadays through the advent of the Internet, free sharing and otherwise, many people have grown to expect to have their music for free. It becomes very difficult for an artist to continually be putting out artistic endeavours and never seeing any material recompense from what they do. There have been many musicians that I know that have quit because they simply don’t have the financial means to continue doing what they do. I don’t think a lot of people realize the costs associated with things that artists have to pay for. I can give you a list of the amount of things that I have paid for this year and if I show you exactly what went into my bank account your first question to me would be, “Ed why do you keep doing this?” My answer would be to you as it has been for almost 35 years of making music is, “I have to.”
Have you ever made a mistake while performing?
Absolutely and anybody out there that says that they haven’t is lying. Mistakes are a byproduct of the human condition. Even when you’re not on stage you’re continually making them. The important thing to realize is that you’re learning something from this mistake. Sometimes mistakes can turn into the most beautiful pieces of work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working on something and play it incorrectly. But if I allow my listening ears the license to participate in the moment I start to hear something else and that mistake then can turn into something else in an instant. The important thing is that you realize it.
Looks like you play a lot of shows in New York. What are some of your favourite venues in the Big Apple?
Why I have to say I’m really excited about playing at The Bitter End. Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about all the dates, but The Bitter End is one of the oldest rock ‘n roll clubs in the city of New York and legendary icons like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have thrown their shadows upon these walls. New York is one of those places in everybody’s mind that has this mystique and charisma about it. It’s one of the most interesting things about being a writer and performer is that, many of the places that you visit are inundated with these energies and people that you’ve never met or experienced before. There is somewhat of a higher learning experience occurring and because of that your subconscious and conscious mind are filled with a multitude of ideas and things in the moment. New York City is definitely an exciting place and I’m really happy to be going there.
It looks like you have a lot of fun. If you weren’t a singer/songwriter, what would you be doing for a living?
To tell you the truth I’d be growing vegetables or running for federal political office. Over the last 25 years of my life I’ve seen so much change happen with the way that people consume food. You are what you eat, as the adage says and there are so many things that we eat from day-to-day in prepackaged and frozen foods that are terrible for the human body. I come from a multi-generation family of farmers and I know the importance of your relation on a tactical level to your food. Growing a carrot my friends, that is bigger than a child is like winning the Academy Awards of vegetables.
As I mentioned federal political office, and this could really be a whole book that I should be writing, is another one of my passions when it comes to the day and age that we live in and where we are headed. I come from an extremely political background. My father was the first federal coalition candidate ever in the history of Canadian federal politics. He was also the mayor of Markham, Ontario for 30+ years as well as police commissioner and chairman of York region. There were so many things that I learned from my father including my ability to foresee change due to corruption, and as a public servant fight for the things that are good and truthful. There were so many times that I can recollect when my father spoke of sheer political corruption when it came to the way taxpayers money was being used all through the federal system. There are so many things that we can talk about but we all know that there needs to be change in a way that the public reacts with not just their municipal and provincial governments but really as to how much of a hand they have in what goes on in the federal system. It’s either farmer or public servant. That or be in jail.
You play a lot of festivals. Do you prefer festivals to smaller shows?
I love playing no matter what. My motto is I’ll play to people in a ditch or in the Colosseum. Music to me is more like breathing and eating. If I can’t do it I start to suffocate and feel totally disconnected to my environment. As I mentioned the feral child in me spends more of its existence inside of what music really is. As a lifestyle, a meal, a breath and my religion. I’m sure a great deal of this attitude comes from the fact that I live my life this way, but a big part of it also comes from the recollection of what I remember music being to people in the past. The ideas and the concepts of records in the poetry that flowed from so many different people were like gold to listeners. Concerts, the records that we would buy and the lyrics that we would go over and over again to learn and to understand their meaning. They helped me understand who I am as a human being. The electricity you feel off of the big show is an incredible rush and so amazing. You feel your words and emotions being absorbed by so many people at one time. It’s like playing in some great electric outdoor cathedral with the night sky and its stars as your overhead tapestry. I also love the intimacy of playing in the club. This feels more like a personal poker game with friends laughing and joking and living in the moment. It’s not like those things don’t happen on a big live stage, but there are a lot of really cool things that happen in small little cracks and cupboards in cities and towns all over the place.
What is the smallest crowd you’ve ever played for? The biggest?
While I’m walking around Jamaica or anywhere for that matter and I have my guitar with me, I’ll often play to anybody that will listen to me. So I guess the smallest audiences have been one and some of the bigger shows that I played but at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre in Toronto was about 20,000 people.
If you could only play one song for the rest of your career, what song would you perform?
“I Found God.”
Tell me more about “Letters From High Latitudes.”
“Letters From High Latitudes” is just that. My songs are my letters and things that I’m writing to myself. My organized thoughts and emotions that are encapsulated into pieces form a picture in the greater puzzle. These letters are symbolic to me. Now in the collection of the words and phrases themselves they aline together in verses and choruses, but they are more like trailheads and mantras of realization that are necessary medicinal chants to my soul. I am the proverbial fool on the hill asking questions and summate the answers to my own questions and everybody that I talk to. How foolish really is the fool? For he sits atop the hill observing the track instead of racing it. I live in the second highest city elevation in Ontario in Dufferin County and coincidentally I had come across an antique book that was written by Lord Dufferin entitled Letters From High Latitudes. It was his accounting of nautical journeys in the higher latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean. The information in the book wasn’t overly relevant but I fell in love with the language and the use of words that flowed through the book more like a tapestry or classic painting. I’m greatly enamoured with the language and the skills and tactical abilities of people of this time. The music represents something in an esoteric yet very symmetrical way. The letters are trying to ask questions indescribable by most, in a poetic fashion and somehow illustrate the feelings and emotions that we all have. Without sounding egotistical 90% of the instruments on the album were played by me and I think that’s a great accomplishment for any artisan to be able to achieve. Artists that I revered like Stevie Wonder all tried these kinds of things, once again not out of ego, but more for the sake of doing it and becoming implicitly involved in the music. I think this is illustrated all through the album and much of the music that I have written over the last 10 years.
What’s next for Ed Roman?
Well as we both know I’m headed off to New York City for this tour and I’m very excited to be hitting the Big Apple. As the summer rolls on I’ll definitely be out in my garden and there’s a dual meaning to this statement. I’ll definitely be out weeding in my garden but my studio is my garden as well. I plan to embark on a new recording project entitled “RED OMEN.” This obviously is an anagram of my own name. There are many things pointing to great change about to occur and many of us seem to be oblivious as to what those things are. I see the writing on the walls everywhere in so many places and I believe that most people are incapable of understanding what that change will be. Tempus Fugit. “Ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise” but I’d like to add to that. Tis no longer a folly for the wise are the tempests.
In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Thank you for the last word and it’s so ever kind of you to do so. First let me say thank you for having me today and it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Wonderful questions my friend. People are often looking for a pushbutton mentality or quick fix concept to the problems that we have going on all around us. This can be one of the most dangerous things that our culture has fallen in love with. This means it’s very easy for someone to claim they have all the answers and know how to fix all problems and they don’t. I think people can subtly realize that as time has gone on nothing has really changed other than the people that are behind podiums. What I have learned, and I’ll never stop learning until I die is that we must think more like the aboriginal people of our continents do. I was fortunate enough in my life to be able to hang out with Cree and Ojibway people and this is something that is far more charismatic of all tribal cultures. That we must think in a seven-generation mentality. You can’t expect to fix the problems tomorrow. You can’t expect to fix the problems next week. But what you can do each moment is change the way you live your life from day-to-day because every step you take greatly affects the future. Your children are like a garden. You look after them and protect them and nurture them and in time they start to nurture you. As time goes by the careful gardener’s hands live symbiotically with their landscape and these practices are passed from generation to generation. The important thing is that we act on these moments as they’re happening. They are not just a fight or stance against something wrong. They are a classroom for you and your children. The things that they see you do are the things they learn. Your kids are like vegetables. Now have a carrot…
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