Parlour Steps Ring That Bell Video Release

Wow, we all look so cute in this video! Julie did a great job putting together outfits for Rob, Rees, and I. She borrowed the clothes from the vintage clothing store where she works (Thanks C’est La Vie!) so we had access to much cooler stuff than we would have left to our own meager wardrobes.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this video. Strange, (slow motion chair smashing) unexpected (chair choreography), and funny (Rees’s very skinny jeans).

This video used to be up on youtube, now it’s listed as private:( You can see it on vimeo by clicking the link below.

http://vimeo.com/17101617

It’s great to have an official video of us playing together. What a pleasure it was to perform and make songs with Rees, Julie, Rob and Caleb.

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

Rees, Julie and I drove from Seattle to Portland together. I drove part of the way, in Julie’s silver PT Cruiser (his name is Petey). I was secretly pretty stoked to get a chance to drive her car. There’s a teeny tiny little Main Street hipster buried deep inside my stark minimalist exterior. And that little hipster was pleased as punch to throw on her horn rimmed glasses, thrift store tweed blazer and drive Petey proud and fast.

We stopped for gas and when we went in to pay there was a stack of thick magazines called “Are You Prepared For Armageddon?” right next to the cashier.

“How much is this”, I asked.
“Oh, it’s free”, she said. “That guy’s always in here dropping more off”.
Rees and I promptly grabbed copies for ourselves. I was dying to know who “that guy” was, but I didn’t want to draw any more attention to ourselves.

I thought it was going to be tips and recommendations on appropriate preparations for Judgement Day, like earthquake preparedness guidelines. (“When Armageddon comes, take cover under a sturdy table until the rain of fire stops”) But no. It was pretty disappointing. It turns out to prepare for Armageddon you have to read the Bible a lot, and warn people who don’t read the Bible that they are in for a world of hurt come that glorious day when the Prince Of Peace comes to reign over the righteous.

At least Rees and I had plenty to discuss while Julie slept, though. There was a big accident on the highway coming into Portland and we crawled along in the pouring rain for 2 hours before we arrived at Rees’s cousins’ place where we were staying. I first met Joe and Rochelle 2 years ago when Parlour Steps stayed with them in my first tour with them in 2008. Since then they had reproduced and I was looking forward to meeting their 5 month old son.

We played with the baby – Connor was very friendly and smiley – got changed for the show and arrived at the venue, Mississippi Studios, with just enough time to grab some dinner before we had to play. There was a fast and delicious Thai restaurant right across the street.

I think I’ll always think of Parlour Steps when I eat Thai food. It seemed to be the cuisine we could all agree on so we ate a lot of Thai food together over the years, across many provinces and states.

One last change in a bar washroom. Juile lent me one of her “extra shirts”, much cooler than anything I had. Once I again I reap the benefits of her overpacking!

And yes, this was the last time for bar washroom wardrobe changes. It was the last time for everything. This was our last show together. Julie has decided to leave the band to pursue her career (and eventually her own store) as an optician, and Rob is moving to Montreal. Maybe Caleb will continue Parlour Steps in some form, but it won’t ever be with this specific group of people anymore.

It’s always a little jarring to face big changes, but I’m feeling pretty good about everything. I made some wonderful friends in this band that I’ll stay close with forever. I helped make songs for a really good album, and I had some unique and amazing adventures that would not have been possible without being in Parlour Steps. Who knows what the future holds, and that’s pretty exciting to me.

It was a fantastic show for us. We played very well, the sound was well balanced and comfortable onstage. The room filled up as we played, and Rees had his own cheering section as his Portland relatives screamed in delight for all his guitar solos. A really satisfying bookend to my Parlour Steps experience.

Afterwards we sold some cd’s, and then Julie and I climbed high up onto a catwalk beside the stage to watch Wintersleep again. They packed that place. It was inspiring. After they were done, Julie and I were ready to head back to Joe’s house to crash. But just as we were making our escape, a very tall, polite young man asked Julie if he could borrow her bass, as his had just broken 2 strings. He was in the last band of the night, Hey Marseilles. She of course said yes, and we resigned ourselves to staying put for another couple hours.

And I’m so glad we did! Hey Marseilles were a revelation. They were wonderful, beautiful songs, amazing musicians, great live show. Their keyboard player had a Nord Electro 2 and an accordion. The bass player Sam also played cello. There was a string section, 2 guitars and a great drummer. It’s just so much fun to discover a great band by hearing them play live.

A perfect end to a great night.

Julie, Rob and I drove back together the next morning. It was a beautiful drive.

Except for the massive rush hour we hit coming into Vancouver, spending the last 2 hours of the drive crawling through the Massey tunnel. But other than that, a successful weekend.

Parlour Steps, Seattle WA

Parlour Steps had the great good fortune to open for Halifax indie band Wintersleep for a couple of their U.S. shows on their most recent tour. We were going to play in Seattle and Portland for the weekend.

Julie, Rob and I drove down together in Julie’s car. We had no problem getting across the border and arrived at the club, The Tractor, in plenty of time. We made checked in with the staff and settled in to wait for Caleb and Rees to show up with the gear.

There were a lot of red cowboy boots hanging around.

We amused ourselves by taking pictures of each other taking pictures, good natured insults, and talking about Caleb and Rees while they weren’t there to defend themselves. Not really, guys. Well, not very much.

Julie and I went for dinner after all our gear was loaded in and set up. We’ve had lovely dinners all over Canada and the U.S. together, just her and I. I’m not sure how it happens, but frequently we end up eating separately from the boys. Sometimes Rees joins our girl-dinners, which is also fun. He’s a man who knows how to be good friends with women. I’m married to a guy who has that same talent, it’s a wonderful thing.

Tonight it was just the gals though. Rees, Caleb and Rob came to meet later on and we all hung out until it was time for the first band to start. They were a local Seattle band called Land Of Pines. Really nice people and good songs.

Another washroom/dressing room wardrobe change, (very cramped)

and then it was our turn. We had a nicely polished set and it was good and loud onstage. People turned their heads towards the dance floor and gradually pressed closer to the stage. Afterwards we sold cd’s, all to people who’d never heard of us before. And extras as gifts for their friends too. That’s always nice when that happens. A total stranger whose first impression of your band playing live is so good that they buy your album for themselves and their friends on the spot

Wintersleep was such a good way to close the night. They are a very powerful, heavy, melodic rock band.

The song they are famous for (Weighty Ghost) is a beautiful, soft ballad. That’s all I knew of Wintersleep before I saw them. As soon as they started their first song, I was immediately impressed by their loud, unified heaviness. Much more prog than I expected, so I was delighted. It’s just fantastic to see a good prog band live. That’s right, I said it. I love prog rock.

Tomorrow, on to Portland.

Recent Ear Candy Discoveries

As some of you already know, I play keyboards and sing in a Vancouver band called Parlour Steps. For the past 5 months we’ve been part of a province wide music competition called The Peak Performance Project. The Top 20 bands have been working together for the past 5 months to complete various challenges and events while being assessed by a panel of judges for our efforts. Sure, there’s a lot of prize money on the line but for me that most amazing part of the competition has been to meet these artists, play shows with them, and hear their songs.
Here are the Top 20 bands I’m currently listening to who have really impressed me with their work:
Yes Nice – “Blindfolded”
Their song “Horses” gave me chills the first time I heard it live, and it remains the most cheerful song about the Apocalypse I’ve ever heard.
Yuca – “Yuca”
Matt has a pure, angelic voice that works amazingly with Justin’s shreddingly awesome guitar skills and a powerhouse rhythm section. Their music is intense and melodic and demands the listener’s full attention.
Aidan Knight – “Versacolor”
Aidan Knight and his band The Friendly Friends have completely charmed the entire audience every time I’ve seen them live. They play beautiful, relaxed, pretty music that sets the listener at ease and provides a moment to breathe deeply.
Said The Whale – “Islands Disappear”
Delicious multi-part harmonies, two delightful gents up front singing with their guitars, and a generous blend of folk/rock/indie makes their songs instantly familiar to me, even from the first listen.
All of these albums can be previewed/purchased on iTunes or you can go to any of these bands’ websites to order physical copies. Besides being great musicians, these people are lovely and decent and struggling to make it as creative artists in B.C. Check them out and I’m sure you’ll find they deserve your support.

Parlour Steps, Ring That Bell Video Shoot

We had one weekend in mid-October to make a video for “Ring That Bell”. Director Robert Riendreau

and his partner Deborah

had transformed a totally non-descript windowless underground room into a really cool set with nothing more than a few light bulbs and some black electrical tape and vinyl squares.

I seriously underestimated how many times I would hear “Ring That Bell” that weekend. About halfway through day 1 I had completely memorized the whole song and was thinking playback was probably no longer necessary. We could probably lip synch it without even hearing it.

Julie brought her Thunderbird, a gorgeous instrument that is approximately the same size as she is.

You have to be very strong to carry around a Thunderbird all day. Grrrrr!

Everyone took a turn sleeping in my keyboard case. (When they weren’t needed on set, of course).

Except Rees. That guy takes his vitamins and is always very high energy.

This was the first “real” video shoot I had been to, where there’s a director and a set and stuff like that. It was fascinating to see what ideas Robert had and how he went about capturing them.

And of course, no work day would be complete without a light saber battle. Robert pulled the ones his mom gave him and he and Rees entertained us halfway through day 2.

I’m very curious to see what the final video will look like. Release scheduled for late November!

Top 20 Peak Performance Showcase Highlights

As part of the Peak Performance Project (which seems to go on and on without end, but the finish line is actually in sight now), each of the Top 20 bands performed at a concert showcase with 3 other fellow Peak bands at the Red Room in Vancouver.

Even though I am an ardent, avowed introvert (Say it quietly, to yourself! I’m an introvert and I’m proud!) I went to all the showcases, which took place every Thursday during September. Every band had to do a cover of a “classic Canadian song”, which led to some unexpected gems.

Vince Vacarro did a nice rendition of a Sam Roberts song. Interesting, as he had been relentlessly compared to Sam Roberts all during Boot Camp.

Acres Of Lions did a fantastic cover of Never Surrender by Corey Hart. They really impressed me at Boot Camp. Very loud, very powerful, very skilled musicians.

Aidan Knight, always a crowd favorite, did not disappoint. I thought it was a brave choice to perform without a drummer in such a rock and roll environment.

Yes Nice. One of my new favorite bands. I loved their showcase at Boot Camp. It was truly exciting. Their cover was “Run With Us”, the theme to “The Raccoons”, which will mean nothing to you if you didn’t watch CBC as a small child in the 80’s. I did, and I shrieked with delight when I recognized this song. Very unique and imaginative. Nathaniel was one of the standout frontmen, I thought.

Debra-Jean and the Means. Dark, scary, very powerful rock songs sung by an amazing voice that really knows how to sing. (And it’s not easy at all to sing properly and well) Very thoughtful harmony, lots of strange minor chords and dissonant voicings. I thought hers were the most adventurous and unusual songs, structurally speaking. Her cover was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, which seemed to come as a relief to the crowd after several of her originals. I love music that does not reveal itself fully on the first listen. Debra Jean was very intriguing and I’m looking forward to sitting down with her songs and getting to know them.

41st and Home – such nice guys, and they did a standout, very compelling cover of “Life Is A Highway”. You’d think there’d be nothing you could do with such a worn out song, but they really surprised me.

Christopher Arruda. One of the best piano players I saw at Boot Camp (and he also plays guitar) and an incredibly powerful voice. It’s always neat to see a male singer really belt it out.

And then there was Behind Sapphire. They performed in their pajamas,

their lead singer sang into an exquisitely tarnished trophy,

they had people in very convincing astronaut costumes handing out download cards and dancing in the crowd,

and then they threw bags of feathers all over the place. Pretty cool.

Said The Whale. Crowd favorites, fan favorites, one of my favorites. They just have something together, a chemistry that is fun to watch. They did a cover of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka. They are very, very smart – they have such good, creative ideas. At Boot Camp they had a horn section playing on a little balcony up in the rafters that surprised almost everyone…we heard horns all of a sudden and had to look up to find them. At the Red Room they threw confetti on the crowd. A lot of confetti. Right after Behind Sapphire’s feathers. The dance floor was buried.

Greg Sczebel. You can’t go wrong with a key-tar. And a string section, and one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen.

Yuca. A very loud, heavy band, with a lead singer who sounds like an angel with a pure clean voice. Very impressive musicianship. And it all goes together perfectly. They did “Say What You Want” by Nelly Furtado, and it really worked.

And finally, Kyprios. His band was awesome, and they looked amazing and polished. His cover was a hip hop re-working of Sweet City Woman by The Stampeders. All the other bands were good, really good. Some were more imaginative than others. Some had better songs than others. But when Kyprios tore the roof off the Red Room, something happened. He had the whole package, I guess. He acted like he was a huge superstar and I think he made everyone believe that he was. Probably exactly what the Peak is looking for. And he had the songs and the band to back it up.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Showcase

Fresh from the triumph of Bumbershoot and Foodfest, we rehearsed like mad and were as ready as possible for our show in the Peak Performance Project Concert Series at the Red Room in Vancouver.  There would be a panel of judges. Their marks would factor heavily into the overall points total that would determine the winners of the competition. So it was very important to play as well as we could.

And we did, we played as well as we possibly could. After 2 weeks of intense rehearsing, more preparation than I’ve ever seen happen in this band, we had crafted a wonderful set. And it went off without a hitch. We played before a packed house of 500+ people. The dance floor was hopping. So many of our fans turned out. They sang along to all the songs. It was heartwarming. After our last song, they chanted “PARLOUR STEPS! PARLOUR STEPS!” A delightful first.

I don’t even care what the final result will be. We got a lot of positive feedback from the Peak Performance faculty who were in attendance that night, which was lovely, but also not that important. The main thing is, it was the best show I’ve ever played with this band. Bumbershoot was also really good, but the time we spent in rehearsals and preparation made this Red Room show even more tight and polished. We gained confidence from our repeated practices. How else can you really gain confidence, other than preparation, planning, repetition, practicing? Improvising is fun too. But this was not the venue for improvising.

I was proud of our hard work, and I was ecstatic that it paid off. We reached a new level of achievement as a band, so naturally I was tickled. I just love getting better at stuff. I guess that also means I love hard work and preparation, which I do. And attention to detail. But I’m not as boring as this sounds. After all, I do play in a hip band.

Here’s the Parlour Steps cover of Teenland, by the Northern Pikes. All the Top 20 Peak bands had to do a cover of a ‘classic’ Canadian song for the Red Room showcase series. My first time coming out from behind my keyboard to sing.

Parlour Steps at Foodfest

As part of the Peak Performance Project, all the Top 20 bands were required to stage a charity event that would allow them to interact with the larger community and give something back through the power of music.

Parlour Steps put together a great event that came together surprisingly quickly and easily. We decided to play a benefit concert for the food bank.

This is the kind of thing you ask Rees to work on. He’s blessed with an abundance of charm, salesmanship, and tenacity. Within 2 weeks, he had organized an event in conjunction with Capers on Robson. We would play in their parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, soliciting donations for the food bank, and they would match whatever amount of money and food we raised.

Caleb arranged a portable sound system through his connections at Mediaco, (with a tent, thank god. We started the day in pouring rain) and promoted the concert through local media channels.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank showed up with a big tent and a couple of volunteers.

They were super nice, and they sold our cd’s while we played. We gave half the money from the sales to the food bank and by the end of the day we had raised over $500, plus a large crate of food donations.

Parlour Steps @ Bumbershoot, Seattle WA

Yeah, Bumbershoot’s a pretty big deal it turns out. Bob Dylan is playing after us (although not on the same stage, honesty compels me to admit). Weezer and Mary J. Blige are here too.

We arrived in Seattle late last night, checked into our hotel and got some good sleep. Today we were ready for our 3:30pm show at the Experience Music Project Skychurch, looking forward to playing after a great rehearsal. Plus we had a chance to incorporate the stuff we learned from Peak Performance camp, so we were definitely better and further along than before. That made me happy. I love getting better at stuff.

We had a bit of time at the Experience Music Project Museum before our show, not nearly enough though. Someday I’m going to come back for 3 days and really do it right. A whole museum devoted to rock, blues, and hip hop with interactive exhibits, you can’t really have a bad time there.

Here’s the view from backstage. It’s a very large space for 5 people to fill.

There were people backstage whose job it was to carry our gear. That was a first. A really great, amazing first.

Our show was excellent, probably the best show I’ve ever seen this band play. So many new and different elements onstage (thanks Peak Performance), great musicianship, everyone looked great and had fun. The crowd was awesome Skychurch was filled to capacity, 700+. There was a lineup of 200 more people outside who couldn’t get in. The most successful U.S. show for us ever.

And I feel that I can say that without reservation, because here in this interview that Caleb did for Bumbershoot writer Shawn Conner says “Parlour Steps have broken in America”. Bold, Shawn. Very bold.

Here’s us, playing our little hearts out. Easily the biggest stage and the biggest space we’ve ever played in.

I’ve decided I could definitely get used to being a rock star.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Camp

In the latest installment of the Peak Performance Project saga, all the top 20 bands were required to attend a week long Boot Camp at the beautiful Rockridge Canyon Resort in Princeton. There would be 7 days of workshops, seminars, and classes on every subject an indie band could ever desire. Copyright law, social media marketing, licensing, songwriting, branding, working with agents and managers, it was all in one place, free for the taking. As an incredibly geeky person who adores learning and information and new ideas I was very excited about how this week might change me. There would also be live performances from all the bands at evening concerts after classes were done. These concerts would be adjudicated, but would not count towards the final score that would determine the prize winners.
Julie and I had a great drive to Rockridge Canyon. We settled into our room that we were sharing with all the other girl players, and then waited for the Parlour Steps gentlemen to arrive.

The setting was gorgeous. What a nice environment to think, practice, and learn in.

There was a hockey game after dinner the first night, faculty vs. musicians.

The next day, it was time to get to work. The week went by so quickly, and I took about 20 pages of notes in addition to the huge binder of materials and handouts we were all provided with. It was invigorating to be back in a music school environment. People practicing and rehearsing everywhere, debating the material covered in class, making new friends. I think I need to go back to school before I die. I just know I’d get so much more out of it than I did the first time around, when I was too young to really appreciate it.
Every night there was a show featuring 20 minute sets from 4 bands. Rockridge Canyon is a Christian owned facility, so there was no alcohol on site, and drinking/drug use was prohibited. Now that was an interesting setting to hear new music. Over 100 hard partying musicians aged 20-35 seated primly on chairs in rows in front of the stage drinking coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It was actually way better than a bar. People weren’t yelling in each other’s faces and were paying complete attention to the music.
The last concert was a songwriting contest. Anybody could collaborate, and the song had to contain the words “last night”. There were some pretty great costumes.

It was an amazing week. I met some fantastic musicians, producers, lawyers, engineers, agents, and marketing gurus. All the new stuff I learned can be applied to my fledgling new project, which I think will be called OK Maira. I can’t wait to jump into it and spread all those new ideas around.
Julie and I drove back to Vancouver, and dissected the week completely. It was lovely to meet new people, and it was equally lovely to spend a week with Julie and enjoy a new deepening of our friendship. There was just enough time to shower, change, and re-pack before a rehearsal and then the drive to Seattle, where we’ll be playing at an enormous festival called Bumbershoot. Ah, the glamour of indie rock.

Parlour Steps On Degrassi

I could also call this post, “a childhood dream reaches fruition”, but that wasn’t as catchy, or direct. So, Parlour Steps had a song on this week’s episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. And if you don’t know anything about Degrassi, go ask Kevin Smith – Silent Bob, maker of “Clerks” – he’s a huge fan.

Like many thousands of Canadians who were becoming teenagers in the 90’s, I watched Degrassi High almost every week. If you had told me then that in a few years I’d be hearing my own voice singing on an episode of Degrassi, I would have punched you in the face for your insolence. I guess it’s for the best you never did that, hey? Cause I’m a lover, not a fighter, and a pretty lousy puncher to boot.

Not only did the new single “Little Pieces” make it onto an episode, oh no, much better than that – “Little Pieces” was featured in the conclusion of a two-parter called “Still Fighting It” that contained a critical plot development concluding a season-long story arc. Two of the show’s favorite characters (Eli and Claire) finally get together after Eli reveals a painful secret from his past. They are sitting in Eli’s car, and “Little Pieces” is playing on the car stereo while this secret is revealed.

I was tuned in at home, (watching Degrassi for the first time in 15 years, and it’s still pretty good) waiting with eager anticipation to see where the song would be played. “EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” is the sound I made when it finally came on. I could hardly believe our luck that the song was used during such a major plot point. Degrassi routinely pulls in over a million viewers. The thought that so many people heard something that Parlour Steps made was quite intoxicating, and a glorious, glorious first. I’ve had a lot of glorious firsts in this band, I realize.

And lots of people did see it. Within days we had 10 000 plays of the song on you-tube and it became our biggest selling song on iTunes. Here’s a video that a Degrassi fan put together. Another first, someone outside the band making a fan video of Parlour Steps material.

On the “Degrassi Music” you-tube channel there’s almost 32000 views now. Jeez.

I still really love this song, even after playing it hundreds of times over the past 15 months. Sometimes I feel so grateful to be able to do what I do.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Project Video

So Parlour Steps have made it into the Top 20 for the 2010 Peak Performance Project. The Peak Performance Project is a contest sponsored by Vancouver radio station the Peak 100.5fm. There were over 600 entries. The reason why this contest is important, why so many great bands are participating, is that there is a lot of money involved. $100 000 for first prize, $75 000 for second, $50 000 for third, and $3500 to every top 20 finalist. Way bigger than the biggest Factor grant you could ever get, this is serious money that will help artists break through to the next level.
There’s going to be a lot of projects and assignments that all the bands have to complete over the next 3 months. Everything will be judged by a committee of industry professionals. Last month we had our first event, a 12 hour orientation at the Biltmore where Parlour Steps were chosen as an example band to have our live performance adjudicated by Tom Jackson, who has built an empire by coaching such artists as Taylor Swift. That was a fun day.
Now we have completed the second assignment, make a viral video that promotes your band and the Peak. We spent a Saturday riding bikes in the sun for 8 hours and singing Sleeping City over and over.

Parlour Steps, Austin TX Part 2

Impressions continued:

Sat. Mar. 20
Our last of 4 days in Austin. I was feeling significantly better, but still sounded awful with a frighteningly thick, deep cough that I’m sure cost poor Julie several hours of sleep in our shared room as I coughed myself to sleep every night.

It was very cold and windy, probably 15 degrees cooler than it had been all week. We arrived perfectly on time at the venue for load in and sound check.

Mobs of shivering hipsters were everywhere, stamping their sneaker clad feet trying to stay warm. Note to self: skinny jeans and thin, vintage t-shirts are not the best body warming options. Very, very cold and raw outside. I was so glad we were playing an indoor show, unlike many unfortunate bands and fans huddled miserably outside, around stacks of marshall amps and drumkits, determined to rock.

The sound guy was from Edmonton, and he was so happy to talk to some fellow Canadians about the recent Olympic hockey triumph. I guess “our game” really does bring us closer together, even thousands of miles from Canadian soil, sigh.

Set up lickety split on a decent sized, well lit stage. After soundcheck there was nothing to do but wait to play, as usual.

It was definitely way too cold and blustery to go exploring outside, so we stayed in and I bonded further (if that is even possible) with Rees and Julie and enjoyed the time we had to talk.

All along we have been so lucky with our shows here. When it was hot and sunny, we played outside where the people were. When it was freezing and dark we played inside where the people were. And we had another prime time slot, 8-9pm, early enough that the crowd was still sort of sober. The room was comfortably full when we started to play and after 2 or 3 songs it was packed.

Definitely our best show in Austin. The band sounded great and everyone played well. The Parlour Steps joy-charm-cuteness-kick ass musicianship tap was flowing freely, as it tends to do on a good night where everything clicks. A wave of people pressed gently, curiously, towards the front of the stage.

I looked out over the growing sea of bobbing heads and smiling faces. Can’t help but smile when I see this, and I mean I can’t stop myself at all. I feel an ecstatic, face-splitting grin creep over my face and it only intensifies as my eyes lock with one stranger after another. They look right back at me and smile even bigger and it’s a very happy feedback loop.

I look to my left and see Caleb and Julie singing and playing so excellently, and Rees playing with the Rees-like skill and intensity that I admire so much. I turn and see Rob behind me, singing along mightily as his arms, hands, legs, and feet bash out the heartbeat of all the songs, the foundation that makes all our textures and layers possible.

I have the best seat in the house for every Parlour Steps show. I remember clearly enjoying PSteps shows as a fan before I joined the band. I was one of the happy upturned faces in the sea of happy faces, jumping somewhat rhythmically in delight as I sang along with my favorite songs. That was fun.

But this is better! Standing in the vortex of a song hurricane, contributing my own melodic noise to this storm, this is bone deep satisfaction. One of my many favorite things about playing music.

Won over the crowd quite intensely, it seems. Photographers running around, snapping pictures of us, a small crush of people with official delegate tags come to talk to me as the last note dies away.

Packed up the gear and walked with it (traffic was so bad it was faster to walk) back to the studio space being used as storage. There were very large blue plastic barrels filled with cans of Red Bull and bottles of vodka, courtesy of illustrious corporate sponsors. Rees liberated several containers, emptied out half a can of Red Bull and filled it back up with vodka for us – not me – I think I’d rather shrivel up with dehydration than drink Red Bull and I’m too much of a lightweight to drink straight vodka. We walked back into downtown Austin for a fabulous meal of Mexican food.

From the restaurant Rees liberated a large plastic water glass so he would have something to pour his vodka into as we strolled the packed, noisy, jubilant, streets of Austin for the last time.

Went to a few bars and saw some good bands. Until about 1:00am, when I saw 3 guys in dark sunglasses and Miami Vice jackets (guitar, guitar, drums) kick into their power pop showcase with sequenced bass, vocal, and keyboard parts.

Bands who play along with computers during a supposedly live show grind my gears SEVERELY. Hello, it’s a live performance. We’re not sitting around in your living room listening to your record. If you can’t play all your parts live, hire more musicians or practice harder.

“WHERE’S YOUR BASS PLAYER?” I shouted belligerently into the moment of silence as the first song ended. Maybe it’s time to go, was my next thought. It would be wrong to embarrass the other Parlour Steps by leaping onstage and unplugging that band’s laptop, thus revealing the emperor was only half dressed.

Moved on to another venue. Julie found the cupcake truck again and tried some more flavors.

All around us were shivering hipsters. Saw a couple more really good bands who played all their parts live, had a couple of drinks and was further overwhelmed by a glowing contentment. We made our way back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapsed into bed.

Parlour Steps, Austin TX Part 1

Impressions so far:
Wed. Mar. 17:
After a long day of travel we finally arrived in Austin. The airport had a huge display of giant guitars right beside the baggage carousel in honor of the hordes of indie rockers descending on the town for SXSW. The very same baggage carousel that did not contain my luggage, by the way. After a lengthy wait I filed a report with American Airlines and we went back to Rick and Rebecca’s house to crash.

Rick runs Nine Mile Records, the label that Parlour Steps are on. And Rebecca is his lovely, patient wife who seems not to mind that 11 people from two bands are sleeping all over her house.

Thurs. Mar. 18: My bag was delivered by the airline this morning, thank every god. After a hot shower and putting on my own clothes – and carefully going through my belongings and being thankful to see all my stuff – I felt much better. Except for this stupid cold. I haven’t been the slightest bit sick for at least a year, and to have a chest cold wallop me right now is quite demoralizing. I’ve been able to perform, and sing, but I don’t have the usual Maira intensity, wonder, and curiosity about my new surroundings. I just want to sleep and be quiet and zonk out with cold medicine. Not possible, though.

We had our first show tonight at the Nine Mile Records 5th Anniversary Party. Very frequently when I’m on tour playing music, I sit a in a lot of bars and suffer through a lot of bad bands while waiting to play. This makes me bitter, because there is an endless supply of bad bands, and I’m never going to get those hours of my life back. But not tonight! I saw 4 amazing bands before us, all on Nine Mile Records. I was completely impressed with all our labelmates. Delta blues, rockabilly, a Romanian gypsy band from L.A., then Parlour Steps. What a great night of music. In every band there were just blazingly wonderful players. Mind you, after Parlour Steps had finished playing, I was toast. And it was only 8:30. I needed to get back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapse into bed.

But first I went with Julie and Caleb to their duo interview. They were driven around in a large glass van through the streets of Austin for 20 minutes and it was streamed live in the internet.

I watched them on a small computer screen as they played a couple of songs in this strange moving fishbowl. The van was parked right outside an ice cream shop, so Julie had a Jamison ice cream cone afterward.

They used real Jamison’s in the ice cream, and they also had a Chocolate Guinness flavor made with real Guinness.

Then Julie and I went to Whole Foods – my first time, could have spent thousands of dollars in there – and I got a small vat of vegetable soup to take back to the house. The guys went off to rock and see some bands, while Julie and I ended up in the best cab in Austin going back to Rick and Rebecca’s. The cab driver’s name was Carlos, and he had tiny Christmas lights strung up inside his cab.

Ate soup, and had a nice talk with Julie. Went to bed, coughed a lot, felt really bad for Julie who had to listen to me in our shared room.

Fri. Mar. 19: Slept until noon! Felt noticeably better upon rising. Not back to normal, but I was actually hungry for the first time in 3 days. I ended up eating tortilla soup – I have been eating soup only since I left Vancouver, and tortilla soup is plentiful and delicious here in Austin – with Rees in a yee-haw type family restaurant called The Shady Grove. They did not have espresso coffee, something Rob must have sensed when he and Julie decided at the last minute to go to the restaurant next door. Maybe he has a spidey sense when it comes to coffee. I must ask him about that. Anyway, I got my first dose of “how y’all doin” from our waitress at The Shady Grove.

On the menu there was “Frito Pie”, a ‘bag of fritos topped with ground beef, sour cream, and guacamole’. There were mooseheads mounted on the wall, the chairs and tables were heavy, solid, and dark, and a sign that advised “any possession of unlicensed firearms would result in a $10 000 fine”. All the chairs here seem to be extra wide, and there also seems to be a lot of very big Texans walking around. After our soup we headed next door and met up with the rest of the Steps and made out way back to Rick and Rebecca’s house. It’s warm, sunny, and windy here. No jackets required, feels much like summer does in Vancouver. There are palm trees, cactuses (cacti?) and huge guava plants in the front yards here.


After everyone had changed and glamorized themselves sufficiently, we walked into town to our show.

The gear was already there, thanks to Rick. It was a really nice hour long walk, and I knew I was feeling better because I didn’t have to stop every few metres to gasp and choke and retch with eyes streaming and throat bursting. We played our second show at another industry party and again the bands before and after us were really good.

I thought our show was pretty decent, but I am hampered once again by the lack of a sustain pedal. So, I’m not nearly as rad as I usually am with my own gear but I did the best I could and played no wrong notes or chords like I did at the first show. But honestly, it’s a bit of a letdown to play at this very, very cool festival not being able to contribute as much as I usually do to the melodic and rhythmic goodness of this band.

After the show, Julie and Rebecca and I decided to go for a girls dinner and somehow Rees ended up joining us which always makes things more interesting. We ended up at this beautiful Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin where a mariachi band dressed in gold lame suits and sunglasses were playing.

They were wonderful, and then there was a more rock and roll Mexican band after them who were also great. I’ve heard so many awesome guitar players in the past 3 days. Every band here seems to have one, and tonight was no exception. I had one margarita, which interacted strongly with my cold meds so I thought it best to not order another. It was a deep, genuine pleasure to hang out with Rebecca and Julie and Rees and I found myself leaning over to Rees and saying, as I have on at least 3 other occasions here “We are in in Austin, Texas! To play rock and roll!” To which he responded, as he has consistently “I know!”, with a face splitting grin of joyful delight. Because it really is something to be grateful and amazed by. Is this really happening? Are we in Texas, of all places, just because we play music? It is, and we are. It’s a very long way from Vancouver, and it’s the third time in 4 months that we’ve hopped on a plane and flown thousands of miles from home to play Parlour Steps songs. Pretty wonderful, and these adventures are that much sweeter when one can take a breath, look around, and remind oneself to soak in the present moment and enjoy it.

After dinner Julie and I went to see She and Him, a cute band with pleasant songs featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. We saw it from a guy’s backyard that faced directly into the concert (through a high iron fence, but still a good vantage point) along with about a hundred of his tipsy friends.

Julie and I leaned against a ramshackle garden shed, my foot resting on a rusty propane tank, and talked about music, bands, Parlour Steps, missing our husbands, and life in general as we usually do. I had thought of going to see Muse tonight, but our show was finished too late for me to race across town to their venue. And the way my evening turned out was unexpected and delightful, as it frequently does when I’m on tour and it’s me and Julie hanging out together.

Walking through downtown Austin after the Her and Him show was quite mind boggling. Several main streets were closed to cars, and thousands of people were walking around dressed in a variety of hipster costumes.

Everywhere, in every restaurant and bar along the way there were bands playing. Every venue was packed, with people jamming the sidewalks to stop and listen. So many different kinds of music, all at high volume, at the same time.

“This reminds me of downtown Vancouver during the Olympics”, I thought. (Although it was much quieter in Vancouver). “This is the Indie Rock Olympics” was my next thought. And it really seems to be: indie rockers from all over the world have gathered to compete (for the attention of agents, record labels, and managers), make connections with each other, and show their talents. For a brief time, they take over the city and Austin becomes “knee deep in indie rockers” as Rick described it when he picked us up from the airport. Ah yes, and these were my people. I was one of them, with my Music Artist Wristband that we were all so proudly displaying. Mind you, I was not wearing a white belt or an ironic trucker’s hat but my black and white Cons were definitely not unique in this crowd.

Julie and I caught a cab relatively easily and were the first ones back at the house again. Now I’m tucked into Lilly’s small bed (Rick and Rebecca’s sweet little girl, who is away during SXSW – probably for the best, as there are 11 grown up indie rockers packed into her house), surrounded by My Little Ponys and Lilly’s original artwork, with Julie listening to her audio book in the loft bed just above me. Hopefully it won’t be as rough as it was last night with all the coughing. This is the latest I’ve stayed up and the busiest day I’ve had since my arrival, and I hope I didn’t push it too hard today. In a few hours the boys will burst into the house noisy and happy and drunken. Another typical day in the land of rock and roll adventure.

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 3

Wow. It’s been a very interesting and fun 10 days or so, being out in the world playing rock and roll with these wonderful chaps. We drove back to NYC from Northampton for our last show with Spouse and the last show of the tour.
There was plenty of time to explore before we had play. Ryen and I took a walk, like a two hour walk. He’d been to New York before, so it was lovely to just relax and let him choose our route knowing we’d get back to the club all right. He was very cool, striding along in his black leather jacket but alas I was not. I was taking pictures like a maniac and exclaiming frequently how beautiful it was to see night fall in the city.

And saying things like “Oh my god! This is Grand Central Station! I’ve only seen it in movies!

As we walked and talked I was reminded how easy it is to hang out with Ryen. I spoke effortlessly about my aspiration and ideas, which is very very rare for me. Usually I’m content to just listen and observe. But Ryen kept saying smart interesting things and asking good questions so I found myself talking a blue streak (in between pictures).

I confessed, as we walked, that I’m going to start recording my own songs. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but talking to Ryen I realized I could totally do this. He’s a sound engineer who could help me make some demos. In fact, he agreed to do that very thing. Something completely new to look forward to when we get back home.

We made it back to the appointed meeting place and waited for Caleb and Rob.

Then we met up with Rees at the venue, The Delancey, and loaded in with Spouse. Our show was really good, the best one of the tour. It was an unforgettable night – no matter what failures and defeats life has in store for me, I’ll always be happy to remember that I played with rock and roll with a groovy band in New York City.

Parlour Steps, Northampton MA

It was a great show at The Basement in Northampton. Once again we were playing with Spouse, and they packed that place. It appears that Jose knows an awful lot of people, they all love him and his band, and they come out on droves to support him. Which was a really good situation for pSteps, getting in front of big friendly audiences every night.
Still very cold and winter pretty here.

After some dinner and a bracing walk in the cold we set up and were ready to rock.

See, Spouse brought out a ton of people! It was super fun to have so many people jammed into a small low-ceilinged place with waves of rock and roll crashing around.

Here’s a decent version of Little Pieces. Way too much keyboards again, but my amp was the only place I could put the camera. Note to self – maybe I should buy that tripod off Rees for $30.

And here’s Spouse with “Vampire Love Song”. It’s incredible how many deeply talented bands are out there that no one’s ever heard of. This is my favorite way to discover new music, by seeing it played live.

Back to NYC tomorrow for our show in Manhattan, and then home again to Vancouver.

Parlour Steps, Portland ME

Oh. My. Sometimes I am reminded that I’m no longer 22 and not able to abuse my body through too much partying and too little sleep. Let me revise that – I still do occasionally perpetrate such abuse, but I feel a lot worse the morning after than I did in my early 20’s.
Jose is up there for best indie rock host of all time. We arrived at his house at about 3am after the show in Boston. The rest of Spouse was there too. They are just as rad as their playing. There were deep heart to heart conversations, the kind you can only have with strangers that happen to be kindred spirits. Mind you, the conversations were socially lubricated with a steady stream (river?) of drugs and alcohol. Just weed, Ma. Don’t worry, no intravenous adventures for your little girl. Anymore. Just kidding, Ma.
I was the only gal among 12 men. That hasn’t happened for a long time. I forgot that it can be really fun to be one of the guys. I’ve always noticed that as a solitary female in a group of guys, it takes very little time for the guys to forget I’m a girl. Then they really let themselves go and act as men do when their girlfriends aren’t around. Then I have to put up with the relentless teasing and insults that men hurl good naturedly at their friends. Silver lining, I also get to dish out the hurt – to hold my own, it wouldn’t do to have “hurt feelings” – and say things I could never, ever say to my sweet and lovely girlfriends. It can really be quite liberating to visit The Inner World Of Men.
After 2 hours of sleep, it was very very unpleasant to have to wake up at 6:45am to get ready to do another live radio performance at 8am. Ah, the glamour of indie rock. It was freezing cold and there was deep snow everywhere as we loaded up Jose’s van and headed to the station. He had gotten up even earlier than us and made us breakfast. Aw.

The sunrise and the still, cold, beautiful morning was worth getting up for.

That was the earliest I’ve ever had to perform. It was pretty weird to be drinking my morning coffee while singing and playing keyboard in front of people, but overall it was a very good show. Although I was having trouble remembering the names of the songs at that point.

Later that night we played at a great club called Empire Dine and Dance with Spouse. As usual we got there early and had plenty of time to amuse ourselves before another show with Spouse.

There was a green room for the band that had its own bar.

I think Ryen would make a great bartender.

It was another very cold, very pretty night in Maine.

Our show was really good. Considering we’d never played in Portland before and were completely unknown, the crowd was awesome and nicely enthusiastic.

I had my camera on my keyboard amp to record this, so there’s way too much of my keyboards and vocals. Other than that, it’s not bad.

Parlour Steps, Boston MA

We were up early and packed up quickly for the drive to Boston.

We were scheduled to do a live radio performance and then our first show with Spouse at The Great Scott. Jose from Spouse was going to meet us at the radio station and lend us his band’s gear for our performance. We got there no problem and started setting up.

And by the way, I was playing a 1937 Steinway grand piano. It was a lovely instrument. I wonder how many people have played it before me.

Jose from Spouse was super nice. Very smart, very kind. Also funny. I felt comfortable with him right away. The radio show went really well. We tore down and headed off for dinner with Jose before our gig later on. It was very cold but very pretty in Boston that night.

Between dinner and our show at The Great Scott we had a small adventure. After load in, we went to have some Mexican food. As we were walking there, I stepped on a piece of paper. And I think Ryen did too. He saw handwriting on the paper and bent down to pick it up. It was a letter to Senator John Kerry from a constituent who had tried to vote but whose name wasn’t on the voter’s list. There was also a response from John Kerry on U.S. senate stationery, and a letter about this issue directed to the Boston Herald. The letters had a return address and had stamps on the envelopes. We continued on to the restaurant and ate very well.
After dinner, Ryen decided to find the letter writer (whose address was on the envelope). The rest of us continued on to the bar to wait to play. During sound check Ryen returned and told us what happened.
He found the letter writer, a disabled guy with a stutter and a thick Boston accent who lived in the neighborhood close to the bar and rang the bell repeatedly. The guy finally came down and was in total shock that Ryen had found these letters on the street and then returned them to him. John Kerry will get the letter from his constituent. We didn’t read the letters as they looked very personal.
The whole thing seemed so random. Here we were, Canadians who just happened to be in Boston thousands of miles away from home. Ryen literally stumbled on these letters, and the return address was within walking distance of the one place in Boston we were supposed to be. The guy was home and answered the door. He got his letters to the senator back, which he hadn’t even realized he lost yet.
He thanked Ryen profusely and offered him a gift. Ryen, being a stand up guy of course declined. But afterwards was sorry he didn’t ask for a picture of the man with his letters.
And so the whole episode will live on only in our memories. These kind of strange events happen a lot when I’m on tour. Things you couldn’t possibly predict, but when they come along you just go with the flow and see where it takes you.

I love to see a good deed done. Hopefully Ryen’s accumulated good karma will rub off positively on Parlour Steps for the rest of the tour. It seemed to work tonight. We had a great show, and Spouse was fantastic. I think they’re going to be a new favorite band of mine.
After the show we drove to Jose’s house in Portland. There we would crash for a couple of hours before an 8:00am radio performance and another evening show with Spouse.

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 2

Because we had so prudently arrived in the city the night before our first show here, we had plenty of time today to do a little exploring. Ryen went his own way, off to visit some old friends. Rees, Caleb, Rob and I jumped on the subway after breakfast – most fortunately there’s a fabulous coffee shop that serves enormous bagels next door to the hostel – and headed (I think) uptown? Times Square is where we ended up.

It was amazing. What is it about the vibe in this city? I love it. So busy, proud, overwhelming.

All the people just seemed so small, compared to the gigantic billboards and skyscrapers.

And then we went to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Could have used about 3 days to actually experience the whole thing properly.

It was one of those places that makes you proud to be a human.

Go, humans. Make art. Don’t kill each other.

Rees and I ended up in an incredibly Irish pub, watching a soccer game and drinking Guinness, whilst plotting and scheming to take over the world. Such an action packed day! We walked past Radio City Music Hall on the way back to Brooklyn for our show.

The venue was really nice.

We arrived in plenty of time and waited for the other bands, with whom we were sharing gear.

This was the only show that Spouse wasn’t part of, so Rick from Nine Mile Records had arranged with some friends of his to let me use their keyboard. Except…they never showed up. Can you say, stressful. And desperate, unprofessional, and a lot of other things besides. So I had to ask another keyboard player on the bill if I could borrow ALL his gear, right now.

Luckily, very very luckily for me he was a kind and understanding man who sympathsised with my plight. I don’t use my cute, charming girl superpowers very often, but believe me I had all guns blazing that night.

And then I played our first show of the tour with a complete set of gear I had never seen before. Plus there was no sustain pedal. And I had to sing all of Julie’s vocal parts since she’s not here. It went by in a blur. I think I was too focused on the task at hand to be nervous. The other bands liked us though and so did the bar staff, which always makes me happy. Plus the audience. They liked us too. On to Boston!

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 1

Is this real life? My first time in New York City will be to play two shows because I’m in a groovy band? I got on a plane in Vancouver this morning and got off in New Jersey. Then we rented a van and drove into New York City. Because Parlour Steps have some showcases to play in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Boston. And some additional shows to fill in the gaps in Northampton, Mass. and Portland, Maine. It was news to me that there is a Portland in Maine as well as Oregon. If you had told a 16 year old music-crazed geek Alison Maira that she would be playing rock and roll in NYC someday, I would have said, hey. You’ve got the wrong music-crazed geek here. That can’t be me.
But it is! And this trip is made possible by some Nine Mile Records labelmates, a man named Jose Ayerve and his band Spouse. Parlour Steps and Spouse are playing together on a short New England tour. We’ll also be staying with Jose when we play in his hometown of Portland. And he’s is lending his gear for us to play. Yes, that’s right. I don’t even have to worry about lugging around my own keyboards this time around. I haven’t even met Jose yet, but I’m already impressed by his generosity to a group of strangers.
It was a beautiful day for flying.

After a long day of traveling we arrived at the hostel in Brooklyn where we’ll be staying. Our first show would be the next day, and in the meantime we had some time to walk around and explore the city a little bit. The only really sad part about this trip is that Julie couldn’t come. Luckily we have a lovely replacement bass player, Ryen, who has played with us before. He and I bonded with deeply during a 16 hour drive to a Parlour Steps show at the Starbelly Festival in the East Kootenays last summer. Sometimes you just luck out when you take a road trip with someone new.
So we dropped our stuff in our room and jumped on the subway. A New York subway! I’d only ever seen them in movies on and tv. Off we went to Greenwich Village to meet up with Caleb’s cousin for some drinks.

Oh my. We walked right past the Village Vanguard. Heady stuff for a jazz school graduate.

This little corner of Lower Manhattan was quiet and beautiful that night.

I really liked the subway. It was a great setting to take pictures.

I love the vibe of this city. Especially by night.

Parlour Steps, Windsor ON

Another good show at the Phog Lounge in Windsor. Lots of people came, and the crowd was very generous and responsive. Julie pulled out her new Thunderbird.

They look great together.

Home to Vancouver now. Hard to believe it’s back to real life on Monday.

Parlour Steps, Oakville ON

Oakville is a big suburb of Toronto. It was a nice place to spend most of a day. We had an afternoon all ages show there, playing with one of the bands who played with us Montreal. They shall remain nameless. They demanded to use all of my gear in Montreal – the rental gear that isn’t even mine – before they even said hello. No catastrophe had befallen them that required emergency gear borrowing. Their keyboard player just didn’t feel like carrying around her own stuff. Loser.

Luckily, Oakville was a land of beautiful sandwiches.

And apparently the most satisfying cup of coffee Rees ever had.

After lunch, Julie and Rees found a guitar store and Julie bought a 1976 Thunderbird bass. It was pretty amazing, the instrument itself and the fact that Julie was like “I’ll take it”. Voila, you are now the proud new mama of an enormous awkward heavy object (that sings with a throaty, sexy rumble).

The stage was tiny, but this time we all managed to fit. Here’s an invigorating, race to the finish line rendition of “Soft Lies”. The camera was on my amp, so there’s too much keyboard. Other than that, pretty good.

I tried a Guinness, again. This one was the most enjoyable yet. It must be an acquired taste. I’m going to keep trying.

It was a fun drive back to Toronto. Except for that guy we almost killed.

Parlour Steps, Montreal QC

I know I’m not alone when I say, I love Montreal. Someday I’m going to spend a whole summer here, in one of those old brick building apartments with a cast iron spiral staircase and a little balcony. I’ll drink lattes, smoke cigarettes, and write my great Canadian novel. In the meantime, I’ll settle for playing music in a hip little bar with a groovy band.

Our second show of this tour was at a place called Le Divan Orange.

It was a really fun show, very exciting onstage. Julie’s friend Paul Brown took some nice shots of us with my camera.

And filmed us playing “As The World Turned Out”

Parlour Steps, Ottawa ON

Caleb: You’re very inspired this morning.

Rees: I’m always inspired. It’s these fucking vitamins.

*******

Raspberry banana pancakes at a painfully – not tragically – hip Toronto breakfast joint. Lively conversation about Alexander The Great, war elephants, time travel to your favorite historical epoch.

*******

Off to Long and McQuade to rent gear. We assemble a collection of tiny amps, guitars, and a cherry red Nord keyboard for me. Off to Ottawa for art gallery performance, filming, and interview.

Played at The Canteen in Ottawa, a very cool art gallery space. We were in a very small, square room with a low ceiling covered with paintings on 3 sides. I would play excellently a lot more if I was always surrounded by trippy paintings and objet d’art during rock and roll shows.

*******

We were filmed and recorded. There seemed to be a lot of people crammed into the place to hear us play. There was no PA, but Rob played with brushes and Rees and I restrained our awesome rock powers admirably. Caleb’s voice sounded great. Julie and I sang well too. Everyone seemed to really like us, and the filming and recording people were happy.

*******

There was a short group interview where we all were asked about our musical influences. I was delighted to have the chance to warble happily about playing Rockband and my current favorite bands: Queen, Journey, and Blue Oyster Cult. Actually, I’m really loving Weird Al Yankovic right now too, but I felt that might be too much to divulge to the Parlour Steps. Then they wanted two of us to do an interview so I answered a few questions with Caleb. I had been sitting in a van all day, was dressed rather sloppily, had no make-up and my glasses on. Of course there was no time to change beforehand. Ah, the glamour of indie rock.

We loaded our gear and drove 3 blocks to Zaphod Beeblebrox’s for load in and soundcheck. At some point Julie managed to buy a crocheted mustache which she has worn occasionally this week. But not often enough.

The show at Zaphod’s was pretty good. We sold 10 cd’s afterwards! The lead vocal mic became unplugged after sound check so we couldn’t hear Caleb until halfway through As The World Turned Out, the first song. But after that we sounded quite wonderful.

After the show, we stayed with Cara, a lovely woman who loves Parlour Steps. She was a hostest with the mostest. I’ve been very fortunate in my indie rock career to stay at some very nice people’s houses and have slept on all manner of beds, couches, and floors. But Cara really went out of her way to be generous. There were plates of snacks waiting for us, beer, wine, and booze of every description, soft candlelight and warm beds.

We sang songs by candlelight on Cara’s couch, Rees and Caleb played guitar, Rob played tambourine. After everything Cara provided it seemed fitting to provide her with a private Parlour Steps concert. At 3:00 in the morning a joint was passed around. I’m a lightweight now and can only handle one hit. But that was enough to dance around the kitchen singing ‘The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)’ with Rees, Julie and Caleb.

*******

I collapsed into bed totally satisfied and amazed at our good fortune. Julie and I had our own rooms and our own beds. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

Sunday, November 15

Land in Toronto, 1:30 EST. First mention of “my balls”, 4:00 EST. Not bad. I figured balls would come up before the 2 hour mark.

********

To Walmart to buy bedding. Julie and I get sleeping bags, but all Rees needs is one blue Humble Blanket. We’re thinking of writing a children’s book. Rees And His Humble Blanket.

*******

Went to see ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ as a band. That’s how the PSteps roll. Afterwards Rees had a magazine stuck to his foot. I filmed him walking around in the theatre lobby with the magazine flapping behind him. Julie took pictures of it. That too is how the PSteps roll.

Arrived at Rob’s friends Trish and Aubrey’s house, who are generously allowing Rob, Julie and I to stay at their house. Their dog Winston, who has deep-seated psychological issues, has made noticeable progress since the last time we saw him. Very encouraging.

Parlour Steps, World As Large Video

This was another experience brought to us by the always exciting, never predictable Rees Haynes. He told us to meet in a field somewhere out in Langley, and there was a couple guys with some cameras and then for 8 hours we played World As Large and ended up with this video. I used to think it was a waste of time to not have a plan, but I’ve seen wildly passionate improvising work out quite well for Rees time and again.

Parlour Steps @ NXNE

This is the first time I’ve been able to say “I’m off to Toronto for the weekend”. As a mild-mannered music teacher who lives in Vancouver, there just hasn’t been any opportunities to jet off to the middle of the country for 48 hours.
Until now. Parlour Steps got a couple of showcase slots at the enormous music festival/industry conference that is North By Northeast, which takes over Toronto every June for a week or so. And so off we went, to seek our fortunes in the big city.

Our first show was an afternoon slot during the all day conferences that were happening at the Hyatt Regency. It was weird to play rock and roll in the daytime, but it was a good show that was even more fun due to several Vancouver musicians showing up to cheer us on. (Thank you, Kirsten of Arctic, and Hilary and Kristen from Language Arts)

After dinner we piled into a rental car and headed off for our second show. It was at a tiny little bar/restaurant with a stage behind a curtain at the end of a long, narrow room. I can’t remember the name of it – forgot to write it down – but it had some really funny bathroom signs.

My keyboard double-stack didn’t fit on the stage and I ended up playing on the floor to the side, which was fine, because we all ended up on the floor. Only the drums fit on the stage. I saw a wonderful band called Twilight Hotel that played before us. Always such a pleasure to discover a new band by seeing them playing live.

We played well, and it was a packed house by the time we were through. There was a great, enthusiastic response from the (beautiful, intelligent) crowd, and it was really fun to hang out afterwards and let people buy us drinks. After the show (and a respectable amount of alcohol, I must admit) we drove back to the various friend’s houses at which we were staying. Julie and I were going with Rob to his friends Trish and Aubrey, who we had stayed with the last time Parlour Steps were in Toronto. They’re always so kind and hospitable and we were looking forward to crashing on their living room floor.

On our way there, an acapella version of “Miraculous” broke out.

The next day we all had breakfast together and then Julie and I hopped on a plane back to Vancouver.

I very much enjoyed my first whirlwind weekend plane trip and I could get used to flying into big cities and playing great shows. It’s pretty fun to get a teeny tiny taste of what it’s like to be a rock star.

Parlour Steps, In The Studio

We’ve spent a few weeks at Ogre Studios, deep in the heart of East Van. You would never know that there’s a recording studio housed in this tall, faded borderline run-down building at the corner of Quebec and 2nd.

I certainly didn’t, and in fact walked past it several times before I realized, yes, this was indeed the right address.

But then, when I got inside and saw all the gear I was pretty stoked.

I really love recording. It’s so much fun – and so much hard work – to play piano for hours and capture the parts I’ve been practicing and working on for months. I feel fortunate that Parlour Steps are such lovely people to hang out with. If you have to spend hours and days with the same people in a small confined space, it’s much better if said people are relaxed and funny.

Julie and I played with Rob while he recorded his drum tracks.

I had two sessions with Caleb to record all of my parts. We did piano, rhodes, wurlitzer, and vibraphone on the first day. My adorable husband Mike is a much-loved employee at Backline Musician Services, and he arranged for us to borrow a wurlitzer and rhodes from their vast gear inventory.

Vibraphone, you might say. I didn’t know you played vibraphone, Alison. Neither did I, my response would be. I mean, I had to learn the basics when I was at music school. But it’s not like I rush home from work every day and bang out my favorite tunes on the vibes. Caleb asked if I could though, and it turns out I actually can play some pretty mean vibraphone parts. Vibes are very closely related to piano, they are both in the percussion family and structured very similarly. But instead of playing one key with one finger, you play each note with a big fuzzy mallet. Much bigger muscle memory, bigger motions than piano. Very tricky, especially playing chords. A really skilled vibes player (and there are plenty) is amazing to watch. You can hardly believe how fast and accurate they are.

One never knows what’s going to happen in the studio. I think that unpredictability is one of my favorite aspects of recording. For example, who could have predicted I would learn sign language vocabulary for various animals while hanging out in the control during the making of “Miraculous”?

I’ve been loving all the songs we’ve been working on together, so I’m definitely looking forward to hearing the album in its final form!

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

We went to Portland this week, for a fun day of playing a live performance on the radio at the OPB, (Oregon Public Broadcasting) and then another show later on that night.

Our call was 8am at the radio station. To our great surprise, there was a video crew there to film us as we played. I was so glad I’d put on a clean shirt and done my hair and make-up. (sort of) They’d just had their annual telethon at the OPB, so Rees had plenty of telephones to try out.

Pretty soon we were set up and ready to rock.

Here’s the video from our performance, plus some really lovely photos that OPB posted on their website.

Afterwards we went to Kenny’s Deli and enjoyed a nice plate of enormous pickles.

Rees’s Portland relatives came out to see our show so we enjoyed a much warmer, more enthusiastic response than we normally would have had in a big American city. Some of the people from OPB came out as well. It was a really good night.

Parlour Steps, Hamilton ON

Oh my. Hamilton was the last show on our tour and it was so good. The band sounded great. It’s amazing how much a band can improve out on the road, getting tighter, listening to each other more onstage, cementing arrangements and trying new ideas. I’m sorry the tour is over. I feel like we were just getting warmed up.
As usual we were at the venue with plenty of time to spare. Enough time to amuse ourselves with a ukelele.

We also draped ourselves around the van in various artistic configurations.

This was the longest time I’ve ever spent with Parlour Steps in close quarters. To my great relief, I still liked all of them and had no problems getting along with anyone. Of course you’re going to like people who break out into spontaneous song and dance on the mean streets of Hamilton.

During the show we all sang the verses of Blazing Light together. It was loud and wonderful. Although I am looking forward to getting back home to Vancouver, I’m also pretty stoked about the next Parlour Steps outing.

One more, just one more! Best version of “Goin To The Country” on the uklele ever!

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

It was a jam packed day. We got into Toronto early in the afternoon.

Then we were off to CIUT to do in interview and live performance. After we loaded in we had some time to hang out.

You can say a lot of things about Rees Haynes, but you would never say he’s boring. Or predictable.

Everyone was super nice at the radio station and we were soon set up and ready to rock.

It’s fun to play for radio shows. Nerve wracking, yes. It’s tough to play perfectly, under pressure when you know people are listening (at least it is for me – I can do it, but it’s hard) but in this case our performance and Caleb’s interview would be airing the next day. So we weren’t exactly live, which meant for me a much more relaxed, better performance.

Later on we had a show at the Horseshoe, a very legendary bar in downtown Toronto where pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of has played, at some point in their career. This was my first Parlour Steps show at the Horseshoe. We were playing at the weekly Tuesday night indie showcase. Maybe that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it really is. Because of the Horseshoe’s reputation for excellent music it’s always pretty packed on a Tuesday night.

They have the cutest bathroom signs there.

It was a great show. We played very well. I think all of our Toronto friends showed up, and they brought their friends, so combined with the usual Tuesday night Horseshoe crowd we had quite a big audience. We sold cd’s afterwards and met lots of nice people who had never heard us before. Julie and I had some drinks at a quiet table at the back of the bar…have I mentioned it’s fucking fantastic to be in a band that contains another girl…and we people-watched and giggled for hours. Toronto is a great place. I could totally live here. Especially during the summer when all the outdoor patios are open.

Parlour Steps, Waterloo ON

What I will remember most about Waterloo is that I couldn’t find a public washroom that was open on a Sunday night downtown. Normally I’d just go at the venue like a normal person, but we were playing in a small community hall that (seriously) had no washroom. It wasn’t exactly a legal venue I don’t think. But it sure was pretty.

The funny thing is – and there were a lot of funny things about Waterloo – is that the show had been moved to this place at the last minute, from another illegal venue in someone’s house.

Anyway. Walking around in a strange city with a growing sense of urgency makes for a good story after the fact, but it was highly unpleasant in the moment. In desperation I even searched the van for an empty bottle, but to no avail. I hesitate to tell you where I gained relief…suffice to say I would not recommend crouching behind a dumpster in an underground parking lot. Definitely one of those ‘what am I doing with my life?’ moments.

Luckily, the show was wonderful. It was packed, we played well, and afterward we ended up crashing at the promoter’s house. Which was a tall, multi-suite heritage house where a collection of young guys into magic and pirate costumes lived. We ended up sitting around with our gracious hosts drinking beer, smoking weed, watching magic tricks, trying on pirate costumes

and passing around a ukelele.

A private Parlour Steps uke concert is a rare event and we were well received.

Another ‘what am I doing with my life?’ moment, but in an awestruck sort of way.

Parlour Steps, Windsor ON

We had a great show in Windsor. Even though it’s just across the river from Detroit, it really felt like a different world. Less threat of violence, more carefree. Or maybe it was just me. No matter.

The venue of choice in Windsor for indie bands is The Phog Lounge, and that is where we were fortunate to play. We showed up for load in with plenty of time to spare.

Tom, the manager is always so generous to the bands and promotes all the shows excellently.

I found Rob, Rees and Julie in a cool little coffeeshop during my pre-show Windsor wander. I’m so happy for them when they find acceptable coffee. They become even more delightful.

Hard to believe there’s only a few shows left! On to Waterloo.

Parlour Steps, Detroit MI

It was a five hour drive from Pittsburgh to Detroit. We traversed Ohio, and I finally got a chance to see some real prairie. Prairies are my favorite landscape. During my first tour across Canada, I was struck dumb by the awesome beauty of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And every tour since that first one I look forward to seeing the plains. Driving across Ohio gave me my first pang of homesickness. It reminded me of driving across Canada.

At some point in the early afternoon we all heard the drum kit shift on the roof. Thank god we weren’t all plugged in to our iPods. Rob pulled over, across three lanes of traffic on the freeway, just as a wide spot on the road appeared. And just in time. The drums were still on the roof, but had shifted noticeably. No problem, Coll Audio of Toronto. Your rental drum kit is just fine. Covered in dead bugs, but intact.

Rob and Rees re-secured the drum kit and as we were remarking that bungee cords might be useful, Rees found two in the long grass by the highway. Thank you Ohio, for providing free bungee cords to travelers in need. With the drum kit firmly lashed with a length of strong rope and bungee cords we drove on. We reached Detroit around 5pm. There were lots of heavy industry smokestacks on the way into the city. Intricate cloverleaf freeway patterns, lots of concrete, lots of metal.

We found the venue, The Lager House, and loaded in.

With a few hours to kill before the show, we asked the owner Art where we might find a park to relax. Always a strange request here in the States, it seems. With some surprise he raised his eyebrows and said slowly, “There’s an abandoned railway station a few blocks away with grass and trees in front. Probably going to be some bums there, though”, he added. Abandoned railway station? Really?

Really. According to the signs, we were in Corktown,

the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, settled 1850.

And sure enough, a few blocks down the street there was a massive, enormous abandoned railway station. A majestic building in its time, to be sure. But now covered in graffitti and even the highest up windows were smashed.

We saw a tiny playground nearby attached to a small red brick church. That looked safer, so we went there instead.

The church was beautiful.

Tall spiky black bell tower, bright red brick, and brilliant emerald lush lawns. Well tended boxes of geraniums were nestled under the windows. I had a lovely swing in the playground, the boys played frisbee and lounged on the grass and Julie talked on the phone to her husband back home.

I grabbed my camera and ventured as close as I dared to take pictures of the train station.


It was a towering gray building with elaborate pillars and broad steps leading up to the wall of many doors (chained shut) that stretched across the front. Surrounding the station – it was set someways back from the street – were formerly landscaped grounds that contained tall trees, a winding footpath, and plenty of green grass. I could see the idea of what that train station used to be. A lot of time had passed since this building was useful and yet there it still sat, reminding us that everything crumbles and passes away, that all things bright and beautiful become tarnished and ugly.

Even though it was Friday afternoon and I could see clearly into downtown – the GM building was clearly visible in the distance – there were very few cars and very few people about. Eventually we decided to drive into the city and find something to eat. There were plenty of cars downtown and we couldn’t find a place to park. But still not very many people.

Actually, I don’t know if we were truly ‘downtown’ or not, but I did hear someone on the street say this was the financial district. It certainly looked like a big city. A big, empty city. There were skyscrapers everywhere and some gorgeous architecture. Old brick buildings and newer glass ones. But no throng of rush hour commuters hurrying down the street excited about the weekend.

After dinner (Thai food again, and I’m becoming addicted to hot and sour soup) we headed back to the Lager House to get ready for the show. I talked with Art some more, who was a storehouse of information about the music scene in Detroit past and present. He assured me that the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame should be in Detroit, not Cleveland. Because no city has contributed more members to the Hall of Fame than Detroit. The White Stripes and Kid Rock had played the Lager House, as had hundreds of other up and coming Detroit bands.

There was still a massive music scene in the city, mostly electric blues and rock and roll. I was thrilled to listen to him and delighted to be in Detroit. The birthplace of Motown! Thousands of great songs have been created and recorded here! One street down from the club was the Rosa Parks Boulevard. There was all kinds of history here, not just music.

The opening band was a very heavy power trio. Easily the loudest band I’ve seen yet on this tour. Then it was our turn. There were a few people there to watch us. The stage was small and I was jammed up against the wall on my right side. We played fine, but I thought it was not the right bill or venue for the Parlour Steps. Too gritty, too tough, too dirty. PStep songs are bouncy and catchy and pretty. This crowd was not bouncy. Or very pretty.

After we played I got talking to a local guy named Clint. He’s a musician too, but wasn’t playing that night. Twenty one years old, born and raised in Detroit. He told me all about how he had been held up at gunpoint at a gas station earlier that day. They took all his money and he said it was probably for the best that he didn’t have his gun with him then, the situation might have gotten out of hand. He explained that Michigan law allows citizens to carry concealed weapons so probably lots of people there at the Lager House tonight had guns. He was going to a big downtown music festival on the weekend, and would make sure to bring his gun because ‘everybody else would bring theirs too’.

In Clint’s opinion, Detroit was not a friendly place. People expected trouble from most human interactions. If a stranger did talk to you, it was probably going to be to rob you, or worse. He noticed that when he traveled outside Detroit, especially to the southern states, people were always asking ‘how y’all doing today?” and that made him nervous, their friendliness, because he kept expecting to be beaten or robbed when anyone spoke to him.

But there was nothing to fear tonight, Clint and Art both assured me. The club was in a ‘pretty good area’. By which they meant there was only property crime around here, we didn’t have to worry about getting shot. Worst case scenario, our van might get ripped off. Oh. What a relief. Craig the sound guy said as long as we:

-removed all instruments and personal belongings
-parked outside the front door of the club
-under a streetlight
-checked the van every 20 minutes or so

everything would probably be fine. Okay. Oh yeah, one more thing. Craig, Clint and Art told me that people in Detroit generally treat red lights as 4 way stops after dark. To reduce one’s chances of getting carjacked. Only tourists would wait at a red light after dark. And they get carjacked a lot. Good to know.

Mind-boggling stuff to a small town Canadian girl. I managed to play it cool and not gape in open-mouthed amazement during my conversations with them. I was amazed, though. The level of violence and fear these people live with was completely foreign to me. And the way they have adapted to this, convinced it’s no big deal – that’s pretty amazing too.

The band after us was so awful that I became overwhelmed with weariness and boredom and went out to the van to sleep until it was time to load out. I woke up to help load gear, but passed out again and struggled to keep my eyes open for the border crossing.

Sweet, sweet border crossing. Of course, it was a quick drive there what with not stopping at any of the red lights. And fifteen minutes after we loaded the gear, we were back in Canada. What a knee-loosening, bone-deep relief. Windsor was on the other side of the river from Detroit, but it may as well have been a different planet. The streets were clogged with young drunken partiers. Everyone was laughing and yelling and staggering about, arms around each other. The bars were still open, there were plenty of police out. But even they seemed pretty relaxed, moving calmly through the crowds talking to people. It was an atmosphere of fun and exuberance, completely the opposite of the city we had just left. I fell asleep again, smiling. The next thing I remember is staggering into our hotel room in Windsor. I crawled into bed with Julie and woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and grateful to be back in Canada.

Parlour Steps @ The Warhol, Pittsburgh PA

Pittsburgh June 18
Another beautiful day in Pittsburgh. The sun was softly shining, there were gentle breezes and Jeff’s wife Rachel was up and about – breakfast was ready. Rachel herself seemed to embody the radiance of the morning. At eight-and-a-half months pregnant she was lovely, gracious, and full of life. Literally.

We had rolled in too late the night before for us to meet, and I was glad I got a chance to hang out a little bit with her today. I was already sure that she must be one very e-special lady. She had allowed a rock band to invade her house and then provided tasty vittles the next morning – before we got up – while navigating through her life with a front-end beachball sized bump that prevented her from seeing her toes. Frankly, if it had been me and my husband said, “Can five strangers crash at our house, by the way they’re musicians and will be arriving around 1:30 am, and they’d probably appreciate some breakfast in the morning”, I would have said, “Hello, I have a front-end beachball size bump that prevents me from seeing my toes, five strange musicians is the last thing I need right now, tell your little friends to go pound salt”. So right away I liked Rachel because I knew she was a much nicer person than me.

We had a nice chat about marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, the wondrous transition from ‘no-kids’ to ‘parenthood’, and the deep complexity of intimacy in a long term relationship…you know, your basic existential examination of the meaning of life. And this is something that I really, really love about women. We can ‘insta-bond.” In my experience, it’s quick and easy to have a great, interesting, complicated conversation with a woman I’ve never met before. Women are hardwired to talk and be open with each other- how else do you think those hunter-gatherer tribes survived for so long? Communication! Trading information. A hundred thousand years of cultural and genetic programming is a hard thing to override. And so women converse, chat, gossip, manage relationships and frequently ask those really difficult, awful questions i.e. ‘how do you feel’?

When everyone had jogged, yoga-ed, and showered (and breakfasted with Rachel) it was time to go to the Warhol. The Warhol is the Andy Warhol Museum, and we had free passes waiting for us courtesy of Shane, the guitar player in the Metroplitans who we had played with the night before. Gosh, was everybody in Pittsburgh this nice?

Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh and grew up there. Who knew? Certainly not me. I always assumed he was one of those New York City artists who appeared there fully formed, with no small-town childhood history. The museum contained seven floors of Warhols. Upon entering the building, one is confronted by a challenging piece. That is to say, there is an office chair spinning around in a glass box at an incredible velocity. You could not possibly sit on this chair, it would fling you all the way to the seventh floor. Hmm, I thought. I think I will see some unusual things today.
Here are some of them. I present them in poetic form for you because I too am an ‘artiste’. Just like Andy.

Meet Me At The Waterwheel (Made Of Giant Dentures)
by Alison Maira

A lifesize stuffed ostrich
recovered in snakeskin panels stitched with yellow rawhide
two metres tall; a sand sculpture half finished castle
giant rakes and shovels protrude

smashed pieces of toy soldiers and their weapons
glued together in haphazard lumps, guns and arms and legs
drenched in twenty four carat gold

a waterwheel made of giant dentures
powered by a tiny origami bird
her flapping wings are tied to a string
that leads to a spinning machine

enormous chess game played by giant bronze hands
peace sign versus clenched fist of power
one room filled with silver helium clouds falling rising spinning slowly

Yup, there was some pretty cool stuff at the Warhol. My favorite exhibits were ‘Julia’ – the one dedicated to his mother – and the Children’s Exhibit. The Children’s Exhibit was paintings for children, not of them. Those paintings were small, no larger than 8×10 and were hung three and a half feet off the floor. Simple, beautiful, sincere pictures of kid stuff – Teddy Bear, Helicopter, Apple, to name a few. Anyone who acknowledges his mother as a formative influence and paints for children is okay in my books. I saw all the famous celebrity portraits. Natalie Wood was my favorite. And the famous Campbell’s Soup boxes that helped him break through to the mainstream. There was also a fantastic display of all the album covers he made along with a letter from Mick Jagger entreating his friend Andy to please find a little time to crank out a cover for ‘Sticky Fingers’. And there was a exhibit featuring the ‘Scum Manifesto’, the book that was written by the woman who shot (and almost killed) Andy Warhol in 1968. She had some objections to patriarchy. If you think feminism is too ‘in your face’ in 2008, you would have hated 1968.

After making my way through all seven floors of Warhols, I found the other pSteps in the gift shop. Which was almost my undoing. I knew I had no money to spend (this is indie rock, not a sold-out stadium tour) but that didn’t stop me from picking up a gorgeous silk-screen bag and kitchy-cool height-of-irony gifts for my loved ones back home. I spent an hour lost in a haze of consumer delight, and got all the way up to the cash register before my self-discipline kicked in. Stupid discipline. How am I ever supposed to have any irresponsible fun? Sadly, I turned away and put my two hundred dollars worth of coolness back. I was already living off my credit card for this tour. Digging a gaping financial hole for myself in the name of rock and roll I can (sort of) justify, but just going shopping with borrowed money wasn’t something I could swallow. Ah, perhaps I’m growing up. No, probably not. I am still throwing money at the indie rock dream after all.

And so, after horsing around in the museum’s photo booth (Q. How do you fit a rock band into a photo booth? A. You stack ‘em in layers) we emerged into the late afternoon sun to take in a little more of Pittsburgh before our show later on. Downtown was quite beautiful. Towering brick buildings, immaculate public squares with fountains and lush grass, and a profusion of wrought iron suspension bridges. Pittsburgh is one of the oldest cities in America. Or so their newspaper said in the articles about the city’s 250th anniversary celebrations. It was founded at a spot where three rivers meet and thus many bridges, some black some yellow, crisscross the rivers around which the city is built.

Then it was back to Jeff and Rachel’s house to change and get ready for the show. Tonight we were playing at a pub called the Fox and Hound (“ An English Bar and Grille” said the sign) opening for Jeff’s pop duo. It was supposed to be an acoustic show, which I was sort of curious about because we have an awful lot of electrification and amplification that would to be rethought, to say the least.
We had enough time before we were on to have some dinner and I had my first experience with U.S. bar food. Pub food in America operates on two basic principles: meat and cheese. There was an entire “Melt” section on the menu, which was your choice of meat with your choice of cheese melted on top. No bread, no salad, just a pile of meat covered in cheese. Does beer count as a vegetable?

Finally it was our turn to play. We sat on tall stools, like folk singers from the sixties. Rees and Caleb played acoustic guitars, Rob played his snare drum, I sang and played tamborine, Julie sang too. It was very pretty all mellow-like. But I am a rock gal at heart and I missed the power and volume we can achieve with our full complement of instruments.

After Jeff’s show was done we headed back to his place again. His duo partner came too and they plied us with red wine. The conversation turned to art and artists and local Pittsburgh artists in particular. As Jeff and his friend described their favorite local artists and their works in their broad, thick Pittsburgh accents I thought ‘this is not what I expected’. Like a lot of Canadians, I have some prejudice towards Americans. I have bought into the stereotype of the stupid, backwards, good-ol-boy American and it was very good for me to hang out with a couple of these working class ‘good ol boys’ and listen to them intelligently discuss the relative merits of various artists and their works.
So far on this tour we have met lovely, kind, generous American people. Individually everyone has been so nice to us. But their government and their politics terrify me. What passes for news on U.S. television stations is so biased and seems (to me) to lean more towards propoganda. Opinions are presented as fact with no sources to back up these assertions. And there was so little coverage of the war. It’s like it’s not even happening. There were countless U.S. flags displayed on everyone’s front porch but overall the war is very distant, very far removed from the citizens here. Unless you count all the ‘Support Our Troops” bumper stickers.

America is a very complicated place. You get everything all at once, all the time. There are good people and beautiful amazing cities. There is an undercurrent of violence, fear, and ugliness. There is great big deep art and utterly vacuous superficial celebrity-obsessed pop culture. And all of it co-exists simultaneously.

Next we were off to an even bigger more famous U.S. city, Detroit. The good people of Pittsburgh had warned us that Detroit was big, and bad. I could hardly wait to see for myself.

Parlour Steps, Pittsburgh PA

Four and a half short hours after the Cambridge show, my trusty alarm went off at 7 am. I was mostly awake already. Generally when it is imperative that I get up at a certain time I compulsively check my alarm repeatedly between long, anxious dreams about sleeping in. I knew I’d have to drive first, a dreadful thought. First a nerve-wracking drive out of Boston the night before, and now the first shift on our longest drive, 12 hours to the next show in Pittsburgh.

Caleb and Rob’s alarms went off about the same time and they awoke, blinking and bleary eyed. Rees had his own room across the hall. Rees is the first one to get his own room in the pSteps because he snores. And I feel I can say this without fear of his wrath. Because, as he told me, he can’t hear it, it doesn’t bother him, and it usually results in him getting his own room. A win-win for Rees, a slightly more crowded prospect for the rest of us. Julie did not stir, next to me in the bed. I sprang up, grabbed my stuff and headed downstairs for a quick shower.

Whenever there’s an available shower to be had, I’ll take it. I never know when there’s going to be another opportunity out here in the land of indie rock adventure. When I returned to our common sleeping room, Julie was sitting up saying “ooh, I really don’t feel good”. Rob and Caleb were asking her what had happened. As near as we could figure it, the combination of Mexican food and whiskey the night before had not been a good one. Regardless of that, we were in the van half an hour after our alarms went off. And that was impressive, getting five people and all their gear organized so quickly, so early in the morning after so little sleep and one person feeling ill.

Tom-tom was all programmed with our route so all I had to do was follow her calm directions. We stopped for gas and I gave Julie my bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I don’t remember exactly when the barfing started, but it was soon after. Oh lord. Now this I could relate to, this felt familiar. Despair and exhaustion in crazy circumstances. In this case, an endless drive through alien territory with someone quietly vomiting in the back seat, for hours.

It poured rain, there were (of course) thunderstorms, and it was obvious early on that we would have no time to stop for anything. And this was an early show in Pittsburgh. There was a DJ starting at 10 which meant the bands had to be finished by 9:30. And how is it possible that we live in a world where live bands open for DJ’s, I mused. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Or can I assume that my seven years of post-secondary music study, thirteen years of experience playing in bands professionally, and twenty five years of playing the piano is but a mere acorn next to the almighty oak tree of knowledge and experience that someone with a pair of turntables and a laptop surely must possess? I mean, it must be so tricky to stop and start and combine those samples of music…probably actually creating music out of thin air as a group of people playing musical instruments exactly together is child’ s play in comparison.

Our time for load in came and went. The time for soundcheck came and went. We drove and drove and drove. Tom-tom became confused because we were travelling on roads under construction that hadn’t been updated into its database yet. Tom-tom’s only major failing, too bad we had to discover that right at the moment we were trying with increased desperation to find our venue. After a repeated loop around the outskirts of Pittsburgh (“No no! DON’T LISTEN TO IT! Turn right this time! It doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” Poor Caleb, who was driving. A stressful situation, with Tom-tom insisting one thing while three people were shouting at him in the van to do the opposite, and Julie quietly gagging and retching…he handled it like a champ.) We pulled up to the club 30 minutes before we were supposed to be on. Poor, poor Julie. She had pretty much barfed continuously – in a moving vehicle – for about 12 hours. Into a plastic bag, which she emptied out the window. Oh, it was grim.

Well, at least they had a green room at The Club Cafe for the bands to use, so we didn’t have to change in the vomitorium, I mean van. We raced upstairs, changed, hair, makeup, and to my amazed delight I saw Julie in fresh clothes calmly putting her hair up and doing her makeup. I think it was at that moment I started to really like her. And I mean, utterly respect her and admire her. I can’t imagine how awful she must have felt at that point. But she didn’t even mention it and it was clear to me that she was going to sing and play the bass that night, no questions asked.

Julie and I walked sedately downstairs into the club and were seated at a table as the opening band played their first note, just as if we had never hurried a day in our lives and everything was completely fine. The Club Cafe was a small room with a tiny stage that had a black curtain backdrop covered with tiny blue lights.
There were lots of people there, every table was full and more standing behind at the bar, which was lit by blue neon the same shade as the stage lights. The Metropolitans, the first band, were so good. Thick soulful horns and a razor-sharp rhythm section. Original songs in funk band format, you don’t see that very much anymore. They had a trombone player with a mohawk and a drummer whose shirt said “Jesus Hates Your Emo Poems”. They were just fantastic, but the crowd didn’t give them much of a reaction.

Then it was our turn. Julie sang and played fine, we all played well, and Caleb broke two strings which I had never seen happen before, not even one string, let alone two in the same show. Whatever. We soldiered on. Caleb managed to change his strings and tune his guitar while singing. Goodness. These Parlour Steps are made of bold stuff indeed. The crowd didn’t seem too impressed with us either, but at least nobody left while we were playing. But lots of people talked to me afterwards, and a couple of people bought me a drink. So maybe that’s how they express their musical appreciation in Pittsburgh. Not a lot of unseemly emotional display, just some quiet compliments and free booze. I can live with that.

Following us was a band called Love Tara. Singer and guitar player Jeff was the wonderful man who would be our host in Pittsburgh. We would be crashing at his house along with his two dogs and eight-and-a-half-months pregnant wife Rachel. After Love Tara was done Jeff took me, Rob, Rees, and Caleb to a bar right around the corner called Jack’s. A working class bar on the fairly tough south side of Pittsburgh. They played pool. We drank $2.00 beers. I looked around and marveled at my life. How did I get here, hanging out with a bunch of tough looking guys and gals shooting pool, smoking, drinking beer, unwinding after a long day…on the south side of Pittsburgh, for pete’s sake. I could never have imagined this, and without Jeff and the other guys I would never have gone into a place like this by myself to people-watch. Oh, baby Jesus! as Julie would say, who was waiting for us in the van. And for that reason we didn’t stay too long. By 11:00 we were all back in the van and on our way to Jeff’s house. Julie and I had our own room, and the next day we would be going to The Andy Warhol Museum (Shane from the Metropolitans hooked us up with free tickets). Pittsburgh was looking good so far.

Parlour Steps, Cambridge MA

We woke up this morning at Rick’s house in Easthampton. Rick is the owner of Nine Mile Records, the label pSteps are currently signed to. It was a long drive from Cornwall yesterday. We traveled through upstate New York, then into Massachusetts. Lush green fields, gentle breezy sunshine, and picturesque small towns gave way to rain, fog, and darkness. Almost every house we passed had a large American flag hanging on its porch. We arrived at Rick and Rebecca’s house late last night. They live on a tiny, quiet lane, no streetlights, surrounded by trees. All the houses were small and white with verandas and screen doors. It was so quiet I could hear crickets chirping as we unloaded our bags and staggered into the house.

Rick and his wife Rebecca fed us homemade bread, cheeses, grapes, strawberries from their garden, and organic honey ale. They were both so nice, and as I was standing in their kitchen listening to the quiet conversation, (there was after all, an adorable 4 year old Lilly asleep upstairs) I was deeply conflicted, like I had been at the mansion in Toronto. I was so grateful and relieved to be there, but was also completely skeptical- and disoriented. This can’t be ‘me on tour’. Where is the crushing disappointment, the total lack of money, the terrible food, the complaining, backstabbing, deception, temper tantrums, deep depression, unpredictable mood swings, dirty clothes, drug and alcohol abuse, sleep deprivation, desperation, constant emotional caretaking, futile attempts to soothe clashing personalities, sleeping outdoors, empty shows? Not in lovely Easthampton, that’s for sure. Here there are smart, kind people. There are wood floors, an old piano, a friendly black lab with an enthusiastically wagging tail, fluffy towels, children’s artwork on the fridge door, and everywhere I look it’s simple, clean, and beautiful.

Rebecca went to bed and we all sat up with Rick for a long time. I think it was a meeting, but it felt like more like hanging out. We talked about politics and music and future plans for Parlour Steps. It was all very productive, but very casual and fun too. I wouldn’t want to be signed some huge media conglomerate/record label. I think they would not have their strategy meetings in an lovely old house with the wind sliding through the trees while the crickets sing and a large black dog rests his head on the president of the record company’s knee.

And so. We awoke the next morning after the meeting. I had locally roasted organic coffee on the back porch. Did some yoga in the backyard next to the strawberry patch. The breezes blew, the birds sang, and the sun shone. I shake my head now as I write this, as I did that day. It was ridiculously idyllic. Played some piano while the others were getting ready, and then it was off to Cambridge for the show, another 80 miles away.

Rick told us we were listed in the TV guide – the widest read publication in the entire country, I’ll have you know- and also in the Boston Globe. Good grief.
We arrived in Cambridge and found the venue, the legendary Middle East.

It’s got three separate rooms, and Rooney was there when we were which explains the hundreds of overwrought teenage girls clogging the sidewalk while I struggled to load in my gear. If you don’t know Rooney, clearly you are not a twelve year old girl who’s hip to what’s hot. I didn’t know Rooney either and was almost attacked when I asked one of the Rooney followers what was going on. That was kind of intense, shoving my way through a block’s worth of screaming, crying, laughing girls over and over with large heavy awkward objects in my hands. Did they clear a path? They did not. They were oblivious to the anything that wasn’t Rooney.

We had a few hours before the show. It poured rain, thunder and lightning. I think we’ve seen thunderstorms every day since we arrived in Toronto. I walked up and down Massachusetts Ave. (that’s Mass. Ave to people in the know), the street the Middle Eastern is on and one of the main arteries through Cambridge. Harvard and MIT are both in this area. Cambridge is the biggest university town/campus I’ve ever seen. It made UBC look like a quaint community college. Everywhere there’s ivy covered brick buildings – but this is Ivy League territory, n’est pas? Tons of bookstores of all descriptions, tattoo parlours, bars, coffeeshops, restaurants, Mcdonald’s and the Gap. Everything a student needs. I finally summoned up my courage to experiment with my fancy new digital camera and took some pictures.

We met back at the club for soundcheck. Found a Boston Globe and there was a huge picture of Parlour Steps on the cover of the entertainment section. And the show was listed in their “places to be” section or whatever they call it. Very impressive. That paper has a circulation in the millions. We had dinner at the Middle East with Rick and his friend Paddy. Then I hustled back to the van to change (such is the glamour of indie rock) and after a hair and makeup touch-up in the club washroom I was ready to go.

The show was very good. Small room, but it was packed and we got a huge response from the audience. We sold lots of cd’s and merch. There was palpable excitement onstage, and we played very loud. Rick was right up front, and I’m glad the show he saw (he had never seen Parlour Steps before) was so thrilling. Caleb kind of blew his voice out. But it was worth it. At least, I thought it was worth it. Mind you, my throat wasn’t raw and shredded. Many people came up to talk to me afterwards. In fact, I was quickly surrounded by people while standing at the bar waiting for a drink. It was a little overwhelming so I retreated back to the merch table where there were bandmates to share the accolades.

It was then that Rees hipchecked me solidly onto the dance floor and proceeded to blind my senses with a flurry of unique dance moves. We ended up right in front of the stage, dancing wildly to a disco-rock band called Black and White Years from Austin, Texas. Soon the rest of the pSteps joined us and we all danced wildly for about an hour. Sweaty good times.

Upon load out it became obvious that I would definitely be driving the van back to Rick’s house. Loading gear with a bunch of happy drunk people is quite amusing. Gone is the careful attention to detail and efficiency, in its place is an dogged determination to just jam everything in so you can close the door. I never thought I’d be able to drive in a huge U.S. city without weeping in fear, but Tom-tom was calm and helpful, as were Caleb and Rob, and we fell gratefully into our beds at Rick’s around 3:30am. On to Pittsburgh.

Parlour Steps, Ottawa ON

Awakened in the mansion with a tinge of regret that it was time to say goodbye – probably forever – to living in the lap of obscene luxury. But at least now I know Julie and I make excellent bedfellows. A little back-to-back action, some accidental snuggles, but overall a prim, respectable sleep with each of us careful to cling daintily to her side of the bed. I am starting to realize there are many wonderful aspects of being in a band that contains another gal. The sleeping arrangements were solved, effortlessly. No need to worry about sharing a bed with a dude. This is indie rock, may I remind you. We are lucky to sleep indoors.

Having your own bed every night is a major label rock star perk, I think. Not that cross-gender bed-sharing would have been a big deal, the Parlour Steps boys are completely kind and respectful and professional. But give me Julie any day of the week! And we got our own ‘girl bed’ and ‘girl room’ almost all the time.

After being in bands where I am the only female, this was a relaxing, refreshing change. The night before, when we had crawled into bed we shared the trashy girl magazine I had bought. In the past, I have had to be stealth about these purchases to avoid the relentless mocking that ensued when my male bandmates would spy a glossy cover, make a grab for it, and make fun of its entire contents. Yes, I know how silly the articles are. I am an ardent, educated feminist. Who happens to like make-up and fashion, is that so wrong? No one expects you to understand, band boy. So give me back my fucking magazine!
Goodness. I may have had a bit of a flashback there.

So I did some morning yoga, packed my stuff and we piled into the van. I asked if we could stop for coffee before we left the city. Which I soon learned was going to be easier said than done. We are very west coast here in the Parlour Steps. There is running, and yoga, vegetarianism, and frisbee tossing. And very high coffee standards – no, espresso standards – as well as very high sushi standards. Actually, food in general seems to be a bit of a thing with this group. Soon enough I started to think ‘holy cats, I think my palate is totally undeveloped and unrefined’ because I couldn’t tell the difference between acceptable/unacceptable coffee and food. I asked questions though, and learned a lot about what to look for. Er, taste for. And I certainly ate and drank better with Parlour Steps than I have with any other people I’ve ever toured with.

While I found the coffee and food standards to be funny and cute – but understandable; it’s a ‘quality of life issue’ , isn’t it Rob – it did necessitate several stops and long searches sometimes for everyone to be satisfied. I saw a nondescript little coffeshop called “CoffeeTime”. “Here is good,” I said, sort of expecting everyone to tumble out of the van and get some fricking coffee. We all drink it, and I think we all need it. At least, I definitely need it and I don’t give a good goddamn about where it comes from.

I ordered my medium coffee and turned around…to an empty room. The rest of the band had stayed resolutely in the van. I felt kind of silly for being the sole reason for this stop, (which I soon got over, because we made stops for everyone else many times on this tour) but I was also highly amused. It was worth it. Caffeine makes me happy to be Maira-in-the-morning: chipper, joyful, talkative.

We had an uneventful drive to Ottawa. It was a sunny windy day, and the miles flew by. We stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. The only time we did for the entire tour. The insult of having to eat there was compounded by the 25 minute wait in the line-up to order. I thought the PSteps were going to give up and starve until Ottawa, but they hung in there. Well, they’re right. I can’t defend McDonald’s. It was a fairly dreadful dining experience. It’s hard to believe that McD’s used to be a mainstay of touring food for me. The PSteps have opened my eyes!

We arrived in Ottawa with a raging hailstorm (the locals assured me this never happens) and had to take shelter in the van before venturing out to load in our gear. Then we were off to the train station to pick up Rob. Soon enough it was time to soundcheck and then play. Zaphod’s is a cool venue. I’m always impressed by the sound techs. They are totally professional, and everything always sounds great. We were there on a Sunday night, but there were still people there who watched and listened avidly. My friend Grant came to the show. We were going to crash at his house that night. Haven’t seen him since the last time I toured through Ottawa and it was good to listen to his stories of suburban stay-at-home dad life. You’d think such an existence might be pretty routine, but Grant held me spellbound with his casual description of mothers taking off to meet internet lovers, alcohol and spousal abuse, custody battles, unemployment, all sorts of unbelievable drama. And all within one small cul-de-sac. Someone should make a TV show, Desperate Househusbands or something.

So, the show. Our first show on the tour. Good sound onstage, and I enjoyed several fabulous moments with Rob. I think I am slowly falling in love with his drumming. Subtle but exciting. There’s always something different or interesting to listen for. The lights were blazing hot, and the crowd moved closer to the stage and cheered lustily for all our songs. Afterwards we sold some merch. Pretty good for a Sunday night in Ottawa for a band none of them had heard of.

The next day I ran through Grant’s extremely proper neighborhood. While I was gone, Caleb and Rob solved our space problem (how would we fit Rob and the drumkit in the van with the rest of us?) by obtaining a length of sturdy rope and tying the drumkit, which was contained in one compact hardshell road case, to the roof. Don’t worry Coll Audio, we’re taking good care of your wonderful gear…

Now we were all able to fit in the van. There were four captain’s chairs, very nice, and one fold-up miniature seat in the back, not nice at all. The keyboard case fit snugly down the length of the van, effectively splitting it down the middle and giving everyone a tiny individualized compartment. The drums, as you know, were tied to the roof. The guitars and amps were meticulously packed in next to the little back seat, and our bags on top of that. The person in the back seat could neither stretch out nor recline and was walled in by guitars and bags on the left and behind, window on the right and the next row of seats in front. Thusly we would spend the next two weeks all together. Ah, the glory of rock and roll.

And now, on to Cornwall to cross into the U.S. This was our biggest logistics hurdle to overcome. If we could just get across, it would be clear sailing from that point onwards.

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

Well my goodness. Touring season has come around once more for all the good little Canadian indie rock bands. And that season is summer. Not many Canadian bands take their lives in their hands to tour this vast country in a van while it’s frozen over from October to April. I remember well my only winter tour experience. There will never be another. That’s the bargain I made with God on the Salmo-Creston pass in mid December a few years back.

But how could it ever be winter, here in the warm, sunshiny sidewalk patio land of Toronto? June is a lovely month here. Not oppressively warm yet, still breezy, and the people joyfully cavort in shorts and t-shirts. We are here, the Parlour Steps, to embark on a great adventure. Two weeks away from all places and people familiar to attempt that noble feat, the Indie Rock Band Tour. Indie rock means, you are on your own. No limos, no private planes, one van, five people, depending on the kindness of friends and strangers to loan us their living room floors for sleeping.

We arrived in Toronto during North By Northeast, an enormous music festival that takes over the city. We were there to pick up our rented gear and van, throw our fates to the winds, cast off, and start playing shows in southern Ontario and then down into the U.S.

Tom-tom guided us faithfully to Long & McQuade for our first stop, guitars, amps, bass. Tom-tom, the small GPS device that clings gracefully to the windshield with her delicate suction cup always knows where to go. Mind you, it does take the thinking out of navigation. You never get to know a local area better by memorizing street names and landmarks. You just dumbly turn right and left when Tom-tom tells you to. Still. Sometimes it’s just better and more efficient and faster to do what you’re told and not think too much.

From Long & McQuade we were off to Coll Audio Warehouse for keyboards and drums. When I saw our rental van for the first time, when we were picking it up at the airport I thought, I am going to be playing one keyboard only on this tour. It was a minivan. A very nice minivan, with 4 doors that opened smoothly, air conditioning, and individual heat controls. And lots of cup holders, that unmistakable sign of soccer-mom luxury. But a minivan nonetheless, a vehicle that could not possibly hold 5 people, a drum kit, 2 keyboards, 2 guitars, 3 amps, a bass, and all our bags. I’ve been playing a handsome double stack of keyboards onstage since 1996.

But I knew that this time around, I would only have room for one.
I chose the smaller keyboard, the one I usually just use for synth sounds. So now all I would have to do is figure out how to play all my piano, rhodes, and organ parts on it and how to combine that with my synth parts. On the plus side, setup and teardown time would be way faster.

We wrestled all the gear into the van, and it was crammed. And we didn’t even Rob our drummer yet. He was going to meet us for the first show in Ottawa. And so we had a night to spend in Toronto, a chance to see some NXNE bands before traveling to Ottawa the next day. Back to the mansion to change clothes and get ready for a night on the town.

As I mentioned, we were hoping and depending on some friendly people to let us crash at their place while we were on the road. Indie rock also means no money. Or, definitely not enough to stay in hotel rooms every night. Upon our arrival in Toronto, we really lucked out. Caleb had arranged for us to stay with his boss. Who lives in a mansion. Which seemed to catch us all by surprise a little. We pulled up in the middle of the night, having come from the airport. Tom-tom guided us to an unremarkable, narrow side street. But I could see the houses getting bigger and bigger. ‘You have reached your destination’, said Tom-tom in her calm businesslike voice and lo, we were parked in front of a gigantic house. Broad steps leading upward to a tall ornate door, past a double garage. A black suburban parked in front. Caleb knocks, James answers, we enter.

Into a vast living room with soaring ceilings, two oversize brown leather couches, two soft sage green recliners, with an enormous hassock in between them. A large bay window containing a real tree, and facing us the biggest mirror I have ever seen. Enormous gilt gold frame, heavy and ornate it appears to be the same size as the massive couch it is mounted behind. There is heavy, dark wooden furniture. A few, tasteful knicknacks.

No clutter. A fireplace, with one pristine log resting precisely on a neat bed of ashes. Small lamps on either side of one of the couches throw their soft light to the mirror, which is gently caught and spills all over the dark wood floor and thick Persian rug. James, who is not accustomed to staying up till 2am on a weeknight (as he is a normal working person, untainted by indie rock) gives us a quick tour. ‘I have a shoe problem’, he says calmly as we walk through the lower level of the house, the floor of which is covered with hundreds of pairs of skate shoes and runners. Past a home theatre, then upstairs to the guestrooms. Of which there are three. In each guestroom there is a flat screen TV with satellite cable mounted on the wall, what I would guess to be cherrywood or dark oak dressers and nightstands, and a queen size bed with ridiculously high thread count linens. I am quite dumbfounded and having trouble reconciling these sumptuous surroundings with the idea of “being on tour”.

All the guestroom doors open onto a small landing. This became my favorite part of the house. Unnoticed at first, there was a gorgeous skylight that contains a beautiful, sparkling pattern that looked like it was etched in a thin line of diamonds. By day, she was a regular skylight. The pattern only appeared at night. I spent a goodly amount of time bent backwards, gawking upwards openmouthed at that skylight over the next couple of days. Where the ceiling would have been, had the skylight not continued upward, there was a row in recessed lighting that glowed softly orange at night. Everywhere there was thick crown moldings that looked as if someone has pressed a fork into thick icing. If this was any indication of what we were in for on this tour, by golly everything was coming up roses.

We had a little while to chill out before heading back downtown to catch some bands. They napped, I went for a run. Nice neighborhood, I thought. Be nice to see it up close. I set off. I wonder why no one else is out, I mused. In Vancouver no matter what time I run there are always other runners out. I took a few steps and was drenched in sweat within seconds. The air is thick and hot in Toronto. Like trying to run through warm soup. Now I understood why there was no one out. They were probably running on treadmills in climate controlled air conditoned gyms. Smart people.

And so we ended up downtown having dinner with our booking agent. At a club where a few years back I played a show during which a guitar player (I use that term very loosely) took out his cock while onstage in a desperate attempt to force people to pay attention to his band. Didn’t work, which should give you some indication of the quality of the band. And the cock.
I saw a lot of bands while we were in Toronto. Pack AD, Warren Flandez, a crazy banjo player called Old Man Luke, Rosetta A, Matt Mays & El Torpedo. I caught an amazing show at the Horseshoe, probably the biggest show of NXNE. Hundreds of sweaty people packed into a low ceilinged room with several unsteady ceiling fans that looked as if they would fly off their moorings into the crowd and decapitate us all. Loud music. Cold drinks. Good times. Eventually Caleb and Julie and I headed back to the mansion.

Rees elected to stay and keep making new friends. That boy has the stamina of a true extrovert which I envy greatly. I wrote the address of where we were staying on his arm so he could find his way back, and off we went. On to Ottawa the next day for the first show.

Parlour Steps, Thieves Of Memory Video

This was the first music video I made with Parlour Steps upon joining the band. “Thieves Of Memory” is a great song that was the lead single off the album “Ambiguoso”. I fondly remember dancing and shouting along when I was just a fan at Parlour Steps shows.

Parlour Steps CBC Radio 2 Canada Live

Oh boy! I’m a big fan of the Canada Live Series on CBC Radio 2, so imagine my delight when Caleb told us we were going to be a part of it. A big CBC Radio truck was parked outside The Biltmore as we loaded in our gear. There were cables everywhere. This was my first show playing without charts. And my first show singing harmony vocals with Julie. I asked a lovely photographer friend of mine, Lisa McBride, to come down and take some live shots of us, as there are none yet with me playing in the band. Here are the fruits of her labor.

It didn’t take long to get over being anxious and start having a great time. Lisa was running all over snapping pictures, people were dancing, and it was fantastically loud onstage.

I really liked Lisa’s individual shots of us too. Here’s Julie.

And Rees.

Caleb.

Rob.

And me.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I get to do this, play in this band with these wonderful people and do such cool stuff. Yay!

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

Portland is barely in Oregon, I realized with some surprise. There’s a sign that says “Welcome to Oregon” as you cross a bridge that takes you into downtown Portland. I was awed by the beauty of Mount Ranier, a great distance away but still clearly visible; jagged, snowy, all sharp edges against an azure sky and open plains.

Rob, Caleb and I ended up in a lovely suburban park playing frisbee waiting for Julie and Rees to arrive. Well, they played. I mostly ran after the frisbee and managed to throw it everywhere except to the guy who was waiting to catch it. I did find a swing set, thankfully. Yes, I still play on swingsets. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to keep my 11 year old self with me always. The 11 year old Maira was a sweet and joyful person, quite unlike the cynical bitter crone I have become. So, I read. I write stories. I play piano and on swingsets. The same stuff I did in grade 6. The main difference now is that sometimes I get paid to do these things (except for playing on the swings. Still working on that).

We are staying at Rees’s cousin’s house. Thank goddess for family members and friends with extra rooms and living room floors. They make the indie rock adventure possible. We have access to a lovely suburban home, very near to the lovely suburban park. Definitely we are in lovely suburban area of Portland, about half an hour from the city. Everything is very clean. No homeless people to distract you from the calm, landscaped prettiness. SUV’s litter the streets. You can buy liquor anywhere. There are a lot of white people. Everywhere there are huge networks of big box retailers. There is a noticeable lack of sidewalks.

Later on that evening, Rob, Rees, Julie and I ended up at a local pub for dinner. This was a wonderful place. You could bring your own container and have it filled with beer from their little brewery downstairs. Like bringing a gas can to the station for a fill up. We left with two enormous jars full. I got carded again and this time Rob snatched my license from my hand and examined my birthdate carefully. Yeah, Rob. I know. It’s almost unbelievable that a woman who is older than you looks so fresh and young and radiant. Kidding, I’m kidding. Radiant might be pushing it.

The next day before the show we had time to wander around Portland. We found Powell’s Books “the biggest bookstore in the world”. Heaven! Bliss! Geek paradise! The size of a city block, and each section was as big as a typical bookstore. I spent about an hour there and never got past new releases. I only had an hour left before rendezvous, so I stepped out into the sunshine to take in the city, and walked about four very pleasant blocks before I found a fantastic used cd store. Independent, quirky and unique. Burned up the rest of my free time in there scanning the bins, never made it to the end of the alphabet. Left with a bag full of music, though. I approve of Portland. Books, music, art galleries, and a city bylaw that makes it legal to swim in all the public fountains.

The show. Now, this show was pretty damn good. There were people there to see us. Some we knew (thank you, Rees’s family and their friends), some we didn’t. Everybody had a good time. Big stage, well balanced stage sound, fancy lights. I found myself hopping about and smiling joyfully whilst playing my tambourine. I’m still developing my Parlour Steps character and apparently she’s going to be a happy wee lass. I haven’t had so much good clean fun playing music since…actually I’ve never felt this lighthearted while performing. It feels great to be onstage with these people. There’s nothing but calm, loving good vibes. Maybe it’s not too late to shed some bitterness, put on some trust instead. You see what they’re doing to me, they’re wearing me down with all their stupid happiness and positive attitudes, damn them.

Julie and I did some drinking. We talked very loudly (and a lot) to Rob as he drove us back to the house. He was a dear, making us laugh and putting up with our drunken foolishness. We all ended up watching American Idol at 2:30 in the morning. And petting big fluffy cats. I do remember waking up at some point to hear a frustrated guitar player exclaim “This game is STUPID!” Ah, yes. Another guitar player tries to beat Guitar Hero and fails. Or, perhaps more specifically, a guitar player tries to beat his non-guitar playing cousin at Guitar Hero and fails. I fell back asleep giggling. A first for me while on tour. I’ve fallen asleep crying more than once.

Rob, Julie, and I had to get up ridiculously early the next morning to make it back to Vancouver in time for me to teach piano lessons. Just like that – back to reality, work, routine. With some reluctance I dutifully refastened my normal life.

Parlour Steps, Seattle WA

“We’re rolling backwards”, I said, trying to sound casual. “We’re rolling BACKWARDS”, I said again, noting with some alarm the traffic lights receding into the distance as Bobby’s station wagon drifts tenderly close to the car behind us. Predictably, indignant honking bursts forth from the anxious driver. “Okay lady, I know”, Bobby mutters, throwing his arm out his open window to gesture in a reassuring ‘calm down and shut up’ sort of way.

The light turns green and my heart lurches along with this tin can death-trap as Bobby throws it from park into first and guns it. “It’s the transmission”, he offers by way of explanation, a beautific smile spreading across his calm face. “And the brakes,” he adds thoughtfully.

A tidal wave of anxiety rises high into my chest, which seems to be corseted by my ribs from expanding enough to take a good deep breath. I am on my way to meet up with the rest of Parlour Steps. We are departing for a short tour, playing some shows in Seattle and Portland. If I can get myself and my keyboards to the rendezvous point without becoming involved in a fatal car accident. I was lucky that my dear friend Bobby was available for gear and Maira transport. I was unlucky that this was the day, the minute, and the hour that his vehicle decided to go bat-shit insane.

“It’s much worse today than it ever has been”, Bobby keeps saying apologetically and with genuine surprise as we lurch our way across town, me praying for green lights and no hills. Absolutely typical, I think amidst the the intermittent blasts of terrified honking as we roll steadily backwards at every red light. We sit and wait for the car to find first gear and leap, as a station wagon would if it were a gazelle, across a great succession of major intersections. At the beginning of rush hour. It would hardly feel like going on tour if there wasn’t panic and the acrid taste of fear in the back of my throat. Getting to the departure point was now questionable, in so many ways.

What if I’m late? What if I forget how to play the songs? What if they hate me and I hate them and we can’t function with continuous contact in small enclosed spaces? Did I mention I’m the newest member of this band and this is my first out-of-town excursion with them? Do I need to tell you that I’m a extremely meticulous obsessive compulsive sensitive little worrier?

We shudder to a halt outside Caleb’s house, perfectly on time. I exit the car slowly, with great deliberation, as if it were the calmest most unremarkable day of my life. I am the first one to arrive. There is time for Bobby and I to go for coffee. My stomach begins to unclench a little. When we return Rees and Julie and Rob are there. Time to load up and get the hell out of Dodge. We are a little caravan. Rees and Caleb travel with the gear. Julie and I travel with Rob. I have no idea where exactly we are going. In this band, I am in charge of nothing. My responsibilities are:

1. Play some kick ass keyboard parts
2. Sing some kick ass vocal parts
3. Show up on time with keyboards and voice
So far, so good. Until a small gray box is thrust into my hand. It’s my new friend Tom-Tom, a small GPS device that is supposed to guide us to the venue in Seattle. Of course, someone has to program it first. That someone is me. There is no instruction manual. I start pushing buttons. I hope feverently that Tom-Tom and I are smart enough to guide us to the Jewelbox Theatre, 2322 2nd Ave SW. I remember the address because I typed it in about a hundred times over the next few hours in true Maira obsessive-compulsive fashion.

Well, at least I wasn’t bothered about ‘will I hate them/will they hate me?’ anymore. Now it was ‘holy fuck, they’re relying on ME to get us there!’ Will we ever see Caleb and Rees again? Did I enter the right address (2322 2nd Ave SW 2322 2nd Ave SW 2322 2nd Ave SW)? Does this thing work? Is it too late to apply to law school, which was sort the original plan and now seems infinitely more relaxing than the indie rock experience.

I’m traveling with people I’ve never spent longer than three hours with. All of my gear is in another vehicle and may or may not be confiscated at the border. I’ve been appointed chief navigator and keeper of Tom-Tom. I can almost play about 20 Parlour Steps songs, which means I’ll have to bear down and push my musical mind to the limit to remember all my keyboard parts and patches, hundreds of chord changes, and vocal lines onstage. And make it look fun, and easy. God, I love rock and roll. It should come with a warning label: Caution! May lead to adventure. So few of us embark on real adventures anymore, not like the good old days of pirates and Vikings. My normal life is so structured and routine. I enjoy it, but I’ll peel it off like a dirty shirt whenever there’s an opportunity to travel and play music.

We drive, we rip across the border effortlessly. Tom-Tom guides us to the front door of the venue. The hardest part is finding a place to park. Downtown Seattle is pretty cool. Lots of brick and doorway arches, lots of mercilessly hip restaurants of every kind, lots of people out. I love being in the States. Gritty, slightly intimidating, and not safe. And because of that, very exciting.

We had some time to kill and so ended up at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I got carded, which happens more often than not but is getting progressively funnier as I age. Now when they look, they do a double take. Or laugh out loud. I am way older than they thought (but still looking good, thank you very much). Dinner was delicious, and fun. I was starting to feel like I was on vacation, minus the spending money. That pretty much sums up the touring experience for me. A very weird, unpredictable vacation during which I have no money.

The show was pretty good. I managed to keep my wits about me and played the right sounds at the right time. We played in a tiny theatre (the Jewelbox, 2322 2nd Ave. SW). Plush red velvet seats, a tiny red-carpeted aisle, a miniature stage. Afterwards, I drank a can of warm cheap beer while watching a blind junkie drummer try to outsmart a hair covered guitar player with a stage full of pedals.

After that, I helped load gear while Rees took it as a personal challenge to score us some weed. I learned, Rees takes a personal challenge very seriously. We found a hotel and slept. The next morning, I observed the American breakfast experience at Denny’s. They have something there called the Complete Three Meat Breakfast. Because you know a breakfast is hopelessly incomplete without at least three meats. Also they put melted cheese on the meat. Actually, pretty much everything had a layer of melted cheese on it except for the coffee.
It was a beautiful day for a drive. Five hours of highway and sunshiny breezes. On to Portland.