Lowdown: Kreviazuk sings ‘Ghost Stories’
Chantal Kreviazuk is back on the Canadian charts, but this time it’s not with a song she co-wrote for Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani or Avril Lavigne.
The Winnipeg-born singer-pianist has released her first solo single since becoming a multi-platinum-selling songwriter for other artists. The album, “Ghost Stories,” is due August 29 on Sony BMG Music Canada.
After two weeks at radio, “All I Can Do” debuted at #46 on the Hot AC spins chart and #42 at Hot AC audience, according to Nielsen BDS Canada.
“All I can do is love you to pieces / Give you a shoulder to cry when you need it,” she sings in the chorus.
It’s a beautiful, bright piano pop song that includes the line “What a lovely day to shape your dreams / And you don’t even have to sleep / You can make it what you want to be.”
“I wrote it for my kids. I can’t listen to it,” Kreviazuk says, getting emotional, as it plays in a room at her Toronto record label. “It sounds a little bit different than the rest of the record. That’s the only issue I have with it. That one’s very big. It’s a big pop/rock song.”
Produced by her husband, Raine Maida of rock band Our Lady Peace, she says the couple made sure they did a few little things to tie the song in with the rest of the album. Like this she demonstrates, singing the “Ahhhh-oh-oh Aaaaalllll all I” that leads into the last chorus. “Which is a little bit gospel,” she concludes, “because a lot of the record has a gospel theme to it.”
Kreviazuk is at Sony BMG Music Canada, meeting with many of the staff for the first time since Sony and BMG merged in 2004. Until then, she had released three solo albums for Columbia/Sony — 1997’s “Under These Rocks,” which scanned 175,000 units in Canada, according to Nielsen Soundscan Canada; 1999’s “Colour Moving And Still,” which scanned 195,000; and 2002’s “What If It All Means Something,” which scanned 70,000 amid the corporate confusion that was happening at the label when the joint venture and pending layoffs were announced.
“If can be completely honest, I’m really excited about Lisa Zbitnew being my record company president,” says Kreviazuk.
It was Zbitnew who arranged for her to perform at Sony BMG’s annual Managing Directors Conference in Miami, FL back in March, after she heard the song “Ghosts Of You.” The MDC is attended by the heads of all the record labels in the Sony BMG family, including Clive Davis and Donny Ienner.
“It was the first song we sent around, just to prove we were making a record, because everybody was like, ‘Where’s your album?’ We’re like, ‘F*** off, we’ll hand it in when it’s done,'” Kreviazuk laughs. “I think they wondered if we were even doing anything. So we handed them ‘Ghosts’ and everybody flipped out. So Lisa had me play for the entire world convention and the only other people that played were the Dixie Chicks.”
“I was like, ‘(Play) just this one song?’ And they were like, ‘Well, you have to play another one.’ I assumed that it would be an old one because then people would remember me from my other records and they called me a couple of days before and they were like, ‘Nope, you’ve got to play another new one.’ I was like, ‘S**t, I really don’t have a record, I really don’t (laughs).’ So I finished ‘All I Can Do’ and performed that one as well and it was great.”
“Ghosts Of You” is Jonathan Ramos’ favourite, the director of A&R whispers to this reporter after his first proper in-person meeting with Kreviazuk. He was hired at the label last year, after years in management and as a concert promoter, and didn’t A&R the album.
He didn’t have to. Now that Kreviazuk has had placed songs on albums by multi-million-selling artists — and Maida most notably produced Lavigne — they are a proven, self-contained unit that doesn’t need to be closely monitored in the studio.
“Me coming in after she started the record, it wasn’t really my place to do that, but my role in this was to help manage it and help it along,” explains Ramos, who set up the mixing dates with Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, Three Days Grace, Jewel), who did the single, and Michael Brauer (Coldplay, Bob Dylan, Stabilo), who did the album.
“Because I didn’t A&R it in the traditional sense of the word, and Lisa would ask me, ‘What’s going on with Chantal’s record? What’s going on with the Chantal record?’ all I could really do was reach out to (Nettwerk) management and say, ‘What’s going on with Chantal’s record?’
“But the first single I ever got was ‘Ghosts Of You’ and when I heard it, it knocked me out, and not just that’s my job as an A&R, but it was so different, such a departure from what I thought she was – because there’s a theme running through all her music, in terms of you just recognize it.
“We were expecting quite a bit (from her) because of who she’s become now, as a writer, and she’s surprised a lot of people — me included, as how prolific she is and who she’s worked with and just how accomplished she is, so now we’re like, ‘Now, this is her; stop giving these songs away.’
“But then I’m like, ‘Are we going to get a compilation-sounding album that sounds like a Gwen Stefani track, a Kelly Clarkson or Avril Lavigne track, but, really, it’s all her. And this ‘Ghosts’ track – because she did a lot of strings on the album – it just blew me away and I told Lisa, ‘This is what the album is going to sound like? We’re good.'”
She and Maida started on the album about two years ago in their home studio in Los Angeles, but didn’t buckle down until February and March of this year. She co-wrote the majority of the songs with him and the rest on her own.
Writing between 150 to 200 songs the past two years and scoring hits for Lavigne, Clarkson and Stefani had made her a more practiced, artful songwriter, but she never once thought of making a pop record herself. And yet she did dig into her repertoire of songs that had been pitched to other artists.
“Ghosts Of You,” in fact, started off being a song for Stefani that the No Doubt singer didn’t end up using on her solo debut, so Kreviazuk changed it up considerably “so it turned into my song,” she says. It’s about her connection with her late cousin, Brenda, her best friend who passed away at age 36.
“It’s the most simple lyric,” says Kreviazuk, and begins to recount it: “We were occupied / Never had to go outside / I was your alibi / We were planning our escape / We stayed up all night with Lucy and the diamond sky/drank cheap red white and talked ourselves to sleep / Please don’t go / These ghosts of you/the only thing that helped me get through the day / Please don’t go / ’cause I love you / You’re the only thing that will stay the same.'”
She says that she selected the album title “Ghost Stories” — verses naming it after the song “Ghosts Of You” which her label, she says, preferred initially — because there is an overall ghost theme to the songs. “The ghost thing, it does reflects the death of my cousin, but it also reflects the things we pretend aren’t there; the things that we make disappear, like poverty, war, the misfits, the useless.
“Things are pretty direct. There’s a couple of quite abstract things. Like there’s one abstract song called ‘Spoken Tongues’ where it, to me, relates to the ghost stories theme because it’s about a ghost of a relationship.
“There’s a lot of remembering and grieving and a lot of is spiritual too, so in that sense I think ‘Ghost Stories’ really pulls it together well.”
What’s most unique about the album is there is not one guitar on the album.
“I think Raine was sick of my first three albums, people trying to take this piano-singer and then do something with it, but always using guitars. He’s be like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ And the funny thing is that this album rocks way more than anything I’ve ever done and there’s not one fuckin’ guitar lick in it.
“Yeah, it’s so amazing,” she enthuses. “Raine is the most unbelievable producer. He’s phenomenal. He’s the guy. He’s f****g amazing.”
On the album, Maida played some bass, Kreviazuk recreated some bass on keyboards and Jason Lader, who engineered much of “Ghost Stories,” also played some. Randy Cooke played a lot of the drums and string players were also brought in.
Kreviazuk realizes her success as a songwriter gave her the freedom to make this album with her husband without any interference from the label.
“Actually this is a funny story,” she begins. “A couple of years ago, before we did all sorts of other projects, I remember calling up management or the label or something and saying, ‘I’ve got the songs, I’d really like my husband to produce them’ and I remember the response was, ‘Well, do the demos and get them to us.’ I remember thinking, ‘That’s such bullshit, what bullshit.’ And then all it took was having a hit or being on these massive records and now nobody bats an eye. Now, you do what you want to do.
“But we’re human and this is not a perfect world. You have to pay your dues and earn your status. And so thankfully, now that that’s happened, a) it allows me a creative freedom, and it allows me this privacy to do some great things. So it’s the greatest thing I’ve done because I didn’t feel pressure. I just wrote music I felt. It’s so exciting and b), if it doesn’t do what I think it should do, I kind of don’t care. I do, but I don’t. Financially, I don’t. So I just go back to my drawing board and keep creating and maybe work on someone’s record.”
Track listing (order not finalized)
Ghosts Of You
Too Late (Wonderful)
I Know You Blame Yourself But Don’t
Out of the Shadows
All I Can Do
Spoke in Tongues
Grow Up So Fast
Waiting For The Sun (Mad Mad World)
Mad About You
The Wendy House
Lowdown: Kreviazuk sings ‘Ghost Stories’