by Sheldon Birnie
“I’ve been finding these songs for the last 20 years, hearing songs by peers that I wanted to sing,” Corin Raymond explains over the phone from Edmonton. Having just completed a string of shows in Alberta, Raymond is about to jump on a plane to Kamloops for a short tour of southern British Columbia in support of his “million dollar Canadian folk record,” Paper Nickels.
Wait, what? Million dollar Canadian folk record?
Don’t worry, friend. You’re not experiencing an acid flashback here.
For the past year and a half, Winnipeg born, Toronto based singer-songwriter Corin Raymond has been collecting Canadian Tire Money (CTM) in a bizarre and purely Canadian crowd-sourcing experiment in order to finance a double-album of (mostly) cover songs, Paper Nickels. Each of the 20 tracks featured is written by a pal of Corin’s, including a good quarter of the album by Winnipeg based songwriters. At the time of pressing, Corin had accumulated some $7,000+ in CTM. To amass that amount of Sandy McTires, about one million dollars would need to be spent on car batteries, hockey sticks, snow shovels, and the other fine products Canadian Tire stocks.
“It just seemed like it was necessary,” Raymond explains, telling Stylus the project has been in the works for a few years now. “There are a lot of people recording songs that don’t need to be recorded. Songs by Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. But there are these other folks that nobody really knows about who are writing songs as good as anything out there. That’s what Paper Nickels is all about. It’s a gallery of what we’ve got going on in this country.”
With tunes from songwriters across Canada, and even a couple from “honourary” Canadians Jonathan Byrd and David Ross MacDonald, Paper Nickels provides a great snapshot of our country’s thriving folk scene.
“It’s just a tiny glimpse,” Corin admits humbly. “There could be 25 other Paper Nickels that would also represent the talent in this country right now.”
To anyone familiar with our local roots scene here in the Heart of the Continent, it should come as no surprise that a good portion of Paper Nickels’ raw material is sourced straight out of Winnipeg, featuring songs written by Rob Vaarmeyer, Scott Nolan, Andrew Neville & The Poor Choices, Ridley Bent, and a tune by Raymond called “Postcard from Winnipeg.”
“Winnipeg is the Austin, Texas of Canada,” says Raymond. “There’s a lot of really great music going on in other cities, but as far as songwriters, bands, guitar players, the whole musical community is concerned, Winnipeg has it all going on.”
Indeed, the inspiration itself behind the “Great Canadian Tire Caper of 2012,” as Corin has affectionately dubbed the strangely organic process that led to the release of Paper Nickels, originated in a snippet of a tune that Winnipeg’s Rob Vaarmeyer brought to Corin’s house one afternoon in Toronto.
“Rob just has this amazing ability to land on those things,” recalls Raymond. “He showed up and he had the chorus to the song, and he sang those lines to me, ‘Don’t spend it honey, not the Canadian Tire Money.’ And I just thought it was amazing.”
The two completed the song together that afternoon. Once Raymond started playing “Don’t Spend It Honey” live, people began tossing paper nickels (and dimes and quarters and dollars) on stage. When Raymond shared this new phenomenon he was encountering with his community online, the Canadian Tire Money literally began to pour in. (For a detailed account of the caper, pick up a copy of Paper Nickels, which includes a 144-page hardcover booklet complete with monologues, vignettes, and copies of dozens of letters and artwork Raymond received over the course of putting the album together).
“Corin is a superhero,” Rob Vaarmeyer, whose song “Ol’ Fort Mac” opens the album, told Stylus. “His power includes infectious love of songs.”
Paper Nickels includes not only “Old Fort Mac” and “Don’t Spend It Honey,” but another Raymond/Vaarmeyer tune called “A Big Truck Brought It.”
“I wanted to write a truck song that only truckers would understand,” explains Vaarmeyer. “I showed it to Corin and he said ‘That’s awesome, but you gotta change one word.’ He told me his idea, and he was right. But I won’t tell you which word it was.”
Vaarmeyer and Raymond first met at a Brandon Folk Festival while Rob was playing bass with Andrew Neville & The Poor Choices, who also have a tune featured on Paper Nickels.
“He heard [“Brand New Song”] on our MySpace page,” Neville recalls between sets one Wednesday night at the Rose N Bee Pub. “He just loved it, [and] asked if he could just play it. I said, ‘Sure, man.’”
“He played it everywhere,” continues Neville. “Every gig he had, he played that goddamn song. He’s taken it more places than I’ve been even. I love the fact that he does it.”
“Corin’s one of the most selfless artists I know,” says Scott Nolan, who first met Raymond back in 2001 on a tour with the D-Rangers. Nolan’s song “Dutch” is featured on Side A of the album. “He is a true champion of the song, a rare and endearing quality.”
Such selflessness and pure love of song comes across loud and clear when listening to Paper Nickels, flipping through the 144 pages of the booklet, or when watching Corin perform live. At its most base level, Paper Nickels is an interesting collection of Canadian folk music. At a higher level though, it is an incredible and touching display of what can be done in the Small Time when someone is passionate and committed to an idea and fearless of where that idea may take you.
Catch Corin Raymond’s Winnipeg CD release for Paper Nickels at the Times Change(d) Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6. The shows will be “completely different,” according to Corin, so don’t miss out. Oh, and bring a couple paper nickels of your own if you get them to give to the cause. To date, Corin has raised $7,333 in Canadian Tire Money towards production of the album.
-photo from CBC