Articles About Ashley MacIsaac from Various Sources: 2005

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Ashley MacIsaac: Fiddle free, for now.
Pop-rock with an edge

Would you expect anything less from Ashley MacIsaac?

By Sandy MacDonald
The Daily New

Anyone care to look deep into the heart and soul of Ashley MacIsaac? The dynamic musician long been an outspoken media darling for his uncensored, shoot-from-the-hip comments in the press — he once famously barked like a dog at a stupified newspaper reporter. Yet MacIsaac has rarely put his mouth where his music is, as a lyrical songwriter.

All that has changed with the recent release of MacIsaac's latest album, Pride. Absent is the trademark Cape Breton fiddling that helped blaze his name across the country a decade ago, replaced by his acerbic songwriting, visceral singing and aggressive guitar-driven rock.

MacIsaac calls his music "industrial-strength teenage love songs."

"I've never told these God-damn stories before," says MacIsaac, 30. "They might have been told by every other person who makes pop songs, but I never put that stuff in the fibres of my music."

It's a surprising turn for casual fans of his traditional Celtic instrumental music, but a natural growth for a dedicated artist who explored hip hop, pop-rock and dance music through his last couple of albums.

MacIsaac says he was urged by his new record label Linus to create a pop-rock record this time around, perhaps looking to revisit the commercial and critical success of his 1995 break-out disc, Hi How Are You Today.

Typical of the contrary musician, he wanted the music to head elsewhere.

"I wanted to do some kind of operetta, something really theatrical," saysMacIsaac, chatting over a borrowed cellphone from Toronto. "But they were, 'Nope, we want a pop-rock record.'"

The Cape Breton-born musician has long struggled with balancing his wide-reaching musical vision with the commercial pressures of a narrow-thinking music industry.

"How do I make a rock-pop record ... that doesn't (mimick) what every other stupid pop-rock song is about? So I looked into my own pop-rock images of what was going on around me — that's where the lyrics come from."

Boy meets boy

The music swings many ways, from the abrasive industrial grind of Just Because, through the noisy indie-pop of High Times Living, to an alt-country groove on Revolution, to a sappy soul ballad A Man Like You.

MacIsaac manages to bring some fresh perspective to this set of 11 edgy songs, largely drawn from his openly gay lifestyle. No boy meets girl; boy gets girl songs here.

Still, MacIsaac had some reservations about writing too strident an album: "I always thought people wouldn't want to hear a love song from a gay singer-songwriter."

Some gay rockers have crossed over, including Judas Priest's Rob Halford and Queen's Freddie Mercury, who wrote love songs without pegging them to any particular gender equation.

MacIsaac plunged in and turned out these 11 songs, with the help of Toronto producers Ron Lopata and John Kanakis, who also worked with Jacksoul.

The recording session went quickly. MacIsaac brought in some original lyric sets to dovetail with Lopata's and Kanakis's backing tracks already in the can. MacIsaac simply thumbed through what they created and matched up his lyrics and

song ideas with the existing tracks: off-the-rack songwriting.

"I just had to find the backing tracks that worked best with my lyrics."

As you'd imagine, his singing is bold and bare-faced, and urgent. Like his own mercurial disposition, the music can be abrasive and jarring or soulful and very musical.

If you buy into MacIsaac as a singer-songwriter, you have to buy the whole package. MacIsaac is stoking up the outreach program, getting his name and his new sound back on the radar. MuchMusic is playing the lead-off track Bitch in light rotation and he's finalizing some tour dates.

Nothing confirmed for metro yet, but as MacIsaac says: "There's always a little money to take out of Halifax." Fiddle fans need not worry that Ashley has stashed the fiddle for good.

"My live show is a combinaton of my last seven albums ... It's about keeping people (in the club) once you get them there. So I do a lot of diffferent things to string together an evening and still include stuff from the new album and not have too many people leave.

"I figure if I can keep more than 60 per cent, I'm doing better than Paul Martin."

Pride (Linus)



Saturday, November 26, 2005
Ashley dabbles in punk, politics

By CanWest News Service


It's 8:30 p.m. on a cold November night, and Ashley MacIsaac wants to sit outside. Over dinner on a patio in a frigid 8 C, against the deluge of shouts and honks of Queen West, he talks about his new album, Pride.

But then, with a smile, he reveals two things: that he's wearing a removable plate of gold teeth, and that his music days may be numbered.

"I wanted to become the most famous fiddle player in the world to get rich so I could make decisions in my future," says the Cape Bretoner-turned-Torontonian. "It wasn't because I wanted to go runnin' around in a kilt for the rest of my life stompin' on a stage.''

Surprisingly short but possessing the sturdy build of a labourer, MacIsaac is a voracious reader of political books and newspapers, and says he plans to study constitutional law at the University of Toronto.

His previous career moves have consisted of sex, drugs and provocative comments. But the onetime fiddling wunderkind (Pride is fiddle-free) is now 30, and is by all accounts clean and sober. He is, to all appearances, serious.

He says law school is a route to politics; he wants to make another bid to become a member of Parliament. He takes a slow, deep drag on a cigarette and explains. "Run for Parliament'

""Before I ever made my first record I've wanted to go into politics,'' says MacIsaac. ""I have no doubts I'll run for Parliament as an MP some day, and most people think you need a college degree to do that, so ...''

Arnold Weinrib, chair of the admissions committee for U of T's faculty of law, is intrigued by the idea of the Juno Award-winning fiddler as a student.

'He has a better chance of admission, provided he does well in his undergrad studies, because he has interesting professional and personal experience,"says Weinrib. 'He'd be a colourful addition to any law school.''

MacIsaac says he has an intense interest in "being in a position to help people." He's a staunch believer in more money for social programs, a movement away from two-tiered health care, more gay rights and increased trade and aid to countries low on the GDP scale.

"I'm a money guy, especially when it comes to social programs," he says.

MacIsaac canvassed in Dartmouth, for a seat as an independent in the years before the 2004 federal election. He even made a downpayment on a house in the area.

Then his past came back to haunt him. In particular, his 'verbal irony' at a gig in Ottawa the year before. This was during the SARS outbreak, and MacIsaac suggested to the crowd they steer clear of an Asian woman among them.

MacIsaac says it was his sarcastic response to the racial stereotyping of the time. But the comments were picked up by the Ottawa Citizen and all hell broke loose.

A Winnipeg casino cancelled two gigs for later that month, lawsuits flew between MacIsaac and the Citizen, and then there were more cancelled shows. By the start of 2004, MacIsaac was out of money. He lost the mortgage, abandoned the canvassing and returned to Toronto.

This city is now his home. He recently bought a condo on Front Street, which he has decorated with his own artwork, including one of a phallic-looking Peace Tower.

Tonight, MacIsaac is pimped-out in a baseball cap covering short, bleached-blonde hair, a gray track suit, rings and the gold teeth.

Over dinner, he's not the guy you read about in the newspaper ­ the guy dropped by the Maclean's magazine honour roll after he revealed he had a teenage boyfriend and had a penchant for sex involving urination. And he's not the erratic guy who got dropped by his label despite selling 300,000 of his first major release, Hi, How Are You Today.

Over dinner, he's charismatic, very bright and polite, even to a passerby who has interrupted our dinner. 'Can you spare 50 cents?' he asks.

"I'll give you a toonie; you can get a hot dog. How's that?" says MacIsaac.

New York composer Philip Glass says the media doesn't understand his friend. Glass ­ who first heard the teenage MacIsaac in Cape Breton and invited MacIsaac into his international touring ensemble ­ poses a question: What young person hasn't gone through a drug phase?

"It's completely off base the way the media has treated him. He's proud to be a Canadian ... He's served his tradition and his country well.

Canada should be proud of him."

Glass says he isn't surprised MacIsaac wants to do something more. "More and more, he and I talk about things other than music, and he has so many ideas about politics, about theatre, about life ..."

The clearest signal of MacIsaac's need for growth is his new recording. Pride is a punk album stripped down to guitar, bass, and drums. MacIsaac plays acoustic guitar on two tracks, and sings on all of them.

It is the product of a painful breakup of a 'long-term"relationship. Devastated, MacIsaac used the emotional upheaval to "craft drudging pop songs" of self-examination, heartbreak, and rage. Among the titles: (I Wanna Kill You) Because I Love You.

"I just wanted to do something different," says MacIsaac. "I've played between 3,000 and 4,000 shows on a fiddle. The lyrics are what I wanted to get out there."

'It's only now that I'm 30 I'm starting to speak honestly about these things," he says.

"I've got to put myself in a position where people don't believe everything I've done is for no cause ... People think I'm a lunatic, but I'd rather be a lunatic with a degree."

Friday, July 29, 2005

MacIsaac's been asked to screen-test for role of 18th-century composer-violinist

By Marilyn Smulders
The Daily News

HALIFAX – He's played the part of the tradition-respecting virtuoso. He's excelled at the role of the bad-boy fiddler. And now he'll play ... Vivaldi?

Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac is being courted to portray the eccentric 18th-century composer and violinist in a proposed $15-million movie, Antonio Vivaldi.

"When we started thinking of who'd play the role of Vivaldi, we thought, 'Well, you get a star and teach him to play one or two pieces confidently and then cheat a little bit with real musicians,'" said Boris Damast, producer/co-owner of the California-based production company Mechaniks.

"But while that might work with a pianist - you can hide the fingers - a violinist is different. The artist is fully exposed. So we started thinking of alternatives, someone who can really play - and hopefully act, too."

'Like The Beatles'

Damast said Vivaldi's impact on the music scene in 18th-century Vienna "was like The Beatles coming to America." He took "this dull and dusty music and really transformed it. He revolutionized the way the violin was played and the way music for strings was composed. He was a rock star! Which got us thinking of strong contemporary musicians with fire and passion and guts and attitude.

And hence Ashley."

Reached in St. John's, Nfld., just before he was to hit a festival stage, MacIsaac said he's intrigued by the opportunity. His manager, James MacLean, said he's been invited to do a screen test in August.

"Well, I'd say I'm interested to play Vivaldi, because Vivaldi is Vivaldi," said MacIsaac, from his hotel room.

The script by Canadian journalist Jeffrey Freedman follows Vivaldi as a young priest assigned to oversee music in an orphanage for the illegitimate daughters of Venice's courtesans. He is plagued by asthma and questions about his Catholic faith, but wins the trust and affection of the girls. His bond with them leads to a concert of his music before the pope.

"The script is very good. It sets a tone for the time period, and talks about what the church was like then," said MacIsaac, who picked up a CD of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and has started to learn the music.

Shooting is planned for Vienna and Venice next May.

It wouldn't be the first time the mercurial 30-year-old musician has acted. He played Basil the fiddle player in Thom Fitzgerald's 1997 debut The Hanging Garden, and had roles in New Waterford Girl (1999), Marion Bridge (2002), and, incredibly, a Japanese film, Nabbie no koi. He's also made dozens of TV appearances, with roles in Power Play, Pit Pony and the reality-TV show My Fabulous Gay Wedding.

But the show he'd really like to be on - Trailer Park Boys - hasn't asked him.
"Man, I'd love to be on that show," he says.

'Music is acting'

MacIsaac, who caught ears with the landmark Hi! How Are You Today, in 1995, says acting isn't that different from playing music. "Music is acting every time you climb on that stage and perform for people."

And music is where he's concentrating his attention these days. He's touring folk and Celtic festivals in Canada and the U.S. through August and September, and then hooks up with Philip Glass's Orion Project in October for stops in New York City; Austin, Texas; Mexico City and Melbourne.

He's also releasing a new pop/rock CD, Pride, on the Linus Entertainment label in early September. Pride promises to be unlike anything MacIsaac's made before. It's packed with songs he's written and sings himself. And there isn't a fiddle tune to be found. I've played thousands of fiddle tunes, at square dances to parties for the Governor General. And with 10 records out, I thought I'd be a little different.
That's all.
I'll always have my fiddle, so I thought I'd explore a little songwriting."


ORION CD is a live recording of the ninety-minute work commissioned by Arts, Dance, and Music Productions which premiered in Athens on June 3, 2004 with The Philip Glass Ensemble and six guest artists as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2004 in Greece. The recording features the talents of Greek vocalist Eleftheria Arvanitaki and the following collaborators: Foday Musa Suso on kora, Mark Atkins on didgeridoo, Gaurav Mazumdar performing a sitar work by Ravi Shankar, Ashley MacIsaac on fiddle, Wu Man on pipa, and the Brazilian ensemble UAKTI. It is scheduled to be released on June 14, 2005 on Philip Glass' record company Orange Mountain Music.

Friday, June 24, 2005 at 8pm

Orange County Performing Arts Center

West Coast Premiere
ORION by Philip Glass
In collaboration with

Mark Atkins, Ashley MacIsaac, Wu Man,
Ravi Shankar, Foday Musa Suso, and UAKTI

Performed by
Philp Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble
Conducted by Michael Riesman

With Featured Guests

Elefthria Arvanitaki, Mark Atkins, Kartik Seshadri, Ashley MacIsaac, Wu Man, Foday Musa Suso, and UAKTI

Produced by Music Publishing
Promegranate Arts Dunvagen Music Publishing

Orion was commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad 2001-2004.
Since its world premiere performance at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece , Orion, a new work by Philip Glass (commissioned by the 2004 Athens Cultural Olympiad) will make its West Coast premiere as the centerpiece of the 2005 Eclectic Orange Festival. In collaboration with a group of renowned composers and performers from around the world, the evening-length work is intended to reflect the international character of the Olympiad itself.

"In this way the starry heavens, seen from all over our planet, inspired us in making and presenting a multi-cultural, international music work." - Philip Glass

Ashley MacIsaac ditches the fiddle
By MARY DICKIE - Toronto Sun
April 21, 2005

If there's anything predictable about Ashley MacIsaac, it's his very unpredictability.The Cape Breton-raised fiddle king and musical prodigy, who recently turned 30, is given to outbursts about drugs, sexuality or politics that periodically alienate fans, the press or the public. But one thing that has always remained is his trusty fiddle -- until now.

MacIsaac is working on a new album -- originally scheduled for May but now delayed until later in the year -- on which there are currently, unbelievably, no fiddle tunes.

"There's not a fiddle track on it," he says. "I've got 12 songs finished, and I'm deciding whether to do a 13th that may be a fiddle tune about saving the polar bears."

Instead of weaving modern sounds into traditional Celtic tunes, MacIsaac wrote lyrics for a dozen pop-rock tunes he'll sing with guitar, bass and drum accompaniment.

"They're songs about jaded relationships coming to a close," he says, "and one political one called The Revolution Is Coming, my Americana song. The rest are all about 'I want to kill you, you're a bitch, you're the one that I want ...' - you know, typical pop songs. They're about someone I was living with. We broke up and I was left like garbage.

In the past, I never really dug into my personal situation. I was a rich guy taking lots of drugs and touring a rock band, so I would write a fun rock 'n' roll song. But when I started writing this record, the first things that came to mind were all these personal emotions. Call it Ashley Naked, 'cause there's a raw sense of emotion there."

Fiddle fans shouldn't panic, though -- MacIsaac is planning a film in which he plays a one-armed fiddler, and he still plays fiddle tunes at his live shows, including tonight at Club 279.

"I'll do five of the new songs, and a couple of others like Lay Me Down, which was a Top 10 hit in Ukraine last year -- and the rest are fiddle tunes," he says. "If anybody wants to hear me play the fiddle, they can come to see me live or pick up one of my other records. There must be 10 or 12 of them."

Life and Times of Ashley MacIsaac
airing Thursday Feb. 17 at 7pm Eastern Standard Time on CBC TV.

Me, Myself and the Devil: The Life and Times of Ashley MacIsaac

Sex, drugs and Celtic music. There was a time when those words just didn't go together. But that was before Ashley MacIsaac. The prodigy from Cape Breton put Celtic music on the international map and in the process took his fiddle to hell and back. From sublime and dreamy melodies to hard-driving Celtic punk, Ashley MacIsaac has charted the extremes.

Whether he's kicking up his kilt on Late Night With Conan O'Brien or pointing to a spot in the Cape Breton sky where he claims to have seen a UFO, Maritime fiddler and Canadian musical superstar Ashley MacIsaac has become a master at getting attention.

As profiled in Me, Myself and the Devil: The Life and Times of Ashley MacIsaac, MacIsaac continues to astound both on and off the stage. While his ability to weave intricate, lightning-fast phrases into even the most traditional tunes has left fans and peers awestruck, his struggles with sexuality, drugs and finance have also struck a sour note with many.

"This film is definitely not a Valentine card to Ashley MacIsaac," says writer and director James Hyslop. "It is an unsentimental look into the heart of a truly enigmatic performer. As such, viewers will get to see Ashley at his best and at his worst­on stage and off."

Following MacIsaac as he returns to the Cape Breton home where he learned his craft and joining him in Athens where he performs with a pre-Olympic super band of international musicians, Me, Myself and the Devil: The Life and Times of Ashley MacIsaac, provides a well-balanced, insightful and objective look at the man behind the fiddle. Clips of MacIsaac performing in Nova Scotia as a youngster, on Broadway as a teen and at home and abroad as an adult are entwined with candid interviews with fellow musicians, family, friends and former friends to provide an infectious profile of the performer.

Ashley MacIsaac is undoubtedly a musical genius, but he is also a master manipulator, as he himself admits.

"A lot of things I still say today aren't true about me. I say stuff to media that I'll make up just to see if they'll print it," says MacIsaac.

"I've had some public issues that people have read about, whether it was drugs or money, but that's the persona. I take care of myself­of course I do."

Original Air Date - February 17, 2005

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