Billie Zizi, Gun Metal Dress(Independant)
Written by Tom Murray, published in Penguin Eggs.
There's a certain amount of misdirection in the blues-jazz title track of Billie Zizi's debut album in that it doesn't quite prepare you for the wooziness to come. Sure, there's plenty of Gypsy violin(courtesy of Zizi's pops, Cam Neufeld) scattered throughout, snaking through Windog Blues, bringing an irresistible jauntiness to Dancing Shoes, but Zizi's heart is apparent when she slows everything down to mournful. Like the looping backwards guitar melting into the sparsest of intros on You Do Me No Good, with Zizi abandoning almost all lyrical drive by simply repeating in an oddly matter-of-fact voice “drag me down” over and over again on the chorus, or the long, slow build in Jukebox Baby, leading to chaotic squalls of Zizi's guitar. A fine first album, laying down ground work for what will no doubt be one of the country's most inventive voices for years to come.
Preview: Local guitarist/songwriter Billie Zizi debuts roots album at The Artery
When: Friday at 8 p.m.
Where: The Artery, 9535 Jasper Ave.
Tickets: $12 to $15, available from Yeglive
At the advanced age of 25, Billie Zizi (a.k.a. Jordan Watchel) has mellowed out from her early, angrier years.
Back then, her material included Stinking up the Highway, Sitting on a Dungpile, Old People Crying By the Side of the Noodle River, and most famously, the seething hip-hop number How Dare You, Bob. These were tunes that evoked outrage, prompting her bandmate and best friend’s father to visit Zizi’s father and demand that she be stopped. Have I mentioned that she was only seven at the time?
“I refused to learn guitar chords,” she remembers, laughing over a drink at a local pub, where the singer-songwriter is talking about the upcoming release of her debut album, Gun Metal Dress. “I didn’t want to learn anything because I’d seen people play guitars and I thought I had it figured out. I would hit the open strings and grab a random contortion.”
The Wrong Socks (as the pint-sized duo dubbed themselves) may not have gone on to the big time, but that early band experience lit the flame for a love of music in Zizi. Years later, upon her return from an existentially stoked crisis trip to Asia, she got the chance to fan those flames when her father, Cam Neufeld, a longtime professional fiddle player, informed her that he had booked them a gig.
“The band was performing these ‘Hot Club’ swing tunes, and I couldn’t play at that level,” she says with a rueful laugh. “It was just background music for an art opening, but I was struggling with just doing rhythm guitar chords. It was tough because we had Clint Pelletier, who is one of my guitar heroes, also playing in the band. So there I was, suffering and sweating through three sets, but I liked it so much and was so inspired by my dad and Clint that I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to playing.”
That was five years ago. Zizi has advanced so much as an instrumentalist that she’s now an integral part of many of her dad’s various units, playing swing, folk, and Gypsy jazz music as rhythm guitarist, lead and vocalist. The style she’s learned playing with him has influenced her own sound, but she sees Gun Metal Dress as more of a roots album.
“There’s just so much different music going on there that it’s really hard to classify it,” she admits. “A big folk influence, a bit of jazz, plus lots of dirty rock ‘n roll guitar stuff. It’s changed since I started, when I was doing a live looping thing with Ableton (music software), playing solo and doing vocal harmonies that way. It led to an awful lot of onstage calamities, unfortunately.”
Zizi comes from a family dedicated to art. Her father plays for a living in various combos, while her mother is acclaimed local painter Marianne Watchel; there would have been no lectures growing up about finding a safe profession from either. Zizi also has no delusions about what she does, or where she’s going with it; she simply sees herself as a working musician.
“I don’t think I’ll be discovered or swept off my feet by a record company,” she acknowledges. “There’s a disconnect with some people where they think that somehow they’ll get famous. That’s the end goal for some people, that and monetary success. I guess I had a different example growing up. My parents worked hard all of their lives to do what they love, which was their end goal. They engaged in the process of making art, of being creative people, and that’s so admirable to me.”
Billie Zizi’s new path and new album, Gun Metal Dress
From soccer to songwriting
Gun Metal Dress
Billie Zizi (also known as Jordan Watchel) puts her extensive musical training and impressive vocal range to use on her debut album Gun Metal Dress. A graduate of Grant MacEwan University’s jazz diploma program, the fedora-wearing singer-songwriter-guitarist plays, writes and records like a pro. There’s a musical sensibility and degree of artistry imbued in the tracks rarely found in comparable work.
Several genres can be detected on the album. The title track and “Wind dog Blues” both have a rock feel, while “Blue” has a strong blues aesthetic. Other tracks borrow from pop, gypsy and folk. “The Other Room” breaks the trend of fairly standard time signatures, with the verses in a slow 9/8 with a 2+2+2+3 subdivision and the chorus and solo sections in 4/4, making for a difficult song to tap your foot to if you’re not paying attention (but why on Earth wouldn’t you be?).The lyrics on the record, while sometimes repetitive, are cleverly written and mature in their subject matter. These songs are about love, loss and domestic issues, and I count two that are from the perspective of a girl who loves her partner despite his shitty personality.
In addition to the impressive vocals and guitar leading the way, Cam Neufeld — Billie Zizi’s father — demonstrates his fiddling expertise throughout most of the album, notably on the final track, Dancing Shoes. Moses Gregg’s talent on bass is heard loud and clear particularly in “I Love You” and Bramwell Park’s drums hold everything together with expert precision and taste.
Gun Metal Dress is an album well worth picking up if you have a taste for good music that’s a little different from — and, frankly, more musical than — the norm