Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Get to know Emm Gryner...

Several weeks ago, I couldn't help but curiously click a link on one of my entertainment news sites that had the bizarre headline "Ke$ha taunts cops with public urination", wherein I regretfully learned about the pop star tweeting a picture of herself peeing in the street and inviting the police to "come and get me if you can find me". Stay classy, Ke$ha. Aside from reinforcing my hatred for the inventors of Twitter, the story just reminded me about how frustrating it is that publicity-hungry skanks like her, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and any other number of oft-scantily clad pop stars are able to develop such huge followings, while supremely more talented artists like Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner fly so under the radar (and yes, I get that one of the reasons those types of singers amass such a following is because of their "look at me!" behaviour). Comparing Gryner with today's pop tarts is undoubtedly a pointless exercise. While I would best describe her as a pop artist, the two camps' artistic styles and goals couldn't be more contrary, plus Gryner functions without the heft (diminished as it may be) of the music biz major label machine behind her. That being said, it'd still be nice to see a little more balancing of the scales in terms of Gryner's recognition, particularly in comparison to similarly less flashy singer-songwriters who musically have a little more in common with her, like Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat, Christina Perri, and fellow Canucks Chantal Kreviazuk and Sarah Slean.

I was first introduced to Gryner when she opened for Holly McNarland in 2003 at Toronto's Phoenix club, where I was instantly captivated by her gorgeous voice and solo piano performance (including some left-field covers of Ozzy's "Crazy Train" and Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me"). Her exotic beauty didn't exactly hurt either (Gryner has a German/Irish father and a Filipino mother). The Sarnia, Ontario-born musician broke onto the Canadian music scene in 1995 with the independent release And Distrust It, which she followed up a couple of years later with The Original Leap Year on her own new independent Dead Daisy Records label. Her third album (and major label debut on Mercury Records), Public, should have made more of an impact, but instead turned out to be a hugely disappointing experience for the musician. Mercury's parent company, Polygram, was bought by Universal Music and management restructuring torpedoed the album and Gryner's status on the label as she, along with hundreds of other artists, were dropped from their roster. Since then, Gryner has taken the DIY approach and released a dozen full-length albums and EPs of dependably high quality music on the Dead Daisy imprint, which also releases work from other artists. Following her most recent studio album, last year's stellar Northern Gospel, came the EP release in March of She's Gone, which featured covers of songs from Hall & Oates. Stylistically, Gryner leans toward a pop-rock sound loaded with melodic hooks, while also exhibiting a deft talent for delivering deeply moving ballads anchored by her accomplished piano skills (she also plays guitars and bass on her albums and live). Over her career, the musician has cultivated a small, but devoted fan base, particularly in Ireland. One of that country's most famous citizens, Bono, turned a few more eyes and ears Gryner's way in 2006 when he listed her song "Almighty Love" as one of the five songs he wishes he'd written in Q Magazine's twentieth anniversary issue.

Aside from my obvious love of her music and a huge respect for Gryner's integrity, another reason I'm such a big fan are her varied and sometimes unpredictable choices. In 2006, she indulged her hard rock side as bassist for the band Hot One, a side project also featuring Nathan Larson. Believe me when I tell you that their self-titled release is an absolute asskicker and probably the best album you've never heard of. She also collaborated with Def Leppard on their Yeah! covers album (and has recently done some writing with Lep vocalist Joe Elliot, who sang on her Gem And I duets album), as well as contributed background vocals to Rob Zombie's The Sinister Urge album. Around the turn of the century, she landed a plum gig as a backup singer and keyboard player in David Bowie's touring band, which lasted for a year and a half. As she prepares for the birth of her second child, Gryner is also currently working on another project with her new group, a female trio called Trent Severn, and also finds time to occasionally produce albums for other acts. Other notable endeavours include her film acting debut in the 2008 Canadian indie gem One Week (read my review here), stints in 2007-2008 as co-host of a program on CBC's Radio One, and appearances in a couple of music videos from Neverending White Lights (watch "The Grace" here).

One of Gryner's other appealing qualities is the fact she maintains a hands-on relationship with her audience and embraces a grassroots approach to getting her music out to them. Her blog delivers entertaining and revealing commentary on her life and she's also known for playing "living room concerts", where she literally plays at the homes of fans. New album releases are accompanied by pre-sales through Gryner's website that she personally handles, allowing fans the opportunity to have CDs autographed and sent with personalized, handwritten notes (at no extra cost). It's this type of personal touch that goes a long way in strengthening an audience's loyalty. Whenever I return to listening to any of the five autographed Gryner albums I have, the experience is always made that much better by seeing that extra little connection evident from her autograph on the CD, or re-reading one of the messages handwritten on her own letterhead.

Gryner, now based in St. Mary's, Ontario, would tell you she's okay with her under the radar status because it allows her to keep a handle on her career and maintain complete artistic control. But anyone who similarly has that one music artist they're passionate about, wishing they were heard by a wider audience, will relate to my frustration with Gryner's underappreciation.

I tried to keep this blog entry somewhat short - I know the wordier a post is, the less chance there is of people getting all the way through it. Obviously, I failed miserably in that department, but brevity when it comes to discussing one of my favourite musicians is a goal I should have known wasn't realistic. Even if just one person reads this and is curious and inspired enough to seek out Gryner's music and becomes a fan, then I'd be thrilled. A good place to start would be any of the Northern Gospel, Songs Of Love And Death, or The Summer Of High Hopes albums, and she also has a greatest hits release in the pipeline. Check out the video below, stop by Gryner's SoundCloud page to stream selected tracks, or purchase her music through iTunes, eMusic, or her website.


  1. I enjoyed the read and bookmarked the link for later so I can direct anyone I'm trying to lure over to the Emm side in the future to it. You nicely summed up her career and your passion for her music certainly comes across. She's a criminally underrated musician and a helluva gal to boot!!

    1. Thanks, Joanne - much appreciated.


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