Since 1959, the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto has been bridging the Atlantic Ocean gap between Iceland and Iceland-west.
On October 13, ICCT welcomed 50 teachers from Hammrahlið Menntaskol in Reykjavík who were visiting Ontario for four days.
Photo: Joseph Helgi Chisholm
They didn’t come to worry about the eminent expulsion of volcanic ash and magma from Katla; they didn’t come to talk about southern Ontario’s melt-down of RIM stock. They came to shop, to visit and to be entertained by songstress, Sigrún Stella at Spring Garden Church in North York.
The highlight of the night was the debut of Sigrún Stella’s CD, Crazy Blue. The sets were divided into two stylish variations. Playing her guitar, Sigrún Stella sang with Edda McKenzine on background vocals. For the bluesy, moodier second set, Sigrún Stella invited co-writer and guitarist, Michael Lowry, to pick up the rhythm section.
What was this album called Crazy Blue? The final line of the title song is “Maybe I am crazy, crazy blue…”
“People think this is a love song and it is more personal than that. I have never talked about it with anyone,” confides Sigrún Stella. “My father died. Six months later I found myself in my room at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, waiting to perform later that day in Gimli. In the silence, this song just came out. Those are always the best songs, the ones that just flow. When my dad died, I felt anxious, I felt sick, I thought I was also about to die. The song is about my grief and depression from losing my dad. Others knew I was grief stricken, but I didn’t. I guess I had to get it out and I wrote this song. I was crazy, crazy blue, sick with grief.”
Equal to the emotional journey the songs of Crazy Blue take us on, Sigrún Stella keeps the live show light with songs and banter in both Icelandic and Southern Ontario. “Spin the Boy” is a light look at love and life. “That’s who I am in life. I am not a dark person, I keep it light. As for joking around with the audience, I surprise myself. When I think I will just sing the songs, I find myself talking up a storm. When I plan what to say, I just can’t. You never know what you’re going to get with me.”
How does she know whether a song is going to be written in Icelandic or English? “Two songs I wrote with Michael Lowry are in the bluesy vein and those seem to come out in Icelandic. So far, I seem to prefer to write in English, but the last one I wrote myself was Icelandic, so who knows what’s coming.
“It is interesting to see what people like and don’t like. Icelandic Canadian Club audiences seem to like the bluesy tunes. Follow You Home, on the other hand, I wrote as kind of a joke and secretly that’s my favorite song right now. That’s the most popular of my songs currently in Iceland. It’s not too serious but it says the things the listener might not have the courage to say. I wrote it a few days before we finished this album and it was a last minute decision to add it to Crazy Blue If you like it, it may be a hint of the style to come for my next CD.”
How did the CD take off in Iceland first? Follow You Home, one of the songs, has graced the radio airwaves of Iceland for over a month. “I feel like my CD release was in Iceland. It’s way harder here in Canada. It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond. I don’t know how to attack the market here. I had a few friends in Iceland helping me out. I don’t want to bother people with my music. The way an artist-mind works. I don’t have that business-side, I don’t like to push people. I want to make the art. When I was studying music business at the Trebas Institute in Toronto, I could see I was different than the other students. They all wanted to promote music. I just wanted to be the artist.
“It made me very excited to get the airplay in Iceland but that wasn’t my doing. Other people did that. I played at The Painted Lady here in Toronto and people said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I tell them I didn’t feel comfortable bothering my friends about my show. Even my Facebook page, I wasn’t comfortable with that and my friends in Iceland had to tell me that’s what we have to do.”
If you’re a music fan who thinks all artists are egotistic hams who just love talking about themselves, a few great songwriters will slip beyond your peripheral vision. Look for Sigrún Stella on Youtube, Myspace or Facebook or better yet, organize a meet and greet and have Sigrún Stella perform for your friends or community group. Someone like Sigrún Stella’s could use a street-team in every province. She won’t disappoint an audience but don’t wait for her to toot her own horn.
The dozen 21st century folk tales of Crazy Blue show a maturity and musical prowess you don’t expect from a debut record. Some first attempts from female singer-songwriters are TMI (too much information) visits into a young girl’s poor, poor, pitiful me diary. These songs range from bar-room love to abduction, from Beach-Boy-esque simplicity to Jean-Paul Sartre despair, sung to us in English, Icelandic and the secret language of the heart.
Lyrics by Sigrún Stella
They say it’s in my head, I say I beg to differ./ They say once you’re dead it’s all done and said./ I dealt with heart ache, I dealt with pain/ it’s all the same./ And I apologize for all my mistakes, all my mistakes./Or am I just crazy… crazy blue?