Saturday, September 24, 2011

Polaris Music Prize 2011

Hello Friends,

As I sit watching the re-broadcast of this past week's Polaris Music Prize I can't help but feel very fortunate to be in such a great industry. The Polaris Music Prize is Canada's equivalent to the UK's Mercury Music Prize which honours the album of the year as voted on by a jury of music media. The winner is awarded $30,000 along with the prestigious title of Album of the Year.

The jury starts with 200 or so media types from across Canada representing all genres and media platforms from Print, Radio, Online and Television. As the list of nominated albums is narrowed down so is the jury. The jury becomes 11 members for the final voting at the same time the shortlist of 10 albums is announced. This year I had the honour of being selected as 1 of the 11 and it was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my career.

As part of the jury we were responsible for living with the final 10 albums with gruelling task of determining which one was the best. Once given the albums the only instruction we were given was to listen to the albums in sequence without shuffling.

I can honestly say the process was pure, democratic and amazing. This is the way that any decisions surrounding music should be...but I digress.

All 11 grand jury members met in person, some for the first time, the night before the actual awards. The goal was to meet one another and of course talk about these final 10 albums. The people around the table came prepared with both ammunition and a passion like I've never seen before. I had goosebumps and was scared shit less for my turn to talk about these albums.

The following night we went to The Masonic Temple to deliberate and narrow it down to 1 winner. After having lived with these 10 albums for the better part of 2 months - it was time to make our pick. It was taken very seriously by all members along the way. I know that my choices changed throughout these 2 days based on the passion of others and of course the music I'd been living with for so long.

My approach was to study these 10 albums even further as I was running. I run longer distances this time of year in anticipation for race season so this was perfect timing for me. There's nothing like listening to music when you're running outside - be it through a forest or a busy street. These 10 runs were among the most intense ever as there would be no play lists nor would there be any skipping past songs. The albums would be heard the way that the artist/s meant for us to hear them. Something that's missing in the 2011 music world:( I highly recommend giving Colin Stetson's - 'New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges' at 7am while running through the woods.

I can't say how all the voting went down - but I can tell you there was never a clear cut winner throughout the process. There were compelling arguments as to why each and every shortlisted album should have won and perhaps there really should have been 10 winners in the end. Like any competition there can only be one winner and this year's winner went to Arcade Fire's 'The Suburbs'.

Here are some tunes from this year's shortlisted 10 albums that I think you should check out.
If you missed the show then you can watch all the performance from this year's gala here. I'd love to hear back from you as to how you would have voted:)

I met some truly amazing people throughout this process and it's restored my faith in this industry. With people this passionate and in it for the right reason - things will only get better and great music will rise to the surface.

Thanks for reading/listening.

Gregg Stewart

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Hello Friends,

Like most of you I learned of this band through their music video for the song 'Yellow'. I had no idea what they were singing about and nor did I care...this video was a breath of fresh air compared to the pop music that blanketed TV at that time. It was guitar based music and a welcome addition from an otherwise strange time where videos like this one reigned.

I picked up 'Parachutes' the same week I saw that video and was blown away that each and every song was so gorgeous. It's 11 years old now and still as stunning as ever.

Like any band they had their work cut out for them to follow-up such a big debut. Coldplay was able to rise to the occasion and dropped 'A Rush of Blood to the Head' on the World. For me this will forever stand-out as one of the greatest albums I've heard at first spin. I recorded it from Edge 102 as Dave Bookman did a 'World Album Premiere' the night before it's release. I drove to a cottage that same night and played the album on repeat for the 3 hour journey. I got to the cottage road and kept going so I could finish the album one more time as it was meant to be heard. I will never forget that feeling as it was just perfect.

I used to enter contest through eye weekly on a regular basis in those days. I actually won quite frequently and won a copy of the lead single 'In My Place' one week. It came with a pass to meet the band at an in-store autograph session while they were in town. It was at HMV Queen Street just as 'A Rush of Blood to the Head' came out and to my surprise there wasn't that big of a line-up. I have a photo somewhere - just can't find it right now. I also have a Q Magazine cover I got autographed that same day.

The first time I saw the band live was at the Molson Amphitheatre back in 2003. It was there that I fell in love with Ron Sexsmith's music when he opened the show. Chris Martin joined Ron on stage for the duet 'Gold in them Hills' that appears on Ron's album 'Cobblestone Runway'. The crowd didn't expect it as the place was still filing in. Once they all recognized the skinny guy in a black toque to be Chris Martin they went nuts.

Suffice to say I am very excited that we'll be hosting the band at MuchMusic next Wednesday, September 21st. It'll be a live broadcast show from my work's parking lot and I bet there might even be some fireworks. It all kicks off at 9pm - and I recommend you watch this one in HD with speakers set to 11.

Here's a quick play list, of some of my favourite Coldplay tracks, to prepare you for this wonderful night in Toronto.
Thanks for reading/listening.