Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dear 2011...

Hello Friends,

As 2011 came to a close I took time to write down some of the personal highlights. 2011 reminded me many times why it is I got into this business. Magical moments, special places, awesome people and of course the music itself. I'm very lucky.

I have no problem asking the question "What are you listening to these days" as I truly am interested but when someone asks me that same question I find myself visualizing my iTunes, iPod, CD and Rdio collections. It's never an easy thing to answer as I find my appetite for new music growing with each passing year. The most recent albums I find myself going back to are Amy Winehouse's - 'Lioness: Hidden Treasures', Drake's - 'Take Care' and The Jezabels - 'Prisoner'. Oh yeah - and these 2 tracks Gotye and Azealia Banks but I digress.

2011 didn't disappointed and so I took a stab at listing a few things I did this year as a recap.


Much like any January you struggle to get back into things and set goals for the year ahead. It's a time for lots of club shows in Toronto and this year was no exception.

The highlight for this particular January was having The White Lies come through and play in the MuchMusic studio on a Friday night. The band had just released their sophomore album 'Ritual' which featured some fantastic hits including 'Strangers' and 'This Is Bigger Than Us'. Probably the best video released in 2011 BTW.


February is always a favourite of mine as it's the month I was born. It's that much closer to Spring and it's far enough away from the beginning of the year that you're back in the swing of things.

This February was simply exciting as Scotland's own Biffy Clyro were coming to town. Not only were they playing The Garrison but they were also coming to perform on MuchMusic. It was 2 days of pure energy and epic performances. I barely recall The Garrison show as a bunch of us made a night of it with the boys from the band. Classy Scotsmen with a great sense of humour and the ability to melt your face off on a stage. Please give this song a spin as it's one of my favourites of all time now.

February saw The Streets released 'Computers and Blues' in North America. When I had first heard of The Streets back in 2002 I was floored. This guy's beats and story telling ability are mind blowing. He's released 5 full length studio albums and this was said to be his last. It's a shame as each was a story taking you on a roller coaster ride throughout. This final one did just that as it showed a maturing Mike Skinner as he prepared to become a father in tunes like A Blip On The Screen. I hope it's not his last album - but if it is then he has gone out on a high note in my books.


Like every March the Canadian music industry comes to The Royal York in Toronto for Canadian Music Week. It's the one time of the year that you see everyone face-to-face and get to share the new music. There are dinners and of course the festival portion where bands from around the World come to showcase their music.

This year I saw Bombay Bicycle Club for the first time. I was introduced to them and didn't think anything of it. I wish that I could go back to that moment now as their album 'A Different Kind Of Fix' has become one of my favourite albums from the year. Do yourself a favour and give this track a spin.

From Canadian Music Week I flew to Austin Texas for my virgin year at South By South West Music Festival. Now if you've never been I can't express how amazing it is and how you must at least experience this once if you like music at all.

It's hot, it's hip and the city has a pulse like nothing I've ever seen before. 6th Street in Austin is literally hundreds of bars that showcase thousands of acts over the course of a week. From the second you walk out of your hotel to grab a coffee at 9am - until the moment you put your head down to sleep - it's all music all the time. Oh yeah and majority of it's free.

From outdoor shows featuring The Strokes to indoor afternoon showcases with City and Colour and of course the famous Stubbs BBQ. I discovered enough music for a lifetime on this trip and enjoyed every second of it. Artists like Eliza Doolittle, Data Rock, Tinie Tempah and The Boxer Rebellion were a few that won me over. I also had the pleasure of experiencing this with my best friend and girlfriend Raffy - so SXSW is a standout for the year for sure.


Adele is the clear winner when it comes to music sales in 2011. She deserves it and everyone should own this new album '21'.
I had the pleasure of seeing her twice this year including her sold out show at Air Canada Centre and a special intimate performance at MTV's Masonic Temple - WATCH THIS. Adele is the Queen.


Summer means the MuchMusic Video Awards and that means many long days at work. It's also the most exciting time of the year as this show is World class and right in our backyard. The weekend itself starts at 7am and each night ends around 2am. It's well worth it and makes that beer taste that much better Sunday night once it's a wrap.

This year's awards proved to be the biggest to date and boasted the likes of Justin Bieber, Drake, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Selena Gomez, The Black Keys and Far East Movement featuring Snoop to name a few. It was magical and made me very proud to be involved. Bring on June 2012:)

As tiring as The MMVAs are - I knew that the next day would also be a lengthy one. Liam Gallagher's band Beady Eye were in Toronto for their first show post Oasis. It wasn't the best show, by any stretch, but damn does that man know how to command an audience. My label friends invited me to join them after the show and say hello to the band including the man himself Liam Gallagher. We stuck it out to no avail and decided to call it a night at around 2am.

The next morning I received a call from the record label inviting me to the penthouse of The Four Seasons to meet the band as they did interviews with local press. I jumped on it and shared conversations with band members over coffee and muffins. The elevator door then opened as Liam sauntered out wearing John Lennon sunglasses and a ridiculous Peter Pan haircut. He walked right over and shook my hand. He was in fine form and answered all his interview questions with sarcasm and attitude. We then took a quick photo and I got the hell out of there as to leave on a high note without making an arse of myself. I had just met rock royalty and it was perfect. Thank you Darryl, Moe and Matt - it truly was a highlight.


I would say that Saskatoon band The Sheepdogs had a pretty amazing year is an under statement. They entered a contest to be the first unsigned act to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and won. The build up was long and this band worked to earn every bit of it. From Bonaroo, SXSW, Jimmy Fallon, The MMVAs and across Canada a couple of times to the rooftop of The Empire Hotel in NYC.

The band received the nod from Rolling Stone at a lavish party in Manhattan atop the roof of Chuck Bass' hotel. Ice T and Coco were on hand as was Larry David and music executives from across America. Oh and lots of pretty ladies. The band walked red carpets with style and grace and showed international press class and rock all in one.

Our cameras were on hand to capture it all for a special entitled 'Under the Cover with The Sheepdogs'. That meant I too was in NYC for their crowning and I can safely say that the after party under the hotel was epic. The jukebox was cranked and the Jager was flowing. The next 2 days hurt but it was well worth it as these things don't happen all that often.

The band have since gone on to sell out tours, sold a Gold record in Canada and are currently in the studio with Patrick Carney from The Black Keys as he produces their follow-up album. Congrats to these guys and their team...can't wait to see what comes next.


Summer Stage Central Park is a pretty fantastic event. It's a free concert series each summer that showcases some of the World's biggest names to up-and-coming acts like Naked and Famous and Cults.

I was at a few but this one muggy day in August was pretty wild. Friendly Fires, The Naked and Famous and Cults on one bill in a park filled with hipsters on the hottest day I can remember. These 3 acts can be found on most 'Best of' lists the World over.


Summer was still in full swing as September hit. Pearl Jam were coming to town for shows as well as to introduce a film at TIFF. The movie entitled PJ Twenty Movie was directed by none other than Cameron Crowe and is a must see if you lived through the 90s.

The day I saw this film was special as Sony Music invited media partners to a screening and then took us by bus to Air Canada Centre to see the band in concert. I must have listened to this song 100 times since that night. Pearl Jam were my Nirvana and define the early part of my high school life. Thanks for this day Stephen and JD.

September was also the month for Canada's annual Polaris Music Prize to be awarded. I was asked to be on this year's Grand Jury - meaning I was 1 of 10 members that had the final vote to determine the winner. I wrote about this back in September, as seen here, but have to reiterate that it was truly the purest and most amazing experience I've had in my career. The people, the music and the process were picture perfect.


I have a ticket stub for El Macambo that says Mumford & Sons from February of 2009. The venue got changed at the last minute and it was moved to Lee's Palace based on the buzz. Who would have known that 2 years later they'd be selling out Air Canada Centre on that very same album?

That night in October was great - but the best part was seeing friends from the record company including Randy, Tony, Deddy, Ivar, Paul, Madelaine as well as Daniel Glass, of Glassnote Records, smiling from ear-to-ear. It was a U2 sized moment and the crowd hung on that band's every note.


The other Oasis brother brought his own project 'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' to Toronto in early November. His first stop was a secret show at Virgin MOD Club were I stood centre of the room with my brother and 2 friends singing every track word for word. We may or may have not gone to Mag Pie on Dundas Street after the show from a twitter tip that he was going for a drink.

That Monday was the first of his 2 sold out nights at Massey Hall. It was incredible to see him belt out new tracks and some Oasis classics like 'Supersonic', 'Wonderwall' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger'. He's my favourite songwriter of all time and so these few days were among the best of the year by far.

November also brought me to London, England for a few days with my friends at EMI. It was a showcase for new acts on their roster and it was at none other that Abbey Road Studios.

I had goosebumps walking into studio 2 as it's the room in which some of music's greatest records were created. From The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, U2, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Oasis, Travis, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Stevie Wonder this floor has seen hundreds of artists write and record anthems, ballads and HITS. It was religious and will be a moment I shall cherish forever. Thank you Nathan and Paul.

Bucket list - Go to Abbey Road Studios - CHECK

The year ended much the way it began - with great music. The Kooks were in town and tore the roof off Sound Academy on front of the most amazing crowd I'd ever seen in this city. Lead singer Luke is a rockstar, as seen here, and it was the perfect show to end 2011.

This year taught me that the music industry's future is in good hands. The people working in music today are in it for one reason and it's the right reason - they truly do love the music.

Thank you for the memories and here's to 2012.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Top 10 Albums of 2011

Hi Friends,

I realize there's still a few weeks left in 2011 - but when I take a look at new release schedules I feel confident in declaring 'My Top 10 Albums of 2011' as of December 5th.

It's been another great year for music with releases by some of the biggest acts around the World. Artists like Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne, Fucked Up, Bon Iver, Feist, Radiohead, Jay Z & Kanye West, The Strokes, Cults and Naked and Famous to name a few - all dropped amazing albums in 2011.

For me it was the following 10 albums that stood out over the past 12 months...

  1. Adele - '21' - If this doesn't win the Grammy for album of the year then something is wrong. Hands down the finest album in 2011

  2. Drake - 'Take Care' - Drizzy Drake has released an epic album the likes of Eminem's 'Marshall Mathers LP'. This album raises the bar for R&B and Hip Hop going into 2012. A perfect album.

  3. The Weeknd - 'House of Balloons' - Believe the hype and download this one if you haven't already. It's like listening to the TV series Skins play out on your headphones.

  4. Beyonce - '4' - She's a Queen and this album should be in every one's collections. If you like music then this album is for you - it's that simple.

  5. Arkells - 'Michigan Left' - Holy shit. I put this one on the back burner at first. Mistake. It's one of the finest Rock records of the year - and not just in Canada. This is where new bands should be looking for guidance.

  6. City and Colour - 'Little Hell' - From the erie sounds on Fragile Bird - to the honest lyrics in The Grand Optimist - this band is getting better with each album.

  7. M83 - 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' - If you do a lot of flying then play this album on headphones as you glide through the clouds. It's the most beautiful album of the year and brings you to a dreamland. Also enhanced when Victoria Secret used a track to showcase their angels.

  8. Foster The People - 'Torches' - This album was a long time coming and it's going to be delivering singles for at least another 6 months. The band are hard working and deserve to be up for Grammys. This album should live on year end lists from littlest of blogs (like this one) to the biggest publications Globally.

  9. The Jezabels - 'Prisoner' - The only way you're going to get this album is by living with it for an afternoon. I suggest you stick it on for a long drive or grab the headphones and go for a walk. It's a masterpiece and I'm certain they'll be around for a long time to come. I told you so.

  10. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 'Self-titled' - It's Noel Fookin' Gallagher. He's the principle song-writer for Oasis and he's not lost a bit of that on this solo outing. He's a dick - but he can be and should be. The album is fan-fookin'-tastic.

  11. Honourable mention 1 - Amy Winehouse - 'Lioness: Hidden Treasures' - I've only actually heard 4 tracks off this one - as it's not out until tomorrow. We lost this one too early - but this will hopefully keep us going for now.

  12. Honourable mention 2 - The Boxer Rebellion - 'The Cold Still' - I saw these guys at SXSW this year and they knocked me on my ass. The voice is Morrisey like in strength and the band bring a charging energy through the full album. I highly recommend you try this band out.

So there we have it - the toughest decisions one has to make at this time of the year. I'm certain that I'm missing some big ones. I will no doubt remember then as soon as I hit post.

Fingers crossed for 2012 - and that it brings us more amazing music for the soundtrack to our lives.

Thanks for reading/listening.

Gregg Stewart