warning - gratuitous name dropping and bragging
I was born Christian Anderson Smith but I've been called CA since I was six months old.
My first musical memory was at my family home in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. My mother was taking care of my brother and me, as my dad was at work where he was Top 40 radio disc jockey. I was three. When my favourite song, ‘Too Bad’ by Doug And The Slugs would come on Dad would call Mum and tell her it would be on next. I’d sit right next to the stereo and dance, listening intently. One day he brought the record home. I’ve still got it.
Life carried on and by the time my second brother was born we were in a new house. We had a babysitter named Michelle. When she came to our house the thing she loved most were the thousands of records we had. Her favourite was The Beatles. She would come over and we would listen to them all night. I quickly discovered that the Beatles were the best band in the world. I am pretty sure I will believe this the rest of my life.
I played a lot of sports: hockey and lacrosse for the city and I swam recreationally. What I really looked forward to was the summer. This is when I got to go to Theatre School. This is where I learned to sing, dance and act. I always felt far more at home there than at regular school. This is also where I got the performance bug.
My dad was a singing drummer when my folks met. He learned from Levon Helm when Ronnie Hawkins And The Hawks used to play his hometown. He used to go in early to help set up and Levon would give him pointers week by week. He’d given it up when my three brothers and I were born. I always asked him to set them up so I could learn but he always said no. That is, until I turned thirteen and started taking music in school. I told the music teacher I owned drums so when everyone else was given trombones and clarinets to play I got to bang away on the skins. I was then aloud to set up the drums at home. I failed music class though because I never learned to read. Paying attention was something I always struggled with.
By the time I was in high school I started up a band with some friends for the school talent show. Like my old man, I was a singing drummer and we called ourselves, ‘The Tuna Melts’. We were a covers band doing some of the hits of the day but mostly oldies. The band didn’t like the idea of me sitting behind a kit so I became the singer. No instruments. It was around this time I started picking at the guitar. We played quite a bit and three of the guys still play together.
In December, 1992 I met a couple of fellow students who were looking for a singer for a band they were starting. What was really appealing was the fact that these guys wrote their own songs. They were weird songs and they could really play. Writing was something I wanted to learn. We found a drummer and called ourselves, ‘Gorp’. I left the Tuna Melts.
This was right around the time when grunge was happening and I was very lucky to start a band at that time because you could send a tape to a record company and they would actually take it seriously. The Barenaked Ladies released a tape in Canada that year that famousely outsold Michael Jackson! So we made a demo, started playing shows and eventually got signed to Sonic Unyon Records. It became the biggest indie label in Canada thanks to bands like, Treble Charger, Shallow, North Dakota and our heroes, Sianspheric.
We played a little over three years together, released two albums and got to open up for acts like Sloan and Vic Chesnutt. My favourite story about the bands we played with was at our first, sold-out tape release show. We had Rainbow Butt Monkeys (Finger Eleven) and Placebo 4 (their lead singer was Feist) open up for us. You never know who will succeed.
Eventually the boys in Gorp wanted to sing, themselves but the problem was I didn’t play any instruments as well as them. Not even close.They started writing songs without me so as an insurance policy I started a one-man band. Since I was a drummer, new a little guitar and could sing I figured why not just do all those things at once? It would be an entertaining show at the least. Two days after I was kicked out of Gorp, I went on tour with my pals Smoother, Molly’s Reach and 1000 Mona Lisas as the One-Man Band Singing Sensation, ‘Mayor McCa’.
It was on this first tour that I met Weeping Tile from Kingston: Sarah Harmer, Sticky, Camille Giroux and Luther Wright. This awesome band would become the first major supporters of Mayor McCa. They would give me opening slots for them whenever possible and introduced me to legendary acts like, The Dinner Is Ruined and Son which featured Chilly Gonzales and Mocky.
I played and recorded for around 8 years as Mayor McCa and became a bit of a wizard at it. I added bass organ to play with my left foot, keyboards and clarinet. I even went as far as putting tap dancing into the show. I am confident saying I was one of the best one-man bands in the world. I could make the sound of three or four people by myself. This really helped when times found me opening for acts like Finger Eleven, Sum 41 and Tegan And Sara.
I also put out an album about every two years. One of my favourite recording experiences was being the first act to make an album with Dale Morningstar at the Gas Station Recording Studio on Toronto Island. Dale is still a hero of mine and has recorded Godspeed You Black Emperor, Gord Downie and Neko Case as well as being an amazing musician himself.
Eventually I felt like I had done what I could do in Canada. I’d ran for Mayor of Hamilton, moved to Toronto, I’d been back and forth countless times with my old road pals Wax Mannequin, B.A. Johnston and Run Chico Run but every time I came back to Toronto I was broke and sad. This was not a nice feeling. I decided to move to England but I went out in style thanks to the help of my dear, dear friend, Julie Fader.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 2005 Julie and acts like Matthew Barber, Warsaw Pack, Sarah Harmer and Luther Wright And The Wrongs did a second tribute show to me to say goodbye and good luck to me. Both shows were really good for my confidence as a songwriter. I found myself really enjoying the songs, forgetting for a few times that I had written them. A week later my gear and I flew to London. I’d never been there and barley knew anyone.
The kindness of an ex-pat in the industry named Ian Williamson insured I had a place to stay until I got on my feet. My second day there, Ian’s wife, Naz took me to a show at Water Rats. It was there I met Freddie Fellowes. We started chatting. He found the troubles I was having adjusting to English life quite amusing and I was happy to be making a friend. When he asked me what brought me to London I told him. When I asked him what he did he told me, “I run a festival called Secret Garden Party and you sound like you’d be perfect for it.”
By the summer I had adjusted to life in London and off to the Secret Garden Party I went. I was on my own so was just making friends and handing out flyers saying when and which tent Mayor McCa would be playing in. This would turn out to be a very important show for me because it was were I met one of the producers of my next album, Sam Swift-Glassman, indie-rock trio Noisettes and super-photographer Dean Chalkley. Friends I still have to this day.
Dean turned out to be a real champion of mine. Not only did I always have amazing pictures (one time, paid for by Amy Winehouse when she didn’t show up to Dean’s studio) but he and his girlfriend, Amanda took me out and introduced me to a lot of people and places. We even starred in an advertisement together for Cannon Cameras and my song, ‘Hair Farmer’ won an award.
I worked quite a bit as an actor at this point. I got to go all over the world doing bit parts i commercials. I even got to go to Colombia and star in Diesel’s ‘Diesel Island’ campaign. All of those years of acting class payed off.
Playing regularly in dive pubs and former public toilets turned out well for me. My chops were solid and I could easily fit into any circumstance. I once opened for Nick Oliveri (QOTSA) and he told me the first time we played together, he was so intimidated by my show he smashed his guitar five songs into his set. He ended up bringing me on tour with him as well. I toured with Noisettes, Foals, The Magic Numbers, Slow Club and even my old pal Feist. When I asked her why she chose me for her tour she said, “I was looking at this list and I saw Mayor McCa! I remember that guy!”
It was around the time of the Feist tour that I got news from back home that my youngest brother, Marc had passed away. Heart-broken, I took some time to reflect.
During this time I did a video with Dean for, ‘Drinkalottawater’ that took me seven months to make. I’ve always enjoyed songs you can learn to live by and this was my try at it: song about the most basic and essential life lessons I could share in a song. It was around this time I started acting again, something I hadn’t done for years. I also recorded an album with my friend, Glover. He liked what I did and was happy to make an album with me.
When the album was completed I shared it with a few people, one of them being friend, video director Christopher Mills. He emailed me whilst listening and asked if I had ever thought about releasing this album but not as the one-man band. He felt the one-man band was distracting people from what I really did well: write songs. I will always remember him saying, “maybe it’s time people got to know the guy who writes these beautiful songs instead of some crazy idea you had when you were twenty”. People had tried to tell me this for years but this time I agreed. My priorities changed after 15 years.
I got in touch with everyone I worked with, telling them that my new album would be released under my own name, CA Smith and it would be called, ‘Someone You Love’. They all gave their blessings.
We released the album and I hit the road opening for Lucy Rose, Cate Lebon, Douglas Firs and Jeremy Fisher in North America and Europe. These shows were the most fun I’d had in years. What I always liked about the one-man band was the challenges it presented. It turned out getting up in front of an audience only armed with a guitar was a challenge in itself.
I also started playing drums again for Men Of Good Fortune, drum-theif Keiran Leonard and helped Charles from Slow Club hammer out some ideas. I enjoyed taking the back seat for the first time in my musical career
At my marriage reception, Charles and Glover back me up in a band. We did a set of oldies and I took my old position behind the drums and singing lead. After discussing what fun that band had been Charles suggested we do a new album like that. The boys would help me finish up any songs I had and we’d record it quickly and efficiently. It turns out that is exactly what we did.
‘Life Of A Building Downtown’ was a collection of songs about subjects that as an adult, I think are pretty important. Profound subjects, at least to me. It was easily the best album I had produced at that point. I didn’t really want to hit the road like I used to. I was more concerned about writing songs. I started making bespoke music for ads and short films. I learned a bit more about recording from friend, Wayne Adam’s ‘Bear Bites Horse’ studio and I started writing pop songs with my friend, Jamie “Pop” Morrison from Stereophonics.
What I realised I wanted to do was write songs that say something and make a difference. I really do believe that music can do that. I also fell in love again with Mr. Rogers and a lot of the great content that I used to enjoy as a child. I remember not only how much of an affect it had on me but also the high-quality of it. I feel like much of the music made for kids nowadays is made in a really lazy way. I think children and parents deserve music that is actually good and talk about really big issues for kids and grown-ups alike (and not forgetting to have some fun).
Whilst on a trip to LA to visit my best pal, actor Dominic Zamprogna and his family I realised how you make music that will do that. You write it for children. Whilst discussing it, Dom and I planned to write scripts for a project called, “Together With Mr. Smith”.
We wrote 7 full scripts with at least 3-4 songs per script which meant I had more than enough to release an album full of songs.
And here I am we’re about to launch Together With Mr. Smith. We’ve got a some videos, songs, short films and a whole bunch more on the way. I'll be launching it soon.
It’s taken me a long time, some successes and even more failures to get where I am now but I feel I’m in a good place. I hope we can enjoy what I have to share in the future, Together!