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Interview of Emm Gryner / 2 February 2001 / Iota club, Arlington, Virginia

When I discovered that the Canadian singer/songwriter was coming to the DC area to perform, I immediately arranged to interview her. I wanted to ask about her career and the business of music, and to explore any Asian connections that she had. Her mother was from the Philippines and I'd first read about her in an Asian American magazine, so I reasoned that it might be possible to pose a few questions of an ethnic inclination. And last, but not least, I wanted to find out more about Canadian society and culture.

...

It wasn't too long ago that Emm Gryner seemed on the verge of stardom. She emerged on the scene in Toronto over 5 years ago. She honed her craft, formed her own tiny label to put out a self-produced album, and gradually attracted attention. In late 97, she signed with a major label, Mercury Records, home to such acts as country sex symbol Shania Twain, rockers Bon Jovi, and rapper Jay-Z.

Emm then recorded an album titled, Public, that yielded a Canadian hit, "Summerlong."

Things were definitely going her way. But in the tumultuous business environment of media and entertainment in the 90's, mergers and acquisitions had become rampant. In early '99, Universal Music gobbled up Polygram (Mercury's parent company). Many employees were laid off. Soon after, Emm's contract, along with those of hundreds of other artists, was terminated.

Back to the do-it-yourself status, she quickly recorded and released an album that outsold her previous one.

...

I learned of these details and more, by pouring over her content-rich website (http://emmgryner.com). Other interview ideas came to me from surfing the web, running across various Canadian material (i.e., a discussion amongst Toronto recording engineers, an interview of a science fiction writer and P2P software executive, and newspaper articles). In my effort to develop wide-ranging questions, I may have overreached and indulged in some rather tangential lines of inquiry. (Yet it was to be my unbridled free-associating during the interview that almost jeopardized the outcome. But, I'm getting ahead of myself…)

...It was on a Friday night, that I spent more than an hour-and-a-half driving to Arlington and finding parking on a side street. I entered the club moments before Emm began.

She looked "babe-alicious", to borrow the words of one of her past reviewers. She wore a white pullover shirt with thin red stripes airbrushed in a sunray pattern slightly similar to a Japanese WWII battle flag. Below the waist, a pair of tight, shiny black leather slacks cast an enticing spell.. It wasn't hard to sense their influence on some males in the audience who occasionally bellowed their drunken approval.

She had a seductive smile and, at one point, seemed to favor one fellow in the audience, with it. 'Wonder who's the lucky guy?' I thought to myself.

She performed solo, accompanying herself on electric piano and guitar. I would've preferred more interesting melodies or chord progressions. If she'd been able to bring her band along to back her up, it would've helped in that regard.

She seemed quite poised, and belted out or cooed her songs with ease. Her enunciation was often slurred, but that didn't bother me too much. (I've often failed to understand vocals, and live performances are usually more acoustically muddy.)

Glancing around me, and overhearing a few remarks, I sensed that more than a handful of the crowd were already fans of hers. Some were singing along.

She finished to rousing applause. I waited for all the snapshots with fans and autograph seeking to end before approaching her. We walked to the back of the club and down the stairs to the green room and office…

 

While writing the interview into an article for submission to Rice Paper, the Asian Canadian arts magazine, I had to leave out the funny parts and make the presentation fairly straight and proper. This is how it turned out.

I turned the non-musical Q&A into a humorous creative nonfiction piece, that I read at an open reading one night at the Asian American Studies Conference held about 2 months later in Toronto... Here's the complete, unexpurgated version (including a few things I forgot to add in Toronto) >>> exploring Canadian culture with Emm