Volume 93, Issue 38

Friday, November 5, 1999


Weekend Pass

Southworth wins over fans with eclecticism

Jan Wong recounts her rhapsody in red

Birds merely an admirable effort

London art show questions property value


Southworth wins over fans with eclecticism

Gazette file photo
WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION? Singer/songwirter John Southworth comes to Call the Office tonight to share his eclectic style of music.

By Mark Pytlik
Gazette Staff

He hardly looks like a world-weary songwriter.

His slightly cherubic facial features make him seem almost cruelly naive and innocent. His unassuming speaking voice and modest stature greatly downplay his abilities, but John Southworth is a talented songwriter, possessing both a sharp wit and an uncanny eye for detail.

Southworth's debut album, Mars Pennsylvania, won widespread acclaim for it's unique blend of observant songwriting and eclectic production value. While his second album, the newly released Sedona Arizona, is a natural continuation on that theme, Southworth is quick to note it's not as varied as the first offering.

"It's a very simple, basic recording of 12 songs," he says. "The songs are more acoustic and a lot more countrified." Of course, Southworth's idea of simplicity isn't necessarily in accordance with everyone else's. He's made a mark for himself as an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of songwriter. Is he wary of being labelled as such?

"I don't mind, but there was one thing I did want to dispel," he sighs. "I was getting a lot of tags of sounding like this, or sounding like that. I wanted to shed all of that."

In other words, Mars Pennsylvania is the album on which Southworth wanted to imprint his own indelible label. "I've always written in my own voice," he clarifies. "It was more a question of how you colour and form your compositions. [In the past] I would make references to various pop records or artists that I liked. I wanted to get out of that, especially since we're moving into a new decade."

The result is an offering which sounds somehow outside of its time. This is partly attributable to Southworth's mixed heritage – he's a displaced Englishman who's adopted Canada as his homeland. According to Southworth, Canada has been brilliant for his own growth as an artist.

"I can make records and I can go and play and I don't have any of the kind of pressures that might occur if I was in any other place," he says enthusiastically. "For that reason it's wonderful because I don't have anybody dabbling in what I'm doing. This is the place to have space."

Unfortunately the sheer size of the country makes it difficult for an independent artist such as Southworth to maintain any semblance of job security. "You don't know if you're going to be able to buy food the next week, you're not always certain that people are going to be at your shows and you're not always certain that your records are gonna be in the stores," he sighs. "If my intention was to sell a million records, it'd be a shit [situation]."

Fortunately, Southworth doesn't have grand designs for commercial success, not yet at least. If it ever came, it wouldn't be new to the Southworth genealogy. His father, Peter Fowler, was a predominant figure in the '70s British glam scene. Southworth is quick to halt any comparisons between the two. "He was a strictly commercial pop artist and producer," he maintains.

"I'm a bit more of an artsy songwriter." Not that you could tell, of course.

John Southworth plays Call the Office tonight.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999